Every year we move our Palestinian summer camps to a new village or city in order to give more children the opportunity for a week of fun. This year our eyes were turned towards Hebron, the largest and divided city in the West Bank (other than East Jerusalem) with 160,000 Palestinians and 500 Israeli settlers and known for its violent clashes between the Palestinians and settlers. The Palestinian part of the city is exclusively Muslim and considered one of the most conservative communities in the West Bank.
Whenever I tell people about my job, or explain to them that I work for Musalaha, and that we seek to facilitate reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, I am usually met with a cynical or sarcastic response. Even people sympathetic to this goal recognize the immensity of the project, and rarely miss the opportunity to ask, “So, when can we expect peace in the Middle East?” This can be very disheartening, because the work of reconciliation is already difficult, and slow, with few tangible signs of progress. When the current political situation is considered, (and we are constantly reminded of it through the media and in our everyday lives) it is often hard to believe that reconciliation will ever be possible in this place. In spite of all the evidence against it, however, there is reason for hope. I was recently infused with inspiration, and would like to share the story with you as a word of encouragement.
In reflecting on the trip upon my return, some of the things that stand out most were my experiences traveling to Cyprus and returning home. Leaving Israel was quite an ordeal. Our mixed group of women was questioned, delayed, looked at suspiciously. “What could Israelis and Palestinians possibly have to do with one another?” was the unasked question.
We just want to reflect on the upcoming holiday season of Easter and Passover and share with you some of the exciting events taking place at Musalaha and our most immediate prayer needs.
Nearly three weeks have passed since the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians began in the Gaza Strip. The suffering and devastation are great. The number of Palestinians and Israelis killed and wounded is insurmountable. The trauma, pain, and wounds inflicted are not fleeting. Both Palestinian and Israeli believers are caught in the midst of the crisis.
To both Israelis and Palestinians, the current conflict in Gaza has brought nothing but pain and suffering. It has also caused friction among some believers as they choose to pledge sole allegiance to their own people group. Some are even expressing an unabashed hatred for the other side through articles, e-mails and graphic content on Facebook.
Feet are very important for everyone, but especially for soldiers. It is with your feet that you either stand your ground, and resist, or retreat and run away. We are to clothe our feet with the gospel of peace, and take it with us everywhere we go, to reconcile with God and with each other. Many believers hear the phrase ‘the gospel of peace’, and instantly think vertically, of peace between God and man. But real peace, as it appears in the Biblical context, requires horizontal peace with fellow man in addition to peace with God.
Two children were fighting in the park next to my home. Minutes before they had been playing football and enjoying each other’s company. They had a disagreement that lead to an unbelievable barrage of curses. It was amazing how the curses they unleashed were full of passion and anger. Not only did they curse each other, but they cursed their mothers, families, ancestors and homes. It seems that demeaning and degrading comes more naturally to us as human beings than blessing one another. Cursing is not just a habit for young children, but also adults do so in more sophisticated and refined language, or privately in our minds and hearts.
The cross has a unique role and function in this land where 2,000 years ago, Jesus was crucified. Followers of Christ in Palestinian areas and Israel are essentially a minority amidst the Jewish and Muslim majorities. As so much of this region is defined by the conflict between groups, believers in Jesus look to Him as a basis for reconciliation. While Muslims and Jews reject the cross, believers who pursue reconciliation are seeking to fulfill Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17:21, so that their testimony of unity will reflect His work of reconciliation.
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.