An Israeli-Palestinian grassroots initiative is to launch in the UK after organisers said the election of Israel’s far-right means engaging settlers in the West Bank is now more important than ever.
Friends of Roots UK (FoRUK) is the British branch of Roots, which is led by Israeli Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Palestinian Noor A’wad and aims to connect Israeli settlers with Palestinians face-to-face.
Over the past five years, the organisation has set up initiatives including dialogue centres in Nablus, the Jordan Valley, Kfar Adumim-Jahalin, Bethlehem-Gush Etzion, and the South Hebron Hills.
Israeli settlers and local Palestinian groups come together for regular meetings, shared religious celebrations, children’s activities, and joint study groups in which participants learn about non-violence.
The FoRUK launch tour is taking place from 16-27 November, beginning in Edinburgh at the Scottish Parliament, before travelling to London, Luton, Cambridge, Oxford, Warwick, Birmingham, Huddersfield, Manchester, Salford, and Trafford. It will launch online on Monday.
Schlesinger said the organisation sought to offer a “safe space” for settlers and Palestinians to “begin to realise that there are two stories in this land, not one, and that the only way forward is to hear and understand both”.
A’wad said the aim was not to “create coexistence with settlers or to convince them to leave” but to “redefine what peace means when both sides feel strongly connected to the entire land”. He added that “any resolution that doesn’t involve settlers and Palestinian refugees will be fruitless”.
FoRUK co-chair Steven Longden said that resolving intercommunal conflicts “is not an easy process, but the path to peace rarely is,” adding: “If neighbours from across the divide in such a conflicted part of the world can begin a peace movement, then that serves as a potent example to us all.”
Fellow co-chair Ruth Jacobs said FoRUK would have “zero tolerance to racism and lazy generalisations”, adding: “Too often we are fed a diet of alarming news from a sensationalist media that is devoid of nuance and stereotypes result.
“Through learning about one another’s history and dealing with one another with open minds and hearts we are able to see we have far more in common than that which we perceive divides us.”
Jess Foster, another co-chair, said: “Not discussing what occupation means between Israelis and Palestinians stunts an understanding of the impact… These conversations are harder than avoidance but are critical to peace.”
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