Charlotte Manson, from the Causeway Initiative, hosted a delegation of six ultra-orthodox Israeli rabbis affiliated with the Shas Party in a recent visit to Belfast. This was organised in association with Forward Thinking and the East Belfast Mission. The visit was titled “Writing the Religious Initiative” and provided the rabbis with the opportunity to listen to religious and political individuals from the Republican and Unionist communities as they discussed the relationship between religion and politics in Northern Ireland.
As an introduction to the visit in Belfast, approaches to building peace were discussed within the framework of three levels: top, middle-ranking and grassroots leadership. The delegation and facilitators discussed the middle-ranking level as pertinent to the rabbis position in their communities in Israel. This presentation focused on the need for integration at all three levels in order to have a sustainable peace, which the visit to Belfast aimed to illustrate.
The rabbis heard from influential religious figures who described how they had personally managed to negotiate a pathway to a peaceful settlement within a theological framework. The speakers from Northern Ireland gave an honest appraisal of the challenges of peace-building, but also stressed the potential for religion to play a positive role in resolving conflict.
The delegation also met with a number of individuals who had led educational initiatives across interface areas in North Belfast despite the many challenges they faced. They emphasised on the vital role of local leadership and building a network of relationships across interface areas, with also the on-going consultation of local people. Each presentation provided an insight into the day-to-day work of the Northern Irish peace process as the speakers commented on the need for the continuation of their work today.