Just before sunrise on October 7, 2023, Salim Munayer’s wife, Kay, shook him awake at their apartment in Jerusalem. His cellphone was popping with alerts.

“WhatsApp is going crazy,” she said.

Munayer reached for his phone. His extended family was anxiously reporting hearing air raid sirens, not uncommon in Israel and often short-lived. But this time, the alarms kept blaring.

It didn’t take long to learn what had happened: Hamas militants from Gaza were launching thousands of rockets into Israel. On the ground, they had breached the border and were massacring hundreds of civilians. Munayer had awoken to the bloodiest terrorist attack in his country’s history.

He leapt from bed and ran to rouse his sons.

Daniel Munayer, Salim’s second oldest, remembers his father storming into his room and shouting, “Daniel, it’s happening,” adding, “It’s war.”

Daniel clutched his head. “Oh, Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.”

Salim, 68, is the founder of Musalaha, a faith-based peacebuilding organization that works to restore relationships between Israelis and Palestinians using what it says are biblical principles of reconciliation. Daniel, 32, is the executive director.

Founded in 1990, Musalaha is the oldest and most well-known Christian peacemaking organization in Israel and Palestine. Its name means “reconciliation” in Arabic, and for more than three decades its faith-based approach has set it apart from secular peacebuilding groups.

Neither of the Munayers was shocked that Hamas attacked Israel, though they never foresaw the sophistication and brutality of a rampage that murdered about 1,200 Israelis or the devastation of Israel’s military response that has killed more than 30,000 people in Gaza, many of them women and children. For years, Salim had been warning, “We are living in a status quo that is violent. If you’re not working for peace every day, the price of war will be severe.”

A year ago, in an op-ed directed toward Christians, Daniel wrote in The Jerusalem Post, “Do not be deceived by ceasefires. The ingredients for another cycle of violence are ever-present. It is only a matter of time.”

People shut their ears. Even Kay was getting tired of hearing the same warnings over and over. “You keep saying the situation is unsustainable, but things still aren’t changing,” she told Salim.

Instead, things were getting worse: The Israeli government was shifting further to the hawkish right; the country was divided over the politics of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Israel was strengthening relations with a growing number of Arab countries. It was clear that Palestinian needs and demands were dropping on Israel’s priority list.

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October 7 pushed many Israelis further away from peacemaking. Yet the Munayers see the work of Musalaha as more critical than ever. The proof is in the rubble, they say: Peacemaking and reconciliation are not just important; they’re essential. But Musalaha has been preaching peace and reconciliation for more than 30 years. Can it offer something now­—when relations between Israelis and Palestinians are as bad as they’ve ever been, when reconciliation is a dirty word for many on both sides—that it has not offered in the past? Are efforts like Musalaha’s even relevant anymore?

I spent a week in Israel and the West Bank meeting Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews who are pastors, youth leaders, YMCA leaders, tour guides, lawyers, and students. Many of them aren’t professional peace activists, but all of them, from what I could tell, take seriously Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and strive to embody his proclamation that “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9).

The problem is, I spoke to about two dozen individuals about what peacemaking means and got almost two dozen different answers. That’s the Israel-Palestine conundrum: Generally speaking, for Jews, “peace” means Israel’s lasting security and protection; it means crushing Hamas, even at the cost of significant human casualties. For Palestinians, “peace” means a restoration of land and dignity that they lost after the founding of the State of Israel. It means fighting for equal rights and freedoms, which for many includes supporting Hamas, also at the cost of significant human casualties.

Even before October 7, these two camps were growing increasingly opposed to one another. It’s a reality that has long haunted Musalaha’s leaders. How can you search for peace if you don’t even know what it looks like?

Salim Munayer picked up two rules while growing up in the ancient city of Lod: Don’t forget your history. But don’t talk about it. “That used to be my home,” his father would tell him, pointing at a municipal building. “That’s where we used to grow olive trees and oranges.” Keep it quiet, his father warned. “From home to school, from school to home. Don’t talk to anybody.”

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Lod, which today hosts the Ben Gurion International Airport, was for centuries a predominantly Arab city—until 1948, when Israeli troops occupied it and expelled most Arabs. Salim’s father was among roughly 200 local Christians who were able to stay by seeking refuge at a church, but he lost his house and farmlands. By the time Salim was born in 1955, Lod’s population was about 30 percent Arab; the rest were mostly Jewish immigrants who themselves had been driven from Arab countries.

