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The conflict between the Israelis and the Arabs

To examine the situation in the Middle East and see how our own behaviour may be echoing that dispute.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5

Aims

To examine the situation in the Middle East and see how our own behaviour may be echoing that dispute.

Preparation and materials

Assembly

  1. The south-eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea is a beautiful land. Over a small stretch of land, deserts meet mountains and some stunning beaches. Situated on the edges of Europe, Africa and Asia, it marks the precipice of the West and the gateway to the East. This scattered geography is reflected in one of the most ethnically and culturally conflicted nations on Earth.
  2. In the part of the Bible that we call the Old Testament, there is the promise of a land where the exiled Jews would find a home, the ‘land of milk and honey’. But by ad 629 all the Jews had been expelled from that area. Since then the land known as Palestine has been much fought over, until 1922, when the British Empire was granted control. But British allegiances shifted from the increasing numbers of Jewish immigrants, who had been guaranteed a homeland in the region, towards the Arabs, whose oil was needed to power the Royal Navy’s battleships as the threat of war loomed over Europe.
  3. After World War Two, with the world still reeling from the effects of the conflict, and of the Holocaust, many Jews lost patience with the British colonial rulers and insurgent attacks against military and civilian targets began. As these worsened the costs of occupation grew and the British government surrendered the territory to the United Nations, who partitioned it between Jews and Arabs. Jerusalem was to be an international city, reflecting its religious significance to Christians, Jews and Muslims. However, wars between Israel and its neighbours raged intermittently and by 1967 Israel controlled the whole of Jerusalem, and all of the territories promised to the Palestinian Arabs. Some 80 per cent of the Arab population of Palestine fled the country or were ousted, and this is a major issue today.
  4. Today, Israel is a flourishing, successful state and is the only functioning democracy in the region. However, the Palestinians in their two remaining areas of Gaza City and the West Bank are a source of international controversy. Demanding the right of return for the refugees, and at least some kind of nation for their own, terrorists have carried out suicide attacks against Israeli citizens and soldiers. Israel has counter-attacked with full force, often deploying airstrikes. The Palestinians, in the Gaza Strip in particular, live in unemployment, poverty and hopelessness. Since the construction of the Security Fence, the freedom of movement for Palestinians has collapsed. Frequent Israeli bombing raids and internal unrest has left the region ruined and with little hope of reconstruction.
  5. Peace talks have been attempted, but a real breakthrough is yet to be made. However, the world has a real desire for peace in the region. Peace talks and ‘road maps’ have been proposed by both the USA, seen as a major Israeli ally, and the Arab League, who favour the Palestinians. However, Israel refuses to negotiate with those it regards as terrorists and some Palestinians maintain that armed resistance is a right. In order for a breakthrough to be made, one side will have to change, or both will be trapped in an eternal struggle for an unreachable goal.
  6. You may be thinking that Israel is a long way away from where we are today in (your town/city/village), but what we see going on in the Middle East is going on everywhere, including in this school: the need for two sides to sit down and negotiate – to compromise on what you want in order to help meet the other person’s needs.

    How do you cope if you have a row or disagreement with a friend? Do you make up, or do you go around making trouble for each other, giving ‘dirty looks’ and generally ‘dissing’ each other? Do you belong to a gang, with an area that you regard as yours? How much trouble has that caused? It may be that a friend of yours has been hurt through this sort of disagreement – how did you cope with that?
  7. Making up with people that you’ve argued with, or working alongside people you don’t like, is hard. But we need to do it if we are to move forwards as a community together. And a strong community is worth far more than one group’s pride, hard though that may feel to you.

Time for reflection

Take some time to think about the people that you row with, or find it hard to work with.

Is it worth the energy and the hurt to maintain bad relationships?

Do you encourage others to pick fights? To behave with no respect for others?

Do you like yourself when you do that?

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God’ (Matthew 5.9)

(Pause)

Prayer

This prayer is attributed to St Francis of Assisi.

You might like to make this prayer your own, or just listen to the words.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console,
not so much to be understood as to understand,
not so much to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we awake to eternal life.

Amen.

Hymn

‘For the healing of the nations’ (Hymns Old and New, 139)

‘When I needed a neighbour’ (Hymns Old and New, 548)

‘Make me a channel of your peace’ (Hymns Old and New, 328)

Publication date: October 2008   (Vol.10 No.10)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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