Blessed are the Peacemakers

I’m excited to write about what’s new with us in such a transitional and exciting time. We’ve been able to see friends get married, have children, take on new jobs, graduate, move here, move away, buy homes and much more. We’ve also had the pleasure of hosting friends from around the region and beyond which is something we really enjoy.

In June we had the opportunity to visit our friend in Jordan where she hosted us (as if we were family), introduced us to her friends, showed us around her country, and made us feel at home in a far-away place. I’d like to talk more about that, but for now I’m going to focus more specifically on another aspect of our trip.

After exploring Jordan for a little over a week we took 4 days to explore parts of Israel and Palestine, (which we knew would not be enough time). Our journey began with an early morning taxi ride from Madaba, Jordan where we were staying with our friend at King’s Academy (the Royal boarding prep/high school). We drove past Mount Nebo, where it’s believed the prophet Moses viewed the Promised Land. The road from Mount Nebo down to the Jordan Valley just north of the Dead Sea starts at 817 meters (2,680 ft) above sea level and finishes roughly 427 meters below sea level (1,400 ft), resulting in a 1,244 meter (4,080 ft) decent down a 1.5 lane winding switchbacks with many obstacles such as herds of goats, dogs, cats, people, other vehicles, and rocks. We passed through a military checkpoint for a brief passport check and were on our way to the King Hussein Crossing.

We had been warned to arrive at the Jordan/Israel crossing very early because the process can be confusing and wait times can vary significantly. The crossing has two entry/exit points with a 15 minute bus ride between the Jordanian and Israeli buildings. There is a point in the process where we had to completely let go of our passports without knowing when or where we would get them back…I don’t think I’ve ever felt that nervous before. So once we cleared the Jordanian side, we hopped on a bus where a cheerful Jordanian immigration officer was cracking jokes and making fun of our passport photos (mine is really funny), and handed us our passports. The bus drove us across the Jordan Valley to the Israeli entry building, where we stood in line for a good hour or so. Security was relatively smooth and we met our taxi driver on the other side.

We immediately took the road from the crossing which goes by Jericho (through the West Bank) up a steep and winding climb through an Israeli checkpoint to exit the West Bank and enter Israel. There’s a story in the Bible (Luke 10:30) where Jesus is talking to a religious expert about the most important commandments. Jesus tells the man about a man that was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho who was beaten by thieves, stripped of his clothes and left naked. A religious man sees the beaten man,and continues walking, another religious local does the same, and another local (who was in many ways different from the other two and the one Jesus was speaking to) stopped and helped the man. This road was equally as steep as the decent from Mount Nebo, and would have been a taxing walk, especially without the help of modern technology. I thought about the story as we raced up the hill.

As we reached the top of this hill and approached the Israeli checkpoint to exit the West Bank and enter Israel, I saw for the first time the separation barrier which divides areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority and Israel. While I’d seen the separation barrier in pictures, there’s nothing quite like seeing it in person, it’s shocking to say the least.

For those of you who may not know, part of my cultural background is Arab/Palestinian. My grandfather was born and raised in Jaffa, Palestine (now part of Tel-Aviv, Israel), and escaped to Lebanon in 1948, during the wars which led to the creation of the modern political State of Israel. There’s so much more to his story as you can imagine, but a brief mention adds an additional layer of context.

During the last semester of my Master’s, I decided to take a course at Portland State University on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict for the purpose of studying the conflict from a formal, non-religious, social and political perspective. While the course gave me a firm understanding of the political history, US and British involvement, challenges & failures that resulted from the Olso peace process, I still felt that something was missing in my understanding. I needed to see things first hand for myself…So fast-forward to our arrival at the West Bank checkpoint.

Later that day, we met up with our hired tour guide and spent the day exploring the old city of Jerusalem. What an incredible place! I’ll probably write another segment on that part alone, but we were able to see the Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, Via Dolorosa, Jewish/Muslim/Armenian/Christian Quarters, Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Garden tomb.

After a long day we caught a taxi from Jerusalem to Bethlehem where we were going to spend the next two nights at the Bethlehem Bible College. While studying the conflict I came across a professor who teaches at the Bethlehem Bible College, who has spent his entire career working to build social bridges between communities of faith. His name is Dr. Salim Munayer. Here’s a link to his story, check it out:

He runs a non-profit called Musalaha, which means reconciliation in Arabic. Throughout the year they host desert camping trips (in either the Negev or Wadi Rum in Jordan) to bring Palestinian Christians, Israeli Messianic Jews, and “Western” Christians together so that they can see each other’s humanity, build friendships, reconcile and repair hurt caused by the conflict. While focusing on establishing positive relations with all of their neighbors, their hope is that they can influence the community in such a way that promotes peace, breaks down barriers of de-humanization, and restores relationships. For more information about Musalaha, please check out their website: http://www.musalaha.org/?page_id=18

Before the trip I emailed Salim to see if he would be interested in meeting with us to discuss his work. Without hesitation he invited us to visit and discuss a variety of social/religious/political issues and what he and his team are doing about them. One of the things we discussed was how Americans and a large portion of the American church have taken sides on the conflict, instead of pursuing an orientation of reconciliation. In taking sides, particularly on the side of the Israeli-Zionists, the American Evangelical church (in many ways) has unknowingly caused a great deal of harm. For a more detailed look (from a Christian/Pro-Peace perspective) at this topic, check out the documentary “With God on Our Side.” (Available on YouTube or Netflix) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFUm7rTOOio

While Salim’s story is impactful, his is one of many who are laboring for resolution. Miko Peled wrote a book called The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine. I haven’t read the book (yet), but listened to him speak about his involvement. The link below is a very powerful speech given in 2012.

