This past Monday evening I was visiting my mother before a speaking engagement in Tel Aviv when a siren went off indicating an incoming rocket from Gaza. I immediately called the coordinator arranging this meeting to ask her if she wanted to cancel. She said no, and asked that I please attend. This was a group of French-Jewish professionals who came to visit the country as part of an educational trip. During much of their trip they only heard the Israeli side, and this lecture was to expose them to minority experiences in the state of Israel. After my lecture, they asked many questions, and it was evident in the way they talked that they wanted to keep the moral high ground. This desire to maintain the moral high ground has been very evident among both Israelis and Palestinians.
Immediately after the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, many Palestinians believed that Israel had contrived this as part of a conspiracy to frame Palestinians for an awful crime and legitimize Israeli repercussions in the West Bank. After 16 year old Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s body was found in the Jerusalem forest, Israeli news coverage immediately assumed that it must have been part of an honor killing.
On social media we saw many self-affirmations that “Palestinians would never do this!” or “Jews do not kill like this!” Neither Palestinians nor Israelis were willing to think about taking responsibility for these crimes, preferring to distance themselves from these suspicions for as long as possible. This indicates an unwillingness to accept that there are those among us who would commit such crimes. As a result of these two events, riots and demonstrations broke out among the Israeli and Palestinian public throughout Israel. People vented their anger and frustration, and new fears emerged as parents on both sides feared that their children, like Mohammed, could be kidnapped in some twisted and misplaced act of revenge.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen the gathering of many people, religious and non-religious to pray for the safety and return of the kidnapped Israelis. Many in the believing community have been praying for the safety of their children during this volatile time, and for the safety of their own people. Every now and then we hear of people praying for the other side. For the most part, though, believers have succumbed to the temptation to retreat within themselves during this difficult time, and become mouth-pieces for their own ethnic communities. We have seen many calls for violence in social media, also from believers, whether denunciations of “Death to Arabs,” or “Death to Israelis,” or quotation of Bible verses in a context that would condemn the other side.
And then, just a few days later, sometimes we see the same believers that have written terrible things come and say, “Let us get together and pray.” There is no doubt that the escalated cycle of revenge, violence, and hatred is driving people to reevaluat their view, seek fellowship, and take a united stand in the situation. We have especially seen this with those involved in Musalaha. Many of our young adults and women are coming together to meet and pray and take a joint-stance on the situation.
Recently, I gave a devotional to a group of Palestinian leaders about the current situation, reflecting on passages from Luke 12. Here Jesus challenges religious hypocrisy. People respond to situations in various ways. For example, the zealots thought violence would help them achieve their goals. (It is interesting to note that the Palestinians that carried out the kidnapping and murder of the Israeli teenagers, and the Israelis who kidnapped and murdered the Palestinian teenager are allegedly quite religious. Like the zealots, through their violence, they hoped to achieve some sort of goal.) The Sadducees wanted to keep their place in the temple, and the Pharisees believed that change would come through strict religious obedience. Jesus challenged the Pharisees in two areas: one, by telling them that it’s what’s in the heart that is important (Matthew 7:14-23); and two, that their religious ceremonies and devotion made them blind to recognizing the Messiah. In our situation, when trouble comes, many of us from both communities turn to our religious practices out of belief that they will deliver us and bring a change. However, as believers we need to demonstrate fellowship, unity, and remember the role of the prophetic voice. Sometimes, I think that we fall into the same trap that the Pharisees of Jesus’ time did by failing to address the issues.
We can meet together, have our prayers, fellowship, and read the Psalms, but it if his oes not come with true repentance for the anger, bitterness, and hatred that re idden in our hearts, ur religious activities ill be fruitless and hen difficult times come, e will regress to our former ways. John assures us in I John 1:5-10 that a crucial component of our fellowship is repentance. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
This is a time when we need to repent of our hatred and contempt for each other, repent for thinking negatively of one another and repeating damaging propaganda about the other ide. During times of crisis we should instead meet to affirm one another and pray. We should speak words of redemption for each other, words of hope and peace. And when these times of crisis end, we should continue to meet, address the roots of the conflict and continue praying together. God calls us to serve him without hypocrisy, to worship him with pure hearts, and to fellowship with love for one another.
By Salim J. Munayer, Ph.D