I still recall one of the first questions I struggled with as a Baptist teenager from Nazareth: how do I navigate my faith in my reality? How can I reconcile my faith of love, peace and hope in a reality of hatred, wars and despair? As a Palestinian and a Christian, I quickly learnt to cope with dissonance – the dissonance between what I am told and what I see. At first, my faith was my escape especially when reality was too much. I did not know how to cope with my emotions when political events happen, when learning about the suffering and injustices of Palestinians, or when Palestinians are portrayed as bad or inferior by Israeli media. Through my own journey of faith, I have learnt that my faith speaks to my reality – that God created me as a Palestinian and that is good. This journey led me to become a peacemaker myself. I became an advocate that our faith can help us be at peace with one another.
In fact, during my journey as a peacemaker, I encountered Christians who believed the bible has destined us to an intractable conflict. They quoted verses to support their theology. At the time, I was not theologically informed, but I had such a visceral rejection to this interpretation. It contradicted my experience of God who makes the impossible, possible. So, with time, I obtained a theology that affirmed what my heart already knew. In this paper, I draw from my own experiences to present the engagement of Palestinian evangelicals in the field of peacemaking as it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Initially, I navigate the understanding of peacemaking from a theological and socio-political perspectives. This, then, frames the engagements of Palestinian evangelicals in peacemaking as an intersection of theology with the Israeli-Palestinian context, and then offer peacemaking examples divided into three main areas: theological thought, advocacy and community participation.
The theology of Peacemaking
This section touches on the multiple aspects of the understanding of peacemaking as a term within theological schools of thought. Peacemaking has multiple meanings that assemble a holistic understanding of peace, and consequently the making of peace, i.e. peacemaking. I use some of the main divisions of modern theology to illustrate that theology has multiple fields that construct our understanding of peace. From a biblical studies perspective, peacemaking is seen through a critical examination and interpretation of peace in biblical passages. This entails looking at the appearances of peace in the Bible and offering contemporary interpretations drawn from historical-cultural, exegetical and literary criticisms. For example, where does peace appear in scripture? In what historical-cultural contexts? How does it compare with other appearances (as shalom in the Hebrew Scripture and eirene in the New Testament)? How do these readings construct a contemporary reading about peace today?
From a church history perspective, one would consider the types of church history engagements with peacemaking or howpeace impacted church history. For example, one can explore how the early Christians resolved conflicts, or how the disciples delivered their message of peace under Roman occupation. From a systematic theology perspective, peace is seen in relation with Christian doctrines. For example, how or where does peace manifest in the doctrines of salvation or incarnation? Peace has different dimensions. In the salvation doctrine, Jesus’ death on the cross has brought us peace, as the restoration of relationship with God, and accordingly with each other. In the doctrine of incarnation, peace is the person of Jesus. It is personified in Christ. And lastly, from a practical or pastoral theology perspective, peacemaking is considered as the application of the abovementioned theological perspectives on the ground. These types of theologies are interconnected and instruct each other to produce a holistic understanding of peace. In other words, peacemaking on the ground is not separated from a theological understanding but rather inspired and shaped by it.
The Socio-political Context of Peacemaking
Having said that, our understanding of peace is also influenced and shaped by our context. To start with, if you ask any Israeli or Palestinian, they would say they are in favor of peace. Everyone wants peace. However, how each side understands and applies peace and how it relates to the other, are quite different and at times contradicting. More importantly, our understanding of peace has been monopolized by politicians, mainly through endless peace processes, which have stained peace in a negative color. The only thing that has been consistent about peace processes is that they have consistently failed to achieve peace. They have reduced peace to a conditional unilateral effort where one side tries to exhort control over the other. Under such peace, Palestinians have been impacted differently. Almost thirty years after the Oslo Peace Process, Palestinians in the West Bank have lost more land and have been denied more rights. Their aspiration for statehood seems farther from reality. For Palestinian citizens of Israel, with the enactment of the Nation State Law in 2018, their status as citizens is now legally inferior to that of Jewish citizens. East Jerusalemite Palestinians, especially after the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital, continue to fight for their right and access to live in their own hometown. For Gazan Palestinians, who have been under siege since 2006, are slowly coming to a dire humanitarian crisis. So, when Palestinians are asked about peace, it is understandable that peace is perceived in a negative, if not hostile, manner. For this reason, they have continuously called for a just and equal peace to live in dignity. It is also understandable that Palestinians, who personally experience injustice regularly or aware of such experiences, are more active and involved in peacemaking. To some degree, and despite the geographical fragmentation of Palestinians, our personal experiences of the socio-political peace have influenced our understanding and urgency of peace, and in some way, has also influenced the role of our faith in peace.
Palestinian Evangelical Peacemaking
So, on the one hand, Christian peacemaking is about the application of our theological thinking of peace into action, and on the other hand, the Palestinian experience of peace is negative, to say the least. How then do these two understandings intersect with each other? In other words, how does our Christian faith inform and shape our experience living in this particular time and this particular place?
