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Space to Breathe 2016 Part I
Sunday 18th September 2016 @ 5:40 pm

“I haven’t had such a surreal 9 days in my short life time. Usually when you’re on a peace/resolution program you really are in a safe space to discuss and have the craic with those on the program. On the Space to Breathe program you really are interacting with people, places and ideologies that are currently being intoxicated by conflict. That sense of uncertainty maybe even fear, at times, led to a greater bond with those who participated, it also led to a deeper awareness of what conflict really is”

Space to Breathe Participant 2016.



It has taken me 12 days to sit and write something about the experience of taking students from all around this island to Palestine and Israel.


Even now, what I will share is scant and incomplete – it’s the start of reflections that come from thoughts swirling deep inside my mind and soul, and they raise more questions than answers.


This time last year I told myself I would not organize another student trip to the Middle East. The reason the simple – too much of the stress involved is logistical and financial… These things take a lot of money. I do not like raising money. I have no love of fundraising… In fact I pretty much detest it. It all drains my insides a little.


But then I remember…

I remember lives that are impacted on these initiatives.

I remember holy sites that are visited, that bring a strange mystical comfort.

I remember friendships that have been built. Friendships with people who live under oppression.

I remember other friendships that have been built. Friendships built with those named the oppressors.

And I remember, quite simply, that all of us have small things that we can do to make the world a better place. And while I have the honour of working in the midst of students I am fortunate enough to be able to provide experiences that challenge and grow us all into the people we want to be – who help create the world we want to see.

And so I organized another trip.


I realize it all sounds and little over–dramatic but it is true – people have their lives challenged and changed in these experiences.


I have two abiding picture memories from this last trip.


Thirteen of us traveled. We spent four days in the West Bank – meeting with and having conversation with Palestinian young people. We saw holy sites, we saw their lives and lived in their world for a short time. We then traveled to Israel for three days, meeting Israeli young people and having conversation and dialogue with families, religious leaders, and educationalists – while enjoying the beautiful countryside of Upper Galilee.


Picture one is a memory of a Northern Irish Protestant girl walking up the steps into the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron (over a site where the bones of the Patriarchs are said to be laid). While walking up the steps we tread alongside stones at the base of the wall which have been there for 2000 years – Herodian blocks of stone. She turns to me as we walk up the steps and with a smile on her face says, “Jools, until yesterday I had not been in a catholic church, and today you taking me into a mosque … ???”

That day and every day she opened herself to the experience of meeting with the other. She dialogued with people who live on her island who think very definitely about life, politics, economics, geography and religion. And she opened herself to what the spirit of God might say in that new place. I think she came back a different person.


The second picture that stays with me is from our last full day, when we visited Jerusalem and came back to Bethlehem to spend the night before flying home.

While there, we visited the separation wall – a 12m high cement barrier between Palestine and Israel. As we walked along the base of the wall one of our team, currently living in Belfast, was just ahead of me. She walked slowly, looking at the wall, and placed her hand on every segment of it.

She was praying the wall down.

It is not a surprising action. After all, she has spent days meeting people who live on both sides of the wall. She has made friends with people – on both sides of the wall …

All she desires to do, is see the pain and separation end. And so she places her hand on the wall and she prays for it to come down.

It was a moment of beauty, honesty and truth, and I was honoured to witness it.

Of course prayer is not all she can do. She is now helping to organize the second stage of the initiative – the arrival of the Palestinians and Israelis we met, to Dublin in November. While we were in the holy land it was impossible for us to meet with Palestinians and Israelis at the same time… but that does not mean we cannot do it. It means we make it happen in Dublin instead. 

Yes, it is logistically and financially sleep depriving. But it’s worth it.

God help us.



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