These questions are part of the struggles that Israeli and Palestinian believers must also face. Reconciliation has become a central issue within the body of the Messiah here in the land, and believers are being compelled to deal with it on many different levels. Nineteen years ago, Musalaha (which means reconciliation in Arabic) was established by Salim J. Munayer, PhD when he acted upon his vision to see true peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Since then, an executive board of an equal number of Palestinian and Israeli community and church leaders have led this ministry of reconciliation in taking steps twoards overcoming these mountainous obstacles. It is our belief that Christ’s death and resurrection are the foundation of reconciliation, and that forgiveness and healing can only come through following His example and obeying His word. We hope to emulate and teach Christ’s model of forgiveness, mercy, and love, breaking down the walls of enmity that so easily embitter and ensnare.
The challenge lies in the practical application of such Biblical teaching and truths. Palestinian and Israeli believers, who share a common faith and desire to honor the Word of God, often continue to be separated by cultural misperceptions, language barriers, and resentfulness. The years of conflict between nations have allowed a process of dehumanization and demonization of the “other.” How can people groups, whose images, opinions, and attitudes are so defined by a history of conflict, be reconciled?
First, they must meet one another; and in an area with such complex realities, it is difficult to find common ground that is an appropriate forum for teaching and advancing in the process of reconciliation. There are very few locations that are neutral and easily accessible. In order to solve this problem, Musalaha developed the Desert Encounter, where we take different groups of Palestinian and Israeli youth, young adults, and leaders on a desert journey. Groups in the past have shared camel treks, jeep tours, and hiking trips through the deserts of the Sinai, Negev (in Israel), and Jordan. We have found the desert to be a uniquely neutral atmosphere, where everyone is in the same position, working together to negotiate the hardships of the desert sun or a stubborn camel. The challenges of survival and cooperation provide an excellent occasion for relationships and open communication. Each trip has been a unique experience of cultural and spiritual discovery.
The Desert Encounter was the first fulfillment of Musalaha’s vision to implement the teachings of Jesus in a practical manner. In the last 19 years, we have expanded our projects to include conferences, camps for children, publishing, cultural teaching, and leadership training. We have several programs geared specifically for young adults, youth, and women, and also attempt to reach out to our communities with the message of reconciliation through social service projects in both Israeli and Palestinian areas.
The most recent phase of reconciliation within the ministry of Musalaha is the Bridge Building programs, reaching the Muslim and Jewish communities with the message and methods of bible-based reconciliation. This has been done through Muslim-Christian encounter projects, a sports camp program that is open for everyone, and other similar projects. The common moral values that are shared by all three monotheistic religions serves as a great starting point for opening up these discussions, and the biblical values of tolerance, peace, and love inform all of these projects. Also, in Romans 12:18 we are told “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This includes our neighbors, no matter what religion they ascribe to.
Theological questions can be divisive issues that have much bearing on cultural understanding. Because of the importance of these issues to both the Israeli and Palestinian believing communities, the theology of the Land is one area that Musalaha has emphasized, arranging conferences and seminars on Biblical topics. We have published three books containing articles on the nature of peace, reconciliation, and theology of the Land.
It is our vision and hope that in listening to one another, in understanding each other’s backgrounds and identity, in seeking forgiveness and to forgive, Palestinians and Israelis will build relationships that reflect their faith and bring glory to God and peace to this Land.