What can be said that hasn’t already been said about the Israel-Hamas conflict?
With such a divisive, polarising debate many are feeling uncertain, confused and helpless. It is difficult to know what to think, what to say and what to do.
However when working with young people, there is no option to stay silent. They need and deserve constructive discussion around stressful situations such as this. We can choose to engage them ourselves or risk them finding questionable answers elsewhere.
How to approach it
The question then for teachers is: how can we engage children in constructive discussion when we ourselves are unsure of our own position?
An excellent answer is given in an NPR article on this topic that quotes Sivan Zakai, a Professor of Jewish education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion who says:
"When children are asking parents profound questions about the world — especially about violence in the world — it might initially sound like they're asking their parents to be historians and political scientists all rolled into one," "But ... often their questions are actually asking, 'How can I live in this world even when there are all sorts of terrible things that happen?'”
The wisdom at the heart of this is that both adult and child are grappling with the same questions. We may have a few more ideas and a bit more experience, but in essence we are both on a learning journey. Both figuring out what to think, what to say and what to do.
Discussions on this topic can be an exercise in sharing - we can outline what we know about the context, what we are unsure of, and how it makes us feel.
A basic understanding of what is going on is helpful to begin with - this doesn’t have to be nuanced or complex, just a simple description of what has happened and to whom. Avoiding gruesome detail is obviously important, especially for younger children, but avoid unnecessary simplification - communicate key facts simply like a news reader might.
Next, if you are uncertain about particular things then share this uncertainty. Being open will give students the permission to be open too. There are some excellent resources to prime both teachers and students for these discussions. Curriculum For Life’s ‘Positive Relationships’ pack answers questions such as ‘How can I handle my feelings?’, ‘Can I understand others' feelings?’ and ‘Do we see the same world?’. Similarly, the Faith and Belief Forum’s packs ‘The Art of Q&A’ and ‘Skills for Dialogue: Primary and KS3’ are wonderful resources here.
Allow this sharing to be an act of co-creation. We are all figuring out what to feel about this, what we might do and what our hopes are for the future. As an educator you can open up the space for yourself and your students to explore these questions. Here are some discussion points that you can ask your students whilst also offering your own ideas:
- How can we know what information is trustworthy? How can we develop a balanced opinion?
- How do we respectfully talk to others with opposing views?
- What are some good ways to process tough information? What activities can we do to ground ourselves?
- What are your hopes for the future? What does a peaceful, equitable world look like?
A reliable resource to help with these discussions is the Peace Education Network’s ‘Teach Peace Pack’ which helps students ‘think about what peace means to them and where they feel peaceful – helping develop inner peace’. Alternatively, for wonderfully interactive lessons the Nobel Peace Center’s ‘PeaceBuilders’ Minecraft game offers a hopeful deepdive into the lives of five Nobel Peace Laureates.
As the British writer Uju Asika writes in this thoughtful and informative article:
“We are lifelong learners and that means we are always ready to unlearn and relearn. When we talk to our children about Palestine, we can also look for broader lessons. The historic struggle can teach us much about global systems of power and oppression, national identity and religious persecution, East vs West, ancestral land disputes and the search for sovereignty, the ongoing impact of foreign intervention, and generational trauma. And if we look closer we can also find lessons of kindness, friendship, resilience and hope.”