How Faith Leaders Can Help or Hurt Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking: Lessons from Northern Ireland

Event Date: Tuesday March 8, 2022
Time: 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm ET (US and Canada)

The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and the Middle East Negotiation Initiative
are pleased to present:

PON Live! Film Series

How Faith Leaders Can Help or Hurt Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking:
Lessons from Northern Ireland

A virtual panel discussion inspired by the BBC documentary film Fools for Christ.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Register for the panel discussion is closed.

 We encourage viewing the film in advance of the panel discussion.

Panel participants:

Rev. Dr. Gary Mason

Rev. Dr. Gary Mason
Director, Rethinking Conflict

Ilana Sumka

Ilana Sumka
Founding Director, Shleimut
Student Rabbi

Gregory Khalil

Gregory Khalil
Co-founder and President of the Telos Group

James Sebenius

James Sebenius
Gordon Donaldson Professor of
Business Administration
Harvard Business School

About the film Fools for Christ:

Three Protestant ministers reveal for the first time the risks involved in their secret peacemaking efforts during the Northern Ireland conflict as they talked with paramilitaries, negotiated truces and acted as go-betweens for politicians and paramilitaries.

About the talk:

Should faith leaders be involved in political conflicts? If so, what role(s) should they play? Is it wise to exclude faith leaders and communities from the process, as diplomats often do, particularly in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Holy Land? How should those interested in peacemaking deal with some religious leaders’ propensity to identify with their own side’s pursuit of religious ideology (at times to a point of condoning violence) which drives them to perpetuate the conflict instead of promoting reconciliation? Are there ways to leverage the passion and commitment of faith leaders and faith communities to encourage them to adopt a leadership role of promoting justice, human rights, dignity and peace for all involved? Based on their personal involvement in Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine, our three panelists will address these questions, provide their perspectives on opportunities missed in the past, and offer thoughts on how to apply these insights to the current situation in Israel/Palestine. The panelists will also share their own experiences as practitioners engaging with faith communities in Northern Ireland, Israel, Palestine and the United States, and shed light on the risks religious leaders may face in reaching out to the other side or in trying to lead their own communities through transformative change.

The session will be recorded. Pending approval, we will post the recording on this page after the session.

About the Panelists:

Rev. Dr. Gary Mason is a Methodist minister and directs a conflict transformation organization based in Belfast called “Rethinking Conflict.” Prior to this he spent 27 years as a Methodist clergy person in parish ministry in Belfast and has played an integral role in the Northern Irish peace process. He played a key part in establishing the $30 million Skainos project, a world class urban center, developed in a post conflict society as a model of co-existence and shared space, acknowledged as the largest faith-based redevelopment project in Western Europe. As a close advisor to Protestant ex-combatants on the civilianization efforts of paramilitaries, Rev. Mason was instrumental in facilitating negotiations with paramilitaries and government officials, and in 2007 his contribution was formally recognized by the Queen. In 2009, Rev. Mason’s church was the stage from which Loyalist paramilitaries announced their weapons decommissioning.

Rev. Mason holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Ulster, completed his theological studies at Queens University, and a Bachelor’s in Business Studies from the University of Ulster. He holds numerous academic positions and fellowships, including at the Kennedy Institute for Conflict Intervention at Maynooth University in Ireland, the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta and at the Harvard Negotiation Strategies Institute.

Ilana Sumka is the founding director of Shleimut, an initiative supporting Jewish leaders to align their approach to Israel/Palestine with their spiritual and social justice values through immersive educational programming. She is a rabbinical student with ALEPH, the Alliance for Jewish Renewal, and is currently finishing a memoir about her seven years in Jerusalem. Sumka is a leading educator and activist addressing Israel/Palestine, with more than two decades of experience as a nonprofit executive, community organizer and writer. She served as the Jerusalem Director of Encounter from 2006-2011 and went on to found the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, which she led until 2018. Sumka was one of the first staff with New York’s progressive Working Families Party and has worked in international human rights with the American Jewish World Service; she also served as an international election monitor in Albania and Bosnia with OSCE-ODIHR.

Sumka is a recipient of Dorot and Pardes fellowships in Israel; she was recognized for her commitment to ending the Israeli occupation by being the first Jewish person to receive an honorary Bethlehem “passport” as part of the international Open Bethlehem campaign. A skillful facilitator, Sumka draws from her background with the Work That Reconnects, Nonviolent Communication and embodied, compassionate listening to work closely with a diversity of groups and individuals.

Gregory Khalil is the co-founder and President of the Telos Group, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that equips American leaders and their communities to better engage seemingly intractable conflict. Much of Telos’ work has centered on the role of faith leaders and culture shapers in America’s relationship to Israel/Palestine and the broader Middle East. Prior to founding Telos, Khalil lived in Ramallah, the West Bank, where he advised the Palestinian leadership on peace negotiations with Israel. Kahlil is also a founding member and chair of the board of directors of Narrative 4, a global non-profit that seeks to use story and media to cultivate empathy across divides. He has lectured widely on the Middle East and has been published by The Review of Faith & International Affairs and The New York Times.

Kahlil is an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a former Affiliate Fellow of Harvard’s Religion, Conflict and Peace Initiative. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles and Yale Law School and currently resides in New York City.

James Sebenius specializes in analyzing and advising on complex negotiations. He holds the Gordon Donaldson Professorship of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. In 1993, he took the lead in the School’s decision–unique among major business schools–to make negotiation a required course in the MBA Program and to create a Negotiation Unit (department) which he headed for several years. The Negotiation Unit grew to several full-time negotiation faculty teaching the required course to over 800 students per year as well as offering advanced dealmaking and negotiation courses to MBAs, doctoral students, and executives. The Negotiation Unit subsequently merged with the School’s Organization and Markets Unit to form a new Unit, “Negotiation, Organizations, and Markets (NOM).”

Formerly on the faculty of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Sebenius also currently serves as Vice Chair and as a member of the Executive Committee of the Program on Negotiation (PON) at Harvard Law School. At PON, he chairs the University’s Great Negotiator Award program, which has intensively engaged with negotiators such as Richard Holbrooke, Lakhdar Brahimi, George Mitchell, and Bruce Wasserstein. He also co-directs a project (with Nick Burns and Bob Mnookin) to extensively interview all former U.S. Secretaries of State about their most challenging negotiations.


One Response to “How Faith Leaders Can Help or Hurt Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking: Lessons from Northern Ireland”

  • Virginia L.

    This was such a wonderful talk. The panelists were all fabulous. Thank you for hosting such a great conversation on such an important aspect of conflict transformation.


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