I’ve never forgotten the tense moments at school in History lesson when the teacher would cold call on me to recall an important date, or recite the intricacies of a moment of ‘significant importance’ in history. Despite wanting to have an answer and most preferably the ‘right’ one, I would freeze up, victim to my lack of attention. Out of panic, I’d just blurt out anything – promptly get laughed at – made to explain why I didn’t know the answer – and instructed to repeat it verbatim before getting thrown out of the classroom for not listening.
So when I was recently invited to attend an ‘Eat and Learn’ evening on the Israel/Palestine conflict and told that there was ‘no preparation required,’ I was instantly catapulted back to those memories. But it didn’t take me long after I arrived to realize that this evening supported a different philosophy of learning completely. It was the first event of its kind, with the novel idea of creating a safe space to be entirely clueless about a given topic and provide an informal, comfortable vibe to develop knowledge and understanding. Everyone has brought along a dish and as the plates are passed around, we are each invited to explain why the subject’s of intrigue.
It’s comforting to find there’s a range of experiences and motivations. Hannah Prytherch, the host, has lived in the region for a year; others are graduates of International Relations or History; then there’s some of us who’ve only really engaged with Israeli/Palestinian affairs through the news – or a heated docudrama such as The Promise on TV. Amidst an initial freestyle discussion, we realize that our collective knowledge only scrapes the surface of this immensely complex and volatile issue. To help us to explore the conflict more deeply, there is Grazia who brings with her over seven years experience working for a Palestinian NGO in Ramallah and spoonfuls of patience for our questions, ideas and misconceptions.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Before we tuck in to a range of home-baked dishes, Kate Weiler (the organizer) gives us the chance to consider our own questions. This is a key part of the evening and allows us to clarify what it is that we would like to understand about the conflict for ourselves: to make it a personal and relevant issue. Some want specific details of things they’ve heard, others want to know what they can actually do about it: all input is welcomed and accepted. Grazia is incredibly knowledgeable and makes an impressive attempt to fit centuries of history into edible mouthfuls. The openness of the conversation means we have the chance to throw in further questions. Hannah seasons the historical references with stories from her first-hand experiences of affairs such as checkpoint crossings, (which are notoriously difficult for Europeans trying to enter Palestine) and her insights of the challenges for those living on either side of the conflict. This includes the story of her friend Abu Sakha, a Palestinian member of the state circus who was detained by the Israeli Military for unknown reasons last year and whose sentence continues indefinitely.
Kate Weiler (above) is a January 2015 Retreater and the Organizer of Eat and Learn.
By the time it’s dessert, we’ve been fed up with ample food for thought and inevitably a lot more questions than answers. Although I’m still not at the point of teaching the topic to others, I’m definitely more confident and informed as a result of attending. Mainly down to the level of ease and openness from the crowd and Kate’s laid back approach to facilitation. We end with a video of the Palestinian Spoken Word Poet and Activist Rafeef Ziadah who is campaigning for a boycott on Israeli products from the international community. The reality of the struggle for all parties who are suffering from the conflict really hits home at this point and we’re left with a powerful and thought-provoking comma in our thinking.
Do you have an appetite for learning? Be part of this great idea:
By Maxine Clay