Guest Opinion Piece: Solutions Not Sides: “Journey to Jerusalem”

To introduce myself I’m a 21 year old student of History and Political Science from the University of Birmingham, now on exchange at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I’m studying the Middle East including of course the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The process or journey that brought me to Jerusalem is indebted to my involvement with OneVoice and the Solutions not Sides program. However it is not the case that one organisation or viewpoint has fed my own, more that my beliefs, values and academic interest led me to seek out an organisation and ‘voice’ that I felt to be representative!

My journey began with for as long as I can remember an interest in cultures, religions or more generally - people - with the history and the politics that come with them, my degree path was chosen. Through my upbringing and studies I have developed principles that guide and drive me, including belief in; universal human rights, right to self determination and multiculturalism, elements of a harmonious 21st century society that all peoples deserve to enjoy. With a rise of so called ‘clash of civilisations’ and cultures in Europe and corresponding increase in incidents of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, the phenomena of conflict threatening my beliefs are by no means confined to the case of Israel- Palestine.

However it would be this conflict that captivated my interest as an example of wider socio-political processes mentioned above. Originally during the 2014 Gaza war amid various conflicting headlines and narratives being put out around the world, one news station interviewed a “OneVoice Israel activist” living close to the Gaza border who despite the hundreds of rockets flying at and over his home, spoke of the need for peace, reconciliation and understanding. Inspired by his words, yearning to learn more about what was obviously a more complex conflict than the media often portrays, I signed up to the OneVoice Europe Solutions not Sides student leadership program.    

Through Solutions not Sides, alongside previous training in conflict mediation, I learnt that the picture was more than that of simply being “pro-Palestine” or “pro-Israel” and that I could widen my perspective to be one and both at the same time, in fact that this approach is required if we are to find a lasting peace and solution - whatever that may be. I would eventually undertake an internship with OneVoice Europe, whereby I furthered my knowledge, understanding and most importantly drive to interact and engage with others and their views, particularly those from the region. With my interest in the wider Middle East growing, the opportunity to take a study exchange year in Jerusalem was too good to turn down and in October 2015 I landed at Ben Gurion airport during the worst spate of violence since the second Intifada.

As said, I’ve learnt that the most important factor in understanding any given issue, is listening and learning from those involved in regards to their needs and desires. Rather than coming to expound or arbitrarily impose my views it has been my intention to literally ‘live’ Jerusalem, meaning experiencing in the fullest way possible what it means to be Israeli and Palestinian here, in what have been particularly troubling times. Despite the hardships I’ve genuinely come to love both the land and its people, meeting and making friends with inspiring Israelis and Palestinians. It has been and remains a terrible time for; peace, the two state solution, Palestinian rights and Israeli security. What is most worrying for me is that for all the creative solution driven initiatives and people I have met, there are still many that that have displayed a lack of will, understanding and empathy of the ‘other’ - representing the greatest obstacle to peace.

Despite this atmosphere I remain optimistic that the current impasse and rigid status quo will cave into a catalyst for change. My experience of living here and attempting to understand the needs of Israelis and Palestinians, despite the tough realities, has served to only reinforce my belief that “two states for two peoples” remains the requirement for a lasting, just and stable future - in whatever operational form that takes. The emergence of new partners for this progression, Zimam in Palestine and Darkenu in Israel, feed my optimism, drive and belief that we can see a vibrant re-emergence of solution focused peace camps, as a matter of urgency for, and representative of the moderate majorities of Israel and Palestine! It is for this end that my involvement continues.

Sam Nightingale Bartlett