London, October 26, 2012 – Stonehenge. Roman baths. Ancient castles. The Southwest of England is known for historical sites and beautiful vistas, but from October 18-24, this region of England was also known to host discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the importance of the two-state solution.
This was the first foray into the southwest of the country, with a focus on schools, universities, and community groups in Exeter, Taunton, and Bristol. Somerset and London were also stops on the five-day tour.
Both Malaka and Leeba focused their message on encouraging people to be pro-solution and pro-justice, rather than supporting one side over the other.
“I…learned that we must continue our work,” Leeba said of the tour as a whole, “because a lot of people care about this region.”
Four school sessions dotted the week in the southwest, reaching 230 students between the ages of 14 and 18. The students left the programs impressed and mindful of what they knew about the conflict before, and what insights Malaka and Leeba gave them after the sessions ended.
“We felt there has to be two states if the needs of both Israelis and Palestinians are to be met,” said one student at Exeter School after group discussions. "I hadn’t thought about conflict in this way before.”
Reaching young people with conflict resolution tools and equipping them with the awareness of an issue like Israel-Palestine before they go on to university is a central part of O&E, according to Sharon Alsoodani, director of the program.
At Taunton, a town home to a number of old, established religious sites, the youth leaders met with members of Temple Methodist Church. Over 50 people came out on a rainy evening to discuss with Malaka and Leeba about making a breakthrough for peace, leaving the parishioners “full of hope” and with “a way that British people can truly support ordinary Israelis and Palestinians.”
Next on the tour was the City of Bristol, which provided the backdrop to a number of interreligious assemblies during the O&E tour. In particular, a women’s interfaith event proved to be very diverse and fruitful, sparking a partnership with Salaam-Shalom Radio, Bristol Women’s Network, and Bristol Multi-faith Forum.
Malaka emphasised the efforts of OneVoice in small towns like Qalqilia in the West Bank to empower women and get them more involved in political life.
“Women’s role as mothers means that they have a unique perspective to bring to the discussion about the peace process,” she said.
Two student events at Bristol University and a session about peace activism at the Quakers’ ‘Called to be a Peacemaker’ conference in London rounded out the tour, bringing total participation in the tour to nearly 400 people.
Throughout the week, Malaka and Leeba shared the same vision and goal to break the status-quo in both their societies. They called for a settlement freeze and ending all claims after solving all final status issues according to international resolutions, along with a cessation of the occupation and an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.
“The youth leaders demonstrated what can be achieved when those with opposing perspectives on a situation unite behind a future that can fulfil the core needs and aspirations of all those involved through non-violent means,” Sharon concluded.
Take a look at this short video of Leeba, Malaka, and O&E Director Sharon Alsoodani at Temple Methodist Church in Taunton.