Interfaith week is designed to strengthen interfaith relations and understanding, however it is currently in crisis with many asking what’s the point? The last two months have been an incredibly challenging time for interfaith, hopelessly and helplessly watching the rapidly rising number of those killed daily. With many grieving, upset, angry and fearful, empathy for how the perceived ‘other’ is feeling is difficult during this painful period, which is exacerbated by the exponential increase in antisemitism and Islamophobia. Over 2,000 antisemitic and 1,400 Islamophobic incidents have occurred including assaults, threats, attacks on synagogues and mosques, damage, desecration to property, direct threats, abusive behaviour, graffiti, hate-mail, verbal abuse and online abuse. Many Muslim and Jewish communities fear being visibly Jewish and Muslim. We need to stop importing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and begin exporting peace
It is important to acknowledge that not everyone is ready for dialogue, emotions are running high. I can appreciate why Palestine-Israel has become the elephant in the interfaith room, Interfaith rarely goes beyond bhajis and bagels. Neglecting to build resilience and muscle memory during times of lesser violence has meant dialogue has become strained or broken down entirely. A consequence of this is that we are seeing elephants on the rampage. A powerful analogy by Professor Jonathan Haidt, describing our emotional gut response to big political issues being like an elephant and our rational mind being the rider on its back. The rider often thinks they are in control, steering the elephant in the right direction, in reality the elephant charges off leaving the rider to rationalise and justify the rampaging elephant.
In areas where interfaith has deepened and gone beyond Hummus and Baklava, forming friendships, actively working together and taking more of a strategic response to societal issues, interfaith relations have become strained and challenged, with growing glimmers of hope. We cannot allow further seeds of division to be sown. Peace and justice is built not only by speaking to our friends but to our enemies or the perceived ‘other’. Britain needs more Bridge Builders and therefore peacebuilding is more urgent and necessary than ever before. ‘Together for Humanity’ is a coalition carving out common ground, bringing together people of all faiths and none from all walks of life. Our Palestinian and Israeli speakers are reaching across the divide to foster peace, be solutions-focused and advocate for a win-win outcome for all Palestinians and Israelis. Israel-Palestine should not be reduced to only an issue for Jewish and Muslim communities alone - this is not a religious conflict, but we should not neglect how deeply it affects Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities in Britain. The situation requires the ally-ship of people of all faiths and none. Palestine and Israel have a rich and diverse religious and cultural heritage; Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Druze, Samaritan, Bahai and others, and we should leverage that diversity.
Participants at the Belong Annual Conference, where Miriam and Rory, from Solutions Not Sides, spoke about their anti-prejudice and bridge building work (Photo Credit: Solutions Not Sides)
Launching these new guidelines for interfaith dialogue on Israel-Palestine as Interfaith week comes to a close, brings with it a feeling of urgency and importance especially as we need bridge builders and peace builders more than ever. These guidelines are created to be part of the ongoing conversation on how to keep talking, based on 4 parts:
- Creating a safe space for uncomfortable dialogue
- Finding common ground
- Disagreeing respectfully & better
- Working towards the common good
Creating a safe space for uncomfortable dialogue
Holding the space is the essential first step, which allows it to be safe with the acknowledgement that the dialogue will move towards becoming uncomfortable, that it might trigger some participants, and that it will test skills in actively listening to opinions which might be strongly disagreed with. The following is a list of considerations and will need to be adapted based on the participants and type of event.
- Invite an experienced facilitator to work with the group
- Define what it means to create a safe, courageous and uncomfortable space for dialogue with all the participants involved
- Co-create the ground rules/shared learning agreement and all to agree
- Allow everyone to share expectations
- Explore how expectations will be managed - what is realistic and what is not
- Discuss expectations outside the realms of this dialogue
- Discuss why interfaith dialogue and why now?
- Identify the individual and collective motivation for dialogue
- Define boundaries and red lines
- Introduce and discuss antisemitism and Islamophobia
- Explore collectively how you will manage conflict, disagreement and offence
- Explore power dynamics and your voice
- Explore triggers and how to manage emotions when triggered during dialogue
- Define what you want to achieve through this dialogue - begin with the end in mind
- Explore how to discuss Israel-Palestine whilst not crossing the line into antisemitism & Islamophobia
- Explore the challenges for having dialogue on Palestine-Israel
Finding the common ground
Dialogue is underrated! Groups and organisers should resist only listening to voices that call for jumping straight into difficult dialogue. Finding common ground is an important step to break the ice, foster trust and find commonality. This is also an opportunity to reflect on where this dialogue is beginning and the positions individuals might take.
- Utilise lots of ice breaker activities
- Humanise one another - get to know each other
- Explore your identity, faith and belonging
- Explore why Israel-Palestine is important to your identity
- Explore why Israel and Palestine is important to different faith communities
- Explore the different sites of historical importance in Israel-Palestine
- Facilitate a Scriptural Reasoning workshop, introducing Israel-Palestine in sacred scripture
- Explore the religious diversity in Israel-Palestine
- Explore the impact of Israel-Palestine of British communities
- Discuss how to stand together against Antisemitism and Islamophobia
- Learn conflict resolution skills
Learning to disagree respectfully & better
Listening to diverse perspectives is not always comfortable. The aim should not be to reconcile different positions but create a space where open and respectful dialogue can take place.
- Create an opportunity to listen to narratives you have grown up with on Israel-Palestine
- Explore how these narratives intersect and differs with one another
- Be emotionally prepared to listen to views which may trigger or cause anger
- The aim is to listen to diverse narratives, not to reconcile or agree
- Explore contested historical narratives, how they intersect and differ
- Partner with organisations in the region to listen to voices of Israeli and Palestinian peace builders
- Explore everyday experiences of Palestinians & Israelis
- Explore the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on civilians - you could use Solutions Not Sides’ film Rage, Revenge & Repair
Working towards the common good
This is to move beyond dialogue to taking action, beginning peacebuilding and standing together.
- Explore different approaches to peace building in Palestine-Israel
- Explore barriers to peace
- Discuss the role of governments, international relations and diplomacy to promote peace
- Discuss what it means to stand together
- Explore coming together to foster good relations and reduce tensions
- Discuss tackling antisemitism and Islamophobia together
- Listen to voices of Israelis & Palestinians exploring the different solutions & activism
- Explore a win-win solution for all Palestinians and Israelis
- Take a solutions-focused approach to activism
- Explore creating a road map for peace
Solutions Not Sides is an education charity dedicated to empowering young people to critically think about Israel-Palestine by creating opportunities to listen to Palestinian and Israeli peace builders. SNS is not an interfaith organisation therefore does not bring together communities for dialogue.
The Forum for discussion on Israel and Palestine, FODIP is a faith-based dialogue organisation whose objective is to improve relations between faith communities in the UK. To do this it is necessary to help people have the difficult conversations, to understand something of the reality of life in Palestine & Israel and to understand why people here come to take the positions they do. For further information see: https://www.fodip.org.uk