Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Festival celebrates 'peacemakers'

Reverend John Cubie, Picture by Angela Catlin
Reverend John Cubie is on a placement from the Church of Scotland

Freelance human rights journalist Billy Briggs travelled to Israel and the West Bank with photographer Angela Catlin to document peace projects for an international festival in Edinburgh.

He met people from a variety of faiths who were working in the region, including a Scottish minister.

Israel, Gaza and the West Bank often make headlines for the wrong reasons but despite the political tensions there is some outstanding work on-going at grassroots level between people of all spiritual backgrounds to promote peace and tolerance.

At St Andrew's Church in Jerusalem, known locally as The Scottie, the Reverend John Cubie took time out from his pastoral duties to explain the work the Church of Scotland carries out in the region.

He said: "The Church of Scotland has been promoting peace here since 1863 when a school was founded in Jaffa to educate children. The Tabeetha School remains there today where around 300 children aged between five and 18 are taught. The pupils are Arab Christians, Muslims and Jews, along with a number of ex-pats.

"We also run a hotel and another church at Galilee and plans are afoot to use part of the property as a peace, justice and reconciliation centre. And we run a fair trade project which helps poor Palestinian families make a living in Bethlehem."

'Warm welcome'

Although he retired some years ago, 74-year-old Reverend Cubie has accepted a short placement in Israel until the Church of Scotland can appoint a new full-time minister for the parish.

It is a region synonymous with religious and political turmoil but the Glaswegian said he was cherishing the role and had been trying to build bridges between different strands of the Christian faith at odds with each other.

He said: "The ecumenical situation here has become politicised to an extent and so some people don't seem to want to communicate with others. It is not an easy situation by any means but I have to say that I've been warmly welcomed by everyone I have met."

Muslim girls in class at the Future School, Picture by Angela Catlin
Photographs from the trip will go on display in Edinburgh

During World War I, the British fought with local Arab forces to defeat the Ottoman Empire. In the aftermath of the conflict, St Andrew's Church was constructed as a war memorial to soldiers who died.

These included men from Scottish regiments such as the 52nd Lowland Division and the London Scottish Regiment.

Some 50,000 was raised in Britain and on 7 May, 1927, Field Marshall Lord Allenby laid the foundation stone on a hill across the Hinnom Valley from the Old City of Jerusalem and Mount Zion.

Money was raised in many Scottish parishes and inside St Andrew's Church wooden seats have small bronze plaques etched with the names of congregations who helped - Glasgow Hillhead, Edinburgh Matthews, Annan and, fittingly, St Andrews, to name but a few.

"It is a beautiful church in a magnificent location and a most fitting tribute to the men who died so far away from their homeland. The blue glass for the windows came from Hebron in the West Bank and when the sun shines through them the effect is stunning," Reverend Cubie said.

Inspiring individuals

The Catholic Church also works tirelessly in the region and in Haifa we met Spanish nuns who treat handicapped children from all communities.

We interviewed Rabbis who work side by side with Palestinians in Jerusalem and visited a unique village called Neve Shalom where Arabs and Jews have lived together peacefully for more than 30 years.

We also met Jewish doctors who forego time off at weekends to travel to the West Bank and Gaza to treat Palestinians.

The media often focuses on the negative so Angela and I wanted to provide contrast and highlight the positive, and concentrate on the work of individuals who look beyond the labels people attach to each other.

We met some inspiring individuals and there are dozens of organisations active throughout the region involving many people who often put their lives at risk to aid others.

Peacemakers of Israel/Palestine is a photography exhibition as part of the 6th Edinburgh International Festival of Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace. It will run from 23 to 29 February at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall on Dalmeny Street.

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