As we are approaching the quarter-finals of the World Cup this year, each game is the make or break for the remaining teams. They don’t get second chances. One of the things I enjoy about the World Cup is that it brings people together. It is a good topic for conversation because everyone has an opinion about it. I have noticed there are different types of audiences for this World Cup; some are devoted fans who know everything about the teams and are over-passionate; there some that I call “observing spectators” enjoying the social aspect of watching the games; and then there are those in between.
You can hear a variety of interesting conversations emerge between people about their choice of team. Everyone has freedom of choice, and they are listened to. Each one has developed their own set of reasons and explanations why they are cheering for this group or the other. “I am cheering for Croatia because I was there and I like the people.” “I am cheering for Germany because my mother is German.” “I am cheering for Ghana because they are the underdogs.” There are those who simply cheer the opposing team of their friends. And so on. Whatever the diverse reasons, alliances and justifications are accepted. This is true sportsmanship. Not only that but when the tournament ends, new friendships are formed and existing ones become stronger.
So why is it then that when it comes to conflict our relationships are the first casualties? Why is it that at the height of the conflict the shift becomes ‘us’ and ‘them’? As I walked to work this morning I read the news about finding a Palestinian boy dead and beaten in the Jerusalem forest. This happens a day after the broadcast that Israeli forces found the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli boys in a Palestinian village near Hebron. The situation is very heated right now. Both Israelis and Palestinians have raised their walls so high there are only a few listening to each other, and many talking over each other.
I know that the World Cup is a game and it only lasts ninety minutes. But I hope you allow me to use this analogy as a way to cross over. Right now, we are not willing to listen to each other. We have allowed the situation to control our reactions to the killings of Israelis and Palestinians. From being an audience, we have become the players. This is a make or break situation and we don’t get a second chance. You are an Israeli so you have to agree with us. You are a Palestinian so you have to agree with us. Each side is advocating for its own pain and suffering, and we are driven to win at the expense of the other. There is no need for more facts; we know what and why it happened.
Unfortunately, as Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews we easily get sucked into this. And we encounter a test of loyalty and we test each other. You might be thinking, well we are in conflict, and this is how it goes. It happens, right? This also happened with Jesus when He was arrested and his disciples were being tested by the crowds. “Aren’t you Jesus’ disciple?” they asked Peter. Peter totally denied he had anything to do with Jesus. He did it three times and each time he became more and more dramatic about it. All the time Jesus spent with Peter and the relationship they had seemed to be the first casualty when circumstances got hard. However, when Peter heard the rooster, he realized what he had done. He remembered what Jesus had predicted. Peter was heartbroken because he faced his weakness; under peer pressure and fear he failed Jesus.
In the midst of our current circumstances we are under pressure and we are afraid. Will we break fellowship with our brothers and sisters from the other side? Will we, like Peter, forsake relationship when the situation is difficult?
Our media and community have already given us all the information we need to know that we have no partner for peace. As a resident of Jerusalem, I felt the threat and tension as Israeli authorities searched for the missing boys. The media’s constant contact with the families and the fear of the unknown has been very strong. On the other hand, due to our upcoming children camps, I have frequently been travelling into Bethlehem. When I cross into Bethlehem, I hear Palestinians share how army operations have affected them and they fear leaving their homes due to the situation. The army checks at buses have become a daily hazard. Arabs fear walking in Jerusalem knowing that Israelis are gathering, calling “death to Arabs” and looking for Arabs on whom to exact some sort of revenge.
But perhaps we also do not want to acknowledge that we might be at fault as well. It is easier for the Israelis to question the sexual orientation of the Palestinian boy than to acknowledge that he was brutally murdered out of a twisted sense of revenge. It is easier for the Palestinians to believe that Israel has engaged in a conspiracy framing these two Palestinians as the killers as opposed to acknowledging that some Palestinians have brutally murdered three Israeli youth. We don’t see our side as capable of killing, but we have no problem dehumanizing the other side. This only pushes us further from each other.
When the stakes are high, we need to do what we can in order to maintain our fellowship with one another. And I think this is where Peter’s realization was a changing moment in his role among the disciples and within the spread of our faith. He came to realize that he was a broken man, but Jesus had already forgiven him. This should motivate us to listen to each other’s pain and suffering, have even more of an urgency to be in fellowship and unity, and remain committed to one another.
By Shadia Qubti