By Hilah Halamish
"A new commandment I give you: love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another." (John 13:34)
Apparently, this commandment is much harder than it seems. Because loving our friends or nice people is easy, but when it comes to our enemies what then?
The first emotion I felt the day a pastor asked me if I wanted to go to Holland with the "Musalaha" (reconciliation) group was doubt. Arabs and Jews going together to a different country, in order to represent mutual love and understanding. I’ve seen these "Jews and Arabs" trips before. I know exactly how it works: smiles, hugs, emotional diaries, tearful speeches "we are best friends. Family, really! Me and umm what’s his name again?" All those charismatic speakers that talk about peace, and how we’re all exactly the same and that there isn’t a problem so here’s the deal there is a problem. And it’s mental, social and very spiritual.
The difference between this trip and other trips is that the Arabs are not Muslim, but Christian. That means they believe in Yeshua (Jesus), and that means we have a lot in common since the most important part of our lives is identical. That is what made me eventually decide to go; to see if peace really has a chance, once the separating religious walls have crumbled.
AND WE WERE ALL ON TV!
Before the flight, I found out that a Dutch TV crew would be filming this entire trip, and they chose me to be the representative of Jews in Israel for their documentary. A week before the flight, a meeting was held with all the members of the group and the leaders: Tanass, Shadia and Dana. The cultural and lingual barriers were felt right away. I felt like a part of an astronaut group about to leave on an impossible mission to Mars. When we landed in Amsterdam, I became very ill. I don’t know why. The name of the truly amazing girl that did everything within her power to take care of me is Nivin. She’s an Arab girl from Jerusalem, and we had an unbelievable connection from the beginning.
HOST FAMILIES AND SHARING WITH THE ‘OTHER SIDE’
When we got to our host families, my situation was quite bad. The arrangement was that every host family would have an Arab and a Jew. The name of the Arab I stayed with for the first five days is Lina, and she’s from Bethlehem. She was the representative of the Palestinian Arabs in the documentary. We got used to the family slowly and surely. They were truly lovely people. During those days, when we stayed in Frieslan (in a tiny place called Kollum), we did a lot of activities together different kinds of sports, sailing in pouring rain and thunderstorms, lessons (that were mostly made of questions about the faith, and taught by Tanas), worship songs (which are love songs to God) in different languages, and more.
I think my favorite thing was that we didn’t feel the need to be "politically correct" with each other. We were very honest. We talked about fears, bitterness, and our hate. I remember that Tanas said in one of the meetings that when soldiers go into his house in the middle of the night or when he’s stopped at a checkpoint and isn’t allowed to pass, he is filled with anger towards the Jews. He proceeded, saying that when that happens he calls his best friend, who’s a Jew, and says "right now I hate Jews!" and his friend says "I love you", and everything’s better. It impressed me deeply, but it didn’t seem very realistic.
Near the end of our stay in Kollum, Lina said to me "You know, when I met you I really didn’t like you." "What? We didn’t even talk." "I know, but I thought you have eyes like a soldier at a checkpoint." That sentence, that seemed natural to her, shocked me. Okay, a soldier, big deal. Next year I’m a soldier. But the fact that she said this forced me to step into Lina’s shoes what is a soldier at a checkpoint to her? Fear. And even terror.
A TIME TO HUG AND A TIME TO CONFRONT
When five days of the trip were over, we left for The Hague and I moved to a new family, with a new partner, Nada, who was also from Bethlehem. I admit I protested because I so much wanted to be with Nivin, and here I am again with someone I don’t know. My problem with her was that she was so quiet and polite, and I like bluntness and confrontation. Nivin’s foster sister, Majda (who is the Israeli Arab representative in the documentary), gave me that. We had a few significant and heated arguments, in which each of us spoke of the unfair place she is in within our country and living life in the shadow of fear. At the end of every argument, we hugged, as if saying "it’s just for the sake of arguing. I love you". It was awesome.
In The Hague we did sports activities as well, including an entire day in a sports center: ski, Go- Karting, snowboarding and wall climbing. In one of the lessons, Tanass asked why it is that when we climb it’s so easy for us to trust the person standing on the bottom with our life in his hands, using a rope, which is just a man-made thing. But when it comes to trusting God, the creator of the universe, the Almighty, it’s so hard for us. I thought that was an interesting point.
We also met an artist who came to speak to us about peace. He divided us into groups, gave us some clay and asked us to build something that symbolized peace. We built a tank, a checkpoint, a bomb, a flag, a soldier and a huge white dove lying on the ground with a broken olive branch in her beak, and one folded and bleeding wing. Peace.
In addition, we had a conversation with two Dutch politicians. I didn’t connect to it. I felt that they were basically saying: "everything would be fine in the Middle East if you were like Europe!" That upset me, and I wasn’t the only one. It’s not a 100-year-debate between European countries; it’s a deep tear, going back about 3,000 years, with the expulsion of Hagar and birth of Ishmael. (Genesis 16)
PRAISING GOD IN ENGLISH, HEBREW AND ARABIC
One of the most amazing experiences of the trip occurred on the last night. A traditional church in Holland asked us to run the meeting that night. (I should mention that this trip was the first time I attended church and not congregation.) There were some people from our group that talked about how they got on this trip and shared some of the experiences they went through whilst on it. Tanas gave a message about how we show our love to God ("God is not a Sunday church God. He’s an every day God.") And there was a worship group which I sang in. The worship was incredible. We sang in English, Hebrew, and Arabic (as hard as it was for me to learn the Arab songs) and we just gave it all we had, and it was great. The astonishing thing about God is that as much as you give Him He gives so much more.
At the end of the service, someone named Emma came up to me in tears and told me she had never experienced such an amazing experience with God before that night. She said she truly felt His presence in the church. It was wonderful. She asked me what my name was and when I told her my name was Hilah and explained its origin ("Hallel" praise and worship), she said it suits me perfectly. We exchanged E-Mails and are now in contact.
DEEP AND MEANINGFUL – AND SHOCKING
It was very hard to say goodbye to everyone and go home. It was a deep, meaningful and even shocking experience. I would definitely say that my eyes opened in many aspects, and I also discovered it’s rather easy to love your "enemy" when you have God’s love in your life. I can’t even describe the meaning or effect that this has had on me. The deep connections with the "other side" that still stand today.
The expression of the reconciliation success to me was actually after we came back. There was a bombing in Be’er Sheva that took many lives. I was angry. Hurting. I connected to the internet and was talking to an Arab girl from the trip, and before I said anything she typed "about the bombing- I’m sorry." That was a simple, selfless act of love. I was truly moved. Maybe this will sound like a cliché to you, but sincerely: love breaks down all walls. Really.
And the walls, in this case, are big and strong, and each day there is another row of bricks added to them, but it’s possible to break them down. And it’s possible only through God because our nationality as Arabs or Jews becomes trivial compared to our nationality in heaven.
"Not by might; not by power; but by my Spirit, says the Lord" (Zac. 4:6)
Date published: 05/10/04 at 20:20 on www.ignite.cd