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.
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)
When visiting Canterbury Cathedral in sixth grade during a school trip, I could never have imagined that one day I’d find myself in the West Bank, in a room full of local women sharing about reconciliation with the Archbishop’s wife. However, life throws funny surprises at you sometimes, especially in this part of the world, so this is exactly what happened in early May when I was asked to join a diverse group of Musalaha women from Israel and Palestine for an important meeting.
For Good Friday, our family attended the service at the Church of the Resurrection as it is called in Arabic, or as it is known in English, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem. This was an amazing experience where we met people from all around the world with different traditions, including Greek Orthodox, Copts, Syriacs, Ethiopians, and Roman Catholics, each praying in their indigenous language. Though it was a bit chaotic with the thousands there that day, each with their strict procedures for prayer and procession, it was a beautiful mosaic reflecting the diversity of the Christian community.
We at Musalaha are always looking for new opportunities to share our learning with new segments of society. In recent months, I have received new requests to share about Musalaha’s work of leading Israelis and Palestinians on the journey of reconciliation. One of these invitations was to teach in a unique training program involving Israeli school principals from Muslim, Christian and Jewish backgrounds, coordinated by the Shalom Hartman Institute.
This year, we used our Annual Women’s Conference to introduce as many new women as possible to the need for reconciliation. We proposed an idea to our experienced participants to bring a friend, acquaintance, and ideally someone younger than them, so that we could pass on our hope to the next generation.