I’ve been in Israel for a few days, leading a delegation, to discover more about the political and security situation there and learning about peace initiatives.
We’ve been looking at some exciting ideas to help people with disabilities and learning difficulties, management of ambulance services and the bringing together of young Israelis and Palestinians in co-existence projects.
The visit involves meeting with politicians from various political parties as well as the President of Israel and Deputy Foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority, while visiting Ramallah in the West Bank.
We visited Shalva, a fantastic social enterprise, which puts those with disabilities at the forefront of their work and encourages the public to use their facilities and promote genuine integration rather than segregation.
It reminded me a little of Touchbase Pears, the Sense charity building in Selly Oak. I’m wondering if we might pair them and help them learn from each other.
We also visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum, where we were reminded of the inhumanity of the Nazis and why we went to war in 1939. I spoke about this in the House of Commons on Holocaust Memorial Day and about the 10,000 Jewish children our country saved through the Kindertransport programme, most of them unaccompanied child refugees.
Perhaps there’s a message for today’s Government as I look at the appalling conditions women and children are forced to live in at places including a hotel in my patch.
Birmingham has a small Jewish population for a major UK city although we do have the largest Jewish student population in the country, many of whom live in Selly Oak.
I don’t pretend there are easy answers to problems in the Middle East but just as we did in Northern Ireland, part of any eventual peace settlement lies in bringing people together from across the divide and giving young people hope and a future. That’s how to defeat violence and terrorism.
A final peace deal must involve a secure and recognised Israel and an independent state, of equal value, for the Palestinian people. That’s what my visit is about.