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A reflection on CCJ’s Jewish/Christian Leadership Study Tour of Israel-Palestine

When I am engaged in some form of interfaith dialogue, I often listen with my red hat on. The concept comes from De Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats” where the red hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition. When you listen with the red hat, you are not so much interested in what people are saying, as you are interested in how and why they are saying it.

I spent a lot of time during the CCJ Jewish/Christian Leadership Study Tour of Israel-Palestine listening with a red hat on. The main emotions I heard were fear, mourning, grief, anger, sorrow, disenfranchisement, and frustration. Sometimes our speakers were so practised at giving us their prepared account that their emotions were harder to glimpse. For many of them, the negative narrative of victimhood was their prepared account which elicited a sympathetic hearing. We understood where they were coming from, even if we did not necessarily agree with them.

The organisation that I lead, the St Philip’s Centre, has as its strap-line Living Well Together and we say any activity we organise should enable people to encounter those who are different from them, develop mutual understanding with the hope of leading to increased trust and co-operation. During the four days of visits to all manner of people and organisations in Israel and Palestine, I certainly encountered many people who saw the world differently from me, and whose life experience and worldview is very different from my own. I also came to understand them better. What left me feeling sad was the realisation of how far many of them were from developing genuine relationships of trust and co-operation. When I discuss co-existence with different groups, I often liken tolerance to a foothill, respect to the midway point and trust as being nearer the peak of the mountain we must climb together if we are to live well together. The many different sides and positions in the complex world of the Israel-Palestine conflict have, it seems to me, a grudging tolerance of each other’s existence, but that is as far as they are able to go at the moment. Many people appear to be locked into a form of zero-sum conflict, looking for victory at the expense of others. The possibility of win-win, where everyone benefits is hypothetically still present, but in danger of being lost.

I have no intention of claiming any deep understanding of all of the complex issues that are caught up in what is happening in the region. I have a superficial knowledge of the main points and realise how complicated and confusing it is. But is there anything useful we can do from so far away? I think there are three things.

First, listen for the emotions, not just the words; listen to understand.

Second, work together to build trust. This is a very polarised conflict, where many have entrenched, intractable positions that they are not prepared to change. It is not my role in life to tell others what to think, but it is my calling to understand them and seek to build genuine relationships of trust.

Third, foster co-operation that advocates win-win solutions, where all benefit, all are able to feel secure, to flourish, to develop their skills and abilities, to enjoy a decent family life. If we can build deep relationships of trust and co-operation here in the UK, where those who care about the situation in Israel-Palestine can learn how to trust and co-operate together, then maybe we would have something useful to offer those in the region who live this conflict day by day.

Rev’d Dr Tom Wilson

Director, St Philip’s Centre, Leicester