Elias Halabi saw these words on the wall known as the Israeli West Bank Barrier, which rises over 26 feet high and stretches over 400 miles along and within the West Bank.
Halabi, whose home in Bethlehem is located next to the wall, said he later found out that this message had been painted by sophomore Andrew Shadid and others.
On Wednesday, Feb. 13, Halabi, a Palestinian Christian, and Ronit C., an Israeli Messianic Jew, spoke at Coray Gym to share their perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their hopes for reconciliation within the conflict.
“Forgiveness isn’t a one-time thing,” Halabi said. “Forgiveness is a daily decision.”
Halabi works as a freelance photographer for the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, taking photos of the West Bank and Jerusalem. One of his photos won a competition with the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Halabi recently worked on a project for the Peres Center for Peace, an Israeli nonprofit organization, documenting aspects of Palestinian life and culture. Through thin cracks in the wall, Halabi captured snapshots of life on the other side.
“It’s about breaking through the wall and seeing what’s behind the wall: a different side of Palestine that people aren’t used to seeing,” Halabi said.
“Share our stories,” Halabi said to his audience. “That’s how people really become aware of what’s happening and … that’s where change starts.”
Ronit C. is currently pursuing a degree in Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Growing up in the Messianic Jewish tradition in Washington, D.C., Ronit C. immigrated to Israel after visiting the country in college.
“I never knew what it felt like to be home until I got there,” she said.
Ronit C. enlisted in the Israeli army and eventually entered the combat unit. She said only four percent of females enter the combat unit.
“I realized that the way I was loving wasn’t really love; it was just not hating,” Ronit C. said in reference to her time spent with Palestinians.
She explained her decision to join the army, saying, “I wanted to serve in a more intense way and see things for myself.”
Ronit C. said that being in the army exposed her to both sides of the conflict.
“I came to this country wanting to defend it,” she said. “I still do, but in a different way. … I kind of want to save it from itself.”
Both Ronit C. and Halabi acknowledged the challenges in achieving reconciliation.
“It’s really easier to hate and be frustrated than love and try to live for forgiveness and reconciliation,” Halabi said. “As Palestinians we’re living what I call ‘the hard gospel’: When Jesus says ‘love your enemy’ and ‘pray for those who persecute you,’ he wasn’t telling a joke.”
Ronit C. said she hopes for a two-state solution with a union, but she recognizes the challenges in achieving a solution acceptable to both parties.
“That’s the big question: What does it mean to make it right?” Ronit C. said. “Forgiveness doesn’t mean giving up your right to justice. … A big part of justice is acknowledgement (of wrongdoing).”
Ronit C. said building relationships with the “enemy” is key to reconciliation.
“It’s really important to get to know people and organizations and the mentality of both sides and to want peace and prosperity for both sides,” Ronit C. said. “It’s okay to have a love for a certain group of people. … It’s a problem when you let that theology get in the way of loving the other side.”
Sophomore Sam Epley, who attended the event, said he was struck by the role of narrative as expressed by Halabi.
“There’s something about a narrative that brings some sort of healing,” Epley said.
Sophomore Andrew Shadid mediated the discussion, which followed the screening of a documentary by the independent film company Within Broken Borders featuring Halabi, Ronit C. and Muhammad Al-Khatib, a Palestinian Muslim. Shadid read a note from Al-Khatib, who was unable to obtain his visa in time to attend the event.
“I follow the teachings of Gautama Buddha, Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ,” Al-Khatib wrote in his letter. “I take Jesus Christ as my example of love as a human form. Jesus showed us that he as a human is capable of loving unconditionally and forgiving the ones that persecuted and crucified him. This example of love really inspired me to believe in the healing power of love, and how it can transform the darkest times into a bright shining one.”
“(Halabi, Ronit C. and Al-Khatib) believe love is what will win in the end,” Shadid said.
Photo and Banner Credit: Allison Freet
Printed in the February 15, 2013 issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.