We must not allow this conflict to poison already challenging Jewish-Muslim relations
‘Free Palestine’ and ‘Am Yisroel Chai’ – two chants we are now hearing on the streets of Britain as the Israel-Palestine conflict re-combusts.
With the extraordinarily horrific and brutal massacre of Israelis by Hamas on 7 October, the British Jewish community was left reeling with every member of the community knowing people directly affected. Similarly, expectations of violent escalation from Israel shook many Muslims in Britain who identify viscerally with the plight of the Palestinian civilians, sending them onto the streets in support of the cause.
Years of conflict have paid a heavy toll on the British psyche with the majority on each side entrenched in a narrative which sounds positively alien to the other side.
Like with other conflicts, but possibly even more embedded here, is an inability to listen
This polarisation of opinions is destructive, driving a boulder between Jewish and Muslim communities and exacerbating an already strained relationship. It was a tinderbox ready to ignite here on our streets.
With verified reported antisemitic incidents 500 per cent higher last week than the same week a year ago (source CST), and a Day of Rage against Jews declared by Hamas, for the first time probably ever, many Jews were fearful to go out despite the fact that the community is exceptionally well integrated and protected by the police and the Community Security Trust.
Many British Muslims feel they can’t speak up for Palestine for fear of being accused of antisemitism – often not recognising when they cross that border or fail to disconnect Palestinians from Hamas.
It seems almost impossible to find the language to discuss the conflict. Of course Israel needs to be safe and equally, of course, the Palestinians need dignity in their own land but how we get to that point is far less clear cut with no obvious partners for peace.
Nisa-Nashim (meaning women in Arabic and Hebrew) is a Jewish Muslim women’s network which operates across the United Kingdom. The women share remarkable similarities but the conflict is both the elephant in the room and the reason the network is so desperately needed. Like other Jewish Muslim initiatives, the key is to build relationships based on similarity over time so that the conflict in the Middle East can be discussed or, minimally, can be only one part of a rich and solid connection.
Like with other conflicts, but possibly even more embedded here, is an inability to listen. We struggle to accept that others have alternative narratives on the Israel-Palestine conflict, particularly as its long history is complex and often contradictory.
The use of women is not coincidental. Often side-lined, women of faith communities show themselves again and again to be facilitators of peace on a national, local and indeed, a familial level. It is tragic and ironic that one of the missing Israelis, assumed to be a hostage, is 74 year old Vivian Silver who founded Women Wage Peace.
The role for parliamentarians in this conflict, we believe, is to address the lack of space, structures, resources and willing partners needed to help build real relationships between these two communities. Such work is almost impossible to fund with Muslim philanthropists wary of engaging on ‘Zionist’ projects and Jewish funders doubting their efficacy. Without addressing this pressing need for dialogue, connections and the ability to hear (even if not to agree), the chanting will grow ever louder, and the hate will spill over into serious violence.
We must not allow a conflict many miles away, to poison historically already challenging Jewish Muslim relations. It serves neither the interests of Israel nor the people of Gaza well and it is a disaster for community cohesion in an increasingly polarised Britain.
Laura Marks CBE and Julie Siddiqi MBE, co-founders of Nisa-Nashim, the Jewish Muslim women’s network
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