Palestinian Territories: Musalaha Update, February 2008

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Dear Friends,

Greetings from Jerusalem! We are slowly starting to warm up, coming out of an unusually cold winter, (with snow!) Now spring is on its way, and with it, growth. Much has happened since our last update, so we wanted to let you read in greater detail about one of the Musalaha events that took place recently, and also ask for your prayer for our upcoming activities. Without your prayer and support, none of our work would be possible, so we ask that you share with us in our reconciliation endeavor, and praise God for his continual blessings.

May God keep you all well,

Salim J. Munayer

Musalaha Director

The Limits of Love

We are all guilty of collective punishment. This is a serious allegation, as collective punishment is condemned by the Fourth Geneva Convention, and classified as a war crime. Yet we are all complicit in it, either consciously or subconsciously, and all guilty of causing the dangerous consequences that it results in.

In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the term ‘collective punishment’ is used quite frequently, so it is important to define it clearly. Collective punishment means punishing a whole group of people, for the actions of some of the members of the group, regardless of whether or not they are responsible for the offense. In a recent Haaretz article, Bradley Burston noted how both Israelis and Palestinians make use of collective punishment, and how the innocent residents of Gaza, and of cities like Sderot, are the ones who suffer as a result of it. For the majority of Gazans, living confined in squalid conditions, often without food, water, heating, and ever fearful of Israeli military strikes, it is clear that they are suffering because of the actions of others, such as Hamas attacks against Israel that they had no part in. Their situation was recently made far worse by the Israeli closure, or siege, that even further limited their access to the bare essentials needed to survive.

For Israelis living in Sderot, and other cities that lie within firing range of Gaza, the situation is not much better. They are daily harassed by rockets launched at them indiscriminately, which causes untold physical, psychological, and financial damage. They live paralyzed by fear, many of them are unable to work, children are kept from school, and the sound of the warning sirens (and the sprint to the bomb shelter that it entails) has become a part of their daily routine. Many have moved from Sderot, either because of the security risk, or because they can no longer find work and support their families, as many factories and businesses have left the city. All this they suffer from Palestinian attacks, not because they are directly responsible for what the people of Gaza suffer, but because they are the closest, most convenient target.

However the blame for this situation lies not only on the shoulders of Hamas, or the Israeli army, but also on the shoulders of the victims. For, as Burston wrote, “Collective punishment is abhorrent. It is morally reprehensible. It is functionally self-defeating. It destroys the moral fiber of those who order it, practice it, countenance it, turn a blind eye to it. This may explain why the victims of collective punishment may find themselves resorting to its use.” Indeed, many on the Israeli side ask ‘Why should we provide food and electricity to the very people attacking us?’ On the Palestinian side many claim, ‘All Israelis are guilty, because they are all soldiers at one time or another.’ These sorts of statements, (in addition to being factually incorrect) justify collective punishment, and serve to dehumanize the ‘Other’ side. We forget that we are actually talking about real people just like us, because it is easier to group them all together, label them as ‘Israelis’ or ‘Palestinians’, and blame them all for our misfortune. When we adopt this attitude, we are guilty of collective punishment. “Crimes against humanity are crimes against humanity. The victims of crimes against humanity never “had it coming to them” as we might persuade ourselves to believe.”

We are all capable of this, especially when we feel hurt or threatened. Even people who profess humanistic love for mankind can fall into this cycle of pain and reaction, where we are dehumanized, and then we dehumanize others. The reason for this is that we as humans are unable to love perfectly, incapable of demonstrating what Henri Nouwen calls ‘God’s first love.’ This love is “unconditional and unlimited” unlike our very conditional, and limited “broken and very fragile” second love. In spite of our protestations to the contrary, along with our human love, “there is always the chance of rejection, withdrawal, punishment, blackmail, violence, and even hatred.” This is because of the “darkness that never completely leaves the human heart.” Try as we may, we cannot love with God’s perfect, first love, because in order to do so means displaying all of the characteristics of love described in I Corinthians 13:4-7, all of the time. No one is always patient, kind, humble ect. Only God is able love this selflessly. This fact, however, does not excuse complacency. True, our love is “only a broken reflection of the first love”, but thankfully, “the first love is offered to us by a God in whom there are no shadows.” If we strive towards this perfect first love, we can see its influence on our lives. Only by tapping into God’s love are we able to reverse the trend of dehumanization, because it forces us to see each other as God sees us: as humans.

In the beginning of February this year, Musalaha took a group of about 30 Palestinian and Israeli youth leaders to the Dead Sea in Jordan, for a youth leader’s training, and reconciliation conference. The youth leadership training was taught by Yoel Goldberg, an Israeli, who used his extensive experience as a youth leader to make his message clear. The focus was on communication skills as a leader, the holistic nature of youth work (dealing with the spiritual, but also the physical, mental, and social issues that the youth face), and understanding the enormity of the task, and the responsibility that comes along with it. He also lectured on the structure of the church, and where the youth group and youth leader should fit within this structure. The discussion, networking, and idea-sharing that went on throughout the conference was very beneficial to all the youth leaders, and the fellowship made it fun.

