—Onoyama Midori, NGO Intern in Musalaha
Israel and Palestine
Standing between Peoples in Conflict. When many Japanese Christians hear the words “Israel” or “Palestine,” they imagine a biblical setting. However, for others, the impression of an unending conflict may be the strongest. In reality, of course, a complicated conflict continues unabated and at the same time, a small community of Christians continues to live there.
Presently I am serving in Musalaha, which means “reconciliation” in Arabic, working to promote reconciliation between Israeli Christians and Palestinian Christians. We are also trying to help to build bridges between Christians, Jews, and Muslims in many ways. For example, we assist with camping that welcomes both Israeli and Palestinian children, with gatherings of older youth in the desert or national parks, with gatherings of mothers and children, and with leadership training. In addition, there are some trips for Palestinian and Israeli young people. They have traveled to Germany, Ireland or Cyprus and it helped them to learn about the conflict in a more neutral place since it is outside of their homeland.
“Reconciliation”—A Topic Close to Home. My great grandmother, grandmother, and mother were Christians, and from early childhood, I read the Bible. One of my favorite passages is Matt. 5: 9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” As a small child, I thought “I want to be a child of God!” The church I attended was the one which was planted in Fukui Prefecture by missionaries from Norway and there were opportunities to join a mission trip from there. While visiting places like Mongolia, India, the Philippines, and Myanmar, my small world was enlarged and I started to have a dream to serve God by going out into the world to learn and work if God leads me.
While in college, I used my holidays to carry a backpack and travel to various places. One such trip took me to Israel and Palestine. When I actually saw the region and talked with local people, I realized that what I had learned about this place and my impression from newspapers and media in Japan was only a small part of the story. The experience overseas was the occasion for nurturing my concern for reconciliation. But there was another reason for my growing interest and concern for reconciliation.
After the Second World War, my grandfather became an alcoholic. I think he drank to ease the pain of his wounds and to forget all the terrible memories of experiences in the battle. Drinking led to his death. I believe that the issue of alcohol caused a separation between my grandfather and my father. With that cloud over our family, my father did not fulfill his role in the family, and I failed to bond with him. For a long time, I suffered with the inability to forgive my father. I was troubled because I could not say the simple words “I forgive you.” Through this experience, I came to realize that in my own strength—without God’s help—I could not forgive.
Later, I went to a graduate school in England and while pursuing conflict resolution and peace studies, a classmate introduced Musalaha to me. I was surprised to hear that there are Christians who try to bring reconciliation to a place that is deeply troubled and divided! I started to think that I would like to participate if it is possible and I applied to be an intern. Presently, I am in Jerusalem working on the organization’s website, translating for its publications, and doing publicity. I also help with various other projects as well.
Building Trust Begins with Encounter. I have learned many things from my participation in Musalaha. Perhaps the most important of these is the need for providing a place where the two parties can meet. In many cases, the impression people have about the opposing side is negative. The opinions learned in the family or at school are very strong. As there is actually almost no opportunity to meet the other side and get to know each other, there are many misunderstandings and prejudices.
As mentioned before, Musahala plans various programs to promote trust between the parties. Through Musahala, many Palestinians get their first chance to meet Israelis who are not soldiers. One participant at a women’s meeting made a deep impression on me when she said, “I had held such bad opinions about these people, but for the first time, I realized that she is a woman just like me: a wife, a mother, a real human being.”
At a camp in 2014, the year when Israeli troops invaded the Gaza Strip, an Israeli counselor had a relative who was in the fighting and one of the campers was a Palestinian child whose grandparents were in Gaza. This counselor was taking good care of the Palestinian child in the same room.
Sometimes warning sirens would sound. Then everyone had to go to a shelter, get down on the floor, and cover their heads with their hands. However, afterward one camper wrote about this experience. “At first we were very tense. Then when everyone in the shelter began to sing “Jesus loves me this I know” and we came to the line “We are weak but He is strong,” we remembered that God was watching over us and began to relax.”
I think that campers of opposing groups living together and singing to the same Lord in times of danger was an experience of a lifetime.
All in the Cross of Christ. When I first participated in the work of Musalaha, I wondered how it would be possible for hands of friendship to reach out to each other in the midst of continuing confrontation and tension to join in mutual prayer. The answer I heard from a participant was: “We have many mixed feelings and go back and forth. Forgiveness is difficult by ourselves. However, we know that we have been forgiven and reconciled with God. Now we have received a new relationship with God and with other people.” Everything is joined together through the cross of Christ.
We did not choose the nation or place or family we would be born into, but we believe that all of it was within God’s plan. So then, as an outsider, how should I relate to these people?
I recognized that God has equal concern for each of us and I pray for both with love. I listen to both sides and think it is important to support each of them as much as I am able. I pray that I may walk the path that is pleasing to God by reading scripture attentively and putting into practice what I learn. Day by day I would like to be remade in the image of God.
Happily, each time I return to my own country, I am slowly able to enjoy talking with my father, and our relationship is being restored.
I remember what Christ once did for me and pray for faith to stand firm and to act as I should. (Tr. GM)
—From Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend), March 2016 issue