The end of 2016 saw Solutions Not Sides leading tours first in our local London, and then in Birmingham. Both tours were hugely successful primarily down to our fantastic speakers, which saw Eran and Rena joining us in London, and Dawoud and Meron venturing to the midlands.
In London, our school groups were much smaller than usual which was something that facilitated much more in depth, intimate discussions, and many more follow up questions from students wanting to know more. At South Hampstead High School and University College School we visited the schools’ Jewish Societies in partnership with UJIA. Although these sessions had to be shorter, it was great to see students voluntarily getting involved to find out more about the conflict, and asking a broad range of really engaging questions.
More than anything else the relationship between our two speakers, Eran and Rena, set the tone and mood for our sessions. The openness and trust between them perfectly demonstrated how two people with very different perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences, can both respectfully disagree and still cooperate to find solutions.
The majority of students reached in the Birmingham tour had Muslim or South East Asian backgrounds, often having grown up with a strongly pro-Palestinian narrative. This meant much of the work in the 15 schools visited by our speakers centred on correcting some misconceptions about the nature of the conflict and its history. As a consequence, the role of the media, and the various biases’ different news sources can have in reporting on certain events, especially in the Middle East, was extensively and productively discussed. Dawoud particularly had words of wisdom to share, advising students: “I would recommend that for you – be critical of the narrow media and social media resources that you encounter. Seek out a diverse range of voices and opinions”.
At Hillcrest School, a small group of 16 students engaged particularly well with the speakers, asking numerous follow up questions about the daily lives’ of Meron and Dawoud. During the solutions activity, one particularly interesting solution dreamt up by the students involved Jerusalem: “Jerusalem as its own independent city-state, with its own government and control. Two independent states around it – Palestine & Israel – would have access.”
In addition to the school sessions, SNS was invited to speak at a Warwick University International Relations Society event. This was a bi-partisan event facilitated by the International Relations Society with members of the Jewish-Israeli Society and Warwick: Friends of Palestine Society also attending, something that contributed to a very lively discussion and Q&A session, specifically surrounding the ethics and perception of BDS. The international make-up of the students at the university was well represented, with students and speakers even hearing from a Palestinian student speaking about her experiences whilst at al-Quds University.
In total, we managed to reach 173 students on our London tour and 706 on our Birmingham tour, bringing our grand total of student participants reached since the programme started 6 years ago to 20,000 - a major milestone we are very proud of! So two great tours, four great speakers, and a personal best for Solutions Not Sides to round off 2016 – we look forward to working more in both London and Birmingham in 2017!