The reconciliation training was led by George Filmon, a Palestinian Israeli with significant experience in both youth work, and reconciliation activities. His teaching was on the Stages of Reconciliation, and he sought to bring the group past the first stage where people are just getting to know each other and building trust, to the second stage where the discussion of real issues and the voicing of real grievances takes place. One of the activities that was meant to bring about these discussions and issues was taken directly from the news headlines, and demonstrated well, the process of dehumanization that accompanies collective punishment.

The activity was a mock hearing, before the United Nations, from the perspective of two families in shockingly similar circumstances. One was an Israeli family from Sderot, a husband, wife, and child, and the other a Palestinian family from Gaza, also consisting of a husband, wife, and child. These parts were acted out by 6 of the Israeli and Palestinian participants. The twist was that the rest of the Palestinian participants were given the task of representing the Israeli family before the U.N. Likewise the Israeli participants had to present the case of the Palestinian family. In order to do so, both groups had to talk with the family they were assigned to represent, and to ask probing questions, in order to really and truly understand their situation.

This led to some intense discussions, and some tense moments, as opposing political opinions rose to the surface, thinly covered up by the theatrical, fictional nature of the exercise. For instance, both groups began their questioning by, in essence, questioning the legitimacy of the families connection with where they live. Both the family from Gaza and from Sderot had to ‘prove’ that they had lived in Gaza, and Sderot for a long time, and had not recently arrived. This mutual scrutiny, and the symmetry of the situation that both families faced, seemed a fitting summery of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole.

But it was remarkable to see that as much as they questioned each other, they also began to understand each other, and seemed instinctively to know what the solution to the problem would be. Hearing from the other side about their suffering had a big effect on everyone involved in this activity, because it gave them a face, a name, and a friend to identify with the faceless, nameless mass of ‘Israelis’ or ‘Palestinians’. They began to see each other as humans, thus reversing the dehumanization process. When asked about the activity, a Palestinian participant simply stated “I was in their place, I understood.” For one of the Israelis it was a very thought-provoking exercise, and she claimed, “I never thought about the closure (the Israeli closure of the Gaza strip), or the daily life of those living under it. Now I had a chance to think about it.” The need to partake of God’s love was clear for them. Another Palestinian participant said it was sad to see the “suffering on both sides” which was “far from God’s will.” Finally, an Israeli participant stated “We look for someone to blame, but this situation will continue until both sides turn to God.” This is true, specifically, turning to God’s love that alone enables us to see each other as people, and avoid physical and/or subconscious collective punishment, and the dehumanization that it entails.

This conference certainly did not solve the conflict, or even truly reflect the complexities of the situation. But it did bring together these participants, and gave them a glimpse of the reconciliation that is possible when we can see each other as people, rather than as enemies, and try to understand each other’s situations. This is only possible with God’s first love, for our human attempts at it will always fail. Luckily, we are offered this chance, for “Knowing the heart of Jesus and loving him are the same thing…And when we live in the world with that knowledge, we cannot do other than bring healing, reconciliation, new life, and hope wherever we go.”

Written by Joshua Korn

Musalaha Publishing Manager

Upcoming Musalaha Events

Women’s Conference – Aqaba, Jordan

In the end of March, 27th-31st, all the women’s groups will meet again, in Aqaba Jordan for further training in reconciliation. This conference will follow up on the last meeting, which dealt with hindrances, and will cover overcoming hindrances to reconciliation. The teaching will be done by Israeli and Palestinian women from the groups. Please pray for safety in travel, and that the women will be able to come, leaving aside their busy lives filled with work, families, children and more, and be able to focus on this chance for true reconciliation.

Youth Desert Trip – Arava, Israel

In late April, 21st-24th, Musalaha will take a team of around 40 Israeli and Palestinian youth to the desert for a time of spiritual renewal, relationship building, and reconciliation activities. This annual trip is highly anticipated by the youth who have heard about it from their peers, and is always a great success, filled with fun (camel rides, hikes, ect), praise, and meaningful reconciliation activities. Please pray for safety for these youth and their leaders, and that God will bring them together as a united group, ready to influence their communities in a positive way, and give Him all the praise.

Leaders Reconciliation Workshop

Since November 2007, Musalaha has been conducting a monthly leaders reconciliation workshop in Talitha Kumi, Beit Jala. It is a course designed for leaders and potential leaders of Musalaha actives, to further their knowledge of the theoretical, theological, and philosophical dynamics behind the reconciliation process. Please pray that God will continue to bless this course, and that the leaders will be encouraged and strengthened through it.

Contribution Addresses:

Contributions to Musalaha can be sent to Musalaha directly, or to the following organizations in the USA and Europe. Please write the checks to the name of the organization (e.g. The Andrew Christian Trust), and in a letter designate the funds to Musalaha.

P.O. Box 52110
Jerusalem, 91521

Reconciliation Ministries
P.O. Box 238
Medina, WA 98039-0238 D-79541

CH – 4153 Reinach
BL 1
PC – Kto. 40-33695-4

Hauingerstasse 6
D – 79541 Loerrach
Kto. 1017730
Sparkasse Loerrach (BLZ 68350048)

The Andrew Christian Trust
Rockwood, Storth Road
Sandside, Milnthorpe
Cumbria LA7 7PH
Registered Charity Number: 327845

Contribution can also be made online through PAYPAL on our webside: www.musalaha.org

Thank you