By ICCI intern Brian Freedman
In one corner, two people playfully whack a red balloon back and forth. In the other corner, six people read aloud names of murdered men, women and children. Such were the images as they played out in a dream of Paul Hutchinson, a peace educator from Northern Ireland, who visited Israel last month. The theme of the dream: the challenge for people embroiled in conflict and tragedy to continue living and enjoying life.
Mr. Hutchinson was invited to Jerusalem by the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI) to share his experiences as a peace facilitator in the post-conflict era of the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, during which more than 3,500 people were killed. He began his week with ICCI on November 22nd at the YMCA in West Jerusalem, by hosting a discussion with local Jews and Palestinians. Halfway through the discussion, Mr. Hutchinson invited eight participants to re-enact his dream of the red balloon and the reading aloud of casualties.
The reactions of the participants were mixed. A balloon-whacking participant said she felt guilty that she was having fun while other people were devastated by tragedy and sorrow. The readers of the list of the deceased expressed a sense of jealousy and anger toward the balloon players, who seemed oblivious or indifferent to their pain. Mr. Hutchinson’s exercise provoked an emotional dialogue, in which people spoke about issues of recognition, reconciliation, commemoration of the dead, the past’s effect on the present and future, and other topics relevant to Israelis and Palestinians who deal with the conflict on a daily basis.
The successful evening, entitled “Walking the Boundaries“, was sponsored by ICCI, the Jerusalem International YMCA, and the Jerusalem Intercultural Center.
Mr. Hutchinson, who works for a peace and reconciliation group in Northern Ireland called the Corrymeela Community, also spent last Thursday, November 24th, with local peace facilitators in a more intimate setting at ICCI’s educational center. Mr. Hutchinson led the group of about 15 facilitators through a series of exercises and games that he had used during various peace dialogues that he facilitated. The local facilitators learned new techniques and were excited to implement them in their work. This workshop, which focused on “Creative Practices in Nurturing Peace“, was sponsored by ICCI and the Jerusalem Intercultural Center.
During his week in Jerusalem, Mr. Hutchinson—who had never before visited Israel—mentioned similarities between the two conflicts. For example, most of the schools in Northern Ireland were segregated during the conflict. In addition, the city was split into two sections, the “East” and the “West,” where those who resided in one section were cautioned not to enter the other side for fear of their safety. There was also a wall—ironically named the “Peace Wall”—that was built to insulate and protect Protestant sections from the Catholic sections and vice versa. In short, like with the conflict in Israel, there was a problem of communication between the two conflicting parties. For this reason, Mr. Hutchinson, like ICCI, strives to develop communication to foster understanding and the humanization of the other side. As Hutchinson put it: “In conflict situations, we stop being curious because we think we already know about the other.”