"It turned the conflict from something that I have studied to something that I have felt"

Ciara McCombe, History Teacher in Brent, North West London

My introduction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came when I was about 16 after I attended a play called ‘Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea’. Watching this play was a moment of political awakening for me, of political consciousness. I became aware of how little I knew about the world outside of my continent, comforted in a bubble that atrocities are confined to history, they’re something we study, not something we experience. The very foundations of the world as I knew it had been shaken for me. I realised that my problem was not apathy, but lack of knowledge and the only solution for me would be an education. From then I committed myself to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something which was difficult due to contradictory muddy narratives as well as a notable absence of it on school and university curricular.

The school I worked in for my NQT year was unusual in that it taught the ‘Arab-Israeli’ conflict as coursework to year 11. I found this a difficult task being that I knew how politicised this history is. This was an important reminder to me about the role of the History teacher, of how political the role is as well as the power of the role, as students see your knowledge as authoritative. I struggled that year to present the conflict as fairly as possible, conducting extra research into the perspective of both sides in order to leave students with an empathetic understanding to as why a solution is not as simple as carving the land into an Israeli and Palestinian side.

Empathy is central as I find that both sides of the conflict look to dehumanise and delegitimise each other and that common understanding of humanity is lost. This is why I feel that learning about the conflict has an important place in secondary schools. This is because all of us will be faced with this conflict in the news or in public spaces. I feel that one of the casualties of this conflict is the perception of Jewish people who are often targets of abuse and held accountable for the actions of the Israeli government. This is the consequence of a poor understanding, something which the teaching community is well positioned to remedy, although not necessarily well resourced.

Solutions Not Sides offered a really powerful resolution to this dilemma. Due to lack of curriculum time in my current school, I felt disheartened that I was not able to right the wrong of a poor perception of the conflict. However, SNS offers an opportunity to have young people from both the Palestinian & Israeli nations to speak to students. This is so valuable in humanising the conflict, in introducing students to global affairs whilst deepening and complicating their understanding. The first couple of times I invited SNS in, they presented to the 6th form. I really enjoyed being an observer in these workshops, hearing some very powerful questions from students as well as watching them grapple with potential solutions. I felt the team facilitating the workshops were very knowledgeable and able to respond to their suggestions in a way that led to a more complex appreciation of the conflict. When the speakers shared their experiences there was pin drop silence, the students were on the edge of their seats and moved to ask incredible questions. They were genuinely empathetic towards speakers from both sides. As a teacher I was impressed with how genuine all of the speakers I have met have been. It is a real awakening to how this huge and ongoing conflict impacts on everyday life, things we take for granted like going out after dark or feeling safe on the bus ride to work. It turned the conflict from something that I have studied to something that I have felt. This is in part due to the selection of speakers. I am always nervous having speakers present at school as not all people can hold the attention of teenagers. However, the training that SNS provides to prepare them is impeccable, they are all able to present with clarity and confidence. I felt it was especially powerful that they are often only a few years older than them as this helps them to reflect on their privilege but also to hopefully reflect on their own personal challenges.

I have SNS visit our school yearly as I find it greatly compliments the Global Politics component in the Politics A Level. It acts as a strong case study which provides students with a staunch grounding for relationships between global powers, human rights, the classification of states as well as the role of the UN. I have also found that SNS has provided me with some great professional development opportunities. SNS is invested in not only the schools and students that they visit, but also the teachers. I have been offered some valuable CPD and been connected to a wider network of teachers from all corners of the world, as well as like minded professionals. Working with SNS has led to some great opportunities, with the possibility of an exchange programme even on the horizon!

You can find Ciara here.

If you’re interested in booking an SNS workshop, you can found out all the info you need here: https://solutionsnotsides.co.uk/our-work/events