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Cross community cross border study visit to Palestine & Israel

A recent study visit to Palestine and Israel by a cross community and cross border group with BURC gave participants an opportunity to view, from a very different and yet somehow similar cultural perspective, the impact of trauma on families and communities in a conflict society.  Twenty three people, made up of BURC staff and volunteers, community activists involved in local cross community development work, workers from agencies such as The Youth Justice Agency, Belfast City Council, and The174 Trust, as well as participants from Co Donegal, set off from Belfast mid-September to Bethlehem, West Bank, from which they travelled each day of their one week trip to various locations in Palestine and Israel.

The trip came about when it became clear that themes in community development were emerging from many of the groups BURC have worked with in the past, and are currently engaged with; one such prominent theme was the impact of long term trauma, both during and post conflict, on families and communities.  Given that it can sometimes prove difficult to objectively see past the confines of our own circumstances and situations, seeking learning experiences from outside our own familiar environment, but in another divided conflicted society, was the rationale for a study visit to this middle-eastern region.

Over the week the group met with individuals and families displaced by conflict and heard first-hand how families were pulled apart and bonded together. They walked through streets which were once thriving communities where family business generated economic and family growth, but were now desolate and derelict, sporadically stopped by insistent children demanding attention and a handful of shekels from, any ‘visitors’ for the trinkets they peddled.

Participants also visited more affluent areas, where externally many support structures and systems were put in place to deliver services to individuals, families and communities dealing with the impact of trauma.  However, the beneficiaries of such adequate and effective services were no less traumatised by the conditions created in a conflicted society.  Families, regardless of their cultural background, experienced the same fears, anxieties, separations and losses.

The group visited many historical sites whilst on the trip - possibly the most interesting was the city of Jerusalem.  Walking through the old city was an experience of historic and present day sights sounds and smells; a cultural menagerie with devotees from many different religious and cultural persuasions mingled and walked en route to the same places of reverence.  In some places it appeared that there were people from all walks of life converged and convened in one unidentifiable community. 

Of course, following an intense and at times gruelling daily itinerary, participants managed to find a little spot in the old town in Bethlehem to rest and relax, unofficially debrief and, for one or two of the more energetic, dance and sing with some amused and bemused locals.  They also had the chance to take part in the traditional Palestinian work of olive picking on a local farm.

This study visit impacted participants in ways they had expected and in many they had not foreseen.  In some of their own words, it was exciting and exhilarating, emotional and distressing, informative and educational, insightful and compelling, provoking and disturbing, overwhelming and inspirational. Key areas of learning identified by the group prior to the trip were:

1.      The impact of trauma / conflict on families in everyday life.

2.      The nature of support available for victims, service providers, children and young people and how it is funded and delivered.

3.      Similarities and differences in working with children and young people to prevent history repeating itself.

4.      Levels of tolerance and mutual understanding - approaches to peace building and reconciliation.

5.      The extent to which attitudes and beliefs change because of information.

6.      Community development rebuilding capacity / resilience – similarities and differences in approach.

7.      Practical focus on similarities and differences in everyday economic and social issues in the context of conflict.

 

Based on discussions and structured debrief sessions throughout the visit, and comments and feedback received, the group took a diverse and extremely comprehensive understanding of how both Palestinian and Israeli communities and organisations work with their families and communities impacted by trauma.  The work for the group now will be to build on this learning and contribute to the existing and possibly new initiatives supporting individuals, families at home in all communities.

 

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