The journey of reconciliation isn’t always easy. The conflict in Israel-Palestine runs deep through history, society, and personal lives, and given the current political climate you can find yourself asking, “Do my actions really make a difference for peace?” At times, positive change can feel like a small drop in a very large bucket. However, over the past two weekends, two groups of Musalaha women gathered together, one a newly formed reconciliation group and one an alumni group where some had been on the journey with Musalaha for 30 years. As they shared life, meals, honest stories, debate, and laughter, I was profoundly encouraged to see that through genuine friendships and deep love for each other, grassroots change is happening, and hope for a better future is possible.
Our new women’s group gathering was held in Beit Jala where for most of the Israeli women, it was their first time traveling to the West Bank outside of military service. As one woman shared, “Before I came to Beit Jala I was scared because I didn’t know if it was safe for me to drive here alone or not. Now that I’ve been here I know it’s safe.” At this early stage in the reconciliation process there are many new realities, like this, to be exposed to and new perspectives to hear and learn from.
During the weekend, as well as sharing meals, games (who knew Bingo could be so much fun, or so competitive!) and conversations together, the group learned about the Obstacles to Reconciliation. There are four key obstacles that Musalaha deep-dives into: Ideological obstacles; our religious and political beliefs that shape our lived realities, Physical obstacles; boundaries like the Separation Wall and violence as well as misinformation, disinformation and a lack of information about each other, Emotional obstacles; symptoms of fear, suspicion, despair, and apathy that make it hard for us to talk to each other but that we must address in order to resolve the conflict, and Psychological obstacles; any form of prejudice we hold, whether subconsciously or consciously, against other people that leads us to believe we’re better than them.
At this stage the group opened up with extraordinary vulnerability and humility about the obstacles for reconciliation that their own people create, as well as those that the other side creates. “Racism, Occupation and military violence,” shared the Israeli women about their own people’s obstacles to peace, and “terror attacks, antisemitism and non-compromise”, they shared about the perceived obstacles created by Palestinians. “Corruption of the Palestinian Authorities, normalization concepts and not recognizing the difference between Judaism and Zionism,” shared the Palestinian women about their own people’s obstacles to reconciliation, and “Occupation, settlements, difference of narrative and international interference,” they shared about the perceived obstacles of Israelis.
In this honest, raw space, the group was encouraged that it’s okay and it’s important to hold different perspectives, and that it’s also okay to disagree, but the true beauty of reconciliation is found in our shared humanity. As the group’s teacher said, “Reconciliation is a life commitment, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not like a math problem you can find an easy solution to.” There is no quick fix solution to intractable conflict. That’s why Musalaha believes in the power of engaging long-term with the Contact Hypothesis; that the more we interact with the other, and the more we truly get to know the other, the less prejudice we will have toward the other which in turn, changes our actions for peace.
It was evident through the group’s reflections at the end of the gathering that there is pain and frustration in realizing that the journey toward reconciliation is no small feat, yet simultaneously, there is always hope for peace and change. One woman expressed this by sharing, “When you truly get to know each other, you get closer and the fear goes away.” Another woman reflected on how re-identifying in who you are and reintegrating with your community as a peacemaker can feel exhausting when you take in the big picture of the conflict and the level of change required in all of us. There is no quick fix solution to the intractable conflict.
The next weekend, a self-initiated gathering of Musalaha alumni women took place in Tiberias. Some of the women had been part of Musalaha for three years, while others had been members since the organization was first created 30 years ago. 16 women, mostly local but representing 9 countries, came together to share their languages, traditions, cultures, faith, and food. As they prayed, cooked, laughed and told their origin stories there was a love so deep within their friendships that you could almost tangibly feel it in the room. Years of grappling with the obstacles to reconciliation, of identifying and dealing with prejudice, and seeking to truly understand and advocate for each other had created the fruits of genuine friendship where love and justice co-exist. As one woman put it at the end of the weekend, “I didn’t solve the problems of the world this weekend. I didn’t come close. But this is my corner of the world, where I’m responsible. And here there is peace.”
In New Zealand we have a Māori proverb that inspires me to commit to endeavors for justice. It came to life for me in witnessing the intimate friendships and change in the alumni women’s group through reconciliation, and I want to encourage those women who have just started on the journey for peace with it: Kia kaha, Kia māia, Kia manawanui – Be strong, be brave, be willing. The journey for reconciliation isn’t always easy. But change is beautiful, change is happening, and change starts with us. Don’t give up. Be strong, be brave and be willing to live out reconciliation for a peaceful future.
Musalaha Intern 2020,