Dr Salim J. Munayer is a peacemaker in a region riven by war.

In 1990, he founded Musalaha - a non-profit organisation that promotes reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians - and since then has been leading groups of up to 40 Messianic Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arab Christians into the “neutral territory” of the desert - a place that reminds participants they “cannot make it without him”.

Salim Munayer

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS: Dr Munayer saus more Christians needs to "actively pursue" peacemaking.

There they spend time together enjoying the natural beauty around them as they hike and ride camels across the rugged terrain, spending time reading the Scriptures, worshipping God and sharing their life experiences in what is often a life-changing experience.

“As relationships develop, we hear each others stories sitting around the fire at night or walking the rocky terrain together,” wrote one participant. “Those who are supposed to be our enemies have a name and a background and the issues become personal. It is more difficult to ignore each others’ grievances or neglect one another’s pain, even though the stories may be difficult to hear.”

LEBANON - CONFLICT BRINGS BACK CIVIL WAR MEMORIES

For Australian Douglas Anderson, the recent outbreak of violence brings back memories he might rather forget.

     “It’s tragic...” says the Victorian missionary who spent 30 years living in Lebanon. “We were in and out of Lebanon during the Civil War - we were there during the ‘82 invasion and the destruction was terrible. There’s been the rebuilding (since) - the economy was shot to pieces and it’s been slowly getting better - but they’ve done a marvellous job of reconstruction and so on but now it’s just been shattered again.”

      Mr Anderson, who retired from the position of international director of the Middle East Christian Outreach in 1992, says the while the Lebanese are a remarkably resilient people, “how much they can take is hard to say”.

     “For the ordinary Lebanese it’s unfortunately bring back all the memories of the past that they thought they were climbing out of,” he says. “And not only is there the fear, there’s the discouragement - ‘Why is all this happening to us again?’.”

      Recalling travelling down to Sidon in southern Lebanon after the 1982 invasion and seeing refugee camps which had been “absolutely obliterated”.

     “The dead were under the ruins and now it’s happening again...” he says. “It’s the humanitarian scale of the thing that is so horrendous. Many, many parents in Lebanon are struggling even to pay for their kid’s education these days - this will make it far worse.”

      He says that while it can be hard to see both sides of the conflict when you’re living among a particular group of people, he has in the past met some Israeli Christians who have helped him to gain a broader understanding.

     “You get down to it, the basic solution is in Christ,” he says. “There’s a philosophy of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth on both sides but as somebody said to us, the eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth on one side is much heavier than the other. How do you stop this cycle of violence? This is the problem.”

      Anderson says that Christians need to be praying for all the people affected by the conflict, where-ever they are.

     “One of our friends said ‘I don’t know which side to back’ and then later on he said ‘I’ve decided - I’m praying for the people from both sides, the ordinary people’ and I think that what it’s (about).”

      He says that as well as praying for the people, “we have to pray that the world will sit up and take notice and do something”.

      Anderson says that because many in the Middle East equate Christian with the West, “it’s going to be even more difficult for the Christian churches and for Christian work when the West sits back and seems to be inactive in things like this or biased which is worse”.

     “That’s a matter to pray about...” he says.

~ www.aboutmeco.org

- DAVID ADAMS

Dr Munayer, whose organisation is named after an Arabic world that means forgiveness and reconciliation, says all Christians should be involved in peacemaking.

“I think that many Christians pray for peace, but are not involved in making it.  Few take action or seek and pursue it.”

Dr Munayer says he often hears people saying that peace in the region is impossible - a statement which believes allows Christians to be “passive and silent” or may lead others to think that Christians are war-like, a position he says is not in line with Romans 12, a Biblical passage which exhorts Christians to love.

“Often, because people do not believe that we will achieve peace, the Christian voice is not heard,” he says. “I would also say that it is important for us as Christians to gain a better understanding of the historical and theological context here.  So many times, the current positions and understandings of the situation in this region cause a polarisation among international Christians, so that they only support one side and fail to embrace both sides.”

The task of peacemaking in the Middle East has been made all that more harder by the conflict involving Israel and Lebanon. As the death toll continues to rise, humanitarian groups are now warning of water and food shortages and have estimated that one in five Lebanese are now homeless.

Amer Daoudi, emergency coordinator for the World Food Programme operation in Lebanon, was reported this week as saying that there were women and children in Lebanon who were not only facing a daily threat of shelling and injury, “but of having less and less food and water to sustain them”.

“We have no time to waste in reaching them. A greater catastrophe is in the making if we don’t assist people soon.”

Dr Munayer says the conflict has added to the uncertainty already faced by people living in both Israel and Lebanon.

“People are more fearful, hurt and victimised,” he told Sight via email. “The elements of destruction and violence lead only to more violence. We need to address the areas of the heart and attitudes towards one another. On the other hand, the severity of the situation causes some to see that we are compelled to find a resolution and they are willing to participate in reconciliation initiatives in order to try to mend the wrongs that we have done to each other.”

He says that such conflict only results in people becoming more polarised.

“The reality on both sides weighs heavily on the hearts of people,” Dr Munayer says, adding that the conflict is disastrous in humanitarian terms, particularly for people living in Lebanon and Gaza where infrastructure has been destroyed.

Dr Munayer believes the international community has an important role to play in helping to “address the imbalance of power that exists on both sides”.

He says that while some kind of a ceasefire agreement involving parties in Israel and Lebanon would be an acceptable means of ending the conflict, he goes on to warn that “neglecting the Palestinian issue in all this is a mistake”.

“There is a dire need to move ahead with that situation.”

Asked what people in countries like Australia should be praying for in regard to the situation in the Middle East, Dr Munayer urges people to petition God for an end to the cycle of violence and a move towards a political settlement.

“If things continue as they are, there could be a serious escalation involving other countries,” he says. “History teaches us that we might know how to start wars but not how to end them.”

“Pray for people who are suffering and for opportunities for Christians to be involved in humanitarian aid.  Pray for the church, that it will continue to grow and that Christians won't leave as a result of the conflict.  That believers will continue to be salt and light in these days and will be given the opportunities to reach out to the communities.”

~ www.musalaha.org