“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Due to the many events that transpired this past year, specifically the war during the summer, we decided to organize a trip for our young adults. So much was written and said, but very few meetings took place for Israeli and Palestinian young adults who are the rising leaders in their respective societies. Many expressed an interest in meeting, talking, and working through the events of the past months together.
As we began to look into areas to hold the conference, we also looked at Berlin. We have never taken a group here before, but the German capital holds great appeal. Israel-Palestine is not unique to the world in terms of conflict; many other countries have their own histories of struggle and we can learn from their experiences. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, and the unification of Germany. We thought it would be a good opportunity to look at Germany’s approach to move beyond animosity and division, a time to visit the Holocaust memorial, and an occasion to reflect on the consequences of hatred and extremism.
This November 2014, we took a group of 18 Israeli and Palestinian young adults and three leaders to Berlin. The focus of the conference revolved around the question, “How do we react during times of conflict?” We began by examining the incidents of the summer, and each side’s perspective of what happened. We then discussed how we reacted as individuals and the effects of the conflict on our respective communities. We also reflected on how our spiritual leaders and community leaders publicly responded during the summer through reading various online publications. The purpose of this was to determine whether or not there were voices for reconciliation in our communities, and how we address “the other” during times of crisis.
During the discussion on our leaders’ response to the conflict, one participant said “it makes the war personal.” If you think about it, it is one thing to read an article from your leader in your home on a screen, and it is another to read the same article with fellow brothers and sisters from the “other side” in Berlin.
There were very different approaches between the communities. Israeli-Palestinian Christian media and websites focused on reporting news related to Christians in Gaza, and they strived to present a balanced view of Israeli and Palestinian struggles. They had a clear call for reconciliation during the war. For Palestinians from the West Bank, the focus was on Christians in Gaza, and a call for justice, prayer, healing and protection. Some of the Palestinian Christian leaders from the West Bank also discussed Israel’s disproportionate use of power during the war, and possible solutions to the occupation.
In general, the evangelical Palestinian Christian voice, even the ones that were overtly political in nature, called for reconciliation and peace during the war. They also tried to portray the pain and fears of the Israeli side. At the same time, there were very few evangelical Palestinians who wrote during the war, and none of them were women.
For the most part, the Palestinian Christian participants in Berlin felt that some of the articles represented them. One noted, “What the writers said is what people see. This is their reality.” The Messianic Jewish participants reacted with disapproval to the political statements in the Palestinian Christian articles. They did not feel that the articles attempted to sympathize with Israel’s situation to an adequate degree.
When examining articles from the Messianic Jewish community, there were many more websites and writers to consider. The Bible was often referenced in Messianic Jewish articles published during the war, particularly with regard to prophecy. They tended to portray the current situation as good versus evil. Many of the writers condemned and blamed Palestinians, seeing their suffering as a consequence of their own actions. There were many calls to prayer focusing on Israel’s victory.
In response to the Messianic Jewish articles, the Messianic Jewish participants felt their personal opinions were not represented. They voiced that the articles published by their own community during the war actually posed an obstacle to reconciliation. The Palestinian Christian response to Messianic Jewish articles ranged widely. Some found the material dismissible, and others voiced their disapproval of the content. They also agreed that the articles pose an obstacle to reconciliation.
There were some commonalities between the leadership articles. Both communities used scripture to justify what they wrote, and it was confusing to follow some of switch between politics and scripture. One participant noted, “Just because they are saying a verse, it doesn’t mean what they say is spiritual.” Both communities tended to focus on the situation without voicing any self-criticism. There was a rush to see fault in the other side, without looking at one’s own contribution to the deteriorating situation.
The discussion of the articles was intense. Afterwards, many stressed the need to pray for our leaders. Some participants noted that they know many people who made a decision not write anything during the war. And we saw the result. The more ‘extreme’ voices in our communities speak loudly, often silencing voices of dissent, and as a result, we tend to think that these ‘extreme’ voices represent the community.
In our final discussion, we talked about how we should react in the future during times of conflict. We affirmed that there is a need for more moderate voices among us to speak up, and support one another in doing so. We spent time looking at verses challenging us to be a prophetic voice to society. We also learned about the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer under the Nazi regime, and his response during that time.
We left the conference feeling that we were truly able to share our hearts with each other, even when we disagreed. We realized how important it is that we do meet and talk frequently, as it is important to maintaining our relationships. Both sides exhibited great efforts to empathize with the other side, and they approached each other with much maturity and care for one another. We returned home determined to meet again soon, and committed to being more active in reconciliation in our respective communities.
By Jack Munayer and Shadia Qubti