I propose that the involvement of evangelicals in peacemaking is one example of such intersection. It is important to clarify that the participation of evangelicals in peacemaking is individual-based, and not collective or on behalf of the whole community for several reasons. To start with, the term evangelical includes several sub-denominations, including Baptist, Assemblies of God, Nazarene, Brethren and parachurch organizations who have different views on the matter at hand. Furthermore, the structure of evangelical churches does not have a unified hierarchal structure and therefore, decision making is individual based. Having said that, there are collaborative forums for evangelical churches. The Synod of Evangelical Churches is an example for the evangelical community in Israel and the Council of Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land is another for the evangelical community in Palestine. However, in regards to peacemaking, they have not engaged or adapted public positions collectively. Nevertheless, many of the individuals who are involved in peacemaking are leaders in their respective evangelical communities. Another clarification to add is that evangelical involvement in peacemaking speaks to several audience at varying degrees. Most of the engagement in peacemaking and the Israeli-Palestinian context targets Western Protestant audience, which is also why most of the literature is in English, and to a lesser degree to local Palestinians.
This section provides examples divided into three main areas of peacemaking engagements: theological thinking, advocacy and community participation. Theological thinking refers to publications and writings of Palestinian evangelicals in the theology of peace, and its related issues. Peace is the forefront of larger theological discourse, and contribution in these fields try to defend, respond or bring new perspectives to light. For the other two areas, I have borrowed terms from sustainable development to frame the types of engagements. Advocacy can be defined as an “act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.” Community participation can be defined as the involvement of community members in initiatives to solve and address problems that affects their lives. All these areas are interconnected and woven with one another. Many of the Palestinian evangelicals are involved in more than one area. The examples used are anecdotal and by no means exhaustive.
Palestinian Evangelical Peacemaking and Theological Thought
The first area is the engagement of Palestinian evangelical in theological thinking. This area carries a plethora of writings that contribute to the theology of peace, and its related fields. Palestinian evangelical writings engage existing theological responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Yohanna Katanacho divides into four categories - biographies, apologies, reconciliation theologies and Kairos theologies. In his book The Land of Christ, Katanacho shares how his personal journey led him to a be a theologian who pursues peace and justice. “Any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must take the mission of the land into consideration. Any political solution must reflect justice, righteousness, and biblical love for both Palestinians and Israelis.” Katanacho is the only evangelical theologian who has contributed to Kairos Palestine Document: A word of Faith, Hope and Love from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering. This document is the widely accepted Palestinian Christian position and written as an “interdenominational theological document that describes the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in biblical categories and in a context of suffering.” In The Land of Christ, Katanacho presents theological and personal insights on his contribution to the Kairos document. In The Other Side of the Wall, Munther Isaac shares also how his personal experience has led him to a theological journey in pursuit of peace and justice. While Katanacho talks about his experience growing up in Jerusalem and then in Nazareth, Isaac brings his experience growing up in Bethlehem.
The contribution in this area is also done in collaboration with other evangelical communities, locally and globally. Christ At The Checkpoint (CATC), which is known for its bi-annual conferences, a byproduct of the Bethlehem Bible College (BBC), started in 2010 as a forum for theological engagement on theology and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The writings that came out of these conferences are a great resource on the intersection of peacemaking with theology in this context. Two of the conference papers are available in book format. Christ at the Checkpoint: Blessed are the Peacemakers edited by Manfred W. Kohl and Munther Isaac and Christ at the Checkpoint: Theology in the Service of Justice and Peace edited by Paul Alexander. Most of the papers are also available online in video format. The Land Cries Out: Theology of the Land in the Israeli-Palestinian Context edited by Salim Munayer and Lisa Loden present a collection of different theological perspectives on the theology of the Land. Through My Enemies’ Eyes and Journey through the Storm edited by Salim Munayer is a compilation of personal stories of Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews in their journeys of reconciliation.
In addition to individual contributions, the Palestinian evangelical seminaries provide a platform for further discussion and studies on peace. For example, The Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary (NETS) conducted a peacemaking conference in 2015 where the contributions of evangelical theologians and practitioners were discussed. Both, BBC and NETS, offer various courses and programs in peace studies. The contribution of the mentioned theologians has been instrumental to elevate and crystalize a Palestinian evangelical perspectives in peacemaking, and related issues.
