Listening is not agreeing. Empathy is not endorsement: responding to community tensions caused by the conflict in Israel and Gaza

Author: Belong Manager
Published: October 24, 2023

Since news broke of the attack in Israel by Hamas militants and the responding military action in Gaza, the media and social media coverage have felt like a barrage of superlatives – ‘horrifying’, ‘catastrophic’, ‘outrageous’. 

The emotion behind these words is entirely understandable. The ripples of these events have spread across the world, reigniting tensions and causing new rifts.

We know our members will be deeply concerned about the potential for  these events to open up divisions in the communities which they serve around the UK. People working for local authorities and civil society will have been and are being affected by rises in antisemitism, islamophobia and hate crime themselves.

In such a storm of reaction and counter-reaction, how as those leading on social cohesion, can we work to maintain the social peace?

In a world of 24 hour news coverage and social media reaction it can feel as though not saying anything is almost as damaging as saying something – silence can be interpreted as a lack of compassion or silent endorsement of one side or the other.

I would suggest that holding space for reflection, listening and empathy is not a weakness. There is a strength in providing space for people to process what has happened and to feel heard and understood. We can help people understand that listening is not the same as agreement. And empathy for someone’s pain and anger does not need to confer endorsement of the  words and actions that may follow from this.

We can all play a part. Providing spaces of deep listening and witnessing for people and communities who are directly affected is enormously important; it can help to overcome isolation and strengthen a shared sense of belonging. As is working closely with community leaders to frame joint messages which underline the importance of maintaining social peace. Belong is actively working to support all our members who are dealing with an increase in community tensions as a result of the conflict in Israel and Gaza. As part of our ongoing Shared Ground work supporting those working to reduce community tensions in the UK we will shortly be releasing details of an online roundtable event focussed on the impact of the conflict. By helping to maintain a safe and supportive atmosphere for our members to listen, discuss and maintain their own resilience we hope to support them to do the same in the communities where they work.

This session will inform how Belong goes forward with this work, providing the expertise or resources most needed by our members as this fast-moving situation unfolds.

To find out more about Belong’s Shared Ground work or to register interest in the roundtable event, contact