Palestinian Territories: Update from Musalaha, Young Adult Desert Encounter

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Hello Friends,

Merry Christmas from Musalaha! I want to wish you all a happy holiday season, and update you on some of Musalaha's most recent work. We are thankful for all of God's many blessings, and want to ask you to remember us in your prayer, and to remember to ask the Prince of Peace to bring about the peace of Jerusalem.

Below is a report on our Young Adult Desert Encounter that took place in September, as well as a report on the Follow up meeting that took place at the begining of this month.

God bless you and keep you during this blessed time,

Salim J. Munayer
Musalaha Director

Young Adult Desert Encounter 2007 Report

There is something about the desert which is just lovely, it strips you of all worries. Anything around can excite you, such as water, solitude in thought and partnership in the experience! This causes a thirst for the inner feelings to be expressed to those around you, and a longing to hear the others’ story. - Desert Encounter participant

In September, Evan and I took a group of young adults, both Palestinian and Israeli, on a Desert Encounter. It was an especially rewarding trip because of the quick progress that was made. All groups take awhile to become comfortable with each other, and at times struggle with adopting an attitude of empathy and understanding towards each other. This group, however, was especially keen on listening to each other, and trying to understand and empathize with each other. Once you take on this attitude, true reconciliation becomes possible, because you can, for the first time, see the conflict from the perspective of the other side. This tolerant and enlightened approach is observable from some of the quotes from participants. One Palestinian participant had this to say, “Sometimes soldiers at a checkpoint are obliged to do what they do, and not because they choose to.” An Israeli participant added, “For us Jews, coming back to the land in 1948 was our biggest dream coming true, just a miracle. But I know that for the Palestinians ’48 was a nightmare.” The value of hearing, first-hand from people on the other side is incalculable. One participant said that hearing stories from the other side is indispensable because “…we have no interaction with the other side, we dehumanize them.” The effect is that it, “…brings it to my heart, and puts flesh, bone and spirit to it unlike the news and media in general.”

The Biblical teaching for the trip was also an important aspect. Our theme was ‘Standing on Holy Ground’ and we studied the story of the Burning Bush, and focused on the Biblical principles of reconciliation. The participants had to act out the drama of Moses’ encounter with the Burning Bush, the desert location provided a perfect backdrop for this story. Our Biblical studies drew mainly from 1 John ch. 4 and Ephesians ch. 2, both of which are chapters rich with material that applies to reconciliation.

The whole group was attentive to the teaching and eager to engage in conversation about it. They were in fact, eager to push forward with the reconciliation process and begin discussing difficult issues. This was encouraging in many ways, for example, it shows that they already felt comfortable enough with each other to tackle these topics head-on. It also shows that the message of reconciliation had resonated with them, and they were ready to advance past merely getting to know each other and building friendship. Plus, they managed to cover all the major topics, and were exactly right in identifying the issues of Identity and the question of the Land as potential points of conflict.

As these issues arouse, Evan and I had to try and bring them back, and steer them away from the most challenging issues for, instead promoting discussion that focused on building the relationships and creating common ground. We certainly didn’t want to discourage them, and in fact found great joy in the fact that they were brave enough to face serious challenges. However from experience we know that reconciliation is a long process, and must be handled with care or all the progress can be lost in a flash of anger. It was important that they be equipped with the tools needed to facilitate their dialogue on difficult topics, before they begin their discussion. Of course this is only a temporary phase, if the real issues are never dealt with, no true reconciliation is possible.

This group is headed in the right direction. They have met since our return from the desert, both personally and for a follow up meeting in December (see second report), designed to continue to aid in the establishment and strengthening of relationships, and to begin with the second stage of the reconciliation process, which is talking about the sensitive, and potentially divisive issues. Because of the foundation of friendship they established in the desert, they can now move forward from a position of love for each other, understanding, and mutual respect. With these things as their starting point, their success is possible, an encouraging thought as they are the future leaders of their respective communities.

Young Adult Follow Up Meeting on Desert Encounter – Report

The process of reconciliation that Musalaha has designed and has used since its founding, is made up of various parts. However one of the most central elements of the process is the follow up meeting. It is important because it ensures that the progress made in all other stages of reconciliation is not lost, and keeps the process from coming to a halt. For while all the stages are necessary, and are designed to compliment each other, the purpose of the follow up meetings is to make sure that all change is long lasting. Musalaha has no interest in providing participants with a chance to engage in temporary tolerance or polite conversation that avoids all real issues. Real change and reconciliation is the goal, which is never easy, but commanded by God and well worth the effort.

In our first follow up meeting since we took a group of Israeli and Palestinian young adults on a desert encounter trip in September, we saw positive signs. We met on the 1st of December 2007 in Talitha Kumi in Beit Jala for a time of fellowship and rededication to the reconciliation process. Our turnout was very encouraging in spite of university final exams which prevented a number of Palestinian participants from attending. Even more encouraging was what the participants had to say.

They were asked the question “What happened when you came home from the desert trip?” and the answers were as informative as they were inspirational. Not surprisingly participants from both sides encountered cynicism and skepticism from people when they tried to explain what they had encountered in the desert. But their comments also demonstrate that they were clearly moved by their experience, and changed in a positive way that will help them on their path towards reconciliation. One of the Israeli participants said that he had experienced a lot of, “change in the way I see the conflict, it’s become more personal. It’s no longer “us” and “them”; it’s no longer two groups. I cannot see it like that anymore. Now it has become about individuals…People were cynical when I went home, they said to me: “You think you can solve this impossible conflict?” But I returned with more inner peace, I am more reconciled, and I tried to explain it to people.” A Palestinian participant shared a similar experience, “I told my friends when I returned that I was with Israelis and they were surprised that I had spent time with Israelis and Jews. But I told them that I had learned about the other views, especially that of a soldier in the Israeli army. They said that conversation won’t change anything, but we can start with individuals, because everyone is need of change.”

Appropriately, the teaching at the follow up was on the topic “Hindrances to Reconciliation”. In spite of hindrances, the participants remain steadfast in their desire to address difficult and divisive issues, as well as to try to change their own communities. The group made a decision to continue with the program of reconciliation, and attempt to reach out to their own societies and try to influence them in a positive way. They have already learned that this is a difficult task, however because of the personal and spiritual experience they had together, it is entirely possible. Their focus in on the long term, and it will be exciting to see how they develop as a group.