Name: Adnan Mahmud
Course: MEng in Engineering, University of Cambridge
What started your interest in the region? As a Bangladeshi the solidarity for Arabs (in general) and Palestinian (in specific) stems from two main sources: (1) shared religion, (2) being subjected to historic/ongoing occupation from Western countries. In fact, our national poet Kazi Nazrul has a timeless masterpiece called Shatt-Al-Arab, where he binds the struggle of the Bengal delta and Arab peninsula in one thread. Growing up as a Muslim, in a Muslim-majority country, justice for Palestine and Palestinian people was a recurring theme. On a personal level, watching the atrocities of the 2014 Gaza war, as a fourteen-year-old teenager from Bangladesh has fundamentally shaped my psyche.
Why did you apply for the fellowship? Growing up in the Indian Subcontinent (Bangladesh), I have tasted the sour fruit of the British Colonial past. After migrating to the UK for my undergraduate studies and observing the sheer absence of chapters in UK schools about their colonial past was shocking. Moreover, the peculiarity of the British political domain is as such that, on one hand, it wants to do right by its former colonies and talks about liberal values but in the very sentence flirts with divisive ideas of moving its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.
Fundamentally these frustrations lead me to search for a platform where I can think about such problems in a systematic manner. That’s how I came across the Balfour Project. The core reason why I particularly applied to the Balfour Project is due to its pivotal emphasis on the British government’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I believe an a priori step from any reasonable peace process is the revealing of this controversial past in its entirety.
Name: Andrea Wong
Course: Postgraduate Diploma in Law, BPP University (current). Master in International Public Management, Sciences Po Paris (2019-2021).
What started your interest in the region? My interest in the region stems from my experiences this summer studying Arabic in Amman. There, I learned about the plight of Palestinians from my teachers, colleagues and friends – almost everybody I met was part of a diaspora denied their right of return. I learned more about life under occupation on a visit to the West Bank. I felt the enormity of my privilege when crossing Checkpoint 300 to get to Jerusalem from Bethlehem – my Palestinian guides, who did not have access, knew the Dome of the Rock only as a speck in a landscape of settlements. The unshakable resolve of the Palestinian people to persevere in the face of such gross deprivations of liberty affected me greatly. I have since committed myself to advocating for equal rights for Palestinians, in whatever capacity I can.
Why did you apply for the fellowship? For me, the fellowship is primarily an opportunity to listen to and interact with people from different backgrounds who may hold different viewpoints, but share a common vision for lasting peace, justice, security and human rights for both Palestinians and Israelis.
Having studied diplomacy and worked on bilateral and multilateral policy matters in the Civil Service, I hope to further my interest in the role of British foreign policy in the Israeli-Palestinian peace processes. As an aspiring lawyer, I also look forward to the training on international law and learning about mechanisms of accountability.
Reflecting on my experiences as a British person of colour, I feel strongly that I, and others like me, have been let down by an education that did not adequately cover British colonial history and its legacy of structural racism. The Balfour Project’s focus on colonial accountability is therefore important to me personally, to how we perceive ourselves collectively, and to how we project ourselves as a ‘force of good’ in the world.
Name: Daniel Mautner
Course: MA by Research (Music), University of Huddersfield
What started you interest in the region? My interests began as a teenager, growing up in the British Jewish community and being involved with progressive Jewish organisations and youth movements. My first trip to Israel was in 2014; we flew over on the day that Operation Protective Edge started (our plane was delayed due to the rocket fire). The trip opened my eyes to the extreme polarisation in the discourse surrounding the conflict within my own community, other communities worldwide and in the media, and the saddening lack of focus on peacebuilding initiatives. Since then, I led a tour of Israel for another British Jewish youth movement and completed a similar fellowship with Yachad, a Jewish pro-peace organisation, which included trips to Belfast, Israel and the West Bank.
Why did you apply for the fellowship? My most recent trip to Israel and the West Bank inspired me to take a more active role in peace advocacy work, perhaps even spending more time in the region. The fellowship scheme felt like the next logical step in seeing the conflict from outside my own lens, breaking down some of those biases, gaining useful skills, networking with like-minded people and understanding how I can further engage in peace advocacy work.
