When we look at the dynamics of conflict, there are a number of important factors which can contribute to the continuation of a conflict, but can also contribute to its resolution and reconciliation between the two sides. Among these factors are History and Narrative. This article will start by trying to define both history and narrative, looking closely at their similarities and differences, and especially how they relate and operate in a conflict situation. The focus will primarily be on narrative, and we will look at some practical examples of how narrative is expressed by Israelis and Palestinians, the challenges they pose, and how these challenges can be overcome.
Conflict can be most simply defined as disagreement between people. To expand on this a little more, “Conflict is an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from others in achieving their goals.”(1) While it naturally occurs due to our interaction with others and as a result of our human subjectivity, what is important is how we deal with the conflict that arises.
In Musalaha’s second stage of reconciliation, Opening Up, the first thing we encounter is the issue of identity- both our own, and that of the other. Identity is a key component in relationship building and reconciliation, because it provides the basis of understanding and a foundation from which to build. If we do not understand ourselves and why we think and operate the way we do, we will have a hard time identifying these traits in others, especially those who do not share our social or personal identities.
Over the past several months we have been working to update some of the chapters in our curriculum of reconciliation Some of the issues we have been researching further are the meeting of justice and reconciliation (there can be no reconciliation without justice, and not justice without reconciliation), and how forgiveness relates tot eh public and political spheres. I have been going through Donald Shriver, Jr.’s bookAn Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics. While forgiveness sounds like a religious concept to many people, justice often does not, something that Shriver attributes to theologians. Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the most politically oriented contemporary theologians, has advocated for justice as a political virtue while downplaying the importance of forgiveness, relegating it to the sphere of sentimentalism, outside of realpolitik. Shriver argues for the importance of forgiveness in public discourse, avoiding common misconception of forgiving as forgetting. Instead he advocates the slogan "Remember and forgive."
This past week, as America commemorated the tragedy of 9/11, much was said about the gap between the Western world and the Muslim world. One important aspect that was overlooked in this discussion is the gap between the Western and Eastern church. I would like to share some of my experiences and observations in this area.
The current conflict between the Israeli military and the Hizbollah has been escalating in the past weeks, seen not only in the growing number of casualties, but in the displacement of many Israelis and Lebanese and in the destruction of infrastructure. While the writing of this article has been primarily prompted by the present war in the North, it is important to take into account the ongoing conflict in Gaza that has been overshadowed and nearly forgotten in the past month. Many believers on both sides of the conflict have had to abandon their homes, cancel organized programs, and live in fear for the lives of their families. The impact of war and the depth of human misery are becoming all too clear the longer these conflicts are perpetuated.
The believing community in the Holy Land today is far from resembling the reconciled body which we are called to be in the Kingdom of God. The current reality is in fact closer to a mixture of tribalism and nationalism, combined with conflicting and sometimes seemingly irreconcilable theological and historical differences.
“Now make a list of the differences that are not evident, but that you assume to exist.” This was dangerous territory. Having participated in numerous reconciliation projects with Musalaha, I recalled the excitement that I would feel watching Palestinian and Israeli young people communicate and find something in common. “They are human, I am human. They like music, I like music. We share the same Messiah.” Motivated by a common faith and the commandments to ‘love one another,’ believers reach for materials with which to build bridges. Sometimes it is easy; other times we strain to cross an insurmountable gap.
“Does it really work?” This is the first question that people ask when they hear about Musalaha. It is difficult to imagine what kind of impact “Desert Encounters” and Conferences can have in a situation where pain is great, emotion runs high and no political solution is in sight. In an ongoing conflict such as ours, that is violent and drawn-out, there is little hope placed in reconciliation initiatives. Efforts for coexistence and bridge-building face a context of deeply rooted and often opposing historical and cultural narratives, religious fervor, and identities. Peace and reconciliation initiatives take place in an atmosphere of hostility and opposition, where experiences and forces such as the media and politicians do not reinforce, but rather undermine, efforts to resolve conflict.
“…and this is why there is conflict between the Arabs and Jews in the Middle East,” declared the narrator from the tape in the car radio. My family and I were driving through the countryside, listening to the Bible on tape. “It all goes back to Isaac and Ishmael.” I was taken aback to hear this simplified explanation added as commentary, and at the same time, not surprised at this line of reasoning. Internationally and in this region, people and publications link the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael to the current political situation in the Middle East. Often in our experiences on a Musalaha desert trip or conference, we have heard people repeating, “There is no hope for an end to this conflict; it goes all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael.”