10 November 2011
I have been a friend of Children of Peace since mid 2010 when its founder, Richard Martin, made me aware of how Children of Peace seeks to protect all of the children and their communities in Israel and Palestine - Bedouin, Christian, Druze, Jewish and Muslim.
They recently asked me for an interview which is now on their website. I have reproduced it here to share it more widely.
In the latest interview of our series, Professor Sarah Brown - a Trustee of Children of Peace - interviews Mohammed Amin, a Friend of Children of Peace and a distinguished British Muslim of Pakistani origin who has lived in the UK since the age of one. Despite growing up in a very poor family, he passed the 11+ exam to attend a state grammar school and then graduated in mathematics from Clare College Cambridge and became Price Waterhouse's first Muslim partner in the UK. He retired at the end of 2009.
MA: I have followed current affairs from an early age, and was sixteen when the Six Day War took place. Accordingly at least since then I have closely followed Middle East developments in the news. My being a Muslim makes me naturally sympathetic to the Palestinian position, but having read the Bible from cover to cover and knowledge of the history of European Jewry means that I can also sympathise with the Jewish viewpoint.
After I visited Auschwitz in 2009 I wrote about how much awareness of the Holocaust has affected me.In recent years have been reading more books about the twentieth century history of Palestine. In 2004 along with others I helped to set up the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester which has also increased my interest in the Middle East.
MA: We had a mixed group of nine Muslims, six Christians and two Jews, organised by FODIP (Forum for Discussion of Israel and Palestine) and spent about nine days in Israel and the West Bank with a fully scheduled itinerary. The historic nature of the Holy Land is very inspiring. Amongst other things we walked in Capernaum where Jesus taught, we visited the churches of the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Holy Sepulchre, as well as the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Ebrahimi Mosque where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives are buried. Amongst more modern locations, we visited the Ghetto Fighters Museum, Yad Vashem, Mount Herzl and the mixed Muslim Jewish village Neve Shalom Wahat Al Salaam. Having tea at the home of a kindertransporten survivor in his eighties who told me about his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren made real the saying that to save one life is to save a world.
The most depressing part of the visit was the centre of Hebron. A terrible massacre of Jews took place there in 1929. Today a small number of Jewish settlers have made a point of occupying the centre of Hebron with IDF protection and have made life a misery for the many Arabs who live there.
MA: I found Yad Vashem very moving and wrote about it on my website. Geographically what struck me most was the amount of open space. I was very aware of the population of Israel and the West Bank, yet driving around in our coach in Israel and the West Bank, what struck me was the amount of relatively empty countryside.
I found that Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians were all pessimistic about the future, but surprisingly despite the power imbalance it was Israeli Jews who seemed to feel most pessimistic. I came away with the strong belief that they need strong outside help to make peace, as for both sides avoiding difficult issues is much easier than taking the hard decisions needed to reach a peace agreement.
MA: I came across Jane Clements, FODIP Director, when she came to Manchester to facilitate a mutual listening event organised by the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester in the wake of the Gaza conflict (Operation Cast Lead). FODIP states: "Its remit is to host and facilitate sensitively inter faith dialogue on the Israeli Palestinian conflict, within and between Jews, Christians, Muslims and others in the UK, and to promote co-operation through dialogue." I was unable to attend the Manchester listening event, but those who did found it worthwhile. The trip FODIP organised, with the programme of people that we met, certainly broadened our understanding of the issues and facilitated dialogue.
MA: The biggest obstacle I encounter is people who take entrenched positions that rule out all compromise. For example Jews who insist that God gave them title deeds to all of Palestine or Muslims who insist that once a land has been ruled by Muslims it must always be ruled by Muslims.
Fortunately such ultra-extremists are few in number.The more common problem is mutual ignorance of history, or rather adherence to a one-sided historical narrative which takes no account of the past faults of one's own "side." I believe that everyone should study the history, not because we can change or rectify it, but a knowledge of the history eliminates any belief that only the "other side" has done anything wrong.
MA: I was approached out of the blue by your Chairman and Founder Richard Martin to become a Friend. Given my interest in the subject, once I looked at the website to see how Children of Peace operated, its objectives and its existing line-up of friends, coming on board was an easy decision.