Identity as a Means of Reconciliation

Speaking at the Catalyst Live conference in Birmingham, England, Shadia Qubti shared her story of growing up in Israel as a Christian Palestinian. Catalyst Live is a gathering with TED-style talks that hopes to engage Christians with challenging ideas, and encourage one another that there need not be fear in exploring ideas.  Discussion and dialogue on issues ranging from science to theology, arts to international politics and much more, Shadia was the perfect fit for speaking to the realities faced in Israel/Palestine today.

Recalling her days as a child in her Baptist Sunday school, Shadia tells of her captivation with Jesus and his expansive love for all people. Those lessons she was taught took root in her heart and she claimed, “I took those words very seriously then, and until today I pray that Jesus guides me through all aspects of my life.” The final part, “all aspects of my life,” seems to really encapsulate Shadia’s heart for what she shared next. Seeing the disconnect in the church’s teaching by never addressing the political and social situation in Israel/Palestine provoked her to action. As she continued to develop eyes to see what was happening in the land, she began to challenge those within the church to truly adhere to the claim that Jesus has authority over everything, including the conflict.

Her endeavors engaging with those on the other “side” of the conflict began with a trip to Jordan with Christian Palestinians and Messianic Jews. It was during this time that she felt her faith addressed the conflict. These two opposing sides were brought together, and as Shadia puts it, “It only took one friendship to break down the stereotypes that I had built up, and begin my process of re-humanizing the Israeli-Jewish people.”

It was at this point that Shadia began wrestling with her own identity. Growing up, and living in Israel as a Palestinian exposes one to many different narratives, many of which can be quite confusing. Feeling the need to preserve her personal identity as a “good person” and not to be linked with Palestinians that were carrying out attacks, she relinquished her Palestinian identity. She stated, “I wanted to please the majority. I wanted them (Israelis) to see me as a good person.” She continued her friendship with the Messianic Jew she had met during her time in Jordan, and as her relationship with her grew, Shadia also got to know her own self better. Seeing the comfortability of her friend and the identity she upheld gave Shadia confidence to also claim her identity as a Palestinian, Israeli, and a Christian. It was in these moments of realization that Shadia began to see that what had previously been seen as negative attributes to her identity were now the means by which she could bridge these two opposing sides. Embodying the conflict in her identity, Shadia can acknowledge the pain and suffering on both sides. In this realization she stated, “If we want to heal, we need to restore our relationships.”

She began working with Musalaha, a reconciliation organization for the next ten years. Continuing to work with youth and young adults in these reconciliation efforts, when the war in Gaza in 2014 took place, Shadia saw the need for additional action to be taken. Realizing that she wasn’t able to change the situation that they were in, she understood that she could choose how she would respond to these situations. Shadia remarks, “I felt this is a crucial time to make more peacemaking efforts. I wanted to do more than I was doing, so I joined various efforts that wanted to express their stance against violence.”

To begin with, Shadia started with a basic level of simply communicating. With a focus to respond to situations well, she encouraged people to respond wisely with what information and what kind of context they were setting for what was going on in the region.  In January 2015, Shadia also participated in the conference in Cyprus where the Larnaka Statement was issued. This group of Messianic Jews and Christian Palestinians drafted a statement of unity and reconciliation. Further, she joined a group of Palestinian and Israeli women in a ministry called “In His Image Women For Change.” They issued a strong statement condemning violence in June 2016 and published it online to gain momentum and support from others.

Proactively responding to content that was being published about Gaza, Shadia and her colleague began researching the articles that were being written by their community leaders. They myriad of viewpoints ranged from justifying Israeli attacks to calling for a ceasefire, and even some further propagated notions of prophetic fulfillment. Also hugely concerning to Shadia was the fact that it was only men’s voices that were telling these stories. As a result, eight women – three of whom are Palestinians, three Israelis, and two internationals married to locals – created a blog called Another Voice where they express their experiences and struggles in the pursuit of peace. In the past two years since its launch it has more than a one-thousand-person readership.

Shadia also helps with a youth organization called Revival that brings together youth from all over Palestine to better understand and know God all the while giving them tools to deal with day-to-day realities. She is also a part of planning and organizing the Christ at the Checkpoint Young Adults conference. In this effort, the hope is to challenge evangelicals to take responsibility in resolving conflicts in Israel/Palestine by actively engaging with the teaching of Jesus and the kingdom of God.

“We refuse to accept the political status quo, and we choose to follow our calling to seek peace as much as possible. Throughout the Bible, God used the disempowered and the marginalized to fulfill his work.  As a Palestinian minority among an Israeli majority; a Christian minority among Muslim Palestinian majority; as an evangelical minority among a traditionally Christian majority, and a woman in a Middle Eastern society, I have a unique position to fulfill God’s calling in my context.” May we be encouraged by the testament of Shadia and those working in a similar context. May we be ever mindful of the situations in which we are present and our own unique roles we play in advocating the kingdom of God in a way that brings life, justice and reconciliation.

To see the full speech click here: