12 fellows were recruited in October 2020 and the programme is ongoing despite the problems caused by the Coronavirus.
The Balfour Project has arranged training for them on history and international law, focusing on the Creation and Termination of the British Mandate; the Case for Britain recognising Palestine today; Negotiation Skills; Peace Advocacy; the policy making structures of the British Government and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and how to lobby them; campaigning and fundraising; and diplomacy at the UN.
The fellows are working on personal research projects, implementing some of the knowledge and tools they received in the training sessions and focusing on their own personal interests and backgrounds. Their initial research will create a ground base for a future campaign, and will assist them in networking and building partnerships, both personally and for the Balfour Project, with partner organisations.
Name: Adam Abdalla
Course: Arabic and Politics at the University of Leeds
What started your interest in the region? The first time that I learnt about the issue of Palestine and how I related to was when I faced discrimination from my classmates at school, calling me a terrorist, because of my being originally from Palestine. I came to realise that to come to terms with my subjectivity, I need to become politically active and aware.
Why did you apply to the fellowship? The Balfour Project Fellowship scheme seemed like an ideal opportunity to learn more about the issue and get access to an alternative, yet influential platform as well as meeting new people involved in the struggle for equal rights for everyone in the region.
Name: Aimée-Stephanie Reid
Course: MSc Peace and Conflict Studies, Ulster University, Northern Ireland
What started your interest in the region?: Growing up in Belfast I have very vivid memories from my childhood of seeing Palestinian and Israeli flags being flown throughout the streets, and being taught that one of the flags was for the ‘goodies’, like us, and that the other side for the ‘baddies’, like them. I was taught that both The Troubles in Ireland and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was clear cut, and there would be a winner and a loser. As I developed my interest in politics throughout my A-Levels I began to understand a much more nuanced narrative of both conflicts and I became particularly interested in why The Troubles was considered a conflict of the past yet the conflict in the Middle East was still ongoing. I studied my Bachelor’s degree at an international honours college in The Netherlands and here I was exposed to people from Israel and Palestine, and also people from the ‘other’ community in Northern Ireland with whom I would not have interacted before. It was at my Bachelor’s degree that I developed a greater appreciation for individuals narratives of conflicts and, as I studied sociology, how the individual experienced and interpreted their own country’s conflict.
Why did you apply to the fellowship?: I applied for the fellowship as I realised I had quite an one-sided view of the conflict, despite doing my best to read widely on the subject I found myself returning to the same sources or disputing opinions that did not match my own, while never really engaging with them. I wanted to meet with people who had also had different experiences with the conflict than myself, and see how they had developed their knowledge and opinions on the conflict. I also found that the aim of the Balfour Project, to encourage Britain to acknowledge their historical responsibility to the region, was something that really resonated with me as an Irish citizen, yet something that I did not see being called for often enough.
Name: Francesca Vawdrey
Course: Having specialised in Palestinian history during her undergraduate degree, Francesca is now a postgraduate in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oxford.
She is committed to striving for peace and equality in Israel and Palestine, and has a specific interest in the rights of Palestinian women, an interest she developed throughout her internship with the Palestinian women’s rights charity Kayan, in Haifa. This experience was pivotal: “it exposed me to the distinct power imbalance between Israel and Palestine and the multifaceted layers of injustice and oppression Palestinians have to face every day. It also taught me more about the specific hardships Palestinian women face, consolidating my desire to campaign for equality on multiple levels, throughout my intended career in international diplomacy.”
As a fellow of the Balfour Project, Francesca will co-curate an online art exhibition on identity, boundaries and homeland, featuring artists from Israel and Palestine. This will contribute to the British public’s understanding of the Arab-Israeli Conflict and the struggle for Palestinian freedom.
Name: Gilang Al Ghifari Lukman
Course: MPhil Modern Middle Eastern Studies, Advanced Arabic and Introductory Hebrew at University of Oxford.
What started your interest in the region? The bloodshed and indiscriminate killing in the 2008-2009 Gaza War was the first image I received as a child on Israel-Palestine. Everyone in my community in Indonesia talked about this news, expressed their support for Gaza, and condemned Israel’s crimes. My initial conviction on the conflict was explicitly zero-sum. Between the “invader” and the “native” there cannot be room for compromise — nor should there be. Looking back in retrospect, it astounds me how my standpoint has developed since then. My study in Oxford has afforded me rare opportunity for constructive discussions with both Palestinians and Israelis alike — a luxury, considering where I came from. From them, it became clearer to me that a zero-sum mentality cannot do good to any side. Solving this mutually tormenting conflict cannot involve one without the other.