Palestinian Evangelical Peacemaking and Advocacy
The second area of evangelical peacemaking is in advocacy, which is mostly expressed through public statements. Most of the public statements today are done virtually, through social media and websites. One of the leading online forums for Palestinian evangelicals in general is Come and See , which includes engagement with current events. Advocacy for peace is especially heightened during times of war and violence. For example, during the last Gaza war in 2014, many Palestinian evangelicals publically denounced the disproportionate Israeli attacks, called for a ceasefire and mobilized a prayer vigil for Gaza. In 2016, The Statement Against Violence published by a group of Messianic Jewish and Palestinian Christian women in leadership, known as In His Image-Women for Change, have written a joint statement to “affirm seeking peaceful means to respond to or resolve the conflict… [and] denounce [all] forms of violence as a response and an effort to control or solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.” During the recent Trump Peace Plan, Palestinian evangelicals denounced it highlighting two main areas: the failure of the plan to achieve a lasting peace, and Trump’s misuse and abuse of the Christian faith, especially as a political move to appease his American Evangelical constituency. Alex Awad’s article “Waving the Bible to Block Justice,” responded to Trump’s use of the Bible as “an attack on the true message of the Bible.” Around the same time, Azar Ajaj published “The Challenge of Being Called Palestinian Evangelicals” where he draws lines to distinguish Palestinian evangelicals from Trump’s American Evangelicals. Another form of public statement is an outcome of community participation between Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews, such as the annual Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation in Israel/Palestine (LIRIP) statements. The Larnaca statement, for example, articulates the commitment of the respective participants to “the task and struggle of biblical peace-making in the name of Christ” while acknowledging that their relationships are influenced by “divergent perceptions of history, understanding of the Bible, theological interpretations of their land, and political allegiances.”
Palestinian Evangelical Peacemaking and Community Participation
The third area of evangelical peacemaking is through community participation, where members of the evangelical community take part in these efforts. The ministry of Musalaha, founded by Salim Munayer, developed a faith-based-model of reconciliation that brings Israelis and Palestinians together on a journey. They use the dialogue-group model to foster relationships that enable a joint venture to achieve peace. Another example of community engagement is LIRIP where Messianic Jewish and Palestinian Christians also comes together to work collaboratively. Christians, evangelicals and others, from abroad participate in CATC conference, and join the community. These examples value and mirror the communal aspect of cooperation and collaboration learnings towards conflict resolution and peacemaking. To a lesser degree, Palestinian evangelicals have participated in the larger Israeli and Palestinian peace initiatives, such as the Palestine Marathon, Women Wage Peace March. Palestinian evangelicals in Israel have joined in demonstrations against government funding cuts to private Christian schools in Israel.
The ways in which Palestinian Evangelicals have engaged in peacemaking and try to speak to the Israeli-Palestinian context is commendable. However, there are two main challenges mention. Peacemaking engagement - theological thought, advocacy and community participation - seek to change behaviors, policies and systems that hinder peace. Sometimes, due to the intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, change is very hard to see. As minority groups in our respective societies, some Palestinian evangelicals feel that peacemaking efforts are pointless. A point that is often overlooked is that Palestinian Evangelicals view the work of peacemaking as part of our Christian mandate to speak the truth, regardless of whether we see change or not. The second challenge to be attentive to is that the predominant engagers of peacemaking in this context are men. To some degree, they reflect the traditional social structure where men dominate the public sphere while women dominate the domestic one. This structure is changing, especially in the labor force, however in the church landscape, men are predominantly the public face while women provide domestic organizational support. Engagement in peacemaking should include more voices of Palestinian Evangelical women because their intersectionality of theology and the Israeli-Palestinian context brings new perspectives. In other words, Palestinian evangelical women do engage in peacemaking and this engagement needs to be heard in the public domain.
In summary, through the abovementioned examples I tried to show that Palestinian evangelicals engagement in peacemaking is an example of the intersection between faith and context. This involves contribution to the existing theological thought on faith and the Israeli-Palestinian context. It involves advocating for peace as well as engaging the community. In general, these efforts join civil society’s efforts to challenge behaviors and policies that hinder a lasting and just peace in Israel and Palestine, and specifically, they challenge theologies within the global church that also hinder a lasting and just peace in Israel and Palestine. As someone who has worked in this field, I think more can be done to elevate the voices of Palestinian evangelicals in our peacemaking efforts. I believe peacemaking is intrinsic to our Christian mission. Our faith is not here to escape bad news, but rather to address and challenge their root causes as part of our testimony and bearing of the Good News. Even until today, I still ask the same existential question I had as a teenager: how can I live my faith in my conflict context? So far, for me that means engaging with my theology and engaging in advocacy and community participation, with an eye towards currents events with a lack of acceptance for injustice.
This paper showcases the engagement of Palestinian Evangelicals in peacemaking as an intersection of theology with the Israeli-Palestinian context. First the term peacemaking is framed in a theological perspective, followed by the socio-political Israeli-Palestinian context. The rest of the paper offers examples of peacemaking efforts of Palestinian Evangelicals, categorized into three main areas - theological thought, advocacy and community engagement.
*This article was published in Arabic in "Towards a Renewed Mind" (2021) by Bethlehem Bible College, Nazareth Evangelicalcollege and come and see
**Shadia Qubti is a Palestinian Christian who has worked in peacebuilding and advocacy initiatives for 15 years. She is particularly focused on amplifying the voices and perspectives of women and other minorities in a variety of ways, one of which was in the Women Behind the Wall podcast. Shadia was born and raised in Nazareth. She studied International Relations and English Language at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Conflict Resolution and Nonviolent Action at Trinity Dublin College in Ireland, and currently, and currently pursuing a degree in Interreligious and Indigenous Studies in Vancouver School of Theology in Canada.