Musalaha - January 2018 Update

Israel and Palestine

Following the Star: Discerning God’s Will in the midst of Political Turmoil

One recent Sunday our preacher reflected on passages from Matthew 2, which tells the story of the Magi from the east. It is interesting that this record appears in the Gospel of Matthew since scholars see this book written for a Jewish audience.

Matthew 2:1-12 deliberately presents us with a specific narrative about wise men who were learned scholars and searching for a sign. Their study confirmed this sign was a star, telling them that the “King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2)” was born.

The wise men assumed that the king would be born in a palace in Jerusalem. After all, Jerusalem was the home to King Herod and the presence of the Temple with all its grandeur and splendor. Herod the Great was powerful and skillful and he had numerous building projects throughout the land. Some of his work still exists today and can be seen in Caesarea, Masada, and Herodium.  Despite his many talents, he was simultaneously paranoid and obsessed with anyone who might rebel or stand against him. The announcement of the birth of the King not only troubled Herod but all of Jerusalem. He gathered all the Jewish religious leaders, chief priests and scribes, to inquire of them where the Messiah would be born. They quoted the passage from Micah 5:2 that out of Bethlehem a ruler would come to shepherd his people. Even though there was a vibrant religious presence in Jerusalem, its leadership did not take this prophecy to heart. The priests and scribes were the ones who studied these writings so deeply but read right past these words. Ironically, it was men from afar who acted upon the words of Scripture.

Instead of welcoming and celebrating the news, Herod’s fear prompted him to seek out where the baby would be born and conspired to harm him. He perceived the birth of a Messiah as a threat to himself and his kingdom. So, he sent the wise men to Bethlehem and urged them to report back to him.

When they left Jerusalem, the star reappeared to them and stood over the location of the Messiah. They worshipped and brought their gifts before him. Instead of reporting back to Herod, the wise men chose to follow God's instruction not to return to Jerusalem and secretly departed back to their own land.

Like the wise men, we are often attracted to political power and religious symbolism. We often expect that what God is doing in history will unfold in the popular political and religious power struggles, in the palaces and strongholds. This allows our time and attention to be consumed by them. Leaders sometimes use their power to inflict pain on people or ensure their position, privilege, and supremacy. We can easily replicate this elitism in ourselves today, and in doing so, we might completely miss what God is doing right now in the margins, among the powerless and the vulnerable.

In reality, the wise men had to discover for themselves that God’s work took place in an obscure location, one void of the glory and majesty expected to receive a king. In the narrative of the birth of Jesus and the Magi, we see that the King would not be born in a palace, but in a manager in a lowly town. It was there the Magi came to glorify and worship him because they knew that he was inaugurating a different Kingdom.

In this Kingdom, the King wants to serve, heal and embrace. This King calls and invites enemies to dine with him. The challenge for us today here in the land is this: Can we discern what God is doing in history and not be seduced by political and religious powers that lead us astray? Can we follow the teaching of the King to serve and celebrate with those who are powerless? Amidst the noise and voices that echo around us, can we invite those who are excluded and discern what God is doing?

Salim J. Munayer, Ph.D., Executive Director

Hasnaa’s Story...

I live in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, with my parents. This is where I'll be until I get married. This is the rule! I'm ok with it, though, as I love my parents.

I heard about Musalaha from my teacher who said, "You need to go and meet these people and make friends." So, I went to Cyprus with a women's group as a babysitter for their children. They were nice. When they talked to me they showed real love and care. Even the Israeli women, I saw that there was peace in their hearts even though there is a huge conflict between us. They just showed us that they love and care for us and that they pray for us. It was really amazing to see.

I then went to Berlin with the Young Adults for a week. It was really great. We had a lot of fun. We talked about Palestine and the struggle. Everything. I was so nervous as I thought that the Israelis wouldn't treat me well because I am Palestinian. You know what they think about Palestinians – that we hate them and are going to do something bad to them. But even though I thought this, I got the complete opposite. They were so nice and kind. There was something between us and I still talk to them today. We were really honest with each other in Berlin. We read and discussed reports about the war in Gaza. Even though Israel was shooting at us, I know that we need to pray for our enemies and love them. But for me, at that time, I couldn't pray for them, I couldn't even love them. I wanted our people to have freedom. 

It was hard to see children dying in Gaza every day. I used to cry. So, I was honest with the Israelis and told them, "You are happy with your normal life. You have a place to go while these children are dying. We have no place to go." But then I saw that it wasn't their fault. It is their government. These guys are like us. They have cousins and brothers who were also dying.

I prayed for forgiveness. I wanted to forgive them for what they had done to our people. I told them everything and that I loved them all. When I was talking, my voice was shaking and I was about to cry. They hugged me and one of the girls started to cry, saying that two of her brothers serve in the army and that she was always scared, and that she didn't want to lose them. They are humans just like us. They have feelings just like us. 

I want our relationships to stay strong. Even though we have our problems, the most important thing is that we keep talking. And that no matter what we say to each other, the relationship won't shake. We are building a good thing. I want to love them, in the way I speak and treat them. 

I have changed a lot. I wasn't like this three years ago. I have changed in my heart, the way I think, act and love people. I am a new Hasnaa. I feel peace in my heart and now I just want to pray for God's will for my life. 

It's not easy. Sometimes I don't feel very hopeful at all as the situation is getting worse. I pray that God gives us a solution. I think sometimes I want to leave the country and never come back. I have studied for five years and can't even find a job.

Musalaha gives people a chance to build relationships with the other side. It gives us something good. I love what they are doing, and their heart for bringing us together.

*Hasnaa's name has been changed for confidentiality reasons.

Read more about Musalaha HERE. 

The Outreach Foundation is seeking $5,000 to support Musalaha’s ministries of reconciliation.

The Outreach Foundation