There are both political and social challenges when working in the field of peace and reconciliation in Palestine. Political obstacles include the illegal Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem, security concerns, the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, issues over water resources and much more. These issues are very complicated and usually discussed at the governmental level. Churches and civil society organizations can’t have much influence on these issues.
The other obstacles to peace and reconciliation are related to the increase in extremism, hatred, and discrimination. The conflict in the past was between two governments, even while most Palestinians and Israel people had good relationships, friendships, and even established businesses together. However, after Israel built the Separation Wall, erected checkpoints, classified the Palestinian neighborhoods as high-risk zones for the Israelis, and stopped granting permits to Palestinians to access the land within 1967 borders Palestinians and Israelis began to live much more separate lives, which eventually led the Israelis to dehumanize the Palestinians and portray them as terrorists. Alternatively, the only interaction Palestinians have with the Israelis is at checkpoints. Palestinians started seeing the Israelis only when interacting with soldiers who humiliate them, demolish their homes, raid their villages and towns, and kill their children. As a result, hatred increased between the two peoples and the conflict has been shifted from the government level to the level of the people. Keeping this hatred alive between the people serves the interest of the politicians who manage to control their people using fear.
Most Palestinians have lost hope in finding a political solution. Palestinians and Israelis have been in negotiation for more than 30 years without reaching any acceptable solution that would meet the basic ambitions of Palestinians. People have lost hope in having a ‘two-state solution’ where both Israel and Palestine would exist as separate states. Israel’s allowance of illegal settlements on the Palestinian lands made this option extremely difficult to achieve. The other option available is the ‘one-state solution’. This could come in the form of a bi-national state encompassing Palestine where Israelis and Palestinians share the same political rights. In theory, this option would largely resolve the issues behind the conflict. However, Israel will never accept such a solution as this will kill the Israeli right-wing religious-political ambitions to have a pure Jewish state that is only for Jews. So, the only political solution is the no-state solution where Israel will continue the occupation of Palestine while no agreement between Israel and Palestine is reached. This is essentially the continuation of the status-quo.
Under such a gloomy image and with no hope on the political horizon, where do we as Christian leaders and advocates for peace get hope from or try to give hope to people? As I mentioned above, since we don’t have control over the political issues, we try through the programs implemented by the Upper Room Mission (URM), which is a non-profit Christian ecumenical institution that promotes entrepreneurship among Christian youth; and through the work of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, my church, to bring people together, have interfaith dialogue, promote peaceful coexistence, empower the youth and women to become peace advocates, and help Palestinians and Israelis to see the humanity in each other. We also try to give a glimpse of hope for people by providing improved education, better access to health care, improved employment opportunities, stronger leadership, and a greater recognition within the international community. Both the URM and the ELCJHL remain a Christian presence in these demanding times, providing leadership in ecumenical efforts and offering both spiritual and social services to meet the daily needs of the people and give them hope.