After Friday morning worship, at which Munir Kakish, the Pastor of Ramallah Baptist Church, spoke with great energy, the majority of the morning was given over to a presentation by Musulaha, an organisation working for biblical reconciliation in the Holy Land. The two speakers were Evan Thomas from the Messianic Jewish community and Salim Munayer from the Evangelical Palestinian community.
On this day of all days, with the Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas's request for recognised statehood at the United Nations General Assembly, it was timely to hear from two individuals who might well have represented opposing positions speaking as one.
Evan recognised in his opening that the Israel/Palestine situation was an insoluble, intractable conflict-out-of-control. Movingly he related three stories of how he came to be involved in the reconciliation process. The first was the experience of being a soldier at a security point in Gaza. On one occasion he found himself doing what was expressly forbidden: looking into the face of the person whose body was being searched, only to be met with the gaze of a Palestinian Christian brother.
Their presentation contained no easy answers but many valuable insights. They commented on the power of collective memory, noting that the day each year when Israelis celebrate their independence and the formation of a state, the Arab Palestinian community commemorate the day of Great Tragedy. They reflected on the dehumanisation inherent in body searches, and the pull towards the demonisation of the other, adding that when God's brought into the equation things can become considerably worse!
There was the recognition of the reality that the situation is as though the Palestinians and the Israelis are living in one very small house and intermingling is unavoidable. It's always tense, even in the forums within the church.
They drew upon the great reconciliation passages in the scriptures, from Ephesians 2 and 2 Corinthians 5. And they went on to review conflicting theologies. It would have been especially helpful to hear about their process of making peace but even within a generous portion of the morning there wasn't time.
This was a particularly stimulating part of the Council and one that I found especially interesting. Clearly there are no straightforward solutions though there are seeds of hope. Part of the way forward, as exemplified by Musulaha, is that of living together and staying with the pain while recognising the enormous cost that this unity entails.
During the day there were other good things that were brought as information and encouragement, and a chunk of time in the afternoon was given over to seminars. In the evening the whole Council visited the Nazareth Baptist School, where we enjoyed a delicious Middle Eastern BBQ followed with a presentation by the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel. This was interesting but, for me, familiar!