Why did you apply to the fellowship? I particularly resonate with the Balfour Project’s endorsement for British immediate recognition of Palestine as one way to ensure that negotiations can be done in equal esteem. The unequivocality with which the Project defines its mission statement convinces me that, as a fellow, I will not only gain contextualized knowledge on both sides but also make a stance from that understanding. While having a clear standpoint is always important for me, I value endless learning of different perspectives and a safe space to discuss them. The diversity of the fellowship’s members and the wide-ranging topics covered in the workshops pushes everyone to constantly challenge their view on Israel-Palestine — refining them in the process.
Name: Haneen Zeglam
Course: MPhil Modern Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oxford
What started your interest in the region?I had always been partially aware of the conflict throughout my childhood but only got the chance to study it for the first time during my undergraduate degree. I soon realised however that analysing the situation academically as purely a Middle Eastern conflict often ignored how the impact of the situation can be felt all the way over here in Britain, especially among the Muslim and Jewish communities and their relationship with each other. From that realisation, I got involved with some projects and organisations that attempt to deal with how the conflict affects local community relations, an area I’m still passionate about today.
Why did you apply to the fellowship? I applied to the Fellowship because I really admire the Balfour Project Approach that highlights Britain’s responsibility to the future of Israel-Palestine, given its actions in the past. I also wanted to develop my own understanding through the various workshops and lectures, as well as getting to know the other fellows. Overall, it has been a massively rewarding programme so far and I would definitely encourage people to apply.
Name: Jack Walton
Course: University of Exeter, Politics Philosophy and Economics
How I first became interested in the region. Growing up in the British Jewish community the State of Israel was fundamental to my identity, and my experiences in a progressive Jewish summer camp only solidified this importance to me. In a post-Holocaust world, I saw the state of Israel as being of vital importance for Jewish people. I was raised to support a liberal version of Zionism that I believed reconciled equality with Jewish safety. I have many memories of how unconditional support for Israel was taken as pre given, such as going into school dressed in blue and white to celebrate the foundation of the state. This was well before I had a more intellectual understanding of what Nationalism is or what the roots of the conflict are. I began to be slowly disillusioned with the two-state paradigm that I had been taught was the only tenable solution to the conflict. The time I spent in Israel during my gap year led me to further question the Zionism that I had been bought up with, and I began to become more interested in exploring the colonial roots of the conflict. This development away from Zionism led me to join Na’amod, a coalition of British Jewish activists committed to ending our communities support of the Israeli occupation.
Why did you apply to the fellowship? I applied for the fellowship because I shared with the project a belief that Britain’s historical responsibilities in regard to our colonial past are too often overlooked. I was also enthusiastic about the possibility of meeting like minded people from a wide variety of backgrounds who shared the belief in the importance of equal rights for all the inhabitants of the region.
Name: Jordan Jones
Course: MSc Modern Middle Eastern Studies, University of Oxford
What started your interest in the region? Growing up, I had always been aware of the Israel–Palestine conflict, primarily due to news coverage during events such as the 2008–2009 Gaza War. However, my interest in the region — and the conflict and its resolution — really began while I was studying Arabic in Jordan as part of my undergraduate degree. During this time, I visited Israel and the West Bank; witnessing the situation ‘on the ground,’ as it were, brought home the fact that this conflict is ongoing, and affects the day-to-day lives of countless people in the region and beyond. Moreover, this interest was compounded by learning more about the historical role of the United Kingdom in the region and conflict, particularly with regard to the British Mandate; indeed, many of the people that I spoke to in places such as Jerusalem and Bethlehem emphasised the importance of this (especially upon finding out that I was British).
Why did you apply to the fellowship? I applied to the fellowship because the Balfour Project’s focus on advocating for the upholding of equal rights for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples is an aim that truly resonates with me. Moreover, as a British citizen, I feel that it is vital to learn more about the region, the conflict, and the UK’s historical role therein, and advocate for a just resolution. In addition to this, the opportunity to meet and work with the other fellows in pursuit of these common aims is a truly rewarding and educational experience, and the fellowship is equipping me with valuable skills that will enable me to continue learning, educating, and advocating in the future.
Name: Martha Scott-Cracknell
Course: Completed MSt in Study of Religions at the University of Oxford in July 2020 (studied BA Religion, Politics and Society at University of Leeds). I now work part time as an analyst for the European Academy on Religion and Society.
