When I was asked to go on the Scottish multifaith pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine, I thought it would be something special- and special is exactly how it turned out. I had already encountered many different faiths on our recent 18 month sojourn around the world so I jumped at the chance to enhance that experience with fellow Scots. When we arrived at Edinburgh Airport any fears I had about the dynamics of the group were immediately allayed. Everyone was open and friendly and that is the way it stayed for the whole trip.
We only had a week and it was a dizzying array of speakers, discussions, debate and learning with synagogue and church worship thrown in for good measure. I was very impressed with most of the speakers but because time was short, I felt short changed quite a few times when discussions ended early due to time restraints. I would have liked more time with Ibtisam Hahamid of the "Abrahamic Reunion" and “Tent of Sarah and Hagar” (a women’s coexistence project) in Faradis, a woman fighting against the odds to stand as Mayor of her Arab town, and with Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust who is ‘fighting’ for a non-violent solution to the problems.
A fascinating meeting with 6 religious leaders of Jerusalem was also too short. I was amazed to hear that it was the first time they had all been together in the same room at the same time and I was delighted to be a part of that.
There was brief tension amongst the group on a couple of occasions. A meeting with an extremist settler, David Wilder in Hevron, unsettled us all with his views on how the Middle East should look –a one-state solution with Jews in Israel and Arabs wherever else they cared to go. He should take a long hard look at himself and realise that the Palestinians are not going to go anywhere, and he has put his family in great danger by being there. Another uncomfortable moment came from the other side during a discussion with a member of the Palestinian parliament (a previous ‘Information Minister’) in Ramallah. He gave a potted, one-sided history of the conflict from 1948, barely disguising the fact that he saw the Israelis as Nazis running an apartheid state. Luckily the group by that time were friendly and confident enough to have open and frank discussions and even come to an agreement. It is a pity that Middle Eastern politicians cannot come to a conclusion so easily!
By the end of the trip I think that we all came to the realisation that although many people are working very hard towards peace at grassroots level, peace is a long, long way off. Not only are there the security problems to deal with, but there are chronic water shortages, corruption on all sides and downright distrust between all the factions to deal with. Not just extremist Israelis and Palestinians, but Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and many others who seek to destroy a lasting, or indeed any, peace that may break out.
Within our group, though, discussions were straight-talking but amicable. There was an excellent rapport and I am confident that in the future, with lasting friendships established on a personal level, links can be strengthened between our different faith communities in Scotland. Being able to talk openly is very important. Of course we can't hope to solve the problems of the Middle East, but I can see no reason for the conflict to spill over into the Scottish community as long as we are able to meet our neighbours on the basis of shared common humanity. Being able to laugh together goes a long way to relieving tensions.
Howard Brodie is a Co-Senior Warden and Executive member of Glasgow Reform Synagogue, member of Limmud Scotland, and of the Scottish Jewish Archives Committee.