Northern Ireland: A Model for Conflict Mangement in the Middle East? by Lea Ledwon, Germany

You might wonder why I, a German living in Israel, have the urge to talk about Ireland.

Well, first of all because I spent a wonderful year there after school working with special needs people and at the same time meeting an Israeli who initiated me studying in Herzliya instead of Berlin. imageThis is basically why I’m here and write about the Green Island from our YALA office in Tel Aviv. Life brings with it many surprises, for this purpose I hope it will be peace.

Secondly, I write about Ireland because both countries have commonalities – other than their initial letter and their inhabitants’ love for Guinness.

Northern Ireland, which belongs to the United Kingdom, used to be an area of great conflict from the 1960s until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Although there are still some smaller uprisings, one can say that this ethnic conflict, which has its’ roots in the 17th century and was believed to be unresolvable, could finally be managed by setting up a power-sharing government between Unionists (Protestants), wanting to belong to the UK and Republicans (Catholics), fighting for a united Ireland.

During my stay in Ireland I met Irish natives from the Republic as well as from the North, Catholics and Protestants alike, who work together, share deep friendships and even inter-marry. Belfast, the capital of the Troubles, is a beautiful little city which developed into becoming a popular commercial centre as well as a tourist attraction. The signs of combat will not disappear completely and I believe that they shouldn’t. They remind us that fighting causes destruction, whereas negotiations cause construction. There were times were Belfast appeared more frequently in the media than Jerusalem, Sderot and Ashkelon. Although we tend to forget that there are other major conflicts in this world, the truth is that there are and that many of them did actually get resolved or at least managed. Humans cause these conflicts, but they can also resolve them. We should appreciate each other’s humanity and try to understand that no conflict is irresolvable. It is in our hands to create the future.

Living in Ireland, I could never fully understand how these happy and warm people perpetuated this violent conflict for decades. How come these people, who probably have more commonalities than differences, used to fight each other cruelly on the streets? Reality is certainly not a fairy tale; there are things to be improved. Schools are still divided amongst Catholics and Protestants and the same applies to living areas. More has to be done in order to create durable peace!

Nevertheless, Ireland teaches us that yes, people fighting each other for decades can come to an agreement, yes, we need to look towards the new generations who want to create a life in peace and dignity and yes – Israelis and Irish have more in common than we might think. We should keep in mind that although we live in a different region, we all are citizens of the world, who should treat each other with respect and mutual understanding. Humanity is the answer to all conflict.

Lea Ledwon, Germany

YaLa Young Leaders

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