Reconciliation Between Believers in Israel and Palestine

The gospel of Christ is the only real pathway for reconciliation between believers in Israel and Palestine

The gospel of Christ must be at the center of reconciliation.  We are exhorted in Psalm 122:6, “to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”  We must pray for those believers who do forgive because it comes at a cost.  Those on either side who embrace the other side will be shunned and chastised by their own group.  The only hope for true reconciliation is to set aside secular views of peace by submitting to the Prince of Peace.

 

The third Christ at the Checkpoint Conference (CATC) on March 10-14, 2014 in Bethlehem has sparked significant controversy between Palestinian and Messianic believers.  The mission statement of the conference reads: “To challenge evangelicals to take responsibility to help resolve the conflicts in Israel-Palestine by engaging with the teaching of Jesus on the kingdom of God.”  All believers seemingly would embrace such a vision to help resolve the conflicts in Israel and Palestine.

However, the conferences have opened up contentions that have significantly estranged Jewish believers from Palestinian believers.  CATC 2014 organizers assert that the conference has only brought to light the realities of the injustices Israel has inflicted upon the Palestinians.  To many Palestinians, peace can only exist when the injuries are addressed.  Palestinian believers want to be heard by Israel and the world and particularly by American evangelicals.

Those Messianic believers who attended report that they were warmly welcomed and were extended hospitality by the conference organizers.  They were given a fair hearing as they presented Messianic perspectives on theology, politics, and reconciliation.  Conference organizers sincerely desire for the conference to achieve peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

Yet, the reality is that genuine reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis is far more than intellectually understanding either theology or history.  Both Palestinian believers and Messianic believers are committed to Christ as their Savior and affirm their unity in Christ.  Challenges emerge as to what reconciliation means emotionally, personally, and how to experience genuine peace within the Body of our Savior.

Foundational to the barriers between Palestinians and Israeli believers is their identity and the narrative that helps undergird that identity.  Both sides have genuinely been offended and those offenses can be retold as if they had just happened yesterday regardless of how long ago they actually occurred.

For Palestinians, the land was theirs for centuries until the United Nations intervened by voting to partition the land on November 29, 1947.  Immediately, the Jews are said to have destroyed ancient cities and bulldozed homes requiring the Arabs to fight to protect their lands after the establishment of Israel in May 14, 1948.  From the Palestinian viewpoint the UN vote for partition and the war following the establishment was the catastrophe (the Nakba) which consequently made a half million Palestinians refugees.

The “Jewish” narrative focuses on the suffering of the Jews throughout history, focusing on the liquidation of centuries-old Jewish communities in many countries leaving Jews homeless.  The only remedy for anti-Semitism was viewed to be a Jewish homeland in Palestine which allowed for Jews to live as Jews without interference.  The UN partition of Palestine allowed for this Zionist dream to be fulfilled.  Israel, after its independence on May 14, 1948, fought as David against the Goliath of the united Arab nations that surrounded them in order to defend its existence from those who were determined to drive the Jews into the sea.

The Palestinian narrative is that the European nations interfered in granting Israel nationhood at their expense and without their participating in the process.  As a consequence, most Palestinians have suffered the loss of parents, brothers, or family members in the wars with Israel.  Although they condemn Palestinian terrorism, they also understood and sympathized with the motivation of those who have done such acts of terrorism.  To fail to be sympathetic would be to deny their identity as Palestinians.  Israelis must understand their injustices, make some acknowledgment, and where possible, make reparation.  The next step then is forgiveness and reconciliation.

For many Jewish believers, they came to Israel believing that they were called to the State of Israel.  Israel is their identity.  They sincerely believe that the State has dealt with the Palestinians as reasonably as is possible.  The “security fence” has ended the terrorist bombings and is essential to their safety.  Any discussion regarding the legitimacy of the State of Israel is viewed as anti-Semitism and a rejection of the God who called them to Israel.  This is their identity.  Belief in this narrative is core to who they are as Messianic believers.

In order for there to be reconciliation, another identity and narrative must be more compelling than either Palestinian or Jewish narratives.  Identity in God’s Son and His sacrifice which tears down the wall that separates Jews and Arabs must be the primary identity.  Yet Arab believers see themselves as Christians and Messianic Jews resist being called Christians.  To Jews, Christianity is often viewed as anti-Semitic.  The division between the two runs very deep below the surface of normal conversation.

Peace treaties and conferences do not negate long-standing narratives that give identity.  Narratives undergirded by songs, symbols, and celebrations give identity and organize life and behavior. Whenever the wall is referred to either as a “separation fence” or “security fence,” you know where people’s identity lie.  Language matters.  The two groups speak very different languages even though both may speak English to communicate to one another.

Pain creates a deafness to hear the other side’s story of injustice and suffering.  Neither side choses to torment the other.  The decision by the UN to partition Palestine was not motivated by a desire to create conflict between Jews and Arabs.  The decision was not fundamentally a Jewish decision, but rather a vision of the nations to remedy the problem of Jewish suffering and displacement after World War II.  To Europeans, Palestinians were invisible.  The Palestinian people were not considered worthy of determining their own future.  Likewise Jewish suffering is diminished and disregarded when all the problems in Israel and Palestine are because of the “occupation.” Both sides suffer from enormous pain.  Such pain and grief blinds the sufferers from seeing the suffering of the other side.

C. S. Lewis has famously written, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain:  it is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” [1]    Is God speaking to Arabs, Jews, and the world in the suffering of the Middle East controversies?

Most attempts to resolve the controversy focus on seeking justice in light of the pain and suffering both sides have endured.  Is social justice God’s way of reconciliation?  Is there a difference between secular and gospel reconciliation?

Does not secular reconciliation focus on changing temporal circumstances whereas gospel reconciliation is the by-product of reconciliation with God?  We expect the offender to reconcile and make peace with the offended.  Yet, God as the offended party initiates peace by paying the price of enmity placed upon His Son (Ephesians 2:14-17).

Palestinian and Jewish believers must begin with this identity and narrative and forgive.  The believing family in Israel/Palestine is wounded and broken.  Healing begins not merely with the teaching of Jesus but on the priestly sacrifice of our Savior on the cross and the victory of His resurrection over death.  Reconciliation is a gift to be received.  Unity is something to be maintained (Ephesians 4:3).

God has brought the Palestinian and Jewish peoples together as He promised.  Is not the forgiveness offered in the gospel foundational to reconciliation?  Receiving the forgiveness of God no longer allows any of us to see ourselves as victims but restrains our natural bent to vengeance.  Reconciliation with God allows us to let go of the past.

The gospel of Christ must be at the center of reconciliation.  We are exhorted in Psalm 122:6, “to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”  We must pray for those believers who do forgive because it comes at a cost.  Those on either side who embrace the other side will be shunned and chastised by their own group.  The only hope for true reconciliation is to set aside secular views of peace by submitting to the Prince of Peace.

Dr. Douglas W. Kittredge is a minister n the Presbyterian Church in America and is Senior Pastor of New Life in Christ Church in Fredericksburg, Va.

[1] The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis, p. 93.