Name: Dina Gitlin-Leigh
Course: PGDL (Law Conversion), University of Law
What started your interest in the region?Growing up in the British Jewish community, the topic of Israel-Palestine was always around me and I found myself being asked to answer to the situation just by dint of me being Jewish. In 2020 I decided to move to the region to figure out my own relationship with the land and in my second year there, I moved to live in a community on a kibbutz together with Israelis and Palestinians. There I engaged in dialogue sessions and heard people’s personal stories and how the Occupation affected their own lives. From this I developed a more personal relationship with Israel-Palestine and became involved in activism, trying to advocate for an end to the Occupation and for peace in the region.
Why did you apply for the fellowship? I applied for the Balfour Project Fellowship as I found through my engagement in dialogue in the region that the situation in Israel-Palestine was often being framed in a post-colonial context however, this awareness did not seem to translate to British communities back home. While learning about Israel-Palestine in the UK my experience was that there was little emphasis on Britain’s role and Palestine is often treated as a footnote in British colonial history. I therefore wanted to participate in the fellowship as a way of learning more about British involvement and to develop projects to spread an understanding of British connection with Israel-Palestine.
Name: Ethan Hadad
Course: BA Arabic with Subsidiary Persian, University of Oxford.
What started your interest in the region? Despite being exposed to the conflict growing up and subsequently studying Arabic at university, I have only really begun to approach it in an academic context more recently. My course in particular has allowed me to engage far more with Palestinian perspectives, and to deepen my understanding of the region as a whole. At the same time, having knowledge of Hebrew has been important in enabling me to deal with both communities on their own terms. I spent this summer at Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, where I was introduced to issues surrounding Arabic language teaching in Israel and its role in the conflict. I was also lucky enough to spend time volunteering in the Bedouin town of Rahat, which for me highlighted the distinct problems faced by the Arab and Palestinian community within Israel, and their relative lack of coverage and attention on the international stage.
Why did you apply for the fellowship? Travelling in the region today, the remnants of British rule act are clear, if fading somewhat. A jumble of old police stations, railways, and street names belie a greater historical responsibility which I think the project is unique in addressing as an organisation.
On a personal level, I wanted to gain experience working on the conflict in a more organised and professional context, hopefully improving my own knowledge and skills in the various fields covered by the training programme, as well as challenging any misconceptions I might have. The fellowship’s capacity as a forum for discussion and communication in a largely polarised and toxic political environment was also appealing; I hope to be more equipped to challenge this by the end of the programme, regardless of what sector I end up in!
Name: Joe Haidar
Course: BA History, Queen Mary University of London
What started your interest in the region? It’s difficult for me to pinpoint a particular time or event that sparked my interest in this issue. Being of Arab descent, it was something I always knew was going on, something my family spoke about often and something they cared about deeply. As I grew up, became more politically aware and began to study History, I was further drawn to the region – largely because of my heritage, but also due to my interest in colonial history and the effect the empire has had on the world. As someone with Arab roots who has been raised in Britain, it has always troubled me to see how easily Britain could turn its back on an issue they were so instrumental in causing, and I strongly want to understand this further.
Why did you apply for the fellowship? Despite always growing up with a general knowledge of this conflict, I never felt confident enough to speak about it, as for a long time, I didn’t actually know much about the detailed and complex history and current political situation. Recently, I began to take a more active interest and when this project was sent into one of my university group chats, I was determined to apply for it. The project seemed perfect: it offered the opportunity to learn about this issue in detail, as well as making a positive and personalised contribution to finding a solution for an issue I feel so strongly about.
Name: Joel Stokes
Course: PhD at UCL’s Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies and Institute of Archaeology
What started your interest in the region?My interests in the Middle East, and in Israel-Palestine in particular, began during my adolescence, throughout which I was heavily involved in youth activities of the progressive Jewish movement in the UK. This involvement culminated in a year abroad, living in Jerusalem. Since then, I continued my interest in the region, studying related archaeology and history as part of three university degrees. All this experience has led me to where I am today. My PhD takes a critical perspective on heritage practices within contested contexts in Israel-Palestine (predominantly East Jerusalem), as I explore the relationship between heritage, stakeholders, ownership, and legitimacy.
Why did you apply for the fellowship? I applied for the Fellowship because I believe the significance of the United Kingdom’s historic and current relationship with the representatives of Israeli and Palestinian elected bodies is misunderstood and underappreciated. Additionally, I believe that education and information about Israel-Palestine is, at present, too divisive. I am interested in exploring educative projects that add colour and texture to the otherwise black and white story of the region’s history. I look forward to working closely with the other fellows and to creating meaningful projects together.
