Do you know that all conflicts come to an end? Oppression cannot last forever. The desire to suppress will eat away at our souls, the willful ignorance of what happens around us will corrupt the future of our children, and the will to hope can be snuffed out if we choose to give up. And giving up is easy.
One of the factors that sustains and escalates our conflict, according to Israeli and Palestinian scholars in peacebuilding, is our inability to imagine a peaceful future. We cannot achieve what we cannot imagine; we cannot do what we cannot dream. As practitioners and researchers in peacebuilding, we try and articulate a dream of a better future, for ourselves, and with our participants. Yet, we often hear others disregard these dreams with a variety of excuses. “This conflict is too complicated.” “This situation is hopeless.” “We cannot accomplish peace because of radical Islam.” “They don’t want to live in peace with us.” And even many well-meaning religious sentiments, like “There can be no solution until Jesus returns.” We would like to give you a glimpse into our imagination, our vision, our dream. We invite you into our understanding of a better future, which we wish to draw into the present with our prayers, with our minds, with our hearts and with our hands.
We refuse all the previous excuses, even if well-intentioned. We refuse to be oppressors. We refuse to be victims. We refuse to be ignorant. We refuse to give up hope. We refuse the easy way. We refuse to think we are beyond redemption because of the complications. We refuse to remain an intractable conflict. We refuse to defer our peace to other generations and centuries because we are too lazy or too unimaginative to dream a better future. We refuse many things. And we affirm and accept many others. We affirm and maintain the ability to dream. We accept the challenge of peacemaking. We willingly take on the burden of truth-telling, even when it hurts our self-conception and our understanding of history. We accept that we are limited in what we see and in what we know, and we endeavor to learn more and challenge ourselves to think critically. We take responsibility for our actions, and our shortcomings in this conflict. We embrace compassion, for ourselves, for others, and particularly for those who have no compassion for us. We affirm and maintain space for each other, as we desire to co-exist, thrive, cooperate, collaborate, and be better versions of ourselves as a result of each other’s input.
The Bible is a text that informs our imagination, that encourages us to see God’s work in the past, and see his desire to set right the injustice and oppression of the present. The judges, the prophets, the lone female voices we sometimes hear, the Messiah Jesus, the disciples, and the community of the faithful that hold these figures and teachings close to their hearts all play a role in influencing us today. We see this culminate in God’s gift of his son, Jesus, who modeled for us an example of redemptive, righteous and compassionate living. In his death and resurrection, he broke down barriers between God and humanity, and between competing human relationships. Jesus demonstrated how to walk in freedom, even when facing disapproval from spiritual leaders, even when living under occupation. One central thing that unites these figures is their hope tied to action. God’s vision of something better permeates their reality, and his hope becomes their hope, and they lend their hands to his vision.
The hope and action we read in the Scriptures propel us to see beyond yesterday, and to imagine today what we wish to see in our lifetime. We imagine a place where our communities are not divided by language, but enhanced by the richness of their differences. A place where our ethnic distinctiveness is appreciated, and encouraged. We imagine a place where we meet not only in spite of our disagreement, but also because of our disagreements, knowing that in fellowship our differences strengthen us, not weaken us. We envision confident relationships, where we make space for each other, allowing the other person to change us, as iron sharpens iron. We imagine a world where we can be strong enough to allow people to speak their minds without being threatened by divergent opinions, interpretations and theologies. This is a place where we welcome the other, just as we welcome the same. We envision a world where men and women have equal opportunities to be who they were meant to be. Gender is a celebration of God’s creativity, not a criterion for discrimination.
This is a future that is worth the struggles and pain of the present. We wish to see our communities rise above this conflict, and offer a solution that is safe, just and truthful. We want our communities to realize that we need each other in order to understand why we are both here, and to know how we can go about building a better future. We have histories of pain, suffering and persecution. We reject the fatalism that says this is our present and future. We believe that God has a purpose for the Jewish people in this land. We believe that God has purpose for the Palestinian people in this land. Yet the protagonist in this is neither the Jewish people nor the Palestinian people, but God who seeks to draw us into His vision. This is a vision worth pursuing. It’s a vision big enough for the oppressed, big enough for the oppressors, big enough for the doubters, big enough for the hopeless. We “remain confident of this: [We] will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13).
by Shadia Qubti and Ambreen Ben-Shmuel