Dr. Patrick Magee and Jo Berry of Building Bridges for Peace met students at OneVoice Israel event at the University of Haifa. They travelled to Ramallah the next day to meet with OneVoice Palestine activists.
On March 13, Dr. Patrick Magee, a former IRA member, and the daughter of one of Magee’s victims, Jo Berry, spoke about the role of forgiveness and conflict resolution at an event co-sponsored by OneVoice Israel and Haifa University.
The event enabled Pat and Jo, founders of Building Bridges for Peace, to share their unique story and relay back to the students the importance that understanding and dialogue played in their reconciliation. Indeed, a key theme throughout the talk was empathy, for it is only through understanding of where someone else comes from that we are able to learn of the circumstances which shaped the views and opinions of others.
This point was emphasized by Jo when she said, given a change of circumstances, she could have easily grown up to be a member of the IRA. She stressed that actions are determined by circumstances, not by any innate characteristics within us. It was only through knowing Pat, and the struggles and injustices he faced growing up in the Northern Ireland conflict, that she could understand how and why he turned to violence, and in turn why her father lost his life.
Pat and Jo have traveled to many countries to share their story, but this was their first visit to Israel and Palestine.
“Everybody wants peace, every conversation we’ve had here has been about that,” Pat observed. “There’s a solution already there, it’s just creating the conditions for people to come around the table and thrash it out. There’s so much fear. Fear drives people to apathy and drives people to extremes.”
Some students present in Haifa found the idea of Pat's and Jo’s reconciliation incomprehensible, even wrong, though many others wanted to better understand. As such, some frank exchanges between the students and the speakers took place.
Pat was also keen to emphasize that one must not lose hope.
“There’s a list of seemingly endless problems, no solutions in sight, and then this miracle happens,” Pat said after a question about seemingly intractable conflicts.
The students asked Pat and Jo a variety of questions, ranging from how their families received the partnership, to how their experiences and what they have learned could be applied to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In response, the message was clear, in that it emphasized the need to be open, patient, and to empathize – to imagine one’s self in the place of the other.
Jo also had some practical advice to end on: “I recommend you get involved with OneVoice, they do fantastic work.”
The next day, OneVoice Palestine youth leaders met with Pat and Jo in Ramallah.
Pat and Jo had a chance to discuss the conflict, occupation, and suffering, as well as see the impact of the settlements and separation wall. They shared their stories with youth leaders in an event OVP’s activists described as “inspiring” and “a powerful example of reconciliation.”
Within the duration of this visit, Jo spoke of her commitment to peaceful resolution, mediation of conflict, and about Building Bridges for Peace. She was inspired by the youth leaders’ work in the West Bank and Gaza and their commitment to non-violent activism. Pat spoke about his journey, his 14 years in prison, and Jo’s efforts for achieving reconciliation with him.
OVP youth leaders shared observations about the need for justice, an end to the occupation, and solving all final status issues in line with international resolutions as pre-requisites to real reconciliation with Israel in a meaningful sense.
The youth leaders listened intently to Pat’s story, and then explained how there is another internal reconciliation that Palestinians are concerned about: the schism between the West Bank and Gaza, and how important healing this divide will be in order to achieve a sustainable peace agreement with the Israelis that will end the occupation, build the Palestinian state, and bring peace to the region.
Over the course of two hours, Pat and Jo shared with the youth leaders the concept of creating a legitimate partnership in times of conflict. They also answered questions by the youth on peace building and the obstacles generated by mistrust and frustration on both sides of the conflict.
“I can only imagine their journey for reconciliation,” said OVP activist and Project Manager Malaka Samara. “In times of conflict, it is important to hear the other side and give an opportunity to create a legitimate partner to end the conflict for the benefits of both sides.”