We were welcomed by Revd. Ian Tarrant, Rector of St. Mary’s and Rabbi Richard Jacobi from East London & Essex Liberal Synagogue. Celia Hart, Outreach and Administration Manager of Solutions not Sides, a non-partisan organisation, which arranges programmes in schools to debate the Israeli–Palestinian problem, then intoduced the two young women speakers, both peace activists.
Shakir, an Israeli from Tel Aviv, spoke first about growing up in Israel as a child amid unrest and violence from Palestinian extremists. She recalled an attack during the Jewish Festival of Purim when everyone is usually in a happy, celebratory mood.
Now she is involved in the peace process, still recognising that the security of her country is important. After serving in the Israeli army for three years, she went to Burundi, in Africa, where she set up a women’s project on nutrition and family planning. She then decided to return to Israel to take responsibility for making things better there and became involved in politics. Now she works for an organisation working for freedom of religion in Israel.
Rayna, a Palestinian, born in Jerusalem but brought up in Ramallah, then told us of her experiences. She studied environmental issues at university, alongside Israelis and then went to Romania to continue her studies. She recalled dangerous situations when she was at school, and one occasion when she was a child, during a curfew, when an Israeli soldier threatened to shoot her because she was standing outside her house when she should have been indoors.
She told us how daily life for Palestinians is tough, with permits needed to go through Jerusalem, Israeli check-points and restrictions on building houses, among some of the requirements inflicted upon them. Now activists like herself are looking for peaceful solutions. Sacrifices need to be made on both sides, resisting in non-violent ways and trying to understand the other side. Talking about solutions is essential.
The two activists were then asked what they would like to see changed.
Palestinian needs would be:
- An end to occupation.
- Free access to holy sites, especially in Jerusalem.
- The end of Israeli settlements in Palestine and land confiscation.
- No more violence and air strikes in Gaza.
- Palestinian currency being accepted.
Israeli needs would be:
- Seeing each other as human beings, with equal rights for minorities.
- A safe place for Israelis to exist, with an end to violence, but retaining a military presence to maintain security.
- Access to holy sites for all.
- Being able to move safely between countries.
A Question and Answer session then took place with questions such as:
- What impact has the election of Donald Trump had on their situation?
- How representative of their communities were they?
- Why are rocket attacks coming upon Israelis each day?
- Are senior polititicians involved in finding a peaceful solution to the situation?
- Why are check–points still there?
- Why are Palestinian children arrrested without trial?
The two speakers were agreed that Donald Trump was not helping to get a peaceful solution. The Israeli speaker said the country must be kept secure, so a military presence is still needed. However, things are changing and senior polititians on both sides agree that a peaceful solution must be found.
Peter Colwell, Deputy General Secretary of Churches in Britain and Ireland then thanked the speakers for the hope for the future they and given us and a representative from the Board of Deputies of British Jews also spoke warmly of their message.
The meeting finished just after 9pm and we left with that glimpse of hope before us and thankful for the work of the peace activists.