Fear is spreading everywhere around the world due to the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, some people have been behaving and reacting to such fear in various ways. Often, these reactions have been more negative than positive. For example, in our Musalaha office we have had interns who have come to learn about reconciliation and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Some of them have come from East Asia and were present during the coronavirus outbreak. Unfortunately, some people in both Israel and Palestine have taunted them with racist and abusive slander. Some racist behaviour in our land has resulted in the beating of a young adult who the aggressors assumed was from East Asia. Hostile behaviour has not only derived from racism, but from purely selfish motives. People have been aggressive over supermarket items and others have sought to exploit the situation by unfairly raising the prices of goods.
The topic of fear is essential to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to the work of reconciliation. What Musalaha has learned about fear over the years is that some types of fear are legitimate and others are imaginary. That is to say, some sources of fear are healthy as they are there to protect oneself and need to be addressed. On the other hand, other sources of fear are stimulated by the lack of information, pre-existing prejudices and selfishness. These sources of fear can influence people to think only about the interests and well-being of their immediate group. Whether that be their family, ethnic group or religious tradition. Moreover, fear is something that can be manipulated. We have seen time and time again, in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as well as in other places around the world, how politicians and the media seek to utilize these fears for their personal gain and power. This too can encourage an ‘us’ verses ‘them’ mentality.
As part of our understating at Musalaha concerning fear, we have looked at the bible to learn valuable lessons. There is much to say about fear in the bible, but one common theme is the interconnectedness between the fear of God and the treatment of one’s neighbour. In Leviticus 19:14-15 this is spelled out clearly,
“Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord. Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly” [emphasis added].
Among the important lessons we can learn from this passage is that in times of fear we ought not to take advantage of those who are in need, marginalised and oppressed, but on the contrary, do justice to all people and show mercy to those who are weak. Truly fearing the Lord implies loving your neighbour.
If we fear the Lord, we should behave differently than destructive reactions to fear. Instead of showing hostility, racism, abuse and selfishness, we ought to show justice, mercy, compassion and generosity to all people. Whether they are from Palestine or Israel, East Asia or Europe, have the virus or do not have the virus. The true love of God casts out all earthly fears and transforms hopeless tragedy to ultimate success.
Musalaha Executive Director – Salim J. Munayer