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16 October 2023

The Monday Briefing: Cherish

The Monday Briefing: Cherish

The tumultuous events of the last week in the Middle East have brought a great deal into perspective for me.

I had just finished having dinner with my wife, daughter, a friend and my mother-in-law when the subject turned to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Having visited Jerusalem in 2016 as part of the Holocaust Educational Trust Annual Teacher Training Course, there was a special resonance. My mother-in-law disclosed something which I hadn’t known up until this point: that during my time in Israel, there was considerable concern for my safety.

I remember the week of professional development very well - largely as it stands head and shoulders above any courses I’ve ever been on, and likely ever will go on again. I can not stress how fortunate I was to be allocated a place.

I remember writing an account of the trip at the time for the College website:

 

Over the summer break, I was fortunate enough to be selected from thousands of applicants as part of a group of 23 teachers from around the country on the prestigious annual Yad Vashem Continuing Professional Development course run by the Holocaust Educational Trust.

Flying out to Jerusalem in late July and partaking in 10 days of lectures and seminars at the International Centre for Holocaust Studies, delivered by leading figures in Holocaust research, and experts on delivering the curriculum area in the classroom, one of which was given by the renowned 90-year-old Holocaust historian Professor Yehuda Bauer.

My visit also included tours of some of Israel's most important historical and cultural sites, including Jerusalem's old town, modern Tel Aviv and traditional Jaffa, the Unesco World Heritage site at Masada and was then rounded off by a quick swim in the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth.

 

I had a look back at a photograph from the course, and it conjured up such wonderful memories:

Memories of the friendly, welcoming and engaging fellow teachers who went on the course;

Memories of the staff who helped make it happen so smoothly;

Memories of the tremendous lectures and guidance we all received in teaching the Holocaust.

It has been so incredibly heart-wrenching watching the events of the last week unfold: the layers of acrimony which have spilled out on both sides; the rancorous environment and human catastrophe which is unfolding as I write this.  

I am completely under qualified to give any kind of perspective on the conflict, having been there for a peaceful ten days, and savoured the rich environment - one could do nothing but. I’m not a specialist in the history of the area, though I wrote my dissertation on the consequences of the Sykes-Picot agreement, and the Balfour Declaration, which certainly complicated matters, and added to the legacy of division.

For the moment, it seems very much as though the notion of peace has been completely destroyed, and such a state of affairs - for those who live there, and for the wider world which seems to be watching on, powerless to stop the inevitable human cost of the crisis - is truly a tragedy.

I happened upon a monologue by the Irish TV presenter Patrick Kielty, with which he closed the Late Late Show in Ireland at the Weekend. Clearly emotional, his words flickered like a lone candle in one of the cavernous religious buildings which represent the population of the region, be it a mosque or a synagogue:

"There are no words that will even touch the sides of the pain and the loss and ongoing horror that has been felt by so many tonight.”

"But as someone who grew up during a conflict where the rights and wrongs of politics were always writ large. One common truth was the hurt and pain on both sides was sadly the same. We all shared something but we just didn’t realise it at the time. There were days when we thought it would never end.”

Kielty – whose father Jack was murdered during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in January 1988 – continued: “Tonight there are many parents and children in Israel and in Gaza who also think that this will never end and are praying for a miracle to make it stop.”

"In the midst of despair miracles are hard to believe in, but it is worth remembering we are currently living our own miracle on this island because we are living in peace.”

"For all those in Israel and Palestine tonight it might not seem like it but there is always hope and we hope your miracle comes soon.”

Whilst his words were but a weak flicker in the face of so much anger and ferocity which has accompanied tragedy, they burn on, and, whilst there is hope for a better future, no matter how dire and woebegone the circumstances look at present, we must present that face to the students we teach. 

We must teach them to cherish the tolerance, humanity and hope which exists in their lives - to spread it as far and wide as they can - and to protect it at all costs.

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