Israelis and Palestinians are religious nations, which makes their conflict more complex; both want to represent religion, or even to be seen as the earthly emissaries of God the Creator.
The word “exodus” comes from our holy books, which tell of God sending His prophets to help people migrate to a better future and life, from darkness into light.
The reconciliation process is an exodus; it does not come before or after an agreement but in the middle of the conflict toward an agreement for a better common future.
Last month, I went on a journey to meet His Holiness Pope Francis at the Vatican in the framework of the international summit “Sport for All: Cohesive, Accessible and Tailored to each Person.”
When I met the pope, I told him: “We believe in the reconciliation process in the middle of conflict.” He gave me a smile, which I interpreted to mean “I know.” As an Arab Muslim Palestinian, I saw in the pope’s smile an acknowledgment that the process of reconciliation is for all humans, just as sports are for all.
With me at the summit were Israeli and Greek sports officials, who had a strong, rough conversation. The Greek official told the Israeli: “You still have problems accepting Arabs and other non-Jews on your teams.” The Israeli official responded: “We do accept them and we coexist together, but it is not easy.” The Greek official retorted: “No, you do not. There is a lot of racism and lack of acceptance of Arabs on your teams.” To which the Israeli replied: “No, we live together. I live not far from one of their villages, and we invite each other over and eat meals together.” The Greek official insisted: “What about the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza? They are not accepted by your people in those areas, and you still do nothing.”
As a Palestinian, I thought to myself: I love the Greek guy and what he is saying. It is true to my narrative. Israeli policies are very racist toward Arab Palestinians in Israel, even more so toward Arab Palestinian east Jerusalemites; and still worse toward Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Israeli sports official was being asked to defend himself and the existence of racist policies against the Palestinians. As a Palestinian from east Jerusalem, I stood with the Greek official in everything he said about the policies against the Palestinians. I too was against the Israeli sports official.
Then it was the turn of the Israeli to answer the charge that his country’s policies amounted to inhuman cruelty. He said: “We want a two-state solution with the Palestinians!”
It was an eye-opener. It held the keys to my heart. I started wanting to defend the Israeli narrative as a Palestinian against the narrative of the Greek sports official. A two-state solution, to a Palestinian, means ending the occupation, ensuring equality, and enabling prosperity and the pursuit of happiness. I would defend everyone who defends this ideology, even if he is an Israeli, and I would reconcile with him and his people and become their brother, as they support the exodus toward the reconciliation process with two states for the children of Israel and Palestine.
I have come to realize that the two-state solution is upon us, Israelis and Palestinians. We can build it by hating each other or as a reconciliation process in the middle of conflict and a path from darkness into light. It was then that I met the pope and told him: “We believe in reconciliation in the middle of conflict,” and he gave me a smile.
Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who addressed the summit participants, said, “Pope Francis reminds us that we live in a complex age of transition and calls for stronger educational and social alliances.” In sports, we can see how such alliances bring light into the darkness. But it can only happen with the rise of a reconciliation process as the path toward the light for all nations, especially those that are in conflict.
The “exodus” of the Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation process is the two-state solution, for all of us, for our future children, Israelis and Palestinians, Muslims, Jews and Christians. The exodus of the reconciliation process is for the Jews, whose ancestors, the children of Israel, were led out of Egypt by the Prophet Moses and brought to the Promised Land. It is for the Christians, whose savior, Jesus Christ, wiped away the sins of humanity. It is for the Muslims, whose Prophet Ibrahim took his elder son up to the mountain of Arafa to sacrifice him for the honor of the Creator. In all of the holy books of the Abrahamic religions, the path of peace is the path from darkness into light.
The exodus of the reconciliation process is the path on which each of our two nations develops empathy, forgiveness, recognition, and understanding of the narrative of the other; believes in the suffering of the other; and makes a common future for our children. The reconciliation process is not supported by military generals or resistance fighters but by the people of each nation guiding themselves into freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is a process that develops reconciliation practitioners against all odds. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” The reconciliation practitioners, who must be ready to suffer for the rights and freedoms of their enemies, are the protectors of peace and security for both nations.
The reconciliation process has the power to transform the heart of stone into the heart of flesh, as God promises in the Book of Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
The reconciliation process is not normalization. It never was and never will be. It is only for the brave – people like the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, two enemies who tried to transform the hearts of their people. Reconciliation is for the brave; it is not security or defense or resistance power.
The exodus of the reconciliation process is an interdependence process for both nations in conflict. I believe anything that harms Israelis harms the Palestinians’ cause for freedom. The security of the Israeli nation is interdependent on the freedom of the Palestinian nation.
The exodus of the reconciliation process is the path toward coexistence, freedom, equality, the pursuit of happiness, and peace in our land.