Breaking the Cycle

Musalaha’s women’s leadership committee recently decided to discuss forgiveness at their annual fall women’s conference. In the last year, it was evident that this issue should be addressed. In past women’s meetings, some Israeli women felt that when they asked for forgiveness for Israeli acts of aggression against Palestinians, the Palestinian women did not respond by asking for forgiveness for Palestinian acts of aggression against Israelis. Consequently, the Israelis felt they were taking an important step in furthering their relationships, but they were not getting a response from the Palestinians. The Palestinian side, on the other hand, constantly felt that their daily struggles were being challenged and disbelieved; in their minds, the Israeli side was being purposely naïve. As a result, some of the women were questioning their commitment to the process, which is common in the third stage of reconciliation. Others felt stuck in the process and were asking, “Where do we go from here?” In this context, we held our women’s conference this past November.

Competing Historical Narratives: Abbas and Netanyahu at the United Nations

In our ministry of reconciliation, we have discovered the centrality of historical narrative in the conflict. The stories of our people, who we are and what we have been through, define us, and many times, fuel the conflict between us as well. We constantly appeal to our narrative and rely on it for legitimization while sometimes wielding it as a weapon against those who have an opposing narrative. We recently saw this element of our conflict displayed before the leaders of the world at the end of September when Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas presented their case at the United Nations, and talked past each other, consciously excluding the other in their self-representation and recounting of their respective hope for peace.

From the Arab Spring to the Israeli Summer

Nearly two months ago, I was asked to preach in our congregation. I decided to give a message on the “Gospel and Cottage Cheese” by using the parable of the “Rich Man and Lazarus” reflecting on economic and social injustice. The cost of cottage cheese had shot up to 8 NIS ($2.30) for a 250g container, leading to a nationwide protest, which started on Facebook and eventually forced dairy producers to lower the price. As most of the congregants are hardworking, middle-class individuals who are financially struggling, I alluded to the fact that we should not be surprised that a phenomenon like the “Arab Spring” (the recent wave of demonstrations and protests across the Middle East) could also happen in Israel.

Will We Follow the Star?

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas and the birth of our Savior, it is natural to think about how God intervenes in human history. The Bible is full of drastic examples, from armies defeated to miracles preformed. And yet, the most significant example of divine intervention – the incarnation of the Messiah – was also probably the least intrusive. God could have announced the arrival of Jesus with the blast of trumpets, or sent an army of angels to accompany him to earth, but instead Jesus came quietly, gently, as a baby in a modest town, born to modest parents. This is not how most of us would have chosen to make our arrival, but perhaps God was trying to teach us something through the way the Messiah was born. We should not separate God’s method from his message, and in this instance, his method suggests humility.

Answers to Objections

Discouragement is always a part of reconciliation. It is inevitable. However, one of the best ways to deal with discouragement is to look to inspirational examples of success. For instance, consider the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Many said it could never be built, because of all the obstacles that stood in its way: the currents, the winds, and the frequent earthquakes. Nevertheless, in the end, they managed to build it and brought the two sides of the bay closer to each other. Now people cross over it all the time and rarely ever think about the effort and how many years were required to build it. We take it for granted, but building bridges is hard work.

Philippians 2 – Humble Yourself

In recent Musalaha meetings we have been reflecting on Philippians chapter 2, where Paul writes about Jesus coming to earth. This act was very significant on his part, as it required him to give up his position of authority, power and glory in God’s heavenly kingdom. All the riches of heaven were at his disposal, but instead he lowered himself and became a slave on our behalf. Philippians 2:7 says that he “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” The creator made himself into one of the created.

Fighting the Fear

Every year we move our Palestinian summer camps to a new village or city in order to give more children the opportunity for a week of fun. This year our eyes were turned towards Hebron, the largest and divided city in the West Bank (other than East Jerusalem) with 160,000 Palestinians and 500 Israeli settlers and known for its violent clashes between the Palestinians and settlers. The Palestinian part of the city is exclusively Muslim and considered one of the most conservative communities in the West Bank.

Friendship Through the Flames

Whenever I tell people about my job, or explain to them that I work for Musalaha, and that we seek to facilitate reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, I am usually met with a cynical or sarcastic response. Even people sympathetic to this goal recognize the immensity of the project, and rarely miss the opportunity to ask, “So, when can we expect peace in the Middle East?” This can be very disheartening, because the work of reconciliation is already difficult, and slow, with few tangible signs of progress. When the current political situation is considered, (and we are constantly reminded of it through the media and in our everyday lives) it is often hard to believe that reconciliation will ever be possible in this place. In spite of all the evidence against it, however, there is reason for hope. I was recently infused with inspiration, and would like to share the story with you as a word of encouragement.

Reflections from a Women’s Retreat to Cyprus

In reflecting on the trip upon my return, some of the things that stand out most were my experiences traveling to Cyprus and returning home. Leaving Israel was quite an ordeal. Our mixed group of women was questioned, delayed, looked at suspiciously. “What could Israelis and Palestinians possibly have to do with one another?” was the unasked question.