On Palm Sunday this year, my wife and I went for a meeting, and we found ourselves near the New Gate of Jerusalem. We watched as the estimated 15,000 people made their way into the Old City from the Mount of Olives. The procession was ripe with cheers, the waving of palm branches, and the scout troop band. The atmosphere was lively and joyous. In a way, it reminded me of the joy of the people welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem that we read about in the gospels. People at the time of Jesus, like the people at this Palm Sunday procession, had in the forefront of their minds the realities of their daily life. I’m sure many of them were looking and hoping for relief, salvation from the different afflictions and forms of oppression they were experiencing.
As the time drew near for the public affairs leaders’ seminar, which took place this past weekend in Athens, we at Musalaha began to worry about the mounting tensions in the land. Nonetheless, we continued planning for the weekend meeting. Almost every other day we could hear shooting and saw news of killings. We felt concerned because in the past when things got tense and violence escalated, people withdrew and didn’t want to participate until things quieted down. The participants of our groups face pressure from family and friends not to come meet together with “the other.” The tension and violence in our country continued to escalate to a high level. However, to our joy and encouragement, the members of the group were determined to come and meet with each other, to share and listen to one another.
They were bright, educated, savvy, and well-read. Anyone would wish they were his children, students, or upcoming leaders in his community. However, as we sat together talking, I could sense how frustrated and paralyzed they were on what they could do to bring the necessary change for reconciliation to their communities. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many groups of young upcoming leaders, mostly of the millennial generation, in our community that I’m conversing with about leadership and vision in our society.
I was recently asked to engage with a group of high school principals on the subject of the ultimate other. These principals included Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli men and women who were Muslim, Christian, and Jewish. This group plays a critical role in our society because we entrust them in large degree to educating our children during their formative years. Educators play an important part in influencing the next generation in creating an understanding of the other and in teaching about tolerance.
University students are hard to pin down. For many, their energies are devoted to their studies. They are at the mercy of rigorous course and exam schedules and have too much to do with their limited time.
We at Musalaha considered what would be the best way to utilize the time of these young adults, as many were home on holiday, and where we could help them through this period of their lives. We realized that these young people with their leadership abilities needed direction, support, and training. We planned a 3-day weekend where we would give them the tools for leading others and the framework to put their learned skills into practice. We were delighted with the turnout of more than 40 young people, and even more, the results.
Under a black velvet Jordanian sky choked with stars, 22 people sat together, each one thinking of two nice things to say about the person in the circle whose name they had plucked out of a disposable paper cup.
Some were Muslim, some Christian, some Jewish. Half were Palestinians and half Israelis, but those distinctions were blurred after being together 24/7 for three days. The participants in the Musalaha Community Leaders Desert Encounter, the first in a four-session program spread over 18 months, were almost shocked at how close they felt to one another after such a relatively short time.
This is the season in which we give gifts to our family and friends! We love to show our generosity and express kindness to others. In our culture, giving gifts is something we do all the time. Recently, following the renovation of our home, some friends wanted to come over. They were Palestinian and they told us that they would only come to visit on condition that they could bring us housewarming gifts. The desire and obligation to give is part of our culture. I remember my father’s notebook, in which he recorded the amounts that close and extended family members gave to us, so that he would be able to reciprocate in kind. In our culture, it is shameful to give anything less than what you have received. My father believed it was important to give others the same amount or even more than they had given him. Sadly, too often in our culture, giving comes with "strings attached" and is connected to material things.
We arrived early Friday morning to join the group of the 14 Israeli and Palestinian young adults for a time to reunite for a Poetry slam. This was a group who had participated in an exchange program with British young adults at the end of the summer.
The meeting was designed to help them understand their potential for true impact within their communities. This was done by sharing their experiences of how their trip to the UK impacted those around them.
Everyone was given a set of questions about the changes they had experienced since going on the trip and all of them had stories to share.
I asked Michel,"So, how do you want to change the world?"
His stared at me with his eyes wide-opened, “How do you know I've been thinking about that?”
I met Michel at Musalaha's summer camp. Six days with 83 children means hours of screaming, sweating, water-splashing, running around, all in the summer heat. After a day full of activities and two hours of dragging the four girls from their gossiping and giggling to their sleeping quarters, I thought to myself,
"What do all these have to do with reconciliation?"
If this is the future, I am more confident.
Many look at the situation in our country and continue to ask if there is hope. What does our future look like? I see both hope and a future in our young people.
I have been actively working with Israeli and Palestinian women for many years. I have been sowing and planting with tears, sometimes frustration, but also with much joy when I see the fruits of our labor. Yet, this was the first time I was asked to lead a group of young adults on a cultural exchange with British young people. It was this trip that gave me a renewed vision of our work of reconciliation here at Musalaha.