The conflict between Israel and Hamas and painful genocide of Palestinian people has been heavy on the hearts and minds of our team. How can we continue as we are, working, playing, and celebrating holidays as so many innocent people die?

Like thousands of families across the UK, children visiting our events have been attending protests and solidarity events in support of the Palestinian people. The children's awareness of the conflict and even fear of their own families’ safety came to full light during an exhibit at Riverside House in Rotherham. An exhibit that was to highlight the imaginations and contributions Rotherham children make to arts and culture.

Sat at a table surrounded by hundreds of colourful weavings, spinning wet felt clouds and colourful birds created by children eager to be kinder to the planet than those who came before them, they were discussing their favourite places in Rotherham. Gregg's, the football pitch, the park, and then the community centre where they attended a Palestine solidarity event. The events weighing on their minds, they began discussing Palestine and asking our community worker, 'Miss, how far is Palestine from here?' She responded with an open heart and mind and could see the children release their burden in her presence.

They began drawing Palestinian flags to hang on the Map-tivity wall with arrows pointing geographically towards the Gaza Strip. These 11-year-old children were able to discuss what was happening in Palestine with maturity and grace. The teacher circling the room checking in on the separate groups came to their table and was immediately enraged. 'I've told you not to discuss this or draw the flag. We told you in the assembly, its mention is banned.' She ripped up the flag drawings and binned them. In seconds, this teacher sent a message to these children. Their thoughts, opinions and fears are irrelevant to her. They are not safe to be themselves in their teacher’s presence. The students are all Global Majority heritage and the teacher, white. I cannot help but think how this scenario would have been handled differently by a Black or brown teacher.

As a team, we have reflected on this situation and how it caused harm to the children and our staff. How are we supposed to react in this situation when we agree with the students? We want the children to feel safe discussing these topics and provide them with the support and guidance needed to navigate complexities. We want to encourage them to think critically about the world and know that their voice matters.

The risks of not discussing world conflict with children are too great – it leads to a lack of understanding of difficult topics, it is disempowering and prevents the development of critical thinking and communication skills.

So, what can you do to create a safe environment for your students to discuss Israel and Palestine and further world issues?

I will not pretend to be an expert in talking about Palestine, because I am not. What I do know is that it is important that we continue to talk about Palestinian people as humans who have the right to live in peace. Instead, I will share some tips on how to encourage children and students to work through their emotions and share their opinions through craftivism. I also encourage you to see the resources provided below on how to create a safe and welcoming atmosphere with some helpful links on the history of Palestine and Israel.

Craftivism is the colliding of crafts and activism. It can be the process of making posters for protests, knitting Pussyhats in support of women’s rights and in protest of a certain American president, paper doves made in memory of children (@birdsofgaza) or a quilt made by vulnerable refugees in Birmingham guided by artist and activist Salma Zulfiqar.

Craftivism is a slow, thoughtful process of creating art in response to difficult topics. Craft provides us with a framework to begin to work through our emotions so that we can voice our opinions. Craftivism in a group setting challenges us to begin working through these emotions and opinions as a community – exposing us to different life experiences and perspectives.

  • Educate yourselves - brush up on the history between Israel and Palestine. Work with the history teacher at your school if this is available to you.
  • Reflect on your own ability to voice difficult opinions. How do you feel around topics you perceive to be uncomfortable? You will need to work through this feeling of discomfort to create a safe space for children. You don’t need to know all the answers to such big topics, you only need to create space for the children to express how they’re feeling.
  • Set a code of conduct for the group. Keep in mind that we are all humans with thoughts, opinions, and feelings. We should wait our turn to speak and listen thoughtfully to our peers. Just like in school, violence and war are never the answer. In planning your craftivism activity at school, I encourage you to read this guide by Solutions Not Sides on how to create an environment and code of conduct for discussing Palestine and Israel.
  • Plan your activity. Find an easy activity, like a Kites in Solidarity activity, that is easy to do and talk at the same time. Working with our hands while talking takes the pressure off. The room is not staring at you and conversation can move around the room more organically.
  • If children do break the code of conduct, it is not a reason for punishment. Rather, give them a break to calm down. Have a discussion with them about why they became distraught or otherwise broke the code of conduct. Remember they are a child trying to make sense of the world.
  • Build meaning into the activity. How can you incorporate the discussions to take the creative activity further? How can the activity bring closure to what may be a painful conversation? Children can write their hopes or wishes on the kite’s tail. What other causes can your class get involved in that directly brings relief to the innocent children, families, and individuals?
  • Follow up and repeat. It is not enough to open your classroom only once to difficult conversations. Your students should be able to see their classroom as a safe space to continue exploring their values and opinions.
  • Self-care is important, for yourself as a facilitator and for your students, especially when talking about emotive topics Make sure you talk about why self-care is necessary and the different ways to look after yourself mentally and physically.
  • Finally, I would encourage you to teach yourself and your students on how to find reliable resources of news. Remember that even news outlets will have a biased swing one way or another, even subtly.

Be sure to tag @birdsofgaza and @kitesinsolidarity when posting pictures on Instagram!

All of this to say that we should encourage children to discuss world issues and create a safe environment for them to do so.

The events that led to this article are retold by Kisha Bradley who was not at the event. This is because the emotional labour caused by the teacher towards the community worker has caused harm that should not need to be re-lived.