What started your interest in the region? I first became aware of the Israel-Palestine conflict through conversations as a teenager with my Irish grandfather who had lived in Yemen for several years in the 1980s. He had many reflections on Yemen and the MENA region and the parallels to the Troubles in his home country of Ireland, which he shared with me. His experiences, coupled with my own passion for Islamic and Jewish studies, definitely helped to spark my curiosity in the conflict.
Why did you apply to the fellowship? I apply to the fellowship because, throughout my academic studies, I had often approached the conflict by looking at the beliefs within Islam and Judaism or inter relations between countries in the region, but had rarely given attention to Britain’s historic responsibility in the conflict. This perspective is an essential one to understand given the influence Britain can have in upholding equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis. Moreover, I also wanted an opportunity to collaborate with other fellows, have challenging conversations and to develop my own viewpoint. Through gaining these skills, I hope to continue working on conflict resolution through an interfaith and community dialogue approach.
Name: Omar Sharif
Course: Cyber Security, CU London
What started your interest in the region? As a Palestinian who was born during the Second Intifada, I grew up with the stories of suffering and pain that Palestinians are experiencing being reverberated all around me. I felt the sadness when, every day, there would be news of a loved one being killed and the anger ringing through my ears with the fear of who would be next. I experienced the painful crush of people desperately trying to go through Israeli checkpoints. I got accustomed to the normal day to day sight of heavily armed soldiers and huge separation barriers and walls everywhere I go. I grew up with the fear of the unknown tomorrow. As a child, I thought it was all normal. I thought that this was the life that all the children of the world lived. I, like many Palestinians, have experienced and witnessed all sorts of suffering and injustice. My experiences made me want to improve other people’s lives and help those who are vulnerable. I found myself digging my heels into my community in the UK and became an active member of it. I volunteered at many charities that supported all types of people (homeless, refugees, asylum seekers and anyone seeking general support), but my origins have never been forgotten. As a result, I strove to understand why the Palestinians, as a people, are forced to suffer under the shadow of internationally accepted laws and so-called peace treaties. I strove to see the Israel-Palestine conflict through the different lenses of the diverse communities around me. One result of this was becoming a FODIP (Forum Of Discussion for Israel and Palestine) ambassador, a Catalyst Alumni (Near Neighbours) and meeting with people of all faiths (Jewish, Muslim, Christian e.t.c). I have lived through the reality of this conflict and have witnessed the zero-sum mentality that is present on both sides. In a conflict, where justice, peace and basic human rights seem to be something from a dream, I found it imperative that I do my part in encouraging everyone to engage in finding a solution to an increasingly toxic reality where political bias, misinformation and disregard for the plight of millions of people has diminished any sense of peace.
Why did you apply to the fellowship? This fellowship provided me with a focused lens through which I could look at the conflict and learn about the issues that both sides of the conflict present and face. Its focus on the historic responsibility that the UK has in providing justice and fulfilling the promises made to the Palestinian people, its stance on the need for justice, equal rights and security for both Palestinians and Israelis greatly resonated with me. Furthermore, the workshops that form part of the fellowship, provided me with space where I can draw upon the experience and knowledge of academic, community and political figures and explore their views of the different aspects of the conflict. It was a chance for me to broaden and build on my knowledge of the conflict.
Name: Rosie Richards
Course: MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies with Intensive Arabic at SOAS
What started your interest in the region?: During my Undergraduate at the University of Oxford I specialised in classical and modern Islam with Quranic Arabic. During my study I became fascinated by the MENA region and travelled to Israel and Palestine to learn more about the history of the conflict. This compelled me to undertake a MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies with Intensive Arabic at SOAS where I am specialising in gendered experiences of diaspora and the political and psychological implications of embodying the fragmented, hyphenated identity of the Arab-Jew.
Why did you apply to the fellowship? The Balfour fellowship enables me to turn my academic focus into something tangible and I am so excited to launch of our outreach projects next year.
Name: Ruth Foster
Course: MTS, Harvard Divinity School. Previously studied Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh.
What started your interest in the region? Growing up in Northern Ireland I was always vaguely aware of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as something that was happening very far away due to the different flags flown by opposing communities. However I only first began to understand the realities and complexities of the conflict when I spent time living and volunteering in Jerusalem aged 19. The stark divisions and competing narratives within the city of Jerusalem fascinated me and prompted me to focus my undergraduate degree on the relationship between religion, politics, and conflict in both Northern Ireland and the Middle East. My current master’s degree research focuses on grassroots peace-building in deeply divided societies, and what ‘peace’ looks like in the 21st-century.
