We and others who are involved in reconciliation have observed certain trends when Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews enter into a reconciliation process. The journey towards reconciliation has often occurred in several stages.
In the first stage, people from both sides are often hesitant and need encouragement to meet with each other. However, they are usually willing to get together. In the initial meeting, people are curious, interested, have fun, and often are enthusiastic to participate in an activity together.
In the next stage, Israeli Jews find themselves surprised by Palestinians’ grievances and charges against Israelis. They are overwhelmed at the Palestinians’ stories, political and theological opinions, and at how strongly they express their feelings. This can be attributed to the lack of interaction and understanding of the realities of each other’s lives.
The third stage usually finds the Israeli participants in a process of withdrawal, backing off from meetings because they are no longer interested, see it as hopeless, or the issues have become too overwhelming and painful. As a result, Israelis respond by stating their own accusations and grievances against the Palestinians. They also share their strongly held theological and political positions. Each side reacts by saying that the other’s withdrawal from the process was obvious and inevitable, that they will never understand and never accept one another. Each side accuses the other that they are blind to reality and to the truth of the Bible.
The question now is: how many are left in the process? Some who are unwilling to continue working towards reconciliation have entered the process wanting to reinforce their theological, political and cultural positions. By not completing the process, they are allowed to remain in their theological and political corners, protecting their own perceptions and prejudice. However, embracing the other does not necessitate losing ones ethnic or spiritual identity; rather those who persevere in the reconciliation process find themselves strengthened and more secure in their own identity and faith.
Those who continue, enter the next stage of maturity, realize that they are bound to live alongside one another. At this point, people understand that both sides have genuine charges and grievances against each other. They also recognize the shortcomings of their own people, and that their side has also contributed to the breakdown of relationships and the violence of the conflict. They realize that they must find a way to correct and restore the relationship between the two peoples and are willing to take serious steps in order to do so. Those steps include learning one another’s history and life experiences, listening, and accepting differing perspectives and perceptions. They can also learn from each other about God and about Biblical truths. Making progress in reconciliation requires courage and risk; it means becoming vulnerable to ‘the enemy,’ being honest and open, yet sensitive and willing to listen.
A recent article in Christianity Today, quotes and paraphrases the theologian from the former Yugoslavia, Miroslav Volf. “The simple categories of victim, oppressor, and even liberation must give way; instead we must recognize that even the enemy (the alienated ‘other’) is part of one’s own identity, Volf asserts….’At the deepest levels, our own wholeness depends on some strained recognition of the humanity of the other…. There are characteristically two main functions which religion may serve in the midst of such a clash,’ Volf says. ‘Christian faith and symbols may act as a cultural marker to reinforce an individuals’ identity’ – and thus continue to divide. Or, because of its central commitments, Christian faith may become a resource to help enemies embrace: the grace inherent in vulnerable acceptance of the enemy flows when Christian faith (not Christian identity) informs choices, he says.”
Our experience reinforces that those involved in reconciliation have developed a more secure identity, becoming more sure of who they are in their ethnicity and in the Lord. At the same time, they are more open and willing to embrace others, and to work together to restore relationships and to attempt to correct the damage that has been done.
By Salim J. Munayer, PhD