Israel-Palestine: Educating During a Crisis

SFE Religious Education Adviser Dr Simone Whitehouse-James Responds to the Current Crisis in Israel/Palestine, Sharing Key Messages from Birmingham’s Faith Leaders

There is much to be concerned with when hearing or reading the news at the moment. It demonstrates the fragility of relationships and the ever-pervading ripples that emerge as a consequence. In a super-diverse city with global dimensions, there are many people of differing viewpoints, beliefs and worldviews affected.

Even though we are faced with such bleakness, there are small acts of human kindness taking place. One such example has gone viral on social media – one neighbour supporting another, one neighbour making a cake for another, two women meeting to talk. Nothing extraordinary, you might say, however this act of kindness has taken place since the escalated events in Gaza. In this case a Jewish woman made her Muslim neighbour baklava and tea. Time was spent together, relationships deepened, a small act with larger ripples:

Jewish woman shares heartwarming post about meeting with her Palestinian neighbour

The diverse faith leaders in Birmingham have met this week to discuss the current events in Israel and Gaza. They have pledged to continue to stand together and to reach out to each other in these times.

The faith leaders group in Birmingham emerged from another single and significant act of kindness a number of years ago. Rabbi Dr. Leonard Tann’s act was a simple walk to a place of worship. But to put this act into context, as a Jewish leader he walked to Central Mosque the day after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Muslim leaders had received abusive calls in reaction to the events in New York and Rabbi Tann wanted to show his solidarity. Other faith leaders joined in. One simple act and yet the Rabbi’s legacy continues to meet day:

Since then the leaders have met regularly to discuss events and faith in the city. They have met again this week in the light of ongoing events and have issued the following statement:

With many crises, there is no course or a Teachers’ Standard to train or hold teachers to account on how to support pupils in their care in the light of such events. However, what the profession does at its best is the listen to pupils, to answer questions, to ask questions, to explore and enable discussion. Isn’t that what ‘good’ education is about? And to address those wider issues of reason, exploration, accountability and informed judgement.

Solutions Not Sides is an educational programme which gives teenagers the opportunity to discuss the Israel-Palestine events in a safe environment. With a ‘no to violence’ as one of its core principles, the Solutions Not Sides team explore a number of themes around the current events: Journalism in conflict; Mental health and emotions; checking facts around fake news; negotiations; UK Activism; nationalism. The resources are sensitive and helpful in response to the escalating situation in the Middle East.

For more information:

As the faith leaders in the city have agreed to continue to stand together during this time, teachers need to support our pupils to develop the skills of resilience, to be open and to continue to ask questions. In that way they can also think about their human development and enable the seeds of peace to begin with them.

About the Author

Simone WhitehouseDr Simone Whitehouse-James - Adviser, Services For Education

Simone's journey in the field of education is nothing short of remarkable. Armed with a deep passion for Religious Education, she has not only excelled in her own academic pursuits but has also dedicated herself to the betterment of the education system.

From her early days as a Head of Department leading RE in schools in Birmingham to her current role as an Education Advisor at Services For Education, Simone has constantly pushed the boundaries of her knowledge and expertise. Simone has also worked as a visiting lecturer on the Birmingham University RE PGDip course. Her commitment to the field is evident in her decision to pursue a PhD, delving into the unique approach to teaching RE in Birmingham.

But Simone's impact goes beyond just Religious Education. Her extensive knowledge of ITT and the Early Career Framework has allowed her to support teachers, school leaders, and governors in their professional development journey. As an Induction Manager and facilitator for the Best Practice Network, she plays a crucial role in shaping the next generation of educators and school leaders.

Simone's dedication to her craft is unwavering, whether she's engaging with faith groups, acting as the drafting secretary for the Agreed Syllabus Conference, advising on curriculum development, or delivering nationally recognised CPD as part of the NPQ suite of qualifications. Her passion for education is truly inspiring, as she continues to push boundaries, challenge norms, and lead by example in the world of education.

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