Why did you apply to the fellowship? I applied to the Balfour Project in order to learn more about both Britain’s historic role in the region, and its responsibility in future peace-building efforts. In addition to this through workshops, lectures, and interactions with the other Fellows I wanted to engage with a wide range of perspectives and further nuance and challenge my own understanding of the region.
Name: Sam Lytton Cobbold
Course: MA Hons Arabic & Middle Eastern Studies with French, Edinburgh University
What started your interest in the region? I had always had a peripheral understanding of the notion of Israel growing up with Christian grandparents, but I had no real perception of what the place was like until I visited Jerusalem the year before I began my Arabic degree. As a naïve soon to be Arabic student, I was tacken aback when I saw the soldiers, the separation barrier and the visible inequalities between the different quarters of the city. I found it strange that my family and I could get onto a tour bus and drive to visit the dead sea on an immaculate and empty highway and without crossing any borders or checkpoints when Google Maps was telling me that I had crossed into a foreign country. I had many friends with family and other connections in Israel, and many felt offended or defensive when I told them what I had witnessed when I got home. I made it my goal to understand the conflict for myself, since I knew that nobody else could give me an objective account of the region’s history. With my Arabic language focus, I naturally found myself engaging with Arab, and especially Palestinian narratives regarding the conflict. I began to appreciate Palestinian grievances, and I have studied the conflict devotedly—from the literature of Ghassan Kanafani to the progressive scholarship of the New Historians—ever since. I still strive, however intangible my goal may be, for a non-biased understanding of the conflict that has interested me for so long.
Why did you apply to the fellowship? In my third year of university, I spent a year abroad in Jordan. There, and on my travels in the region, I befriended members of the Palestinian diaspora and was luckier than they to be able to visit their homeland on a number of occasions. I travelled to Lebanon at the same time and met third generation refugees still living in the camps built for their grandparents. Everywhere anyone learnt that I was British, they began to shout what was in many cases the one English word they knew: “Balfour! Balfour! Balfour!” Through my Arabic language and Middle Eastern studies, I had learnt about the Balfour Declaration, but it was not until I visited these places that I realised the anger that was still associated with that name among Palestinians. I was embarrassed that so many of my British contemporaries had no idea what the declaration was, let alone what it meant for the people of mandatory Palestine and their descendants. So when I found out about the fellowship, I was eager to apply. First and foremost I wanted to learn more about Britain’s historic role in the region, but equally to learn how to pressure my government to do more to help solve the current problems it faces.
Name: Sarah Chaya Smith
Course: MSc Politics of Conflict, Rights and Justice at SOAS, University of London. Previously studied Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh (2016-2020).
What started your interest in the region? Throughout my progressive Jewish upbringing, I have developed a deep concern for social justice issues. As a youth leader on a Jewish summer camp, my critical engagement with the Israeli Palestinian conflict was furthered when reflecting on my role to educate others. Struggling to go well beyond the often starkly black and white narratives that permeate understandings of the region, I have been keen to meet and engage with Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis on the ground. Such efforts have included volunteering and interning with regional environmental peacebuilding NGO EcoPeace-Middle East in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Here I have learned first-hand about the effects of the conflict on local communities, top-down and bottom-up strategies to peace, alongside the nuanced ways in which meanings of peace shift between different actors, spaces and moments in time, situated within very personal layers of suffering and oppression.
Why did you apply to the fellowship? I applied to the fellowship eager to practically apply my academic studies, meet other fellows and engage with a broad variety of workshops; from learning about the workings of UK foreign policy to improving my public speaking skills. Especially central to this is how much I admire the Balfour Project’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, placing an astute awareness on Britain’s dark colonial history as vital to efforts of justice and equality moving forward. I am so excited for the year ahead and to continue what has already been a greatly rewarding programme.
Name: Stav Salpeter
Course: Norwegian-Israeli currently studying for an MA (Hons) in International Relations and International Law at the University of Edinburgh. She co-founded the Palestinian-Israeli Dialogue Society, an award-winning organisation with branches across the UK and Canada.
What started your interest in the region? Having grown up in the shadow of the conflict, I have worked as an assistant teacher at the Hadassah School for Hospitalised Children on the border between East and West Jerusalem, which allowed me to see hope for a different reality on the ground. Moreover, I have volunteered at the Atlit Detention Camp for Clandestine Immigrants, which led me to think about the ongoing heritage of the British Mandate in Israel.
Why did you apply to the fellowship? I have identified with the Balfour Project’s mission to explore that historical heritage in order to ensure a more just future for both Palestinians and Israelis. I appreciate the diversity of backgrounds represented by the Balfour Project Fellows and the opportunity to engage with a wealth of perspectives.