Name: Joseph Hearn
Course: MA in Middle Eastern Studies at SOAS, University of London
What started your interest in the region? During my undergraduate degree in History, I became very interested in Britain’s historical involvement in the Middle East, including how British people perceived Mandatory Palestine and its Ottoman predecessor. Simultaneously, I was fortunate enough to interview and host Middle Eastern diplomatic and political figures for a student society. These experiences led me to intern with a Palestinian lawyer, Hiba Husseini, supporting her international peace building efforts. I researched and wrote on historical and political issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and travelled to Ramallah and Jerusalem. Through this work and talking with Israelis and Palestinians, I became increasingly aware of the everyday injustices and suffering that make a lasting and fair peace so urgent.
Why did you apply for the fellowship? I am drawn to the Balfour Project’s focus on British policies and attitudes towards Israel and Palestine, particularly given Britain’s historical role in the region. International pressure is a key tool to achieve a just peace and respect for human rights, so it is important to make the case for these in Britain. The Fellowship offers amazing opportunities for research and advocacy training with a supportive and diverse community of students and activists.
Name: Laura Bramall
Course: Bar Course at City, University of London
What started your interest in the region? An internship at the non-profit organization Rebuilding Alliance during my undergraduate degree first sparked my interest in Israel and Palestine. I found that the more I learnt, the more involved I became and the more I realised the enormity of the situation. I was lucky enough to work closely with activists, lawyers, and Rabbis in the region. Seeing the beautiful landscape (albeit over zoom) and their commitment and passion inspired me to try my best to improve the situation in any way I can. I was sadly prevented from travelling to the area by the pandemic but look forward to going in the future.
Why did you apply for the fellowship? I hope the fellowship will be a great chance for me to learn more not just about the Middle East, but also about international law and politics. As an aspiring barrister, I hope that I will learn from top advocates and activists. I am particularly interested in developing my own understanding of public international law so that I can become more effective at creating change. I think that as a British citizen, I have a responsibility to interrogate the UK Government’s actions. I can’t wait to work with the other fellows to try to tackle this challenge.
Name: Lucy Rebecca Cannon
Course: 1+3 MA in Social Research funded through the Midlands Graduate Doctoral School and ESRC, University of Warwick
What started your interest in the region? I became interested in Palestine in 2014 and in learning more about the Gaza War and in wanting to challenge the mainstream narrative presented but it was at the University of Warwick I was introduced to Warwick friends of Palestine. This group enabled me to make friends from the region and showed me academics working in the area. It helped introduce me to specific terms and frameworks such as settler colonialism which I’ve found essential in my own work. I was lucky enough to go to dinner and meet Ilan Pappé. His work alongside Chomsky’s ‘On Palestine’ was possibly the first book I had read on the topic. It will always be a highlight of my academic career.
Why did you apply for the fellowship? A former tutor who had taught me in a module on the occupation and whom I have kept in touch with through organising around Palestine reached out to me and told me to apply. One of my favourite parts about academia is getting to work with and meet other exciting scholars from various backgrounds. The opportunity the fellowship offers to listen to and learn with other excellent scholars and activists, particularly those with differing experiences is something I hope will challenge and further my interest and knowledge. This as well as my skills and ability to write and think with others.
Name: Madeline Elmitt
Course: BA in Arabic, SOAS University of London
What started your interest in the region? In my teenage years, I picked up Oh Jerusalem! by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre which, in a herculean effort, traces the history of the annexation of Jerusalem in 1948 and later events in the region. From that moment on, I decided I wanted to learn Arabic and Hebrew and understand the history and cultures of the region. I am in my fourth year of Arabic at SOAS, having just returned from a year abroad in Jordan working as a journalist for The Jordan Times. My time in Jordan and working there highlighted the more immediate impacts of the conflict in neighbouring Israel/Palestine and allowed me to speak to Israelis and Palestinians about their experience.
Why did you apply for the fellowship? I was asked an interesting question by a young Israeli near Beit She’an a few months ago which was; what do you know? It’s interesting to us to see how you (Brits) perceive what is going on here. My honest answer to him would be that I do not know the general British understanding of the realities of this region. I do, however, notice the general lack of focus and concern around the ecological, political, and social impacts of the ongoing conflict. The Balfour Project represents for me and others a catalyst for discussion and continued interest in the region whilst I finish my studies in the UK. I would also like to use the Fellowship to develop my research skills in the ecological repercussions of the conflict as disruption to the natural habitat increases and resources such as dwindling water supplies become increasingly political tools in the region.
