The last few months have been particularly upsetting for TalkMatters. The initiatives that TalkMatters promote are now threatened by the passing of the first part of the bill to weaken the powers of the judiciary. This is on top of the never-ending cycle of violence and counter-violence and the continual lack of governmental interest in minority issues.
Despite the unsettling situation, we see hope through the grassroots organisations that TalkMatters support because they continue to bring Jews and Arabs together through a shared interest in music, sport, hi-tech, ecology, etc. Against a background fuelled with suspicion, fear and hatred where Arabs and Jews rarely mix socially, these initiatives allow the opportunity to meet, talk and hear each other’s stories
I’d like to take a trip down memory lane with you and return to 2020 as Covid 19 became entrenched and TalkMatters was born. With time on my hands, I remembered the helplessness I’d felt over 20 years before, at the time of the Second Intifada. And the glimmer of hope, when on behalf of the BBC I visited Wahat-al-Salam-Neve Shalom (WASNS) – the only village in Israel where Palestinian Arabs and Jewish people of Israeli citizenship live together in a shared, equitable society.
It was the same feeling again and this time I knew that I could do something about it. Through my association with WASNS I had met many Palestinians and Israelis in other initiatives that are promoting the same fair and tolerant society seen there. Few people are aware of these initiatives because they go unheard in the media. With the over-riding goal to nurture the next generation of peacemakers by supporting grassroots projects that enable Israeli and Palestinian people to talk together, I began my Covid 19 journey.
What TalkMatters has taught us between 2020 and 2023
The last three years have not been easy for anyone. I can see that TalkMatters is the gap in the middle – the hardest place to be because we can be attacked from both sides. Palestinians say that we are propaganda for Israel and Jewish people say we are unrealistically whitewashing the problems away. I deny both opinions: if we challenge the established thinking on both sides, we must be doing something right!
What have I learnt? To listen to opinions that I don’t want to hear, to acknowledge the extremism on both sides, to try to question whenever someone gives only one side of the story and that for many people there is a huge gap between what is imagined and what is reality.
As to the way forward. TalkMatters must keep on striving to have the right people and institutions in place for when the new day eventually dawns. A day that celebrates Palestinian freedom and independence alongside a secure Jewish homeland in Israel.
And in practical terms it’s the same old story. We need more Jews to meet and talk to a Palestinian person, and we need more Palestinians to meet and talk to a Jewish person. We also need more co-operative initiatives in Israel-Palestine.
Finally, these initiatives need support – our support – from awareness and understanding of their work to volunteers’ time and funding to allow it to continue.
What can we all do right now?
Rabbi Tarfon in the Ethics of the Fathers said ‘It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to stand aside from it’ (Ethics of the Fathers, 2.21).
Having worked on it for three years, I say “look at the TalkMatters website and our social media pages to see the vital work that these initiatives are doing. Support them and talk about them. After all, TalkMatters!”