When planning for our family conference this year we focused on recruiting younger family leaders. The younger leaders are generally more open to listening, meeting people from the other side, and rising to the challenge of leading their respective communities in reconciliation initiatives. In the months leading up to the conference, we heard comments from both sides that expressed fear and suspicion toward the other. From August 10-17 eight Israeli families and eight Palestinian families met in Karlsbad, Germany at the Langensteinbacher Hohe. Our German hosts were generous and kind, and we are very grateful for all the time and energy they invested in preparing the facilities and providing the space for our Israeli and Palestinian participants to encounter one another. For many in attendance, it was their first time developing deep relationships with people from the other side, as well as the first time they had the opportunity to worship in both Hebrew and Arabic.
The teaching was divided into four sections: 1 John 4, Ephesians 2, and then Obstacles and Stages of Reconciliation. We began by focusing on our personal reconciliation with God through the Messiah, and its implication on our relationship with other people. We also asked participants why they came to participate in this encounter. Most of the responses we received had to do with relationship – establishing relationships, exposing their children to the other, deepening existing relationships, and spending time together. We also received many responses having to do with understanding – learning to understand the other side’s views on the Bible, politics, and the conflict. A number of responses dealt with the religious imperative for fellowship and unity, and expressed hope that God would be present in our time together. Finally, a few responses addressed rejuvenation, stepping out of the stressful context of Israel and Palestine, and coming to a beautiful setting to rest and have fun together.
When we asked participants about their obstacles to reconciliation, both sides were openly self-critical, recognizing the faults of their own sides. The Israelis listed their side’s faults, such as a lack of right priorities, lack of knowledge, lack of forgiveness, prejudice, and racism to name a few. Many of their answers had to do with the conflict and society, ranging from the existing state of war, demographic concerns, differences in culture, and negative media bias toward the other side. A few responses dealt with identity and ideology, as well as religious ideas, and obstacles from the other side, such as Israeli-Palestinian self-definition.
When the Palestinians identified obstacles of reconciliation, they listed an equal number of obstacles from both their own side and the Israeli side. Obstacles from the Palestinian side were lack of trust, fear to be seen as a collaborator, injury and lack of forgiveness, to name a few. Obstacles they identified that emerged from the Israeli side were settlers, behavior of soldiers, discrimination, and the occupation, among others. A number of their responses had to do with conflict and society, such as the separation barrier, and the media bias toward the other side. The religious obstacles listed revealed their double minority status as they identified Biblical interpretation along with Islam as hindrances to reconciliation. They listed fewer responses having to do with identity compared to the Jewish side.
In following sessions we focused on spiritual, social and theological obstacles to reconciliation, followed by the six-stage process of reconciliation. Our times of discussion that followed each teaching session were challenging, thought-provoking and moving.
From sharing devotions and testimonies, to enjoying social interactions and games, open and honest prayer time, discussion groups that allowed each side to gain exposure to the other in non-threatening ways, and outings that allowed for further development of personal relationships and family interaction, this trip was deeply moving and successful. Family leaders are often weary from their ministry work load which is not only physically but emotionally draining. Seeing Israeli and Palestinian families share in a time of soul-nourishing refreshment while being trained in reconciliation was an encouraging testimony to us at Musalaha. All the participants could empathize with one another’s ministry burden, and that shared understanding allowed them to encounter each other at a deep level, and even minister to one another during times of prayer and sharing.
Throughout the conference we watched apprehension and suspicion dissipate, relationships were formed and a new generation of leaders embraced the message of reconciliation and change. In some of the closing sessions we discussed how we can take this message of reconciliation home with us and maintain these new relationships. Participants gave many good suggestions, such as inviting others to their homes during holidays and special occasions, praying for each other regularly, and visiting the other’s congregation. In order to bring the message of reconciliation home to their congregations, participants suggested encouraging relationships between youth groups, serving together publicly, and praying for one another in congregations.
We are excited to see the fruit this conference will bear. Since returning we have heard positive feedback from both sides, and we are confident that the unity achieved and the friendships made will draw the Israeli and Palestinian body of Messiah closer to one another and closer to God.
By Salim J. Munayer