I have just returned from an expansive, balanced and informative trip to the Holy Land, organised by the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), where I was one of a group of Christian and Jewish leaders from the UK, exploring the multiple and complex issues within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with those involved both on the ground and in the political echelons of power.
I use the term Holy Land purposely, it is a new phrase in my vocabulary; I use it as positive acknowledgement of the eclectic voices and communities who call the biblical Land of Israel their home.
This acknowledgement reflects the purpose of the trip as an opportunity to listen to and reflect on conflicting and multiple truths.
This profound, yet absolutely necessary tool, enabled each of us to feel free to express our own concerns and passionate support of the State of Israel, whilst recognising and feeling deeply the concern, pain and truth of the ‘other’.
I experienced this holding of ‘multiple truths’ most profoundly at the Yad b’Yad school (The Centre of Jewish-Arab education in Israel) in Jerusalem, and with Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem.
Both these collaborative spaces emphasised the need to create a society which embraces all its inhabitants through open conversations, and with the appreciation that there are a multitude of personal stories and religious histories, and an abundance of markedly visceral pain.
As a lecturer who focuses on issues of Gender and Judaism, it was of particular importance to me to find out about, and advocate for, women involved in conflict negotiation – both at the grassroots and leadership level.
Many of the speakers and activists we met, when pressed, stated honestly that the religious leadership involved in the many Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations were almost exclusively men, but that many women lead and participate at the grassroots level.
This was particularly resonant in two grassroots movements: WomenWagePeace and Sikkuy – The Centre for the Advancement of Civic Equality.
For WomenWagePeace, religious and/or political affiliation is irrelevant. Indeed, irrespective of one’s complex identity—Israeli, Arab, Palestinian, Jew, Moslem or Christian—a woman’s commitment to finding a political solution to the intractable stale-mate is the only membership requirement.
WomenWagePeace have had remarkable success in their short history, and in the summer of 2016, 30,000 women marched across the Holy Land encouraging everyone they met to take the imaginative leap towards an alternative vision of citizenship and the shared responsibility to achieve it. This diverse yet cohesive group of women marched together.
If one of the central purposes of the trip was to enable the creation of a mutual space for multiple voices both in the UK and in the Holy Land, it is imperative that these voices not only reflect the myriad communities, but also the voices and opinions of both men and women, at every level of negotiation.
Those of us involved in interfaith dialogue, in building peace and reconciliation, know that this work demands us to be honest, persistent and compassionate.
But we also need to be brave and recognise that there are voices that have yet to be represented and thus yet to be heard.
I encourage all those we met in the Holy Land, and all those leaders here in the UK’s Jewish community, to work to ensure that 51% of the community is well represented at all levels.
After the horrific attack in Manchester this week, it behooves all of us to make space for the ‘other’; to welcome, validate and understand those who live different lives with different values – establishing a much needed model of shared community and convivial society.
Investing in the ‘other’ is risky and often unpredictable – and nowhere is this more evident that in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, perhaps a more meaningful and long term response to radical hatred is radical kindness, radical openness, radical vulnerability, radical hospitality and radical responsibility.
All members of our eclectic Jewish community, young and old, religious and secular, women and men, with the healthy diversity of our political views, have a place amongst others at this table of opportunity – I hope sincerely that we accept that place and delight in it.