I’m now home after 12 days of listening intently (morning, afternoon, and evening) to two peoples of three faiths: Palestinians and Israelis who are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. I was travelling with the Working Group on Middle East Policy, which will report to the 41st General Council in 2012 on how the United Church can contribute to a just peace in the Middle East. We were joined by two members of the Theology and Inter-Church Inter-Faith Committee. It was a privilege to travel with such faithful, wise, and dedicated pilgrims!
The stories that have the tightest hold on my heart are those of individuals trying to live their lives with integrity and peace in the midst of relentless tension and conflict. These individuals are doing the hard work to make peace with themselves, to make peace with “the other,” and to make peace with their God.
One evening we met with two women, Tal and Aysha. Tal is an Israeli woman and Aysha is Palestinian. Each has lost family members at the hands of their “enemies.” Tal’s sister was killed in a suicide bombing. Aysha lost her brother to an Israeli attack. The stuff of everyday life in Israel and Palestine would have Tal and Aysha become committed enemies.
But they are now friends as a result of doing the hard work of making peace personally, in community, and beyond. They met through an amazing organization known as the Parents Circle–Families Forum, committed to planting seeds of truth-telling and reconciliation.
With tender hearts and tears they told us about the deaths of their loved ones and the healing that has become possible, facilitated through retreats and workshops at places such as Neve Shalom, a centre we also visited that is committed to bringing Arabs and Israelis together.
These remarkable women shared compelling wisdom that evening. At one point Tal said, “I don’t know much about politics. But it seems to me that if Aysha and I can talk with one another and become friends—given all that we have lost—then politicians should be able to talk with one another.”
What a challenge.
The most oft-repeated sentence of this trip was “It’s complicated.” True, and yet Tal and Aysha seem to have found their way to the heart of healing.
Theirs is one of many diverse stories of people taking courageous, creative action to meet extraordinary challenges in Israel-Palestine. Each brings her or his own perspective and calling, and I’ve returned with a sense of deep hope. As my long-time friend Nuha Khoury told me at her workplace at the International Centre in Bethlehem, “Please take hope home with you, not a picture of despair—because we are people of hope!”
At every turn over the past two weeks, Palestinians and Israelis challenged us to do hope-filled work of peace and justice in Canada. So I bring this challenge home with me to share with you. What healing is required in your community and how are you doing the kind of work that Tal and Aysha are doing in their homeland?