Across Europe, the mercurial nature of regional politics in the Middle East has coincided with troubling increases in prejudice towards Jews and Muslims both.
In Germany, as never before, thousands are pouring into the streets to protest what they view to be the Muslim ‘take-over’ of Europe. In solidarity with victims of radical Islam, 25,000 people rallied in Berlin after the Charlie Hebdo attack, even after Chancellor Merkel had made a bold stand to say that ‘Islam belongs to Germany’, and that Muslims are central to the German character. One poll by Stern magazine has reported a sharp rise in negative views towards Muslims, with 29% polled believing Islam to have a negative influence on German life. Even more troubling have been incidents of violence by extremists: in one such instance, a home for mainly Muslim refugees was firebombed in rural Bavaria in December of 2014.
Troubling also is the increase in anti-Semitic attitudes as of late, coinciding with last summer’s war in Gaza, with vandalism and malicious rhetoric being aimed at Jewish citizens of Germany. Protests over Israel’s actions in Gaza even led to the firebombing of a Synagogue in Western Germany, which was only one of 184 anti-Semitic acts committed in June and July of that year.
In light of the rise of anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic actions across Europe, and in particular Germany, a film crew from channel ‘Arte’ is making a documentary about European anti-Semitism for German and French audiences.. Following OneVoice Europe’s recent successful tour in German schools and communities last April, the documentary will include a focus on the importance of the Outreach and Education Programme for combating extremist narratives through the humanising experience for the participants of meeting ordinary people from the conflict zone, and learning about the needs and interests of the populations on both sides: needs that are actually rooted in a complex reality involving a wide variety of international actors, an asymmetry in the situation between both sides of the conflict and polarized historical narratives.
One of OneVoice’s school sessions in Ansbach featured 25 students and was filmed for inclusion in the documentary. A follow-up session to the April tour with the same group, the format included an initial review of some of the history of the conflict, plus a renewed understanding of some of the final status issues, Israeli security fears, and facts about the current situation of ongoing occupation and settlement in the West Bank. The students then learned how to apply OneVoice’s win-win approach to the situation through listening to the two speakers representing the majority of their civil society on both sides, and explaining the needs and interests of their respective peoples.
The session concluded with the participants engaging in group work to discuss possible solutions that would deliver Palestinian statehood in a just territorial settlement based on the 1967 borders, and improve the long-term security situation for Israelis - not just in terms of the Israeli relation to a Palestinian state, but also in regards to the wider region. Various benefits of a political solution and an end to the occupation including economic and cultural factors and the achievement of peaceful coexistence were discussed and presented by the students to their fellow classmates, with comments and feedback via Skype from OneVoice’s Palestine Executive Director Samer Makhlouf and OneVoice Germany Executive Director Tal Harris. One student commented that she was “profoundly struck” by the similarity in the mutual interests of both sides, and saw the understanding of this as a possible key in the progression towards a solution. The students’ teacher, Eli Hirsch, expressed the crucial importance that the next generation of internationals are educated in depth about the conflict with a variety of perspectives so that they can be constructive future actors in support of their Palestinian and Israeli counterparts, and engage in positive dialogue with each other.
The programme’s Europe Director, Sharon Booth remarked: “The students at Theresien-Gymnasium, Ansbach are clearly an example of the bright, young political thinkers and actors of tomorrow. Many of them will be instrumental in building a Germany and a wider Europe in which mutual understanding, respect, and the skills to deal with religious and cultural diversity will saturate the prevailing culture. It is vital that we work even harder than the extremists to create the future that we want to see – our Israeli and Palestinian speakers are an example of what can be achieved in a tough reality.”
OneVoice Europe will be conducting further tours in Germany in the coming academic year, and will be expanding its outreach to build a network for establishing a similar project in France, where concerns about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are just as strong, if not more so. For more information or to offer help and support, please contact Sharon Booth on: firstname.lastname@example.org
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