Dear TalkMatters Supporters,

It is both an irony and a tragedy that so many of the murdered and the hostages of October 7th were volunteers of the initiatives that TalkMatters supports.  But although heart-broken, those that survived are not giving up.  Of course you can play it two ways – revenge and retaliation or positive action leading eventually to a new reality.   The war and the enormous underlying problems are not going away.  As far as Israel-Palestine is concerned, our job is to keep supporting the grassroots initiatives because we know that when the time is right, their inspirational leaders are the role-models that the public will need.  

Interfaith Encounter Association’s Open Day earlier this year brought together people of all faiths

As far as the UK is concerned, the effect of any spike of conflict in the Middle East is depressing.  This time it is seriously alarming with mounting fear and growing hatred.  The ignorance of the other narrative is phenomenal and the unsubstantiated rubbish coming out of adults’ and children’s mouths unbelievable. The use of algorithms within social media has a lot to answer for with some users being driven towards increasingly divisive content about Israel and Gaza that only entrench their existing views and biases.  This matters because conversations on social media can shape public opinion – and normalise rhetoric that spills offline, at protests and beyond.

So what can we do?  Well, below there are details of several initiatives.  Some helping us to learn more about the complexity of the situation and others  encouraging us to stand together and show solidarity with all the moderate Israelis and Palestinians who suffer because of extremism on both sides.  Please look and see how you can participate and pass on this important information to your colleagues and friends.

Forum for Discussion of Israel and Palestine (FODIP)

The Forum for Discussion of Israel and Palestine (FODIP)  based in Manchester set up in 2008 with the objective to promote positive dialogue between faith communities in the UK on the subject of Israel/Palestine.  A registered charity, it is governed and managed by Jews, Christians and Muslims from a variety of perspectives, all dedicated to hearing the other, learning, understanding and finding ways to move forward. FODIP takes no position on the situation in Israel/Palestine itself, other than a concern for the rights, fears and hopes of all people in the region. FODIP delivers a variety of innovative programmes including a study tour to the region. 

They are hosting an Interfaith Vigil for the Children of Palestine and Israel this afternoon – in Central London.

FODIP is featured in our directory and has their own website.Dr Jane Clements MBE, Sadia Akram and Rabbi Warren Elf MBE from FODIP joined us for a TalkMatters webinar in May 2021.  There are details of how you can donate to help support their work: see their website and use the ‘donate’ tab at the top.

Together for Humanity

This is an initiative that has just sprung up in response to the Hamas massacre and hostage taking and  subsequent war. I attended their first vigil on November 15th at Downing Street and highly recommend attending their next vigil to anyone able to travel to central London on Sunday,

The second vigil will be on Sunday 3rd December and is aimed at bringing together people of faith and none to show solidarity for all suffering – both Israeli and Palestinian – and to reject hatred against any group. The first was a vigil opposite Downing Street under the banner of Humanity not Hatred.  There are to be no flags, no screaming – just people listening to Palestinians and an Israelis talking about the recent loss of their loved ones and bringing people together to express their pain.

Interfaith Encounter Association

Since 2001, the  Interfaith Encounter Association has been building peaceful inter-communal relations in the Holy Land by nurturing mutual respect & trust via active interfaith dialogue all over Israel and Palestine.

Interfaith Talks is a multi-episode series which will bring together religious and cultural leaders from across The Holy Land and beyond, to engage in collaborative public discussion. Creating a powerful, interfaith voice for mutual respect, cooperation, and unity in the face of this unprecedented crisis of war.

Each episode will be live streamed to a domestic and international audience on multiple channels, including Zoom, Facebook Live and YouTube. Link for registration

Update from Jess Brandler, Solutions Not Sides

 Solution Not Sides offers non-partisan educational sessions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for 15-25 year olds in the UK.   The programme provides humanising encounters and focuses on possible solutions based on understanding both sides’ narratives. The aim is to shift attitudes away from supporting one side against the other, and towards seeking a solution for the human beings involved.

Like you, just over 6 weeks ago, I watched the news unfolding on the morning of October 7th, and the news from Gaza and beyond since, with horror, distress, sadness, and anger. Having worked with SNS for over eight years and having visited the region countless times including to Gaza, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the south of Israel, I know and care about so many people in Israel and Palestine; people, ordinary people, with families, jobs, hobbies, and dreams, who have given up their time to come and speak to students in the UK. Thankfully, our speakers and partners in the region are physically safe so far, but terrified, grieving, traumatised, and sad.

Many of our speakers are worried for the future, and fearful of what will happen to the peace organisations that they have been part of. But they are resilient, and they are determined to carry on the work. Over the last five weeks, our Israeli and Palestinian speakers have been joining via Zoom to speak to classrooms of students in Britain about why they stand against violence, and feel deep empathy for those who have been hurt, killed, displaced, or kidnapped. We can learn so much from our Palestinian and Israeli speakers, whose empathy and compassion stretches across invisible, geographical, political, social and religious borders – you can see the kinds of messages they’re sharing a video from the French organisation Les Guerrieres de la Paix.  

A British trauma psychologist notes that  “If we don’t find ways to listen across the divide between factions and acknowledge each other’s pain, the current conflict playing out so catastrophically will remain embedded in patterns of trauma for generations to come, almost certainly birthing even more violence. This task is more urgent than ever.”   

