“I immediately realised that mine was just one narrative; a very linear one at that. And in order to really understand the conflict it was necessary to discard all caricatures and prejudices that I was coming with, to live and listen in the moment, to try to understand on the most basic of human levels what people longed for in their hearts, what parents prayed for their children and only then did I appreciate how relatable everybody’s struggles were to one another.” (Male, Muslim)
Our aim was to learn more about the complexities of the Israel/Palestine conflict, especially its religious dimensions, which are often neglected in political scientific analysis. We also wanted to carefully consider how our own religious commitments, drawn into dialogue with those of different traditions, may be a resource for peacemaking and conflict resolution in the future.
Our schedule of meetings and events were none-stop from the very first day. We visited a wide range of places including Jerusalem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Tiberias, Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, Masada and Qumran. In these places we were moved by our experience of different holy sites and devotional practices.
We looked at aspects of the Jewish faith and tradition at the Western Wall, Yad Vashem, Tzipori and Qumran. We learned about the history and beliefs of Islam at Haram al-Sherif and the White Mosque in Nazareth. And we explored the Christian devotion to this area along the Via Dolorosa, at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Church of the Annunciation and Capernaum.
This trip held a particular religious and spiritual significance for many of our students, either in developing their own faith or in growing their respect of others’. Part of our programme involved participating in Jewish devotion through a Sabbath Service at the Yedidya Synagogue and a Shabbat meal with Jewish families, in Muslim devotion by observing prayers at the White Mosque and worship at Al-Aqsa (Muslims only), and in Christian devotion also in Evening Prayer at St George’s Cathedral and Mass in Arabic at the Latin Patriarchate.
Students reflected this growing appreciation and respect in their reflections:
“Despite not identifying with a religion I felt humbled to be able to witness how others practice their faith” (Female, Agnostic)
“I was struck by the Mosaics of Mary and Jesus (peace be upon them) at the Church of the Annunciation and thought it was beautiful to see the universality of religion and how many people across the world believe and connect with Jesus and Mary” (Female, Muslim)
“I definitely developed a greater understanding of both Islam and Judaism and I felt I could personally take two things away from this… [In Islam] the idea of prayer 5 times a day challenged me in how often I simply get into the habit of dealing with things on my own… [and] sharing the Shabbat with the family gave me a desire to see my faith impacting on every aspect of my everyday life” (Female, Christian).
An important part of our trip was visiting collaborative organisations, such as the Jerusalem Centre for Inter-religious Encounter, the British Embassy, Combatants for Peace and the Hand-in-Hand School. Reflecting on each of these encounters, students commented upon the complexity of competing narratives within conflict and the importance of being able to think holistically and from multiple perspectives; they considered the role of bias in the media and were challenged when confronted by hostile and aggressive sentiments that contradicted their own beliefs or values. Several comments are recorded below:
“Nothing is ever clear cut, black and white, and generalisations about groups of people that lead to their demonization are very harmful in maintaining hostility and conflict. I guess remembering this about most situations and not jumping to easy conclusions is important… Knowing the complexity, I also realised that a lot of it is about the process for peace and not necessarily the end solution” (Female, Muslim).
“It is easy to criticise another’s narrative for misrepresenting reality, while not acknowledging the blind spots of the narratives that we ourselves are influenced by” (Male, Christian)
“Faiths are coming together to think differently about conflict” (Female, Agnostic)
“Regardless of whether there is uncompromising stances and political posturing in the political world, as long as there are people willing to work together to secure the dignity and the right to life of their neighbours, the compassion between one human and another will always keep the way open for reconciliation and peace” (Male, Christian)
It is very much our hope that these trips will continue and that we will be able to develop both the programme itself and the ways in which we foster the interfaith leadership potential of its participants.