Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Activity 3: Muslims in Conflict

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • World map
  • A 4-foot square sheet of a smooth, flat, rigid material such as foam core art board or thin plywood-a sheet light enough for two youth to handle easily
  • Red and black permanent markers
  • A light, quick-rolling ball such as a large marble or a ping-pong ball
  • Leader Resource 4, Map of Middle East – Predominately Muslim Countries and Israel
  • Optional: A computer and digital projector

Preparation for Activity

  • Locate the Middle East on the world map. Identify the State of Israel and Palestinian territories of Gaza (a strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea, on the Israeli side of its border with Egypt) and the West Bank (a radius of land surrounding the eastern side of Jerusalem, on the Israeli side of its border with Jordan). Note: Maps may vary in how they represent Israeli and Palestinian lands. Use these variations as a teachable moment to demonstrate the depth and endurance of conflict in this region.
  • Draw a red circle, four inches in diameter, in the center of the 4-feet x 4-feet square sheet. Draw another red circle around that one, eight inches across (the lines will be two inches apart), and a third 12 inches in diameter. Draw three black circles (16, 20, and 24 inches in diameter). Draw three more red circles (28, 32, and 36 inches in diameter).
  • Identify a corridor or space in the room approximately 8 feet wide and 20 feet long. If possible, a shorter distance can be used, but the width is necessary to have people on either side of the 4-foot by 4-foot sheet.
  • Make enough copies of Leader Resource 4 for participants to share.
  • Optional: Download Leader Resource 4 to project using a computer and digital projector. Test projection of the map onto a screen or wall.

Description of Activity

Youth learn about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, discuss September 11, 2001, and consider the difficulty of peacemaking in complex situations.

Ask participants to sit in a circle on the floor. Invite a volunteer to point to where the Middle East is located on the world map. Ask: What do you know about conflict between the State of Israel and the Arabs of Palestine? Depending on responses, share this information as needed:

There is ongoing conflict in the Middle East. There are many reasons for ongoing tension in the region, some thousands of years old. One major aspect of the Middle East conflict is the Arab-Israeli conflict, which often is talked about in religious terms, for the logical reason that most of the Middle East is Arab and Muslim and Israel is a Jewish nation. As you probably know, Israel was created to be a Jewish homeland after World War II, in 1948. However, the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors is not a conflict over religious beliefs but over identity, political power, and economic and natural resources.

The Arab-Israeli conflict has been so tragic, so many people have died, and peaceful intervals have been so sadly short, that some people have the feeling it has gone on forever and healing cannot be achieved.

It has not gone on forever. Jews and Muslims coexisted relatively peacefully for over 1,300 years. Jews were subject to widespread abuse by Christians by the time Islam emerged in 622 BCE. So, when Muslim conquerors began spreading Islam across the Arabian world and North Africa, Jews logically expected more of the same. Jewish existence under Muslim rule, however, was generally better. Jews were a minority in Arab lands. They did not have full citizenship, but neither did any other non-Muslims. Jews could practice their faith and usually govern their own communities if they paid their taxes and complied with other regulations. There were horrible exceptions, times when Jewish communities were massacred or forced to convert to Islam or be expelled from their homes. Most commonly, however, Muslim rulers made an effort to deal fairly with Jewish communities.

However, ever since the diaspora (scattering) of Jewish people began in 587 BCE, Jews have dreamed and waited for the day when they could again have a land that was home.

In the massive upheaval and redrawing of international boundaries following World War II, Great Britain controlled the region of Palestine. The United Nations passed a resolution which divided Palestine into two states-one Jewish, one Arab. The UN plan further proposed that the holy city of Jerusalem, which both groups claimed as holy, belong to neither state but stay under international control by a UN administrator. The Jewish group agreed to the plan, but the Palestinian group rejected it.

Despite the lack of an agreed-on plan, Britain withdrew from Palestine. The day before Britain left, the Jewish community in Palestine published a Declaration of Independence claiming the land of Palestine as the State of Israel. That was on May 14, 1948. Five different Arab armies invaded and the Arab-Israeli conflict was underway.

Palestinians, the Arabs who lived in the area, have seen their homeland controlled by various nations. Many Palestinians have become refugees as politics and warfare shifted national borders in the region. Today, some Palestinian families have lived in refugee camps for as many as three generations. Like the Jews, the Palestinians dream of a secure homeland.

