- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Two for one

The future of peace in the Middle East might be in the hands of people like a former Israeli soldier who admitted he was once so angry that he wanted to kill Arabs indiscriminately and a Palestinian woman whose parents were so close to Yasser Arafat that she considered him her godfather.

Yaniv Rivlin, the 25-year-old Israeli, and Shadha Musallam, the 20-year-old Palestinian, are part of the OneVoice movement, which reaches out to what it calls the “moderate majority” that is tired of excuses and failures by leaders of both communities.

Mr. Rivlin and Miss Musallam reject extremism and believe that most Israelis and Palestinians agree with them. They take a realistic view of the challenges facing them.

“It’s not about loving the other side,” Mr. Rivlin said when he, Miss Musallam and two other leaders of OneVoice visited The Washington Times this week.

Miss Musallam added, “We are not saying you have to forget [the causes of the conflict].”

Miriam Asnes, 27, and Laurel Rapp, 23, both of the New York office of OneVoice, explained that the organization supports a two-state solution that will create a Palestinian nation that rejects violence and recognizes Israel.

“We have a simple mandate to promote security, liberty, dignity, economic viability and nonviolence,” Miss Asnes said.

Mr. Rivlin explained his transition from an angry young soldier to a peace activist.

“I never attended a funeral before I entered the military, but then I attended seven in a year and a half,” he said, recounting the death of fellow soldiers blown up by car bombs or shot by Palestinian gunmen. “You feel like you want to kill the other side.”

However, he grew to reject the constant cycle of violence.

“We must find a way to end this conflict,” he said.

Miss Musallam was born in Tunisia, where the late Mr. Arafat relocated his Palestine Liberation Organization after Israel drove the PLO out of Lebanon in the 1980s. Her family returned to the Palestinian territories after the Oslo peace accords in the early 1990s.

She described her excitement at her first sight of her grandmother and other relatives and her sorrow over accusations of Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians.

“I knew at least 100 people who have been in prison where they have been tortured. Their stories make you cry,” she said.

Today, with Hamas terrorists holding the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority clinging to the West Bank, Palestinians are increasingly disenchanted with their leaders, Miss Musallam said.

“Hamas is getting weaker and weaker. Palestinians are turning against them,” she said.

Miss Musallam added that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorists command little respect among most Arabs.

“Al Qaeda is not welcomed in any Arab state,” she said, rejecting the current war on terrorism as a clash of civilizations. “Islam is not under attack from the West.”

Mr. Rivlin added, “We both live a very tough life. We’ve had enough terror on our side. They’ve had enough terror on their side.”

Miss Musallam and Mr. Rivlin returned to their homes yesterday to prepare for major peace summits on Oct. 18 in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. OneVoice is organizing a support rally on the same day on the west lawn of the Capitol.

OneVoice, created in 2002, claims an impressive array of American supporters, including former Ambassador Dennis Ross, a former Middle East negotiator; James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute; and former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

Information about the organization and their October summits is on the group’s Web site (www.onevoice.org).

c Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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