This second webinar facilitated by Tech2Peace focused on trust building with lessons from the Northern Ireland reconciliation process to participants from Israel, Palestine and Northern Ireland. The event was organised by Tech2Peace and hosted by Rev Dr Gary Mason. Tech2Peace is an initiative combining technology and peace–building seminars, focused on establishing positive relationships between young Israelis and Palestinians.
The group talked about the painful lessons learnt in Northern Ireland’s long peace process which might be helpful for the Israeli and Palestinian context, particularly, building trust and relationships. Participants agreed that lack of trust cannot be used as a justification for not taking the first step towards peace and that trust would only begin to evolve in the context of a meaningful relationship. It was noted that when this happens it would need to be approached with caution because of the histories of those involved.
An obstacle to establishing trust is the stereotypes and opinions about ‘the other’ that have been held and passed on for generations. In smaller groups participants shared their own experiences of these stereotypes and how they have affected their relationships. There was discussion around the idea of unlearning opinions and giving people a chance by speaking with them before making generalisations. A safe place is needed for this dialogue to take place so that we can become more informed. Those who have taken part in Tech2Peace seminars shared how they felt it to be a place to challenge deeply held opinions about the other side. They noted that often by the end of the programme there is much more understanding between participants as they have worked together on a tech project alongside having time to build relationships with one another.
Rev Mason spoke about the importance of the language we choose when talking with ‘the other’. Linguistic violence is still active in Northern Ireland as generations adopt terminology used by parents and grandparents often without having asked their own questions or met those from the other side. Two requirements to living alongside each other were highlighted — willingness to make promises and keep them and willingness to set aside the past. Participants agreed that with honest dialogue, this could be achieved among individuals, however, achieving this at leadership levels would be more difficult.
Again, in smaller groups, participants shared their experience of how creating trust between communities might happen. Participants from Northern Ireland shared that often the issue lies with leadership and how certain leaders are seen to act towards different communities. So the question was asked — how can we speak up to leadership to make them act for trust building and ultimately peace? Participants highlighted that opportunities such as this webinar would be ideal to present to various political and community leaders the thoughts and aspirations of young people for the future.
Further webinars with this group are being scheduled to continue opening dialogue on reconciliation, peace and trust building for the young leaders involved.