Israel/Palestine peace: Any hope?

Christian Courier has covered peace issues in the Middle East often and well. Once again, violence has broken out recently between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Is there any hope for peace? The issues have seemed to be intractable for more than 65 years.

Many Christians have left Palestine and now there is only a tiny minority left. Of those Christians who remain in Palestine, some continue to work year after year to bring reconciliation between the two parties. One notable group is called Musalaha, an Arabic word for “reconciliation.” This group was founded over 25 years ago by Salim Munayer, a professor at Bethlehem Bible College. According to the Musalaha website (musalaha.org):

Musalaha is a non-profit organization that seeks to promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians as demonstrated in the life and teaching of Jesus. We endeavor to be an encouragement and advocate of reconciliation, first among Palestinian and Israeli believers and then beyond to our respective communities. Musalaha also aims at facilitating bridge building among different segments of Israeli and Palestinian societies according to biblical reconciliation principles.

A particular focus of Musalaha is bringing Christians and Messianic Jews together. Between these two groups is a distinct difference in their views about the land. Messianic Jews believe God gave the land to the Jews for all time. Christians claim that they have lived in the land that they have owned for hundreds of years and therefore the land belongs to them. Musalaha works to bring these two groups together in order that each group can tell its own story. The method is to take small groups – often women and teenagers – to the desert for a week or so. There they talk together, make food together and engage in recreational activities for several days. Out in the desert it is extremely difficult to leave if the conversations become too painful. As they tell each other their stories of pain and fear, they come to appreciate each other, even if they do not always end up agreeing. They see each other as human beings who sincerely want to live in peace and security. The level of respect goes up significantly. To say that reconciliation happens so that a true peace accord will develop is asking too much. But clearly it is a time for truth-telling.

‘Living stones’
Musalaha hopes to expand this ministry to other Israelis and Palestinian Muslims. After people have spent several days together – talking, eating and playing together – they will be loath to pick up weapons or attempt to gain an advantage.

The key element is listening. It does not happen quickly, but over time the participants learn that both sides have pain and both want the pain to end.

Listening to both sides is what has been missing in a long history of turmoil in the Middle East. In the past the United States Secretary of State flew over Damascus to Israel without stopping. One wonders what might have happened if the West had listened to the Syrians instead of naming it a “terrorist nation.”

Many Christians are very poor at listening to both sides in the Middle East, particularly the Christian Zionists from America. In their zeal to support Israel they spend much money for travel to Israel but rarely visit with Palestinian Christians. About them the Palestinian Christians say, “They come to visit the dead stones in the Holy Land but they do not visit the living stones.”

Musalaha is not alone in its mission to get both sides to listen, but I use it as an example of what needs to be done. Without listening to the pain of each side, the problems will not be solved.

Will the process of listening bring about peace? I believe it will be successful if both sides are willing. At the same time, I am under no illusion that peace will happen quickly. However, the focus of Musalaha is not first of all on success. Instead, this group wants to be faithful to the Lord in promoting peace. The results are left to God. Indeed, this should be a life principle for all of us: be faithful to what God calls us to do and leave the results to him.

What is needed is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission similar to those of South Africa between whites and blacks and in Canada where First Nations people and those who came later learned to talk. Much time is needed to tell the truth. It may be too early for reconciliation, but it is not too early for truth.

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