Journey for dialogue resulted in silence and cancelled meetings

lifted from Vårt (google translate)

a telling experience in “dialogue”. According to some interpretations, this means altering facts to fit the fantasy of others. I wonder how dialogue activists will learn the lessons from this experiment?


Dialogue halted after dialogue journey
They traveled together to the Middle East to take religious dialogue to a new level. The result was that further meetings were canceled and postponed.
Heidi Marie Lindekleiv

– Some of the best dialogue work I’ve been involved in, says Berit Hagen Agøy, Secretary General of Inter-Church Council, about the journey to Jerusalem together with representatives of Jews and Muslims.

Having established the group “children of Abraham” in 2011, found Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders in Norway that they would travel together  and trace the footsteps were Abraham himself had walked. On New Year in 2013 they set out to Israel and the Palestinian territories. The purpose of the trip was to create peaceful dialogue. But afterwards there was silence about the children of Abraham. Reports received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) received from the trip, described friction and disagreement among the participants.

– The trip was arranged to learn, and to see the situation from each other’s point of view. Yes, it was a strong and demanding experience. It has meant that we have needed time to process these experiences, before we continue the dialogue.

– How have you worked?

– We had a meeting a while afterwards.It has also been difficult to meet as a three-party group. This is down to practical things, and that people have needed time.

Also the Contact Group for the Islamic Council and the Inter-Church Council have had fewer meetings last year. In 2014, there were two meetings. A was canceled due to lack of attendance.

– It is true that there was a fairly long period where the contact group had no meetings. It is mostly down practical things, like change in staff, and that dates did not fit.

First journey

This was the first time an official group of Norwegian Muslims, Jews and Christians traveled to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Prior to the trip the participants issued a press release and spoke about great hopes for the trip:

– An important part of the trip is to share the good dialogue experiences we have in Norway with others in Israel and Palestine, said Berit Hagen Agøy from the Ecumenical Council.

– I hope we can learn to talk about the conflict without any of the parties jumping into the trenches, Ervin Kohn from the Jewish community said.

– We refuse to let different views on the political conflict in Israel and Palestine ruin the good religion dialogue we have at national level Norway. The challenge now is to get the dialogue down to the grassroots level, said Mehtab Afsar in Islamic Council Norway.

Put on hold

The “Children of Abraham” planned a seminar series on difficult questions. This was not to be.

Although much of the work was put on hold after the trip, however, it was planned a special seminar series for the group. Eight topics were suggested, including “antisemitism – its history and expression” and “Israel, Christian Zionism and Islamophobia.”

Now the calendar shows March 2015. Only one seminar has been arranged.

– The Work stopped completely, says Anne Sender. She is head of the secretariat of the Cooperation Council for Faith and Spirituality organizations (STL), and participated in the tour as former leader of the Jewish community.

– Why stop there?

– I think that those who were on the trip had not talked so much about it in their own community. The whole point of traveling was that we would develop a common language, combat stories and language in their own communities. We have not achieved this. But then I am not sure what’s the reason why it stopped: If it is the Islamic Council (IRN) who has not had the capacity or whether they think that they have more important things to do. I note that its not only the children of Abraham who is not meeting, but also the STL dialogue has been challenging for them. I hope that a new IRN board will see dialogue as an important issue.

IRN will hold its annual meeting Saturday, when also a new board will be elected.

– What specific events led to The Jewish Community to write “we believe we have started our dialogue work at too high a level”?

– I would in retrospect wish that we had not traveled to Gaza and Hebron. Furthermore we had not checked enough our own knowledge level. Some of those who were in the group on the Muslim side had never been in the Middle East before, while many of the others had been there many times. But the differences became clearer when we got home and the work to evaluate was going to start.


When the tour was over, reports on a dialogue forum marked by controversy emerged:

• The Ecumenical Council and the Roman Catholic Church delivered the report together. Here they say that “emotional reactions and frictions within the group,” arose in the face of “unpleasant and stressful situations.”