In his book, Through My Enemy’s Eyes, (Co-authored by Salim Munayer & Lisa Loden) writes:

The well-known parable of the Good Samaritan epitomizes unconditional love of one’s neighbor, but what shocked those who heard Jesus’ story was that the one whom Jesus chose to illustrate true love belonged to the community of the ‘other’. He was considered a second class-citizen and an outsider, looked upon with scorn by the religious Jews of that time. To situate this kind of person as the exemplary protagonist was scandalous. The story was Jesus’ brilliant answer to the expert in religious Jewish law who asked him, ‘Teacher…what must I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 10.25 NIV). In response, Jesus asked the man, ‘What is written in the [Torah]? How do you read it?’ The man answered, ‘Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ quoting two important verses from the Torah. Jesus replied, ‘You have answered correctly’ and ‘Do this and you will live.’

The man was not satisfied with the answer, and asked for clarification: ‘Who is my neighbor?’ This was essentially a question of Jewish Law. He was asking towards whom he had neighborly obligations. Jesus probes the man’s interpretation of the Torah through the telling of this great parable:

‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.” Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him ‘Go and do likewise’ (Luke 10.30-37 NIV).

This story would have been unsettling to its hearers, just as it would have been to the expert in the law. When Jesus asked which of the three constituted ‘a neighbor’, the expert could not even bring himself to say the word ‘Samaritan’ but only ‘the one who had mercy on him.’ The Samaritans and Jews had a long history of racial, religious and political enmity that dated as far back as 722 BCE. …

Jesus carefully composes the story, from the setting on the road to the particular characters. The winding road decends from the mountainous heights of Jerusalem down to the small town of Jericho on the desert plain hundreds of meters below the sea level. Jesus’ hearers knew the road was dangerous. The victim is beaten by thieves, stripped of his clothing and possessions, and left unconscious by the wayside. Jesus purposefully leaves out details regarding this person’s identity. The easiest way to determine which group someone belonged to was by their clothing or their accent. Lacking either of these socially descriptive elements, it was impossible to know to which group this victim belonged. In the Second Temple period, Jericho was a priestly city where priests would live and make preparations during the times of the year when they were not working in the temple. Thus, it was common for priests and Levites to use this road. When the first man, a priest, saw the wounded man, he deliberately passed by him on the other side, avoiding the ritual contamination that would have resulted (and rendered him temporarily unfit for temple service) had he come into contact with a dead body. Jesus’ story, however, seems to indicate that the priest was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho, perhaps returning home after his temple service. The second traveler, a Levite, also passed by the wounded man. Ironically, it is a Samaritan, a member of a competing ethno-religious group, far from his religious center and a stranger on this road, who stops and cares for the victim. It’s not a usual road for a Samaritan to travel; his presence on the road is more striking than that of the priest or the Levite. It is interesting to note that the Mishnah (the earliest layer of the rabbinic corpus) makes reference to Samaritans in the context of prohibited contact that had the potential to render a Jew unclean. By bringing a Samaritan into the discussion, Jesus redirects the legal parsing about neighborly obligations and instead focuses on an indiscriminate expression of love that mirrors God’s own love towards humanity. Any human being, created in his image, is a ‘neighbor’.

Our communities know the road upon which Jesus set his parable. The members of our communities can identify which town is Israeli and which is Palestinian. Sometimes just by looking at a person, or hearing their accent, we can make quick judgments about a person-‘One of us?’ or ‘One of them?’ Through the example of the Samaritan, Jesus upends our instinctive categories and invites us to see the world with new eyes.

In an Israeli context, the Samaritan might take the form of a religious bearded Muslim from a national-religious party dressed in traditional attire as he passes through West Jerusalem. For Palestinians, the Samaritan might take the form of a young Jewish settler with a knitted kipah and uncurled side-locks from a West Bank settlement, passing by Beit Jala. For a Messianic Jew, the Samaritan could be a Palestinian liberation theologian; for a Palestinian Christian, a Christian Zionist theologian.

Like the Samaritan, we must be willing to extend neighborliness to the ‘other’, even to our perceived enemy. It is our responsibility to go out of our way to love and engage one another, even if that means we do so at our own expense, just as the Samaritan cared for the wounded man; giving his time, energy and finances without thought of reimbursement. To be a neighbor means we are called to actively show mercy towards one another. What does mercy look like when we encounter one another? Perhaps it means listening to one another with love and openness, refusing to insist on first defending our own position. When we do this, our conversational partner from the ‘enemy camp’ may be given a real hearing, and real dialogue can then take place. What does mercy look like in terms of land? Perhaps it means letting go of some of our ideas of entitlement. What does mercy look like in terms of justice? Perhaps it means showing more compassion than judgment. What does mercy look like in terms of eschatology? Perhaps it means rethinking some of our theological ideas that fail to seek the other’s good. What does mercy look like in terms of identity? Perhaps it means making meaningful room for one another within our group.

This type of thinking is not new by any stretch of the imagination; it’s just practically challenging and uncomfortable. It requires us to be more transparent in a world where we’re constantly manipulating the way in which we’re viewed by others.

I write all this to say that peacemakers play a vital role in our communities and to a greater extent, the world. I admire their strength to forgive & rebuild. These stories, at a minimum are worth re-telling, and could provide the foundation for a better future.

I’m grateful for your time in reading this. I’m not sure what’s next, but I can certainly say I’m grateful to have seen and experienced so much in such a short amount of time. I hope my argument for reconciliation over side-taking was convincing. If you would like to talk further on this subject, or would like me to clarify anything, shoot me an email or message at andrew.price@email.wsu.edu.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

– Andrew

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