On the seventh – and final – day of the truce in the war in Gaza, more than 100 people filled a studio in north London on Thursday to focus on Oasis of Peace, the Israeli village where Jews and Palestinians live together.
The barrister and TV presenter Rob Rinder, in conversation with fellow barrister David Altaras at the event in Highgate, said Neve Shalom–Wahat al-Salam demonstrates that “no person is born wanting to be a Hamas terrorist”.
Rinder told a group of UK lawyers who are part of the interfaith charity British Friends of Neve Shalom that the village had a more important role than ever for the future. “If we can model what’s happening here [in Neve Shalom], just think what we might be able to achieve. And those of you that might think that’s unrealistic or simply a figment of unreasonable imagination, it seems to me that now, more than ever, we need to readjust what we can imagine.”
Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam, located halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, was founded in 1970 and now has 80 families, Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians in equal numbers, and has plans to expand to 150 families. At its bilingual primary school, all lessons are in Hebrew and Arabic.
The village has had its own difficulties since the massacre by Hamas in southern Israel on 7 October that started the war: there is a fear of speaking openly; and new security cameras and guards have been installed to protect it from extremists on both sides.
Inevitably, Thursday’s event reflected the conflict. Rinder had been preparing to give a talk, the annual Rueff lecture. “And then 7 October happened,” he said. “And it struck me… that we should have a conversation with one another.” In the context of the war, and in the course of the discussion with Altaras, he posed a series of questions: “Are we appeasers? Are we doing something which undermines the security and the long-term mission of the State of Israel by virtue of our shared and enduring belief in peace?”
He was unequivocal. “I’m certain that we’re not. I think it’s part of our ongoing, sacred requirement to hold on to the fundamental soul of the State of Israel, in its inception, for hatikvah, for hope,” he said. “That’s what will make Israel endure.”
He spoke too of the BBC television programme he co-presented, The Holy Land and Us, which looked at the stories of six families, Jewish and Palestinian, whose lives were changed by the founding of the State of Israel. When it was broadcast he received lots of support but also, for the first time, he received violent responses, “from my own Jewish community”, he said. “Messages calling me a Kapo, that somehow I was colluding simply by sharing the stories.”
He said he was pleased that people could walk away from the programme, which somehow received five-star reviews from both the Guardian and the Jewish press, and say “it’s complicated”: “Because if tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance, we now live… in the most appalling, devastating absence of nuance.”
Above all, Rinder said, only through nuanced dialogue could two peoples discover the shared values that are necessary for coexistence.
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