Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” Matthew 5:43-44
The dream of Palestinian–Israeli peace is not dead. It is alive and growing. Ordinary Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews, are refusing to be enemies. They are setting aside their fear and walking away from their hatred. Each is reaching out to look in the eyes of the other, and finding that the other is not all that different from themselves. Some argue that peace begins with political leaders. We would argue that peace comes from ordinary people demanding it and refusing to settle for less. This is the only way to peace, and as Christians we are called to support this. This is what Jesus would do.
The foundation of peace is the recognition of the dignity and rights of the other. It is recognition that both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people have roots in the land and the right to freedom and self-determination. The grassroots, person-to-person reconciliation and coexistence movement is built upon this foundation. It is represented by the over 100 organizations that comprise the Alliance for Middle East Peace and more are starting each day. They range from projects involving children, such as Hand-in-Hand, to the Roots project in the West Bank that brings Palestinians and Jewish settlers together. Many of these programs are supported by PCUSA congregations. Importantly, Palestinian and Israeli women are being empowered and assuming leadership roles with efforts such as Women Wage Peace. This is how a shared society is built, and these projects are the bricks.
There are those on both sides of the conflict who believe that only they have a right to the land and that the other should simply disappear. The truth is that both peoples have strong roots and connection to the land and neither will be leaving. To believe otherwise is wrong and sheer folly.
There are also those directly opposing grassroots peacemaking efforts by labeling them “normalization” of the status quo and harmful to Palestinians. This is the position of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement and their followers, who have in several instances physically disrupted and attacked reconciliation efforts. Sadly, we have sisters and brothers in the PC(USA) supporting this misguided stance of the BDS movement.
The truth is that these peacemaking projects are the path to empowerment for ordinary Palestinians. Palestinian rights to free expression and assembly are severely limited. A small industry has grown up around anonymous surveys of Palestinians as vehicles for political expression because most Palestinians are afraid of retribution from violent factions if they speak openly for peace. This is changing as more and more West Bank Palestinians participate in peacemaking projects and their gatherings become too numerous for the BDS movement and other opponents to disrupt or stop. As these efforts grow, the very same Palestinians will demand a political voice and the right to choose their leaders. Nothing would strengthen the Palestinian position more than a stable and elected Palestinian government committed to peaceful coexistence with Israel. This would make two states for two peoples a reality.
Some argue that the grassroots peacemakers are vastly outnumbered and are wasting their time in a hopeless cause. One of the leaders of the Roots project in the West Bank was asked at a forum about opposition to their efforts and answered that “only the majority oppose us.” At one point, a majority of Americans believed the civil rights campaign of Martin Luther King was noble but would never succeed. Movements begin as small minorities and often in the humblest manner, even in quiet places like the hills and shores of the Galilee. Then they grow. It happened in Northern Ireland, the Balkan states, and many other places around the world. It can happen in the Middle East as well.
At the coming Presbyterian General Assembly this June, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace will be working to provide Presbyterians with greater awareness of the grassroots peacemaking efforts that require and deserve our support and encouragement. Our precious mission resources are most needed for such a time as this.