There has been violent conflict, on and off, since 1948. People on both sides have worked unsuccessfully for political compromise so there can be peace. Yet, both sides have broken ceasefires. Both sides have killed civilians. Neither trusts the other. And both think they are right and the other is wrong.

So, what is to be done?

Ask for initial reactions to this information. Then, discuss:

  • Invite youth to look at the map. Aggression often stems from fear. Is it logical that Israelis might feel threatened? What could help Israelis feel less threatened, other than expanding the nation's boundaries?
  • Palestinians lack economic resources, political stability, and internationally recognized statehood. Is it logical that Palestinians might feel threatened? What could contribute to Palestinians feeling less threatened?
  • Do you think the conflict is likely to be resolved soon? Why or why not?
  • What approach do you think could be most effective to create peace? Have you successfully experienced creating peace in or between situations and people in your own life? How did you do it?
  • Who has power to bring peace to the Israel/Palestine region? What part can individuals in Israel and Palestine take in helping to reach peaceful solutions? What role can institutions, like faith communities and schools, have in this situation? What about the governments of these nations? What about the international community?
  • Neither group trusts the other, yet trust will be needed to peacefully co-exist. How can trust be established? Have you been in situations where you felt your trust was violated by a friend? By a family member? Have you been able to re-establish a broken trust? Did you want to? How did you do it?

Invite two youth to volunteer. Each will represent one side of a conflict. Ask the volunteers to stand at one end of the 8-feet-wide corridor or other large space, then hand them the square and ask the two of them to hold it between them, horizontally, with the circles on top.

Say, "You have been in conflict for a long time. You have just decided on a course of action which you hope can lead to a lasting peace. This," (hold up the ball), "is your precarious peace. You must carry it between you, all the way over there." (Indicate the far end if the decided-on walkway. If using a smaller space, instruct them to walk in a circle all the way around the room or walk to the other end of the room, turn, and come all the way back.) Ask, "Are you ready?" When they indicate their readiness, place the ball carefully in the very center ring. Say, "Go."

Once the first pair of youth has completed their walk for peace, allow other pairs to try. Mix up pairings for different heights, different ordinary rates of movement, different temperaments.

Suggest the youth try it with more people, perhaps one at each corner, or even more than four. Ask:

  • Was it easier with fewer people or more people involved?
  • What was the most important factor in keeping the ball from falling? Laughing? A certain speed? Careful, constant attention?
  • Did you try different things to discover what would work best? Was it disheartening to try something new and have it not work? Was it gratifying to try something new and have it work better?
  • Did it work better to move quickly or slowly? Why?
  • It can be exhausting to fully concentrate on a delicate operation for five minutes. What would it be like to try to carry the ball for five hours? Five days? Would you be able to keep with it or would you drop the ball?
  • People devoted to creating peace in the Middle East have been trying to "carry the ball" for more than 60 years. What do you think of peacemakers who have been working for peace for 35 or 40 years? Where might such endurance come from?

Tell the youth, in these words or your own:

Israel/Palestine is not the only site of conflict involving Muslims. On September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked by Muslim extremists and about 3,000 people died. The terrorist group responsible was called Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda does not have a national home, yet it is a political organization as well as a religious one.


  • What do you know about the September 11 attacks? What comments have you heard about them in connection with Islam?
  • What do you think about the relationship between Islam and terrorism? Are the conflicts between Muslim populations and other groups about politics, about religion, or-because of the way Islam pervades a person's entire life-about both?

Ask if they have heard stories in Building Bridges about other times religion has led to violence. Is Islam the only faith where religious fundamentalists have turned to violence? Remind them about the Crusades in Christianity.

If participants do not say so, say that the terrorist acts committed today by Muslims are being committed by a small group. In these words or your own, explain:

Most Muslims condemn their actions as not being those of a true Muslim. Millions of Muslims live peaceful lives with their neighbors.

If your community has a local Muslim population, mention it as an example.

Including All Participants

If any participants use wheelchairs, crutches, or other mobility aids, plan ahead to borrow one or more of those same aids to outfit the participant's partner with matching gear. A blind participant will benefit from constant verbal feedback from their partner.