Musalaha is a non-profit organization that promotes and facilitates reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, based on Biblical Principles of Reconciliation.
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.
What is Musalaha’s summer camp in Bethlehem all about? Is it about serving 85 children with 20 volunteers and 7 interns in 6 days? Is it having fun, playing games, making new friends, and enjoying summer? Sure. But what makes a difference in the lives of the participants that lasts more than a few days?
Summertime is always a season that is eagerly awaited by children all around the world. Summer is a time of rest, fun, swimming and sweets, and full of trying new things. Many children are also given the opportunity to go to summer camps where they are able to participate in fun activities and build new friendships. For those who have attended summer camps or sent their children to them, they understand camp can have a profound and lasting impact on a child’s life.
Easter and Passover are busy times for us in the Holy Land, as they are in most parts of the Church and Jewish communities around the world. This Passover and Easter fell on the same week – but Shireen (Women’s Projects Manager for Palestine) and myself (Hedva, Projects Manager) didn’t spend our time making traditional Easter cookies or looking for the Hametz (the leaven) in our homes this year. Instead, we were asked to attend several conferences and meetings in the United Kingdom.
On Palm Sunday this year, my wife and I went for a meeting, and we found ourselves near the New Gate of Jerusalem. We watched as the estimated 15,000 people made their way into the Old City from the Mount of Olives. The procession was ripe with cheers, the waving of palm branches, and the scout troop band. The atmosphere was lively and joyous. In a way, it reminded me of the joy of the people welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem that we read about in the gospels. People at the time of Jesus, like the people at this Palm Sunday procession, had in the forefront of their minds the realities of their daily life. I’m sure many of them were looking and hoping for relief, salvation from the different afflictions and forms of oppression they were experiencing.
As the time drew near for the public affairs leaders’ seminar, which took place this past weekend in Athens, we at Musalaha began to worry about the mounting tensions in the land. Nonetheless, we continued planning for the weekend meeting. Almost every other day we could hear shooting and saw news of killings. We felt concerned because in the past when things got tense and violence escalated, people withdrew and didn’t want to participate until things quieted down. The participants of our groups face pressure from family and friends not to come meet together with “the other.” The tension and violence in our country continued to escalate to a high level. However, to our joy and encouragement, the members of the group were determined to come and meet with each other, to share and listen to one another.
They were bright, educated, savvy, and well-read. Anyone would wish they were his children, students, or upcoming leaders in his community. However, as we sat together talking, I could sense how frustrated and paralyzed they were on what they could do to bring the necessary change for reconciliation to their communities. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many groups of young upcoming leaders, mostly of the millennial generation, in our community that I’m conversing with about leadership and vision in our society.
I was recently asked to engage with a group of high school principals on the subject of the ultimate other. These principals included Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli men and women who were Muslim, Christian, and Jewish. This group plays a critical role in our society because we entrust them in large degree to educating our children during their formative years. Educators play an important part in influencing the next generation in creating an understanding of the other and in teaching about tolerance.
University students are hard to pin down. For many, their energies are devoted to their studies. They are at the mercy of rigorous course and exam schedules and have too much to do with their limited time.
We at Musalaha considered what would be the best way to utilize the time of these young adults, as many were home on holiday, and where we could help them through this period of their lives. We realized that these young people with their leadership abilities needed direction, support, and training. We planned a 3-day weekend where we would give them the tools for leading others and the framework to put their learned skills into practice. We were delighted with the turnout of more than 40 young people, and even more, the results.
Under a black velvet Jordanian sky choked with stars, 22 people sat together, each one thinking of two nice things to say about the person in the circle whose name they had plucked out of a disposable paper cup.
Some were Muslim, some Christian, some Jewish. Half were Palestinians and half Israelis, but those distinctions were blurred after being together 24/7 for three days. The participants in the Musalaha Community Leaders Desert Encounter, the first in a four-session program spread over 18 months, were almost shocked at how close they felt to one another after such a relatively short time.