The meeting, which called for an end to violence in the Middle East, took place in Glasgow University’s Chapel on November 10 and was one of the first public events since the founding of the Glasgow branch of OneVoice earlier this year.
The OneVoice global organisation, which now has almost 650,000 signatories, began in 2002 as a grassroots movement that aimed to give the Israeli and Palestinian people the opportunity to push for peace together.
With offices in both Israel and Palestine, the movement has remained committed to working with both sides to work towards a two-state solution; adopting the stance that this can only be achieved with the co-operation of all parties. Showing the international status of OneVoice, offices have also been established in London, Ottawa, and at the headquarters in New York.
Ana Lipnik, an Israeli who is involved in OneVoice’s efforts to educate and mobilise people in the Middle East, and who gave a speech at the recent event in Glasgow, described the need for international help.
Speaking to Guardian, she said: “In order to strengthen ourselves we need the support of international people. It’s hard, because sometimes we feel alone when the world seems to hate us so much. The media shows what it wants to show.”
The university chapel, despite torrential rain outside, was full; with approximately 250 people attending the event while a further audience listened via a live broadcast over the Internet.
Antony Silkoff, Chair of the Glasgow branch of OneVoice, and a third year at Glasgow University, made clear the importance of student awareness and support.
He explained: “As students in Glasgow University we have a choice: we can either contribute to the problem, or be part of the solution. This is something we need to work on together.”
In addition, Glasgow University’s rector, Charles Kennedy, gave an introductory speech, making clear his desire to end the ongoing conflict. A long-time supporter of peaceful negotiations in the region, Kennedy’s backing of OneVoice is seen by Antony Silkoff as a significant boost to the movement.
He said: “I was delighted Charles Kennedy came and supported us. It’s so important, because it represents the views of many students at Glasgow”.
Gary Butterly, a OneVoice committee member and former Glasgow University student, also felt that Glasgow’s association with the movement was not simply the result of sympathy for those caught up in the Middle East violence.
He said: “In Glasgow we’re the best place to understand the effects of continuing bigotry. I’m very proud as a Scotsman that we are the first OneVoice group in Europe. It reflects well on Glasgow University; on the institution and its people that an event of such a controversial and sensitive nature can go ahead.”
The evening was disrupted, however, by a member of the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign accusing OneVoice of diluting the reality of the conflict and of backing the Israeli occupation. The situation in Israel and Palestine was also compared to the apartheid seen in South Africa.
Speaking to Guardian, OneVoice supporters said they expected such a reaction. This came after OneVoice’s leafleting campaign on campus was disturbed by similar protestors who voiced their concerns over the underlying loyalties and aims of OneVoice.
Despite the criticisms of the movement as being pro-Israeli, its Palestinian support is almost on a par with that of the Israelis. One such Palestinian, Abeer Al-Natsheh, spoke at the Glasgow event and described how important it was to put aside feelings of hatred and wrongdoing on both sides in order to bring about peace.
In her speech, she said: “We are all human beings; we have to stop this… OneVoice is not about personal views of individuals.”
In this early stage Glasgow’s OneVoice branch seems to have already made an impact, with the recent meeting apparently bringing the debate to Glasgow permanently.
Glasgow University’s Humanist Chaplain, Mandy Evans Ewing, described the value of such a group, whilst admitting that, with the level of attacks against OneVoice, it must do more to attain the support it needs to end the conflict.
Speaking to Guardian, she said: “They’ve got to get the message out as to what they actually are. They have to make sure they’ve got that clarity. It’s quite clear that there has to be a solution before the peace can come.”