Last month, Musalaha brought a group of 20 Israeli and Palestinian women to Cyprus to begin the journey of reconciliation. Our time in Cyprus was blissful, peaceful, productive. We learned about listening, the stages of reconciliation and the character of a reconciler. The time was fruitful, filled with laughter and fellowship.
In reflecting on the trip upon my return, some of the things that stand out most were my experiences traveling to Cyprus and returning home. Leaving Israel was quite an ordeal. Our mixed group of women was questioned, delayed, looked at suspiciously. “What could Israelis and Palestinians possibly have to do with one another?” was the unasked question.
All this was soon forgotten as we were finally allowed to board our plane. For four days, we were visitors in Cyprus. There was no ever-present security, no daily talk of existential threat or the delays and frustrations of checkpoints. No one looked at us strangely, stopped us, or asked us questions with skepticism. We were able to speak freely, share with each other from our hearts and experiences, and learn from one another.
And then we came home very early in the morning on May 5. As my taxi driver took me home, he told me he lived in the same neighborhood as I…and then he digressed into racial slurs and bigoted comments about the Arab neighborhoods and communities bordering ours. And my heart sank because I knew I was home.
Recently I read a short parable that I found provoking, motivating and encouraging.
One day, a young man has a dream. He lives in a world in which following Christ is illegal. He is summoned to court, and as he stands before a judge he sees the evidence laid out against him. There are pictures of him attending religious events and services, religious books and music taken from his home, journal entries in which he discussed his faith, and his well-worn Bible attesting to his daily reading of that sacred text. He sits in fear, awaiting the verdict that would bring either imprisonment or death. Denying his faith crosses his mind, but he tries to push it away, pray and maintain resolve. After some time, the judge summons him to stand before him, and declares him not guilty. His fear dissipates into immediate relief, but as the verdict sinks in, he becomes indignant, and angry. He demands an explanation for the rendering of such a verdict. The dream ends with the judge’s words: “The court is indifferent towards your Bible reading and religious meetings; it has no concern for worship with words and a pen. Continue to develop your theology, and use it to paint pictures of a comforting world in your mind. We have no interest in such church-going artists who spend their time creating mental images of a better world. We exist for those who would lay down that brush, and their life, in a Christ-like endeavor to create such a world.”
Herein lays the challenge and vocation. Work for reconciliation is met with skepticism, wariness, fear, suspicion and disbelief. And many times, it’s quite tiring. But this is our challenge. This is our vocation. It’s far too easy to be ignorant and hole up within our respective communities, imagining that we are wronged and in the right, holding tightly to our favorite prejudices. But in encountering the other, we grow and learn and change – speaking peace, passing the peace, and creating spaces for peace to happen. And so we endeavor to create such a world.
By Ambreen Tour