We are not people of despair. We are hostages of hope.
-Dr. Evelyne Reisacher
The first day of 2016 brought thirty women from the Bethlehem and Jerusalem areas together for a weekend at the Dead Sea. This was a brand new journey with Musalaha, one of discomfort, new obstacles, and the serious self-examination that comes with the work of reconciling oneself with her “other.” For Musalaha, this was a time of groundbreaking as we led the Zait group on beginning the work.  Descending to the lowest point on earth, the sun broke over the Dead Sea and three rainbows emerged as we drove along the shoreline.
A year ago, Israeli-Jewish women, mostly non-religious, approached Musalaha because they felt unable to effect change on their own and were desperate to “do something” following the events of the 2014 war in Gaza. They wanted to meet with Palestinians, to know them, and to try and find a solution together. Their leader is a teacher, who knew that among her educator friends are those who share her heart for coming together to seek reconciliation.
This teacher has a Palestinian-Muslim Jerusalemite friend who also wants to break out of the stagnation and move forward, with or without her community’s leadership. She is a principal of a highly disadvantaged school in a Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem. After agreeing to be involved with Musalaha, she carefully chose a group of teachers from her school to participate in a new women’s group.
Musalaha staff, knowing that the multi-religious nature of this new group would present challenges, recruited Palestinian-Christian women with experience working in reconciliation. They are from the West Bank and form the third part of the group.
Many of the women arrived with open minds and hearts, a willingness to listen, and a desire to be heard by the other side. After the group learned about the concept of conflict from Musalaha’s Curriculum of Reconciliation, the Palestinians and Israelis split into groups. They thought through the concepts, discussed critically, and then presented to the other side: how they feel in the conflict and in society; how they think they are seen by the other side; and what they want from the other side. When we broke for lunch, many expressed that they wanted to discuss these same questions in mixed groups, to be able to talk personally with the other side
Later, they had the opportunity to do this. One Palestinian-Muslim Jerusalemite shared her desire for recognition. The group listened as she told of how her husband lived in Europe for many years, and has an internationally recognized driver’s license. He can drive in Paris or in New York, but he cannot drive in Jerusalem. His legal identity card does not permit it. This woman works, takes care of her children, and does all of the driving—because her husband is not legally permitted to drive. This extends to his freedom of movement as well. When they go through one of the many checkpoints here, he must get out of the car and walk through, while she and the children drive through the checkpoint. She wants her whole family to be recognized in the same way, so that they can always be together, without fear of separation. When she concluded, the room was thick with emotion, and many of the Jewish women who were unfamiliar with the situation had further questions about legal status and checkpoints.
Walking to dinner I asked an Israeli-Jewish woman how she felt. She replied, “What they are experiencing is terrible, but we are in despair.” The pain of the other side was plain on her face. She was up against it in a way that she had never been before. But she was also despairing for her own side, feeling like her beliefs about how to live with Palestinians are not recognized by her government.
Musalaha does not work to “fix” things for people. There are Musalaha participants who have been on their own journeys for years, yet they still have questions, doubt, guilt and ongoing pain that come from living in an intractable conflict. Reflecting on this, I thought about the three rainbows that met us upon our arrival at the Dead Sea. Three rainbows seemed perfectly fitting for the women coming from three disconnected segments of society and three religious backgrounds. All of these things—God’s promise in his rainbow, his creativity in the sea, and his bringing together women who live side by side without knowing each other—they all seem like deep mysteries, ones that are worth exploring.
My wish for this group of women is that they would believe, “We are not people of despair. We are hostages of hope.” That they would feel held hostage by hope for their futures and the futures of their children. That they would not forget the faces they came to truly see, some for the first time, and the eyes they were finally able to fully look into. That they would feel they cannot go backwards into the paralysis of not knowing each other. We are on different sides with different commitments to working towards unity, but if we can be united in our hope, I believe musalaha is possible.
By Musalaha Publications Department
 Each of our new women’s groups chooses a name for their group. This group chose the name Zait (olive) group.