• The Islamic Council of Norway (IRN) writes about the “sometimes tense discussions and evaluation meetings,” and claims that they were met with efforts to “explain away” wrongs committed in controversial areas. “Where there was disagreement in the delegation, was during the the walk through bazaar in Hebron where Jewish settlers threw garbage, bottles and urine packed in plastic bags on Palestinians shopping there “the IRN wrote.

• “We got to know how difficult it was,” and “We believe we have started our dialogue at too high a level “,” wrote The Jewish Religious Community.

– Censorship

The churches concluded that “It may be that we in advance of the trip took too lightly on clarifying what participants thought about the conflict narratives and stories, and on basic conditions caused by occupation, the wall and settlements (…) We wonder if we assumed more knowledge , greater consensus and common understanding than there was reason to. ”

The IRN suggests that the etiquette in itself was a problem, as they claim that they were “imposed censorship on where and how one ought to speak” about perceptions about different experiences. “We think this was unnecessary and very negative for a good, future dialogue,” states the IRNs report.


The report indicate that the group “needs time” to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and different interpretations of it. “In this context, we also had to scale down or delay some of the public follow up talking points which was planned prior to the trip,” it said. Among the examples mentioned are a seminar, a joint chronicle and a project for the fight against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia in Norway.

The journey cost NOK 224,000 crowns. NOK 190,000 was paid by the Foreign Ministry.

– We are committed dialogue

The Muslim delegates responded that they were dissatisfied that they were not allowed to compare the Palestinian situation with concentration camps and the Holocaust. Mehtab Afsar, secretary general of the Islamic Council Norway, said the trip was “instructive, exciting and demanding.”

He says that the Muslim Partisipants think it was difficult and discriminatory to be held back for over three hours at Israeli checkpoints out of Gaza. Christians and Jews were not.

– You write that censorship was imposed on you. Who imposed this?

– We witnessed strong scenes among others in Gaza, and the bazaar in Hebron. Many small events built up that I thought it was important to have joint meetings daily. The Muslims would talk about what they had seen, and said that some of this could be compared with concentration camps, the Holocaust and collective racism. The response from our  dialogue partners that “you can not say this.” This, we experienced as strange. We also had a round afterwards where we were told that “you cannot put it like this.” But we have talked openly and honestly about this with our dialogue partners. We must also have room for disagreement.

– How do you explain that there has been no activity in the “children of Abraham” after you came home?

– There has been activity. We are committed dialogue, and have had it through bilateral talks and contact with both the Interchurch council and the Jewish community. We have also participated in various events together. An example of the ongoing and vivid dialogue is that IRN took the initiative to visit the synagogue right after the events in Paris and Copenhagen.

Neither Anne Sender or Berit H. Agøy recognize that any form of censorship was imposed.

1 comment for “Journey for dialogue resulted in silence and cancelled meetings

  1. motti
    April 4, 2015 at 3:51 am

    I wonder if Anne Sender or Berit H. Agoey agree with their Islamic friends’ sentiments about comparison between Gaza and the concentration/death camps and the Holocaust? If these Muslims on this trip believe or wish to propagate this message, surely the whole trip is a total farce and waste of tax payers money.

    All we hear about is Islamophobia, yet these same people ate the most discriminately, Jew-hating people on earth. They have much in common with their Nazi and Fascist friends.

    I also object to the description Children of Abraham. Only the Jews collectively are known rightfully as this. Muslims from Afghanistan etc have nothing in common with the descendants from within the middle east. The Christians (well Protestants) are only because they accepted Scriptures. I’m unsure about Catholics as in France the new testament is taught in Catholic schools and not Scriptures..

    Here in the UK, there is a rise of indignation openly now in the media regarding some of these Muslims who complain about Islamophobia and then find the are responsible for their children going to Syria, hate rallies towards the USA and Israel. One day, most of Europe will rue the day that the open borders by the Schengen Agreement was ever allowed to be used. Of course Sweden and definitely Norway might be the exception. And serves thembloody right for their Jew hating paranoia.

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