During the past few weeks we have witnessed further escalation, particularly in Jerusalem. News sites are cautiously saying we might be in a third intifada, giving a name to intermittent but increasing unrest, demonstrations, arrests, house demolitions, attacks and killings. The Temple Mount and the status-quo of religious sites in Jerusalem are discussed more frequently, and religious rhetoric fans the flames of nationalist sentiments.

All these events have led to much discussion in our various departments. Our staff has had numerous discussions regarding the willingness of participants to meet, the impact of these events on our activities, and the perceptions on both sides. We know that increased violence is damaging to reconciliation, and we worked through this difficult summer, persevering in our attempts to bring people together. Our young adults recently met to reflect on this past summer, and our young mother’s group met to discuss the summer’s impact on their own lives.

While we researched and listened to each community’s response to the summer, we had not yet examined the impact of recent events on each side’s identity. We were eager to see how our Nazareth group would respond as it is a group comprised of Messianic Jewish and Palestinian Christian women who are citizens of the state of Israel. We were pleased to see more than 30 women gather last weekend for a follow-up training. We had more Israeli participants than Palestinian participants attend this conference, and the issue highlighted during this training was identity.

Identity can take on positive and negative roles. Our sense of identity, of who we are, can motivate us to work for a better society for our group and those around us. At the same time, much of our identity and self-conception is built in opposition to an “other.” We see this manifest itself negatively when it leads to exclusion, polarization and violence against those different from us. During this conference, we looked at identity in the context of conflict, as well as in regards to our faith in the Messiah. Our common spiritual identity brings us together, and allows for fellowship between us. Part of the journey of reconciliation is moving from a place of getting to know one another at a surface level, to getting to know one another at a deeper level. At this deeper level, a second stage, we discuss identity and its effects on us.

During the meeting last week, our women discussed the beauty in our differences.
Below are some reflections on the meeting from Hedva, our women’s project coordinator.

The devotional last Saturday was on coal.  Fadia made the point that coal “suffers great pressure.”  In that suffering, a beauty is formed that wasn’t there before.  It was dirty and ugly and only of use to burn in a fire.  So, that’s the choice.  Burn or be under pressure – in any case, God will make something lovely from all of us as we submit to His Hand.

Shadia Qubti, one of the speakers, said that the pressure on our identity is also a kind of suffering.  She taught the women about how people choose their social groups and how there is pressure to belong, as well as the pressure from within to be true to oneself, to find one’s self-esteem and to accept oneself.

In our context, there’s also pressure on our Identity from the outside.  Our “enemy” also plays a part in how we are defined; as in, I am this, NOT that.  But in the Word, Jesus embraced his Identity alongside the Identity of the “other” in order to make reconciliation possible between God and Man.  There was a role of the “other” that was also part of His Identity.

As we embrace our Identity in this world, as part of a people group or gender group, etc., and also embrace our Identity in Christ, we fulfill our design and can face our challenges with confidence and clarity.

Last weekend’s meeting was challenging to the women present.  It was a heavy subject for them and some are still digesting the teaching.  However, each participant with whom I spoke said that meeting women from the “other” side was important, meaningful, and worth any difficulty in understanding one another.

One of the women noted, “The conference was organized well, the goals were clear and I learned a lot that I can use in my work among Bedouin women.”

Some of the Israeli women who attended for the first time said that they learned a lot about the challenges that Palestinians face and felt some similar pressures in their community.  “We’re also not accepted in our society,” one woman shared.  “In Jesus, we can support each other in unity,” another commented.

Sometimes when we attend a conference and we’re not on the stage or leading the devotional, we forget that we also contribute to the success or failure of the meeting.  What we offer (or don’t share) has an effect on the outcome of the conference.  One comment we make could make the difference in understanding to another who couldn’t concentrate during the session or missed the activity.

This is the beauty of our differences.  It is the beauty in our Identity.  And it makes us better.