Name: Matthew Holt
Course: MSc Global Environment Politics and Society, University of Edinburgh
What started your interest in the region? My initial exposure to the conflict was through my sixth-form college that was attended by both Israelis and Palestinians here in the UK. I witnessed first-hand both the ideological tension between fellow students as well as the potential for open dialogue and education to lay positive groundworks for peacebuilding efforts.
Through my undergraduate studies in International Relations at SOAS, I was intrigued by the role of the British Empire in Palestine and the colonial practices that instigated decades of conflict and dispossession. In part driven by my personal fondness for spending time in the outdoors after growing up in the Peak District, I’m particularly interested in the ways in which identity and claims to land are connected to human relations to the ecological environment.
Why did you apply for the fellowship? It is often difficult to engage with global issues in ways that feel meaningful. The Balfour Project marked an opportunity to contribute to peace-building through a project with tangible results. Whilst I was intrigued by the project’s commitment to Britain’s historic and continued involvement in the conflict, hearing about the incredible projects run by previous fellows inspired me to apply. The project’s focus on skills development, from public speaking to international law workshops, was an attractive aspect of the fellowship as I’m looking to work in organisations concerned with peace-building in the future.
Name: The Reverend Michael J. Mair
Course: Master of Theology (Theology in History), The University of Edinburgh
What started your interest in the region? The physical land of Israel and Palestine holds deep religious significance as a Christian and minister. I first visited the region pilgrimage in 2008, and could not help but be struck by the context of the deep divisions present between the communities who inhabit the land. When I visited again in 2014, I was able to spend time with projects who are working across the divisions which exist in order to generate conversations which offer a pathway towards reconciliation, justice and peace.
Why did you apply for the fellowship? The fellowship appealed to me as it offered a tangible way to learn more about the complex issues which are present, as well as to work with a cohort of interested and interesting students who have a desire to see peace flourish across the region. The project-based nature of the fellowship provides the opportunity for an inter-disciplinary and collaborative approach which I look forward to participating within and expanding my own knowledge and skills base.
Name: Nicole Munson
Course: MPhil Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation, Trinity College, Belfast
What started your interest in the region? I participated in a peacebuilding trip to the region which brought faith-based communities from the U.S. to Israel and Palestine. The goal of those trips was to see the complexity of the conflict by meeting with all different types of people from every side of the conflict, to help participants engage with the conflict, and to show how practices of peacebuilding could be implemented in the participants’ own communities. After returning, I spoke with many people about what I witnessed there and had many interesting and difficult conversations with people in my community. I realized there was a fundamental misunderstanding of what was happening in Israel and Palestine. I began reading more about the history of the conflict and advocating for human rights in the region as well as engaging others to learn more.
Why did you apply for the fellowship? I chose to apply for the fellowship because I felt that, similar to the U.S., Britain has held a historic position in the perpetuation of conflict in the region and that requires a degree of ownership and recognition from the people/government of the UK. I felt that there would be a great deal to learn from this fellowship in terms of my own position/relation to the conflict and the ability to gain practical skills by participating in a project. I was excited for the opportunity to engage in other perspectives from the fellows and instructors.
Name: Ross Plowman
Course: BA History, University of Durham
What started your interest in the region? I have lived with two refugees originally from Palestine. They became part of our family and told us about their stories and experiences. This coincided with the consistent appearances of Palestine in the media and our studies of the British Empire in school. I read, campaigned and, most importantly, listened. This summer, I went to Palestine for two months. I worked at a local NGO and saw the occupation with my own eyes. Living amongst Palestinians (and actually being consecrated as a Palestinian on numerous occasions!) was enough for me to know with whom my solidarity lay.
Why did you apply for the fellowship programme? Three unconnected friends sent me the link for the application which, I believe, was a good sign. The focus of the Balfour Project on Britain’s complicity in the occupation appealed to me. As a history student, I have always been attracted to the history of British colonialism. I am eager to campaign for Palestinian human rights and learn more about the intricacies of British imperialism, the occupation and its history. I saw the fellowship programme as a great opportunity to approach the occupation of Palestine academically, as opposed to previous front line activism. I want to expand my knowledge and improve my communicative skill set so that I can engage in higher level debates.