“SHWAY, SHWAY (SLOWLY, SLOWLY) WE CAN CHANGE, STEP BY STEP.”
A lot has happened in Israel-Palestine since our last e-newsletter. Yet amidst heightened tensions and violence, 23 women made the decision to gather together in the Jordanian desert to form a new Musalaha’s women’s group. These women – half Palestinian and half Israeli – courageously stepped out of their comfort zone to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people.
As an outsider looking in, the Desert Encounter was a remarkable way to see Musalaha in action. I had heard about Desert Encounters, but it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to join one that I began to fully understand how profound they are. For the past 25+ years, Musalaha has been bringing groups like this together to work through six stages of reconciliation. The groups meet about every month for a year and a half and the Desert Encounter is the iconic first meeting. Musalaha chooses to meet in the desert because it’s new and adventurous and fun, but also because it is a neutral place to begin relationships and build trust. In the desert, the power dynamics balance out in a way that would be impossible in any Israeli or Palestinian town.
Many of the Palestinians had only ever encountered Israelis as soldiers at military checkpoints. Many of the Israelis had never had a real conversation with a Palestinian living in the Palestinian Territories, and many didn’t understand the complex dynamic of Palestinian society.
I was amazed by the Palestinians who repeatedly expressed that with the foundation of their faith, they are called to love everyone. One Christian Palestinian woman said to the Israeli women, “I didn’t tell anyone I was coming here because of the pressures of my society. I thought you’d be rude to us because that’s all I’ve felt at the checkpoints, abuse, cursing etc. Now I love my enemies and my neighbors and I want to live with Jewish people.”
I was amazed by how open and accepting the Israelis were. They were not afraid to ask questions and were willing to listen to even the difficult answers. One Israeli woman explained, “if not for Musalaha, I don’t know if I have a way to meet Palestinian people. I would never drive to Bethlehem or Ramallah by myself. You can read as many history books as you want and know as many facts as you want, but you don’t really know what’s going on and how [Palestinians] feel. You need to sit with a Palestinian person and listen to what they have to say. You don’t have to agree with what they say, you just have to listen and be open-minded.”
Although it was just the start of a year and a half long program and the journey ahead won’t always be easy, everyone left the Jordanian desert with a little more hope. When I asked if her perception of Israelis had changed, one Palestinian woman said to me, “I have this faith that…the conflict will end. [Israeli] people are here and we have people here and shway, shway (slowly, slowly), we can change, step by step.”
These women were able to sense that this trip was just the beginning and that there are breakthroughs to come as they continue to pursue relationship, even when it is difficult. In the years to come, these women and their communities will experience the ripple effects of reconciliation, and it all began when they chose to spend a weekend together in the Jordanian desert even as rockets were flying in Israel-Palestine.
Musalaha Intern from USA