Discouragement is always a part of reconciliation. It is inevitable. However, one of the best ways to deal with discouragement is to look to inspirational examples of success. For instance, consider the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Many said it could never be built, because of all the obstacles that stood in its way: the currents, the winds, and the frequent earthquakes. Nevertheless, in the end, they managed to build it and brought the two sides of the bay closer to each other. Now people cross over it all the time and rarely ever think about the effort and how many years were required to build it. We take it for granted, but building bridges is hard work.
Building a bridge is a good analogy for the process of reconciliation since it is a difficult process that involves bringing two sides together. Since our goal is to build a bridge between the Israeli and Palestinian believing communities, we have to be sensitive to the theological and political opinions of people on both sides, but trying to navigate these waters is becoming more and more challenging. This is especially true since there are always voices that discourage attempts towards reconciliation.
Recently charges have been leveled at Musalaha, and at Musalaha’s Director Salim Munayer through a number of articles which are inaccurate and even slanderous. These articles use very strong, accusatory language, and misrepresent what Musalaha stands for, and have therefore caused quite a bit of misunderstanding. There are people who are opposed to reconciliation from both sides, so instead of specifically refuting the accusations made against Salim and against Musalaha, it would be more fruitful to give a few examples of how people on both sides resist reconciliation and view Musalaha suspiciously.
Some Palestinian Christians refuse to have any dealings with Musalaha because we work with Israelis. To them, meeting with Israelis is a form of “normalization,” or giving in to the oppression of the occupation. Their logic is that if they agree to meet with Israelis they are basically saying that they accept the status quo, and are giving legitimacy to the injustice Israel has perpetuated upon the Palestinian people. In other words they say justice is a precondition to reconciliation. Obviously this attitude is problematic, for we cannot have reconciliation if we do not meet with the other side and discuss the issues that we disagree upon. For many Palestinian Christians, this is a major issue and one that Musalaha is constantly dealing with. For some Palestinian Christians, all those who come to Musalaha meetings are collaborators, traitors, or Zionists. Suspicion is often the default reaction to meeting with Israelis, even if they are our brothers and sisters in the Messiah.
There is also resistance on the part of some of the Messianic Jewish community. Some congregations will not participate in Musalaha activities for theological or political reasons. They claim that Musalaha teaches replacement theology, that it is anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic. As an organization Musalaha does not have an official political or theological position, and those who participate in Musalaha activities are free to express their own views. Some in the Messianic community put preconditions on their meeting with the other side. They will refuse to come to Musalaha meetings and meet with Palestinian Christians unless they first accept that God has promised this land to the Jewish people. If they can not agree to this, the argument goes, then we have nothing to talk about. Clearly this is not conducive to reconciliation, because it means that we will only meet with those who already agree with us, and conditions agreement on theological issues as a precondition to fellowship.
This also happens abroad. There are many organizations that accept one side but reject the other. Again, this makes reconciliation difficult. In terms of cooperation with and support from other organizations, it would be much easier if Musalaha were just doing advocacy for one side or the other. But that is not Musalaha’s goal. Our goal is to build bridges.
For example, Salim was once invited to speak about Musalaha at church in the United States. In the end they did not allow him to speak because they did not want to offend their friends at the local Jewish synagogue. The Synagogue objected to Salim, not only because he is Palestinian, but also because of his association with Messianic Jews. The church was involved in interfaith dialogue, and does not believe in evangelism to the Jews, so Musalaha lost their support. Other organizations that focus on helping Palestinians have also objected to Musalaha because it works towards reconciliation. Typically they argue, saying “Why should we give money for Israeli children to go to a summer camp when Palestinian children are going hungry?”
Both here and abroad, the theme is the same. We are asked to prove our loyalty to our group by denouncing the other side. But we cannot do this if we are working towards reconciliation. We have to be advocates of the other side. This does not mean that we can or should stop advocating on behalf of our own side. We are pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. However, we pay a price for this in terms of support and funding, and also in terms of friendship and acceptance in our own communities. We are often seen as traitors to our own people. Nevertheless, this is a price that we have to be willing to pay if our goal is reconciliation.
It can be discouraging, but we cannot let these attacks keep us from our goal. We will go anywhere, and speak to anyone about reconciliation. Adversity is nothing new, and building bridges is hard work. But in the end, it is God’s will for his people to come together in unity and love. The wall that separates us has been broken down. (Eph. 2:14) Now the gap between us needs to be bridged and we need to focus on building each other up rather than tearing each other down. God has built an awe-inspiring bridge through the cross of his Son that will continue to stand through earthquakes and storms; our responsibility and challenge is to continue to walk across it to meet our brothers and sisters on the other side.
Salim J. Munayer – Musalaha Director
Evan Thomas – Chairman of the Board
Executive Board Advisory Board
Etti Shoshani Lisa Loden
Nizar Touma Akiva Cohen
Munther Isaac Butros Mansour
Jack Sara Tanas Alqassis