My school - a large Grammar School in the North of England - has been working with Solutions Not Sides (SNS) since 2016. The mission statement of the organisation encapsulates the reasons why my school signed up with SNS:
"SNS is an organisation whose aim is to tackle Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and polarisation around the issue of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict in the UK. The non- partisan programme has been formulated with the input of both Israelis and Palestinians as well as senior members of Jewish and Muslim communities, and is designed to prepare students to make a positive, solutions based contribution to debates on Israel-Palestine."
SNS have worked with over 400 schools around the UK, including my school, to support students in making solutions-based contributions to discussion and interactions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The sessions are delivered in a safe space for students, empowering them to express their views in a respectful way through workshops and dialogues with Israeli and Palestinian speakers as well as staff from SNS. Students prepare for the workshops by watching a video explaining the historical context of the conflict. They have a booklet to complete which asks their own views of the conflict. I found this exercise so valuable as it allows students to share their opinion as well as potentially raising any issues that need to be addressed. Students are also given the opportunity to watch a video ‘Rage Revenge Repair’, which focuses on two men, one Palestinian and one Israeli who both lost a sister in the conflict. This video had a huge impact on my students showing how the shared grief of both men brought them together. My students saw two people from opposing sides showing what humanity has in common with one another. I have been so impressed with the resources that SNS use with students which are delivered so effectively by the SNS team.
Since 2016, my students have met a number of inspirational speakers from both Israel and Palestine, who have shared their stories with students and explained why they want peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. SNS creates engaging videos of each speaker, which is shown to students. They are then given the opportunity to ask questions to the speakers based on what they have seen. After every session with SNS, students always comment on how much they appreciate a human response to the conflict. They are moved and inspired when they see both the Israeli and Palestinian speakers listening respectfully to each other and having a shared vision of peace. Students also appreciate learning about the needs of both Israelis and Palestinians and being asked what they think would be a solution for both sides moving forward.
As SNS have been a part of our school community for so long now, this has really helped students to see a perspective from the conflict that is not always presented in the media but has been demonstrated in school every year, that there are people on both sides, ordinary Israeli and Palestinians, who want peace.
Our school is also an Olive Branch school, which gives students further opportunities to develop their critical thinking skills, empathy and social and emotional learning. This helps to further embed students' understanding and reflection of Israel-Palestine and conflict resolution. Students from my school were also given the opportunity to attend SNS’ first Model United Nations event at the University of Lancaster. This was an invaluable experience for all students who attended and has motivated them to work for peace. The Olive Branch award gives opportunities for teachers to have training sessions on antisemitism and Islamophobia. This is so important for teachers who do not feel equipped or comfortable talking about these issues. There is also an event in Cambridge with the aim of networking with teachers from the UK and from Israel and Palestine. I attended last year and learnt so much from everyone I met. My students have also created a peace mural, which is one of the Olive Branch award objectives and is displayed in the front entrance of my school, displaying such an important message to our school community.
Working with SNS since 2016 has created an ethos of respect and empathy from my students who have attended the sessions. On Tuesday 9th October 2023 when SNS came to our school my students and I were so moved by both the speakers and the team from SNS. Despite what both speakers were going through, they still spoke so eloquently about their desire for peace and reconciliation. My students were very grateful for the opportunity to meet the two speakers. My advice to any school thinking of booking SNS is, please do not just book as a one-off event but book them every year and apply to become an Olive Branch school. With the current unprecedented situation in both Israel and Palestine, many of my students who have attended the sessions know that there are Israelis and Palestinians who want peace. They have first-hand experience of this. They have a deeper understanding of the complexities of the conflict. The work that SNS are doing is invaluable. Their education programme enables students to have a voice and provides them with the tools and resources to not only be educated on Israel-Palestine, but to also in their own life build on their conflict resolution skills. I am very grateful for all the support SNS have given staff and myself at my school.