Twenty students from across the United Kingdom spent September 8-10 in London to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and extremism’s implications on British society during OneVoice Europe’s Student Residential Program.
Now in its third year, the Student Residential Program engages young people in educational workshops about the conflict and equips them with conflict resolution and leadership skills. The renewed peace process was last year’s theme, and unfreezing negotiations was the focus in 2012.
The students had an opportunity to hear from a number of experts who explored complex issues surrounding the conflict and its global impact. On September 9, the students visited Reed Smith’s offices, where they Skyped with Wasim Masri of OneVoice Palestine in Ramallah and Ayala Brilliant of OneVoice Israel in Tel Aviv, providing the students with a great opportunity to put a human face to stories they hear in the news.
In the afternoon, the group moved on to the House of Lords, where Maajid Nawaz, co-founder and chairman of counter-extremism think tank Quilliam; writer Antony Lerman of Independent Jewish Voices; Baroness Susan Garden, and John Lyndon, Executive Director of OneVoice Europe, provided the students with insights into the negative impact of regional extremism on the peace process and the role of extremist organizations in creating a climate of prejudice and fear. The speakers also offered their insight on the effectiveness of terrorism as a political weapon and the reactions of neighboring countries to the violence in Gaza.
Ibrahim Ali and Maggie Suissa, experts in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, respectively, spoke to the students about the vitriol spewed on UK campuses with the conflict – and recent Gaza War – stoking the flames. The contentious issue of BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) as a political tactic and its regional, local, and oftentimes personal effects was also raised, with perspectives and concerns of both sides being heard.
Overall, the program of events highlighted the fact that extremism affects everybody – a great way to illustrate OneVoice’s focus on the spectrum of moderates and extremists that exists within all communities – and emphasized the common ground shared by peace-seeking people everywhere.
Many students felt the narrative of the ‘other side’ had been illuminated for them, and that their understanding of the conflict had deepened. Perhaps most encouragingly, many participants also added that they intended to become more involved in relevant study or activism. The young people trained by OneVoice Europe are the British counterparts of our Israeli and Palestinian youth leaders; well-informed, sympathetic, and learning to negotiate toward a happier future.
Sharon Alsoodani is OneVoice Europe's Education Director