Generous support from the Pears Foundation has enabled LSE’s Faith Centre to take a group of students on a trip to the Holy Land this year. Eighteen students travelled with LSE Chaplain, Revd Dr James Walters, with the objective of improving participants’ understanding of the complexities of the Israel/Palestine conflict, while also encouraging students to consider how their religious commitments could be a resource for peacemaking and conflict resolution. Participants variously described the trip as ‘challenging’, ‘transformative’, and ‘rewarding’.
The itinerary included trips to Temple Mount and King David’s Tomb in Jerusalem, a political briefing at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, and a visit to the Aida Refugee Camp in the West Bank, as well as numerous other sites of significance for the Islamic, Christian, and Muslim faiths, and the wider political situation in the region. Sites, people, and organisations were carefully chosen to ensure a broad thematic overview of the three largest Abrahamic religions – as well as non-religious perspectives – ensuring a wide range of views were shared with the group, whether from activists, clergy, politicians, or ordinary residents who are working for peace across religious divides.
Dr Walters said: “University campuses are seeing a polarising discourse on a number of issues and Israel/Palestine is perhaps the most divisive, with an adoption of stark and unquestioned positions on one side of the debate defining young people’s political identity. That is why, from the outset, we made it clear to participants that this trip is intended to form them as people better able to deal with intractable conflict and interreligious divisions.”
He continued: “The visits and people they met were oriented to that purpose, and it was essential to provide time to reflect on these experiences. I thank the Pears Foundation for helping facilitate this valuable experience for our students.”
Tim Rogers, an undergraduate in the Department of Government and then President of the Christian Union, said: “I discovered that the situation in the Holy Land is even more nuanced and complicated than I had imagined and the media portray. I enjoyed being exposed to so many different perspectives, narratives, and individual stories of real people living in the conflict, which can be so often depersonalised through the media’s representation.”
Undergraduate International Relations student, Tasnima Khatun, said: “This trip showed me that although there are uncompromising stances and political posturing in the world, if people are willing to work together to secure dignity and the right to life for their neighbours, then compassion between one human and another will always keep the way open for reconciliation and peace.” Taofiq Akinpeju, an undergraduate student of Philosophy, added: “Often trying to empathise is the best way to chart a solution from a situation in which neither side is happy.” Further student perspectives on the trip can be viewed at the Faith Centre’s blog.
The Pears Foundation is an independent, British family foundation that takes £15-20 million of private money every year and invests it in good causes, promoting understanding of key issues through research and education programmes, and supporting organisations focused on the wellbeing of those with tough challenges to face.
The LSE Faith Centre opened within the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre upon its launch in 2014. It serves as a multi-faith facility used for worship, prayer, interfaith discussion and hospitality by the diverse student body at LSE, as well as being a reflective space for all staff and students.