We at Musalaha are always looking for new opportunities to share our learning with new segments of society. In recent months, I have received new requests to share about Musalaha’s work of leading Israelis and Palestinians on the journey of reconciliation. One of these invitations was to teach in a unique training program involving Israeli school principals from Muslim, Christian and Jewish backgrounds, coordinated by the Shalom Hartman Institute.
This year, we used our Annual Women’s Conference to introduce as many new women as possible to the need for reconciliation. We proposed an idea to our experienced participants to bring a friend, acquaintance, and ideally someone younger than them, so that we could pass on our hope to the next generation.
These were confusing and fearful times, where people spoke about the social problems, the economic challenges, the rivalries between political powers, and were looking for a leader to solve their problems. At the same time, we read in the gospels another narrative, the narrative of the birth of our Lord that speaks about a different King who is the Son of God, and a different way of achieving peace that is not by the sword.
In October, a group of Israeli and Palestinian youth went on a journey to Mount Tabor and Nazareth. This is part of the Land where many biblical events took place. We were able to hold this encounter as there were overlapping holidays in the school calendar for both Israelis and Palestinians– something that is a constant challenge for Musalaha, as there are different calendars for the different schools, with different national and religious holidays. We were very happy to have the time to spend together as a group.
On September 28, Palestinian and Israeli women came together for a weekend to learn about historical narrative. We presented the Palestinian and Israeli narratives to a mixed group of women who have been meeting together for two years. The women have established their relationships, become close, and they were ready to hear difficult truths and perspectives different from their own.
Musalaha hosted the third of its three camps July 18-23, 2016 where more than 120 campers and staff came together for our annual Children’s Summer Camp at the Baptist Village in Petah Tikva, Israel. Below, one of our camp volunteers shares some impressions.
In the past we have shared about workshops we lead on Identity. Identity is complex, and in many situations, we find that others want to impose an identity on us. Yet, it is more important to know and discuss how we see ourselves. In many cases, what others call us is different from what we call ourselves. The way people discuss identity in conflict can be very combative, and we often find that people build their identities at the expense of others. As a result, identity tends to be the first casualty in conflict, something we and many others have observed in reconciliation activities.
Negative images and occurrences of conflict are all around us in Israel and Palestine. Children learn to fear at a very early age, and it is often a reflection of the fear their older loved ones show, or what they see themselves. Adults here talk freely of the conflict, express their anger and frustration at the situation in front of their children, and in some cases, parents expose young children to the violent images and descriptions of current events on the radio, computer or television. Israeli children – even toddlers – who have lived through wars, know that the sound of a siren indicates that the family must quickly run to a sheltered room. Palestinian children learn to fear soldiers as they see siblings, cousins, parents or other loved ones humiliated, arrested, beaten, or as they smell tear gas seeping through their windows at night.
This weekend, June 17-18, was a highlight in my work in reconciliation. More often than not, recruiting for events is very challenging, and in our anything-can-change last-minute culture, it is difficult to get people to commit to a weekend-long meeting. Why would people take their precious weekends to stare into a mirror, and perhaps see things that need to change?
Forgiveness is central in Christianity and also in reconciliation. In the past, people from a non-Christian heritage had strong negative reactions to teachings on forgiveness as they felt others were imposing a Christian ideology on them. Many Christian and Jewish scholars discussed forgiveness as it is related to the Holocaust, and in Israeli Jewish society there emerged a saying, “Never forgive, never forget.” While forgiveness used to be a religious discussion outside of academia, it has now moved into academia as scholars are studying how forgiveness relates to the well-being of humans individually and in society.