Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Work of Reconciliation

Dear Friend,
I'm trying to shed light on injustice AND steps being taken toward Salaam/Shalom/Peace.
Below is an in depth report of a women's conference in Isr/Pal that frankly looks at the pain we must see in each other's soul, that will lead to understanding, humility, compassion and the roots of shared existence, beyond the cycle of carnage that spirals ever downward. In my view, THIS is what it's all about for "peace" and "security". Until the world is ready and willing to go HERE, it just won't happen!
Read, digest and share with your "world".
Thanks to our friends at MUSALAHA and all, have a blessed season, JRK

Dear Friends,

We just finished our second national women’s conference this year which proved to be an intense time of tackling tough brokenness resulting from [women's] experiences of the Shoah (Holocaust) and the Nakba (the catastrophe termed by Palestinians dispossessed and displaced from their land in 1948). The purpose of the conference was to understand the other side’s pain and not to compare. Though it exposed the pain of the women who attended, it was by the grace of God a success. The women had to come to a level of trust that enabled them to listen to the stories of the other side’s brokenness, moving them one step closer to reconciliation. Here is a report:

Every single one of us is broken. I am a broken person. You are a broken person. We can be broken physically or we can have a broken heart. An endless number of devastating and evil things in this world can break us down and fill us with bitterness, anger, despair and hatred leading us to self destruction. You can be broken by people destroying your self confidence, by depression or loneliness eating you up inside, by the financial crisis stripping you of everything you own, by war or conflict destroying everything and everyone around you. Brokenness is a focal element in our everyday life. How many of your conversations today have centered on brokenness, your pain or someone else's pain?

We often tend to compare our brokenness, sometimes for more sympathy and compassion. But every one's brokenness, each person's pain and suffering is deeply unique and individual and to a person suffering, their pain seems enormous, no matter how small it may seem to others. In Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved, he says, “Each human being suffers in a way no other human being suffers.” The way each person is broken tells us something unique about the person and therefore sharing our brokenness with others will deepen our relationship with them and bring us closer to our own healing.

The Holocaust has broken the Jewish people. The Nakba has broken the Palestinian people. Horrible and unique events for both have caused some in the two groups of people to grow angry, bitter and have hatred, becoming the driving force behind their behavior towards each other. As such brokenness is a hindrance to reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians and one of the issues at the root of the conflict between them. We cannot reconcile with another person if we do not know the pain and suffering of the other or deal with our own brokenness.
At our latest women's conference, which took place at the end of November, 45 Israeli and Palestinian women studied the Holocaust and the Nakba in order to listen to and acknowledge each others brokenness and in order to recognize and deal with their own brokenness. From this point on, they were able to move yet another step forward towards reconciliation. It is not easy to face pain and suffering straight on, whether it belongs to someone else or to yourself and because of this many women felt anxious before the conference. It is also not easy to acknowledge the pain of others, particularly if your pain is closely intertwined and you fear that acknowledging the pain will diminish your own pain. “But the first step to healing pain is not a step away from the pain, but a step towards it" (Nouwen, 93). We have to find the courage to embrace it, no matter how frightening that can be.

Following lectures on the Holocaust and the Nakba, two guest speaker shared with us their personal testimonies.

A Dutch Holocaust survivor told us how she was forced to leave her home, parents and brother at the age of six and flee from the German soldiers together with her aunt and her sister. A Christian family in southern Holland hid them in their house until the end of the war. Her parents were not as fortunate. Her mother died from a simple illness after not getting the necessary medical care. Her father and brother managed to jump off a train enroute to a concentration camp but the German soldiers saw them escaping and shot her father. Her brother managed to hide in a small doghouse until the soldiers were gone again and then to get to a house that was willing to hide him. After the war, the three orphans were reunited.

A Palestinian woman shared with us the traumatic night in 1948 when her family, living in Bet Sahn (Beit Shean), was given two hours to leave the house by the Hagannah (Israeli resistance movement) or they would be shot. With only a few belongings, they ran to the town hall where buses waited to take them and other Christians to Nazareth while the remaining buses transported the Muslims to Jordan. On the way, they ate unleavened bread and the whole situation reminded them of the Israelites fleeing Egypt. The girl thought that she would return home after a few days and left her pocket money in her drawer. And, now 60 years later she still has not returned to the house, which remains in Israeli hands. A bank and playground have been erected over the area where her house once stood. The first night in Nazareth, they all slept on the floor in a big hall. After that the Anglican Church took them in to live on their compounds. They still live there today. She encouraged us with this statement, “I cannot change the past but I can change the future.”
We were moved to tears as we sympathized with our sisters who had gone through such pain and suffering. I came to the conference with the idea of what our message would be – understanding each other’s brokenness and not ignoring the pain. But God is great and he had much greater things in store for us and a much more important message. The testimonies of the two ladies did not end here.

The Jewish survivor went on to tell us how she started reading the Bible, looking for answers to all the gruesomeness she had experienced. As she read through the book, she realized the greatness of our God and came to faith. Shortly thereafter, she immigrated to Israel and married. Every year a German professor came to visit them and every year he encouraged her to visit Germany. Filled with enormous hatred towards the German people, she blankly refused and swore that she would never set foot in the land. After refusing to go for ten years, she felt that God was calling her to Germany to deal with her brokenness and today she is a free woman. No longer broken, no longer filled with the anger and hatred that she once felt was slowly eating her up and destroying her life.

The Palestinian woman did not deny that the episode still remains in her mind and her heart and that it still hurts till this day but she has forgiven and does not hold grudges. Many still have hatred towards the enemy but we do not have enemies. We were the enemies of Jesus, who died for us and gave us life. This woman came from a family of strong believers and she firmly believes that the Lord had a plan for what happened. She met her husband in Nazareth and for 35 years they worked with Christians and Muslims. Today she is involved in reconciliation. She felt that the Lord was with her and the family through it all and her message to us came from Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

We shouldn’t wait for others to settle our hatred, but we should deal with it ourselves by bringing it to God. To seek healing, healing from brokenness does not only come from someone else. Healing from brokenness comes also from God and to seek healing we need to seek him. While we need others in order to understand their pain we don’t need their apologies for our own healing. These women didn’t wait for others to ask forgiveness or for situations to change, such as getting a house back, but surrendered their hatred to God. They were set free and today they shine out as an amazing witness of the greatness of God. As part of a mass service by Leonard Bernstein, it is written that a priest drops a glass chalice and says, “I never realized that broken glass could shine so brightly.”

We cannot allow the pain and suffering of the past to paralyze us but we need to look and see how we change the present for the future. It is not an easy process. At this conference, we saw how the lectures stirred up many mixed and strong feelings in the women and how they led to heated discussions and disagreements. We still have a very long way to go and we still need to study many issues relating to the Holocaust and the Nakba. It took the two women more than 10 years to move forward. But these women have shown us that it is possible to overcome hatred and anger resulting from awful and life shattering experiences. It reminds me of the fact that God never gives us more than we can handle. He wants to bring us near to him but in order to do so he sometimes needs to break us first. This way the suffering does not become an obstacle to peace, but a means to it. It becomes a blessing. We are no longer victims. That, to me, is comforting.

We came to the conference to move one step forward, God ended up moving us two steps forward.

Written by Louise Thomsen
Project Coordinator