Monday, July 7, 2008

Reconciliation: the Long, Long Road

This is from our new friends as MUSALAHA, whose goal is "reconcilation", certainly not "popular" in the media, and not easy to wrap your arms around. But here is a full-orbed discussion of what it will take for Israelis and Palestinians to move ahead instead of backward. John Kleinheksel (FOIP)

Where Truth, Justice, Mercy, and Peace Meet

"Truth and Mercy have met together,

Justice and Peace have kissed."

~ Psalms 85:10 ~

How can we deal with difficult and divisive issues such as truth, or justice, as they relate to the process of reconciliation? This is the challenge that faces all who attempt to work towards reconciliation. Musalaha has developed a strategy of first building up relationships, and then dealing with these issues. This personal interaction is widely recognized as essential to reconciliation. In the words of John Paul Lederach, "People experience deep pain, turmoil, and loss. In response, they build layers of protection and insulation…However, the work of reconciliation calls for relationships and a journey through those layers of isolation" (John Paul Leaderach, The Journey Towards Reconciliation, Herald Press, 1999, p. 63)

In recent Musalaha events and activities, the topics for discussion can be controversial ones, such as historical narratives, or identity, which is a good, positive sign of progress. However, the problem is that often the way people deal with these issues causes pain and hurt, and can produce more problems than it solves. This is why, in our most recent conference, a Women's Conference that was held in Aqaba Jordan in late March 2008, Psalms 85 was taken as our guide, to lead us down the hard road to reconciliation. This trip was made possible thanks to support by Open Doors.

Truth, justice, mercy, and peace are four powerful concepts that we hear invoked again and again in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially within a believing context. Many people focus on one or two of them at a time, but do not see how all four of them can coexist. Very few of us understand that to achieve true reconciliation, all four must be present, hanging in perfect balance and harmony. Certainly this is not possible to achieve fully and completely, since we humans are flawed and unable to achieve perfection. It is also true that our attempts will require a lot of effort, as striving for these lofty goals does not come easily or naturally to us. But as believers we have a comforting hope that through God we have the strength to arrive at this balance, and the love to help others get there as well.

The process of reconciliation is linked with time in an intimate way. There are a number of different frameworks for dealing with these four elements, each of them with their own complications and chronology. Should we first deal with the past, emphasizing truth, or should we focus on peace and hope for the future? Since every situation is different, there can be no rigid, set way of approaching this problem. Instead, we must learn to address each of these four concerns at the same time, "Like a dance, we simultaneously have activities taking place related to the past (Truth), the present (Justice and Mercy), and the future (Hope and Peace). Each contributes and each can change the view of the others and the impact of the others. Each needs a voice. Each depends on the others to reach full potential" (Leaderach, ibid).

We all know what truth is, and often we also know what the truth is, but in this modern world where most of what we consider the truth is given to us by the media, and by politicians, the truth can easily be obscured. Our perception of truth is affected by our culture, our education, and the information we receive. This is not to say that truth is relative, however both sides in this conflict have valid claims to truth on their side. Although there is only one absolute truth, it can be experiences in a plurality of ways. This is exactly the dilemma. We must be able to recognize that others see the truth differently than we do, and view their perspective as a valid representation of truth. Then through reconciliation, we are exposed to the other side, and are able to understand and learn from the other side's truth. Especially in this country, where we live so close to each other, and yet remain so ignorant of each others living conditions, this exchange of perspectives is vitally important.

In conflict, hearing the truth from the other side can be painful. But we have a duty to seek the truth, and not dwell on things we know to be untrue. Are we willing to hear the truth, even when it is painful? This is another reason we must seek to understand each others perspectives on the truth, because hearing from the other side helps us identify how we contribute negatively to the suffering and the conflict. It is also a humbling process, because it entails us admitting that we do not know the whole truth, and are given but a glimpse of the big picture, which only God can see. However this does not allow us to stop, in resignation, from seeking after the truth. Just because we can never know the whole truth does not mean that pursuing it is not a worthy, indeed required, activity. It absolutely is. We are simply called to be humble about it.

Those who believe strongly in truth are often reluctant to embrace mercy. This is because they think that mercy drowns out truth's call for justice. But this is wrong, for mercy is not given to us so that we may ignore the sin of injustice. It is a gift that came with God's salvation, that we should extend to others. Mercy is not supposed to cover up the truth, but to accept it, support it, and move ahead towards a new beginning. Mercy is here to provide healing to the bitter sting of truth. With mercy comes forgiveness which is also commonly misunderstood. It does not consist of excusing sin, sin is still sin. Neither does it avoid the conflict, or try and cause people to forget it. What forgiveness does is bring healing for both parties.

This leads us back to the call for justice. Justice has become a hot topic in the Middle East, and I think that most of the inhabitants here, not to mention the politicians, have misunderstood the meaning and implications of justice. Justice means accountability, righteousness, and the restoration of broken relationships. Many people demand full justice, without any mercy. In other words an eye for an eye. What they forget is that when justice stands alone it becomes revenge and punishment, not justice. The only real justice for a death is to bring the dead back to life, a restoration. Killing someone else in response is not justice, it is pure revenge. Making someone else suffer as much or more than you suffer is not justice; it does not set anything right. Can anyone really feel your pain? When someone else suffers, does it really make you feel better? Justice is setting right the wrong, justice is not about punishment. Because many people have misunderstood this, they do not see how justice and mercy/forgiveness can go together.

Sometimes, we as believers avoid justice because we are afraid of the consequences. We are often guilty of using mercy as a cover to avoid discussion of justice, claiming "We're forgiven" and wanting to bask in the glory of our redemption. After all, according to the dictates of true justice, we all fall short of God's glory, and deserve His judgment. This is justice, but we are forgiven through mercy, and thus redeemed. True, we are forgiven, however, we do not receive God's mercy until we confess our sins. This confession is related to justice, for even though mercy allows us to escape judgment and damnation, we have to confess the truth about of sins and our sinful nature, in order to receive forgiveness. This is similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Perpetrators of violations of human rights were given amnesty from prosecution, but only if they were willing to publicly confess to their actions, and tell the truth about what they did. The thinking behind this was that even though restoring a life is impossible, hearing the truth about what happened is a form of justice, and can help to restore the broken relationship.

While it is clear that we are solely responsible for confessing our own personal sins, another related issue has arisen during our reconciliation meetings and seminars. Should one individual be allowed to apologize on behalf of their people or community? Some people see the symbolic aspect of this act as highly significant and advocate this method. Others see no need for someone to apologize for the sins of others, or are even against it. While this is not the appropriate setting to deal conclusively with this topic, the issue has been raised and will need to be discussed and analyzed in the future.

One reason why peace seems impossible to obtain is that it has become a meaningless slogan in our society. We hear it everywhere, all the time. Everyone is saying how much they want it, but no one is doing anything to obtain it. Peace is not just the ending of war or conflict. It is so much more than that. It is wholeness, restored relationships, and rest. If we do not have peace in our midst, truth cannot be heard, justice cannot be done, and mercy will not be considered.

Reconciliation is the meeting place of truth, mercy, justice, and peace where all four are given a voice. As such, the primary task of peacemakers is to provide a forum where all four voices can meet together, and compliment each other. This is the purpose of Musalaha. We strive to "create a place where the energies of Truth, Justice, Mercy, Peace, and Hope are given life and interact. We need this kind of image to help us see interconnectedness, simultaneity, and interaction as necessary in polychronic understanding of reconciliation and time" (Leaderach, ibid).

Written by Louise Thomsen

Musalaha Women's Project Coordinator

Edited by Joshua Korn

Musalaha Publications Manager

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