Solutions Not Sides is featured in our directory, has their own website and joined us for a webinar in December 2020.  There are details on this page of their website   which show how you can donate to help support their work.  The British trauma psychologist featured in SNS’s update can be found online here.  You can watch the French video here.

Jews and Muslims Refuse to be Enemies

Imams and Rabbis came together recently with the hope that their work on this document, entitled Jews and Muslims Refuse to Be Enemies, will be shared widely throughout St. Albans, particularly among educational and civic leaders – and that it will help to build up a trust and dialogue between the Jewish and Muslim communities of our city and district. 

Adam Zagoria-Moffet, Rabbi at St Albans Masorti Synagogue says that ‘Every crisis presents an opportunity. For our local faith communities here in St. Albans, the crisis of the October 7th attacks on Israel and the resulting Israel-Hamas war has opened up the possibility of great fear and uncertainty, but also an opportunity to build trust and collaboration. A few weeks back, at Remembrance Sunday, our MP Daisy Cooper asked if we could draft a document that could be sent to local headteachers in St. Albans offering insight and resources on how to talk about the conflict. So many educators are finding themselves in the position of answering questions about the Middle East that they’re not prepared for and not necessarily expert in.’

We, Muslim and Jewish faith leaders in St. Albans, take these points as a basis for discussion and dialogue. We acknowledge that peace and fellowship can be built and maintained without absolute consensus, and seek to prioritise, particularly in our communities here in St Albans, open communications and healthy relationships between our two faiths.

It is hard to come to grips with the complexities of the many conflicts that intersect in what is often called the Israeli-Arab Conflict or the Israel-Palestine Conflict. Many histories interweave and many diverse developments have led to the unfortunate stalemate in progress towards peace which we can witness today. As local faith leaders in St. Albans District, representing Muslim and Jewish communities, we share in supporting the following five points as the basis for dialogue and as a shared consensus of mutual humanity:

1. Jews and Muslims are not enemies.
A common misconception is that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is part of an ‘ancient hatred’. Some will claim that this goes back to the biblical figures of Isaac (Yitsḥak, Ishaq) and Ishmael (Yishmaél, Ismail), Abraham’s (Avraham, Ibrahim) two sons, but the wars which have claimed so many lives, Jewish and Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian are a contemporary political and geostrategic phenomenon. Suggesting the conflict is ‘eternal’ suggests that it is irresolvable – which we refuse to believe. Similarly, we refuse to believe that Jews and Muslims are inherently enemies. In fact, Jewish and Muslim communities have often lived in peace and cooperation at different times and in different places and there’s no reason to exclude the possibility that they could do so again today in the Middle East.

2. There are two sides in this war – but perhaps not the ones you think.
The media coverage of the conflict and the way in which social media ever further pushes its consumers to the extremes means that many seem to approach the issues at stake as though it is a football match, Team Israel vs Team Palestine. This is not only incorrect, but deeply unhelpful. There are two sides: on one side there are those, Jews and Arabs alike, who support a just and equitable resolution of the conflict which recognises the history and dignity of both peoples and on the other, there are those, Jews and Arabs alike, who see a ‘solution’ in politics of exclusion, ethnic cleansing, and violence. 

3. No view which denies the right to existence of either side is correct or helpful.
Those who deny Israel’s right of existence, who advocate policies or politics which call for the extermination or elimination of Israel as a state, should be irrelevant to any dialogue or peace process. Similarly, those who reject the idea of Palestinian identity or who refuse to work towards a resolution of Palestinian ambitions for self-determination and security, cannot possibly take part in a process of reconciliation or of rebuilding. It is the moderate majority, the silent and expansive centreground, who acknowledge the reality and justice of both Israeli and Palestinian claims and complaints which should be invited to be a part of the conversation.

4. Terrorism and violence against civilians is designed to make peace impossible.
Terrorism and violence are designed to prevent peace, not advance it. Acts of terrorism, including  hostage-taking, incarceration of innocent women and children, targeting of civilians, sexual violence – acts of coordinated tactical terror such as these are strategies designed to make negotiation and mutual understanding impossible. These acts can sometimes drive the other party to the extremes and purposefully draws down reprisals. It is the aim and hope of some to push the populations to extremity, in the hope that they will support their aims, or back them politically. Those who use these tactics are not interested in enduring peace. 

5. Religion can be part of the problem, but it is also part of the solution.
Many of those who hold responsibility for the conflict and control the levers of power use religion as a weapon. Yet, that is precisely why religion must also be harnessed as a way to combat these counterproductive and explicitly destructive ideologies. Muslim and Jewish leaders who advocate for a just and equitable resolution to the conflict need to be as comfortable staking their positions in religious vocabulary and identity as those who support terror and seek to prevent peace. Many interesting breakthroughs can be made by, perhaps counterintuitively, using the ideas and laws of Halakhah (Jewish religious law) and Shari’a (Muslim religious law) as a bulwark for the bearers of a peaceful message. 

Please pass on this information

Please pass on this information to your friends and colleagues.  Please talk about the human stories that we share with you. In the horrendous circumstances we all find ourselves, TalkMatters continues to introduce the UK public to the people who refuse to see one another as enemies.  We believe in supporting the grass-roots work in Israel and Palestine and we know that it is only by working together with you – our UK supporters – and with our Israeli-Palestinian Associates that we can ever walk another path.  A path that leads to a future of peace, justice and equality for everyone. 

Thank you for your support.

Jenny and the TalkMatters Team.