Two years ago a group of Musalaha’s Young Adults travelled to Ireland for a reconciliation encounter and to learn from from the conflict in Ireland. During their trip, Board Member Lisa Loden, who was leading the trip, and a few others were invited one evening to join the Bangor Missionary Convention taking place at the same time.
The Bangor Missionary Convention was founded in 1937 and is one of the most unique conventions in the UK. At the encouragement of our dear friend Trevor Morrow who has labored for many years in reconciliation in Ireland, Lisa and I were invited to speak and participate at the convention this past August and share about our reconciliation work among Israelis and Palestinians. We were grateful for the invitation, the hospitality, and the colder weather in Northern Ireland compared to the heat of Israel.
I would like to share with you a few things we learned during our meetings with churches, political party members, and various organizations. While quite a bit of progress has been made in bridging the sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland, there is a need for a change of heart on issues that divide the communities. We saw this as we drove through the segregated neighborhoods with flags representing each religious and ethnic group, distinctly marking where each one lived. Each group has their own schools and runs their own activities. We observed a lack of engagement between the different groups during one of the marches that took place while we were there. It was also astonishing to see the polarization of society around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with most Protestants flying the Israeli flag and most Catholics flying the Palestine flag.
Several political and community leaders identified the involvement of grassroots movements as a key component in their progress toward bridging Catholic and Protestant communities. Without grassroots movements working towards peace it would be hard to move forward. These movements come with very dedicated leaders who are willing to pay a heavy price for what they believe. They also emphasized how women played a significant role in peace initiatives from bottom up pressures.
They also deal with the issue of the imbalance of power and how to respond to it. Although third parties have often been unhelpful, outside actors such as the EU and the US have played a constructive role in advancing a peaceful resolution. They also discussed different measures for addressing major injustices.
It was primarily the minority groups who stood for reconciliation when the majority of church leaders supported their nationalist ethnic groups. We are greatly encouraged that groups in Northern Ireland are looking at our model of reconciliation and are considering how might work within their context. During this time, we sought ways to cooperate together and learn from each other’s experiences. In the near future, we hope to bring another group of Israelis and Palestinians to Northern Ireland and a group from Northern Ireland to experience our work here. We have much to share and learn from each other’s experiences.