Musalaha is a non-profit organization that promotes and facilitates reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, based on the life and teaching of Jesus.
Musalaha, which means "reconciliation" in Arabic, was founded in 1990. Since its creation, an executive board of Palestinian and Israeli community and church leaders has led this ministry of reconciliation in taking steps towards unity in our society.
In times like this, it takes a conscious effort not to give in to frustration and depression even for adamant peace optimists. I took comfort in my daughter’s shared experiences and allowed my heart to fill with hope as camps like this allow Israeli and Palestinian children from different backgrounds to connect and see their neighbor in a new light, or even for the first time at all. Let us be encouraged and continue to invest in a new generation of peacemakers.
Two years ago a group of Musalaha’s Young Adults travelled to Ireland for a reconciliation encounter and to learn from from the conflict in Ireland. During their trip, Board Member Lisa Loden, who was leading the trip, and a few others were invited one evening to join the Bangor Missionary Convention taking place at the same time.
Musalaha camps are open to all children, from any ethnic and religious background. As we have increased the number of camps that we host we have received a greater diversity in the demographic makeup of both the campers and the leaders. This has been an exciting development and we are grateful for this opportunity to bring a wider range of children together to meet one another. Musalaha’s camps are also becoming known in new cities and villages, with various groups and organizations inviting us to their communities. Due to this demand, this year we decided to host two weeks of camp in Bethlehem instead of one.
Yes, there are catastrophic traumas that can kill a person. However, there is always hope. There is always a possibility for growth. We will not forget our traumas, but there can be a beauty that comes after an intense pain– and together, as a community, we help each other grow and heal.
The group participants felt that we had become like a family and not just a group. We created a WhatsApp texting group, and we have been chatting almost daily, updating each other about our lives. We have planned to meet for coffee and kanafeh, an Arabic dessert. I can say that this trip achieved its goal in that we have succeeded in forming a strong group. I look forward to all the things we can do together in Palestinian society, and the ways that we can influence our family and friends to get to know their Muslim or Christian neighbors more. What we discovered in the desert will not stay there, but will spread through us to our communities.
Two leaders from the group had known each other in the past and there was an unresolved problem between them. It was a coincidence that they met again in this group. In the initial stages of the trip they were avoiding each other. However, during an icebreaking activity one of them picked his old friend’s name. He asked his friend to forgive him and he apologized. We were all amazed to see this! Then they hugged each other in front of the whole group. After four days together, they really strengthened their relationship.
This is the essence of Musalaha for me. Humans enjoying each other’s company that would never have met under normal Israeli circumstances. To pursue those friendships and build bridges across our cultural and political differences I’ll gladly step out of my comfort zone. Again and again.
I asked the ladies, "Who are we?" Several answers came quickly: "Children of God," "Servants," "We are a witness of God's love when we love each other"….Ah, now here's a key. WHEN we LOVE EACH OTHER we are a witness of God's love and His desire to reconcile the world to Him. God has called us as witnesses to be connected. So I asked another question, "This is important to know here in this place, but what happens when you go back to your community and you're pulled into your national corners by others? What do we do then?" Several women said they tell their neighbors and friends, “I am uncomfortable with your pressure and feel that you are wrong. We are the same, we are family." Another answered "I am commanded by God to love everyone. No exceptions."
Around and within the people of Jerusalem and Bethlehem today, there exist obstacles: physical, emotional and psychological, ideological and theological, simple and complex. The women in Musalaha’s multi-ethnic/religious Zayt group, now running for over a year, can rattle off more than a handful of these obstacles without giving it much thought. Some overlap between Palestinians and Israelis and some are distinct for each group. When the group met in March to discuss these obstacles the women were able to share with a higher level of listening and openness than in previous meetings. It was one of those times where everyone present showed up in an authentic way, were willing to share painful experience and listen to experiences from the other side that challenge their identity.
With these things in mind, how should the people of faith respond? For the believer in Jesus, it is necessary to look at his teachings on peace. The challenges he confronted are similar and sometimes even worse than our own, yet he presented a catalytic way of dealing with violence, hatred, and enmity. It is catalytic because it does not encourage retaliation or complacency. The way of the cross of Christ is the way of patient, faithful, self-sacrificing obedience. We remember the words of Jesus as he turns the way of the world on its head: "I tell you: Love your neighbors and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:44-45)