The Holy Land is an unbelievably intense place, especially when it comes to identity. It seems that almost everyone is dealing with identity issues at some level, in a society that attempts to categorize everyone, to put and keep you in a box. Those who arrive from abroad without an identity issue, are usually thrown very quickly into an identity crisis, as they discover that they are constantly being defined and judged by others. The labeling begins the first time you meet, as people put limits on you according to who you are, where you come from, and what you believe in. As someone from the outside it is difficult to find your place and role here, and it is for this reason that Musalaha established the Third Side group.
Some of us have foreign passports or visas to Israel; others have citizenship and even an Israeli/Palestinian passport. Most of us have lived here longer than in our home country, and we want this to be our home. This is where our husbands, children, family, work or friends are, and this is where we are trying to establish ourselves and set our roots. But we are not Jewish or Palestinian; and anyone who is not Jewish or Palestinian is not very welcome or respected in this area; particularly not by the governments that, at various times, make our lives difficult and make us feel unwelcome. On top of that we are believers in the Messiah, another mark against us. It is assumed that we have come to convert everyone to Christianity, and that our religion is the bloodiest religion (legacy of the Crusades). Popular misconceptions about Christians are so widespread they are the rule, and not the exception. Some of us feel the rejection from the societies around us. Sometimes this rejection is so strong that we either overcompensate by becoming more "Jewish" than the Jews, or more "Palestinian" than the Palestinians, or we pull away from the locals, and often develop an attitude of bitterness, born of the rejection. In any case, we miss a unique opportunity to be a witness of our faith and values, and a bridge in the conflict. Musalaha has recognized the unique role that women with foreign background can have in building bridges between the two communities, as well as their need to become comfortable with their own identity, and this is the dual purpose of this group.
As someone coming from outside with different values and views and without being directly involved in the ongoing conflict, I can convey a different and sometimes more neutral and less emotional perspective. People are more tolerant towards me than they would be towards someone within their community who swims against the stream by challenging them and their attitudes. Everyone expects me to go against the stream. Therefore they are sometimes willing to listen.
But in order to me to be a tool of change, and to aid in the reconciliation of others, I first need to be reconciled with my own identity and rejection, and I need to understand the process of reconciliation. On our last retreat, the Third Side group studied the stages of reconciliation, in order to deal with the draining rejection and to understand what others are going through. This process includes dealing with our bitterness and anger, as well as forgiveness and seeking the truth.
It was an eye opener.
One woman in our group came from a very complex background: she is American, but grew up with Jewish traditions and married an Israeli Palestinian. She now lives within the Israeli Palestinian community here, and the members of her community, especially the children and their parents in her children's school, constantly make fun of her because of her Arabic (her second language) and her faith (she is a minority Christian). All this makes her feel very rejected and causes her to pull away, and to isolate herself from the community. So when her daughter was invited to a Christmas party with her class before the holidays, she told her that they were not going. She knew it would mean three hours of degrading comments, and she didn’t think she could handle it. As we went through the stages she suddenly realized that she was missing out on an opportunity to witness to these people because she was withdrawing from her process of reconciliation with the locals. God does not want us to hide away; Gods wants us to overcome the rejection, stop trying to suppress our personal identity in order to make others happy, and to simply dwell in who we are and who God created us to be. Our purpose is to reach out to those who reject us, love them as God loves us, and bring them into a process of reconciliation. So she went to the party. She went to make peace.
This story is a good example of the situation facing many of the women in our Third Side group. We have to be careful not to become a passive observer, or people pleaser, because then we easily overlook the opportunities to reach out to both sides of the conflict, that come with our unique position. There is great freedom in being able to identify with, and love people on both sides. Through this process we also experience the healing that reconciliation brings, for we have also been wounded by this conflict, and need to cleanse ourselves of bitterness and hate. God did not bring us here for in order to let rejection kill our spirit, or for us to change ourselves into someone we are not. God put us here to make a change, to act as a bridge between the two conflicting sides, and to act as agents of reconciliation. If we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by our rejection, we cannot be used for His purpose. We cannot stay on the defensive, but must push forward with the healing message of the Messiah’s love. For we are put here to show the love of the Father, the sacrifice of the Son, and the peace of the Holy Spirit, and this we are commanded to do.
Musalaha Women’s Project Coordinator