Do you like having fun with kids? I do. I love seeing the wonder on children’s faces when they encounter something for the first time. One of my favorite recollections of wonder as a child was when I first saw oil poured into water. I kept trying to stir the solution faster and faster to see if the oil would dissolve, yet every time, the little bubbles of oil would push through the water to remerge in its previous state, a layer of oil. You just can’t mix oil and water.
Many times the same is true of Jews and Arabs, and even Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians. We don’t mix. I am not saying that we don’t attend each other’s congregations or pray together at conferences. Of course we do. But we don’t let our guard down, talk about the tough questions and bring each other into our lives.
In these days of terrorism and occupation, it is not surprising that many of us, if not most, give in to the rhetoric of the media and politicians. We assume the worst of each other and demand that ‘the other’ make concessions or conform to our perspective before being willing to engage in conversation. We want the oil to pretend to be water, and when it doesn’t, we criticize it for being the oil.
As Messianic Jews, we have to struggle not only with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but with all that it means to be an Israeli. Army service, the love we have for our country and our precarious place in Israeli society all come into play. That only gets more complicated when we think about the reality of our Palestinian brothers and sisters. If we were to simply adhere to majority opinion in Israel, we would never even consider being in the same room with people who hold to the politics and theology of Palestinians.
Being a country in crisis, Israel has tended toward the right in recent years. We swing right when we are afraid and left when we aren’t. However, in our recent swing to the right, the left became stigmatized. Terms such as a ‘traitor’ or even ‘anti-Semite’ were attributed to those who self-identify as ‘smolani ’ (i.e., leftist). Every time Jewish people meet or associate with Palestinians, especially for the purpose of bringing unity or equality, they are labeled as leftists. For Messianic Jews trying to feel part of a country that rejects us for our faith, being stigmatized for our political opinions (like being leftist) as well as our spiritual opinions (as followers of Jesus) feels overwhelming. Most Jewish believers in Jesus, therefore, avoid associating with Palestinians, Christian or otherwise.
The situation becomes even more uncomfortable when we reflect on our service in the Israel Defense Forces. The reality of the Middle East requires soldiers. As Messianic Jews we are proud to do our part for the defense of Israel and to contribute to a country that provides the safety our grandparents did not enjoy in Europe during the 1940s. However, when we meet Palestinians, we are meeting those who have only encountered soldiers at checkpoints, patrols and worse. There are inevitable reactions. Young Messianic Jews are left feeling guilty for crimes and actions they did not commit. This level of emotion leaves them feeling annoyed and sometimes pressured.
So many Jewish believers are left saying to themselves, ‘If I don’t want to be categorized as a smolani, and I don’t see why I should feel guilty for serving my country, why would I want to dialogue with my Palestinian brothers and sisters at Musalaha?’ In most cases, that is where it ends; in some cases something moves us on – hope.
The only reason those of us who engage in relationships across boundaries do it is hope. Despite all the guns, knives, hatred and fear, we believe that there is hope for this land and its peoples that can change the hardest heart. That hope is the Gospel of Jesus. His incarnation teaches us to look through the eyes of our enemy in the same way he wore the flesh of humanity. His death tells us to obediently hear the call to put ourselves aside and live for others first. His resurrection shows us that no matter what happens, God can redeem anything.
So how will this change our land? Well, Jesus changes relationships because he is a hydrophilic lipid. In other words he is soap. The only thing that allows oil and water to mix is soap, because soap can attach itself to fatty substances (lipids) and it can attach itself to water (hydrophilic). Yet when soap does this, it does not leave fats or water in the same form that it found them in. Jesus can change our peoples when we are willing to meet him, have him change us through the process of reconciliation and truly mix with the whole body of Christ.
How will this happen practically? I can’t tell you. However I can say that I am excited to see Jesus do it. Please pray for Musalaha and all those in this broken land that want to bring redemption and reconciliation through the powerful message of the Gospel.
-Israeli Musalaha participant