This is a Cross Post from Ha’aretz
Late last year, Defense Minister Ehud Barak found an unusual message posted on his Facebook profile. It was sent to him by from an individual calling himself Future Ehud Barak and signed “you from the future”.
Barak was told in the message that he would soon receive a package containing very important content. “If you use it wisely… we can do amazing things together”.
One can only imagine the expression on his face when he found that package, waiting for him on the doorstep of his office at the Knesset – a copy of a newspaper called Israel Tomorrow, dated January 1, 2018.
The font of that newspaper mimicked the popular free daily Israel Today, but was clearly a parody. Beside a large photograph of the defense minister, a bold headline proclaimed: Thank you, Barak. The State of Israel thanks Ehud Barak for his help in solving the conflict.
Barak was not the only Israeli official to receive such a surprise; hundreds of lawmakers and reporters were in fact contacted by their future selves on Facebook and received a newspaper the morning after thanking them for their help.
Well-known public figures, such as journalists Yair Lapid and Guy Meroz, Knesset members Dan Meridor and Yoel Hasson and musician Yoni Bloch, were just some of the people solicited in the first phase of the new peace campaign initiated by the One Voice movement: Imagine 2018.
As we discuss the campaign at a pleasant café in north Tel Aviv, coordinator Daniella Shlomo does not hide her pride. “We received a lot of positive feedback from this phase of the campaign,” she tells me. “Guy Meroz, for example, called us back, and now he wants to join our movement. The same happened with [Labor minister] Avishay Braverman. The idea behind this teasing phase was to instil the sense of thinking ahead, to the future, into the minds of trendsetters.”
Tal Harris, the director general of One Voice Israel, says that the purpose of the campaign is two-fold:
“The goal on the one hand is to acknowledge and thank those who are really working toward a two-state solution and tackling the issue with varying levels of bravery, both in the Knesset and in the Public sphere,” says Harris.
“On the other hand, we wanted to remind extreme conservatives like [lawmakers] Yuli Edelstein or Moshe Kachlon, that these could be them,” adds Harris. “They could one day get a prize for helping Israel achieve peace, if they only stood for what they know Israel needs.”
The two-state solution is an inherent part of the One Voice message. Established in 2002 by a Mexican entrepreneur, One Voice has offices in New York, London, Tel Aviv and Ramallah. It aims to see two states – Israel and Palestine – living independently side by side.
“The two-state solution as a settlement for the Israeli Palestinian conflict is almost a consensus these days,” Shlomo tells me. “We have the statistics to prove it, but it is enough just to look at our activists: in Israel we have activists who vote for Likud, others who vote for Meretz and Hadash, while on the [Palestinian] side they have Fatah supporters, but also people affiliated with Hamas.”
Shlomo, 25, joined One Voice three years ago and is now coordinating the Iimagine 2018 campaign along with a Palestinian counterpart, Antwan Saca.
“About a year ago we realized that our biggest problem is that, 17 years after Oslo, nothing has really changed,” Shlomo says. “People are getting frustrated and indifferent. It seems like society needs a strong wake-up call. So we decided to have people imagine what life will be like in 2018, on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence”.
After teasing these so-called political trendsetters by “contacting” them from the future, and a phase of posting talkbacks on major news websites hinting at the year 2018, Imagine 2018 launched its first Facebook application.
“We invited the public to write a headline about what Israel would look like in the year 2018, when the conflict ends,” says Shlomo. “We had around 350 headlines submitted on our Facebook application, for example 2018: Conscription abolished or “The conflict is over: What will we do with our time now?”
The 10 posters who received the most “likes” for their ideas got to have their headlines published on fake billboard newspapers across the Tel Aviv area over the last month.
The first-prize winner will get to convey his message in a diplomatic tour across Europe and the United States, together with the winner of the Palestinian contest.
“When we say that One Voice amplifies the voice of the moderate – that is literally what we do: We take that voice and put it on billboards,” Shlomi says.
Public figures such as MKs Yoel Hasson and Silvan Shalom, Zvi Sela, [Peace Now chief] Yariv Oppenheimer and members of the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu all responded to the campaign.
Harris lauded their conflicting responses as an integral part of the campaign. “People from Im Tirzu wrote a headline saying: After Netanyahu and Abbas sign a peace deal, Qassam rockets fall on Jerusalem,” Harris told me. “Of course we do not agree with this, but at least it keeps the public talking. It is a risk we took on as an organization, but it is the fulfilment of our promise as a movement. We want to amplify the voice of the moderate majority, and this way we proved that the majority supports the two-state solution.”
The next phase of the campaign, which began just before the New Year, called on film students and creative minds from across Israel country to compete in a short movie contest.
The contestants were given just a few minutes of air time to demonstrate their vision for 2018 and the winning clips will be screened in movie theaters all over the country.
Harris says that the campaign has been going very well so far, with heavy exposure and participation – not limited to politics buffs alone.
“The campaign did even better with people that are usually outside of the political discourse,” says Harris. “That is our ultimate target… people who maybe few years ago were filling up the squares in demonstrations and now do not take part in the political debate, not even on Facebook. We wanted our campaign to be engaging and meaningful for them.”
