Festival of Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace
Kirstin Innes finds out about a new exhibition highlighting peace initiatives in the Middle East
With the strikes on Gaza receiving near blanket coverage across all media, it’s been impossible to ignore the situation in Israel and Palestine recently.
Inevitably, and perhaps understandably, when communicating the realities of life in a war zone, the story the media wants to tell is one of atrocity, using horror to try and pierce the channel-hopping complacency of their audiences. Stories of hope often get lost in the grander narrative.
‘When it comes to the Middle East, the media more often than not focus on the negatives from the region, to the neglect of some of the more positive projects that are happening there,’ says Billy Briggs, one of the journalists behind a new exhibition highlighting grassroots peace initiatives in the region. Briggs and photographer Angela Catlin met when working for The Herald newspaper, and recognised their common interest in documenting international human rights issues. Last December, before the Gaza strikes erupted, they travelled around the West Bank. Peacemakers of Israel and Palestine, which opens this fortnight in Edinburgh as part of the Festival of Middle Eastern of Spirituality and Peace, showcases Catlin’s reportage photography of the area.
‘As journalists we’ve both been out to Israel and the West Bank before, and travelled widely, but it was usually to document the darker sides of human nature. There are a lot of projects out there promoting peace and tolerance and that’s largely ignored, so we wanted to redress the balance. Especially because many of these people often work at great risk to their own lives.’
During their trip, they spent a day with a group of Jewish doctors working under the banner Physicians for Human Rights.
‘They travel every weekend to Palestinian areas to treat Palestinians. Spending time with them was great, because these guys are going into a dangerous situation, and they do it every week, even when there’s been a major incident. And they’re warmly welcomed by the Palestinians.’
The point of Briggs and Catlin’s exhibition, it seems, is simply to gently indicate that the two faiths are not perpetually in opposition in the region.
‘There’s a small village, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalam, where Arabs and Jews have lived together since 1970,’ Briggs says. ‘The children are educated together, too, and it’s been a successful project. In Hebrew it’s called Neve Shalom; in Arabic it’s Wahat al-Salam, and both of them mean ‘oasis of peace’. We got a taxi to take us there from Jerusalam and our driver couldn’t believe that such a project existed. We were there for two hours; during that time he took a look around, and decided to apply to go and live there with his young family.’
Out of the Blue Drill Hall, Edinburgh, Mon 23 Feb–Mon 2 Mar. www.mesp.org.uk.