Solutions Not Sides: Promoting the ‘two sides’ narrative on Palestine in schools

Schools

Roshan Muhammed Salih says Muslim parents should complain to their schools if they platform Solution Not Sides, a government-backed organisation promoting the misleading “two sides” narrative on the Palestine-Israel issue in British schools.

Many Muslim parents have expressed concern about the activities of Solution Not Sides (SNS) in the light of the recent horrific Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, Al-Aqsa and Gaza.

The organisation has its origins in an NGO with links to Israel and has received government funding and promotional support to deliver its message of “both sides have suffered” to tens of thousands of British schoolchildren, often in Muslim majority areas.

Pro-Israel Education Secretary Gavin Williamson promoted the organisation recently while warning schools not to tolerate antisemitism. The organisation is also backed by Zionist organisations such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

I even recently received a picture of Usama Hassan (ex Quilliam Foundation) delivering a Solution Not Sides presentation in a school a few years ago.

In the light of the above it is my view that this organisation spreads a dangerously false narrative about the Palestine issue which should instead be presented as a struggle for freedom against ethnic cleansing, land theft, occupation, racism and Apartheid.

What is SNS?

Since 2010 SNS has been delivering an education programme in “schools, universities and community groups,” intended “to counter extreme narratives on Israel-Palestine” among young people aged 15 to 25.

Instead of talking about the overwhelmingly one-sided violence and dispossession perpetrated by the Israelis against the Palestinians, SNS focuses on the language of “both sides.”

A key part of its discourse is the framing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a battle of “moderate majorities” versus “extremists.” Its goal is to show students “that the conflict is complex and that the majority of citizens in the region on both sides just want peace.”

Nowhere is Israel portrayed as a powerful, brutal occupier and the Palestinians as stateless, occupied victims.

On its website SNS says: “Solutions Not Sides aims to tackle Antisemitism, Islamophobia and polarisation around the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the UK.

“The non-partisan programme has been formulated with the input of both Israelis and Palestinians as well as senior members of Jewish and Muslim communities, and is designed to prepare students to make a positive, solutions-focused contribution to debates on Israel-Palestine.

“We use critical thinking tools and open & safe-space discussion with the aim of shifting attitudes away from supporting one side against the other, and towards seeking a solution for the human beings involved.

“Solutions Not Sides has delivered conflict resolution training, provided educational workshops, and facilitated discussion on the conflict in the UK since 2010, engaging thousands of young people in the process. Not simply pro-Israel or pro-Palestine; above all, pro-solution.”

Origins, funding and targeting Muslims

SNS has its origins in an NGO with links to Israel called One Voice which focuses on “leveraging … the centrist mainstream [within the Israeli and Palestinian publics] who support resolution of the conflict through a negotiated and mutually acceptable two-state solution.”

Its founder is Sharon Booth who used to be employed by the Ministry of Defence. And Mohammed Ali Amla is SNS’s Director of Bridge Building, leading on youth empowerment, strategic partnership development and community collaborations.

Gavin Williamson. Editorial credit: Ilyas Tayfun Salci / Shutterstock.com

SNS has attracted significant amounts of funding from the British government. In 2016-17, it received £50,000 of taxpayers’ money for its education programme, and in 2017-18, the size of the grant doubled to £100,000.

In 2020, it received public funding to focus its work in areas with high Muslim populations: Hackney, Haringey, Hackney, Barnet, Camden, Brent, Redbridge, and Newham in London, and outside London in Bradford, Birmingham, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, Manchester, Leeds, and Kirklees.

In a document titled “Solutions not Sides Business Plan,” the organisation’s “target areas” are defined as “the areas [of Britain] with the largest populations of Jews and/or Muslims.”

But in a report on a tour of the British Midlands in spring 2017, SNS stated that the “majority” of targeted students came “from Muslim backgrounds,” adding that “to our knowledge, we did not work with any Jewish students” on account of the region’s “very small Jewish population.”

The report added that “the Midlands continues to be a target area for SNS where we encounter some troubling views regarding violence and zero-sum narratives.”

What you can do?

There is a good chance that SNS may be invited to to your school after the latest assault on Palestinians to work with staff and students.

But given its background and message I believe it is inappropriate to ask SNS to provide a narrative in a school that has a significant Muslim intake.

Parents have a right to withdraw their children from any classes, sessions or assemblies run by SNS, although this provision would not be covered by the RSE (Relationships and Sex Education) as apsects of PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) having been made compulsory in September 2020.

But you can:

  • Spread the word about SNS
  • Write to your headteacher and ask him/her to withdraw the invitation to SNS
  • Withdraw your consent for your child to attend any session run by SNS
  • Demand that your school appoint appropriate resources/trainers to address this issue impartially

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