An article published by Time magazine last summer illustrated the disillusionment felt by many Israelis of the post-Oslo era, describing the public society as one caught up between constant insecurity and tremendous economic growth of their country, apathetic to the political conflict.
While there is some truth to that, many young Israelis from a spectrum of political movements are investing their time and energies on a daily basis – with the goal of solving the conflict, or at least addressing its problems.
These activists do think about the future and use the means of this internet era to try to drag the public opinion to their side.
“Edmund Burke said that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing,” says Harris. “The most important and meaningful thing I did in the movement is exactly this: I talked to thousands of Israelis who were indifferent toward the conflict, hopeless in its solution, and 20 minutes after they had changed their mood, and they were spreading their new hope to other people. Next time a politician reads polls, they will be more in favour of an agreement.”
Shlomo and Harris both seem to have very clear visions for their own lives in 2018. Shlomo hopes to be a mother of two by then, with trips to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Indonesia under her belt.
“I don’t want to raise my kids in the same context where I was raised. I do not want to be as worried as my parents were when I was growing up. I want the army to comprise desk jobs, and the society to be safe and peaceful,” she says.
Harris, 27, is studying for his second master’s degree and is focused on his academic future. By 2018, he hopes to be at work on a PhD, supported by a generous grant composed of state funds previously designated for defense.
“I want Israel to fulfil its potential as an extremely creative and passionate country. I want it to be a hub of excellence and see it share its resources with other countries. And I would like to push my feet on the gas in the direction of north, and just drive and drive, all the way,” he says.
Less than 60 kilometers from Tel Aviv – but on a seemingly different planet – I meet up with Antwan Saca, coordinator of the Imagine 2018 project for One Voice Palestine.
We sit in the lobby of the Bethlehem Peace Center, between the Church of the Nativity and the Mosque of Omar. Once the headquarters of the IDF during operation Defensive Shield in 2002, the center now hosts rotating exhibitions. Saca has something to show me.
“Here in Bethlehem for Christmas we have a competition among different organizations to prepare a symbolic Christmas tree,” he says. “We caught this opportunity to show our concept of the Christmas tree: people write their wishes for 2018 on cards and hang it on the tree as a decoration.”
In front of the two trees prepared by One Voice Palestine, I am greeted by two activists whose task it is to explain to visitors the message of One Voice.
“The 2018 project is built in a way that aims to give the Palestinians a force to fight the hopelessness and the despair they are facing in their daily life” says Saca. “We want to win the people to our cause, to give them the enthusiasm to look to a brighter tomorrow and keep them working to reach a peace agreement and the two states solution”.
“As many know, the year 2011 was proposed by Dr. Salaam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, as the year of independence,” Saca says. “We want people to actively give their input, not only stand as observers. What is your role as an individual in the society, how do you imagine it, what is your plan to reach this dream. Hopefully, we will see a liberated Palestine next year; in 2018, seven years after independence, we want to be living in a developed and peaceful society. Everyone has to take up his obligation to achieve this.”
The campaign in Palestine was developed in parallel, but separately, from its Israeli counterpart. “Since October we have been recording videos and drawings of Palestinian youth expressing their vision for 2018,” Saca tells me. “We aim at collecting at least five hundred videos, in order to reach a broad spectrum of the society. We target any person who believes in the two states solution as a way to end the conflict.”
“Even people voting Hamas, if they believe in such a non-violent solution, are welcome,” he adds. “Ours is a target that challenges divisions: high-income, low-income, and people from every confession: we try to involve everyone”.
Saca says that the goal of the campaign reflects a key tenet of his own ideology: “Our identity as Palestinians should again overcome other identities. We are Arabs, Christians, Muslims, but we are first and foremost Palestinians”.
Other components of the Palestinian project includes soliciting 20 young people from every governorate of the West Bank to draw a mural envisioning their city in 2018, as well as a short film competition similar to the one being held in Israel
Like his Israeli counterparts, Saca says his peers often seem wrought with indifference and resignation. At a time when many Palestinians despair the outcome of negotiations with Israel, surrounded by a wall and by settlements, he feels it is his duty to mobilize the masses, giving them hope, and involving them in the political discourse.
As we leave the hall, Saca tells me about how he came to One Voice. “I joined One Voice three years ago, when I was twenty-three years old. At the time I opposed any kind of normalization, but I soon realized that what makes One Voice unique is that we work in parallel with the Israelis, on the same message and on similar projects, yet independently,” Saca says. “Each one is working in his own community for a goal that is in the interest of both.”
Saca also has a clear vision of his own life in 2018. “I will be the ambassador of an independent Palestine to the United States,” he tells me.
“I expect 2018 to come after a period of reconciliation, after seven years of life in security and peace with the Israelis. Seven years after independence, Palestine will have economic cooperation with Israel, importing Israeli technological innovation and having free trade with the country,” he says. “Now, because of Israel’s settlement policy, we see negotiations in a deadlock; but hopefully things will get better with time.”
Hopefully, soon the peace camp will come back from negotiations and will be able to say ‘here, we have brought the fruits of peace’,” he adds.