At a time of political turbulence, a spark for a lasting two-state peace may lie in the hands of youths working within their local communities rather than in the heads of partisan hardliners in the Knesset.
Enter Tal Harris and Samer Makhlouf of the OneVoice Movement’s Youth Leadership Program, two men working to empower those very youth.
Harris, an Israeli, and Makhlouf, a Palestinian, have worked in parallel across religious and cultural divides to give over 6,000 young men and women the skills to mobilize the nonviolent, moderate majority leaders within their communities, the ultimate goal being the realization of a peaceful two-state solution.
OneVoice, an international grassroots organization, works to give everyday people a voice in the politics that determine the path towards an end to the conflict. OneVoice’s strategy of “parallel programming” creates separate national campaigns within Israel and Palestine with a shared mission, giving OneVoice legitimacy in both populations while allowing Youth Leaders to address challenges and nuances specific to their particular communities.
Harris and Makhlouf were honored with the 2014 IIE Victor J. Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East on Monday at the US Consulate General’s cultural center in East Jerusalem.
The IIE, founded in the US in 1919, created the Goldberg IIE Prize in 2004 to honor innovative work by two individuals, one Israeli Jew and one Arab Muslim, who work to advance peace in the region by changing perceptions of “the other.”
Often, says Tal Harris, this mutual alienation stems from the media.
“A challenge we have faced is getting the moderate voice to the media,” explained Harris. “Usually, extremists resort to violence, and peace activism is hard to get across to the national media.”
The hurdle of media sensationalism has required OneVoice to “resort to creativity to draw public attention to the strong part of the population that wants peace,” said Harris.
Harris also said that there remains a discrepancy between the belief that a two-state solution can and should happen and the actuality of what is happening on the ground.
IIE trustee Victor J. Goldberg – who the award is named for – also recognizes challenges faced in creating a sustainable peace, including “an absence of leaders; courageous enough to anger some of their constituents, even to risk their positions of power, and dedicated to a sustainable peace.”
This peace, said Goldberg, “means a two-state solution which provides for a viable Palestinian state.”
Goldberg described himself and his wife as “in awe” of Harris and Makhlouf’s accomplishments in expanding “grassroots efforts to build support for such leaders.”
Both Goldberg and Harris agree that these combined “grassroots, person- to person efforts” are “the best way, perhaps the only way, to force lasting change.”
Goldberg-prize-winning innovators like Harris and Makhlouf, in pushing for a moderate peace in a divisive political climate and empowering others to do the same, bring us one step closer to that change.
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