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Reconciliation ... working with the enemy

George Luke talks to Salim Munayer and Lisa Loden about their new book Through My Enemy’s Eyes, seeking to bless Israelis and Palestinians ...

George Luke talks to Salim Munayer and Lisa Loden about their new book Through My Enemy’s Eyes, seeking to bless Israelis and Palestinians

“Our aim was to have a book where our community will be able to look at its history and theology, and ask how we can faithfully follow in the teachings of Jesus,” says Salim Munayer, who has written the book with fellow academic Lisa Loden. “We want to encourage the Church worldwide to ask, ‘How can we be a blessing to both Israelis and Palestinians?’”

Salim is the director of Musalaha, a ministry that seeks to foster reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians (“Musalaha” is the Arabic word for reconciliation). Lisa has been an active member of Musalaha since it began.

“There was nothing that had a Palestinian Christian and a Messianic Jew looking together at the situation we find ourselves in,” says Lisa. “Coming from our two faith communities, we have a commonality in the person of Jesus Christ, yet nothing had been written from our perspective.”

Salim started Musalaha in 1989. “I was teaching Israeli believers in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, and Palestinian ones in Bethlehem,” he recalls. “I was finding myself explaining to Palestinians what Israelis think and to Israelis what Palestinians think. Then the first Intifada happened.

“When we came together initially, we immediately realised that we had a lot of major theological and political differences, and that the only thing we all had in common was our faith in Jesus as a peacemaker. Our mission is to promote reconciliation around the life and teaching of Jesus for the faith community, and bridge-building to the other segments of the community.”

“Reconciliation is a journey,” says Lisa, “and ‘musalaha’ is something that has to begin as a desire in your heart.

“When Salim first began Musalaha, he asked me to come and work with women. Prior to that, I had been very much affected by the difference in the standard of living and the circumstances of life between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. They lived in the same country; they had the same citizenship, they should have the same rights and privileges … but they did not. This affected me very deeply, so I began to look into the issue and study and read. I started attending some left-wing political meetings.

"But God spoke to my heart and said, ‘This is not your way’. It was within the next month that Salim called me and said, ‘Musalaha is beginning; will you come and work with women?’”

Musalaha’s work is challenging at the best of times. But recent events in the Holy Land have only made things that much more difficult for Salim, Lisa and their supporters.

“One of the deepest challenges you face is the pain of seeing the polarisation and withdrawal amongst people,” Lisa says. “There are personal attacks; Salim seems to get the heat while I get the ice: people withdrawing, lowering their eyes and not wanting to talk to you – and you know they’re talking about you behind your back.

"They don’t agree with what you’re doing and they think that you’re naive; that you’re being used as a pawn because you’re involved with Palestinians and will advocate for them and speak with them in places like Britain – or write a book, even. These are the things we face. But we’re committed. We just keep on.”

“Lisa is one of our heroes at Musalaha,” says Salim. “She’s committed to reconciliation, despite the pressure. And yes, our communities expect us – or certain people in our communities expect us – to hate the other. It’s very hard seeing how our communities are being manipulated by politicians and religious leaders.

"So many times, you find yourself as a lonely voice; misunderstood, personally slandered, attacked. Then you ask yourself why they’re doing this and you realise that it’s because your position is threatening to them.”

So what is it that keeps Musalaha going in such trying times?

“It’s simple,” says Salim. “I’m very selfish! To love my neighbour is difficult – but it’s much better than dwelling in misery, self-pity, anger, bitterness and hatred. I want to sleep well at night; not angry, not hateful. Knowing it’s difficult, but that we’re doing the right thing.”

“As you read and understand and walk with God more and more,” says Lisa, “and you feel his heart for people and his love for humanity, you have no other choice. It’s the reality of the kingdom of God. It’s something that you live with, and it increases as you walk with him more and more.”

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