In school, Salim learned national history through a Zionist lens, a view he began questioning in high school. Once, a teacher repeated what Salim had always been taught—that the Jews came and created a garden out of barren desert, that the Arabs left even though the Jews tried to persuade them to stay—and Salim spoke up.

“Look out the window,” he said. “You see those orange groves? That was my family’s. See that church? Those houses? They belonged to Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, Salim got an early taste of what unity could look like. In the ’70s, he attended a Bible study at his uncle’s house that included both Palestinians and Jews. Many Jews were coming to faith in Jesus at that time, and since Salim spoke fluent Hebrew, he led Bible studies for these young Jewish believers. The group grew from a few converts to a hundred. The experience was formative; Salim went on to study theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, then came back to Israel in 1985.

A year later, Salim started teaching at Bethlehem Bible College in Bethlehem, West Bank. That was the first time Salim witnessed life for Palestinians under occupation. “I was in shock,” he recalled. He saw members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) beat Palestinians, force them to stand in the rain, and humiliate fathers in front of their children. He saw his Israeli friends—the same warm people he had hung out with in college—transform into unrecognizable aggressors in olive-green uniforms.

The First Intifada, which means “shaking off” in Arabic, began in 1987 and lasted six years. Palestinians mainly protested Israeli occupation through mass boycotts, barricades, and civil disobedience, but many also resorted to violence like throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.

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Salim’s students in Bethlehem asked him questions that went beyond his theological education: “Should we join the demonstrations?” “Can we throw stones at the soldiers?” “Jewish settlers robbed my family’s land, saying God gave them that land. What does the Bible actually say?”

Meanwhile, Salim was also teaching Jewish Israeli students at a Bible study center in Tel Aviv-Jaffa who struggled with their own identity issues: “How can we be Jews and believe in Yeshua?” “How can we call ourselves Christians when Christians persecuted our people for centuries?” Salim thought it would be edifying for his Jewish and Palestinian students to hear each other’s identity struggles, so in 1990 he organized a meeting between them.

“It was a disaster,” Salim said. Almost immediately, students were yelling at each other. Neither side could agree on what language to use to describe current events. Was it an occupation? Resistance? Terrorism? Talking about theology—what does the Bible say about the land of Israel?—only made matters worse. The conversation disintegrated. It was like the two sides were reading completely different Bibles, unable to arrive at a shared narrative.

Perhaps a meeting of pastors would go better, Salim thought. He invited 14 pastors—seven Jewish, seven Palestinian—to a church in Jerusalem to discuss current events. “That went even worse,” he told me. That disturbed Salim. Could the body of Christ not find some common cause on this issue?

At that time, a friend he had met at the Bible center also felt convicted about the growing strife between Palestinian and Jewish believers. Evan Thomas was a Messianic Jew from New Zealand who had immigrated with his wife to Israel in 1983 to support the country’s fledgling Messianic community.

Before the First Intifada, Jews and Arabs had worshiped together. But it was like the conflict had lifted a rug and scattered all the dirt from underneath. “We were facing one another’s kids in the battlefront,” Thomas said. Palestinians were enraged that fellow believers would join the IDF and take up arms against their people; Jews couldn’t understand how fellow believers could support the intifada, which they saw as violently anti-Israel.

Salim Munayer
Image: Ofir Berman for Christianity Today

Salim Munayer

One day after class, Salim approached Thomas. “I’m concerned for the body of Christ,” he said. Secular groups were talking about peace deals and conflict resolution, but nobody was talking about reconciliation. Christians were concerned about salvation, but few were addressing the critical issues that divided them. Salim proposed forming a faith-based organization to address both. Would Thomas join him?

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“We must do it,” Thomas replied. “We must begin immediately.”

Salim called another Messianic Jew he’d known since high school, a woman named Lisa Loden who’d immigrated to Israel from the United States with her husband in 1974 after feeling a strong conviction to be a “light and witness.”

Before Salim called, Loden had already been pained by the inequities she saw between Palestinians and Jews. She saw the differences in the budgets of Arab and Jewish municipalities in Israel. She saw job discrimination against Palestinian Israelis. She heard what some Jews said about Palestinians—that they were dirty, uncivilized, and untrustworthy.

Then she met some Christians from the West Bank. One young Palestinian man asked her bluntly, “Why did you come to our land?”

That sent Loden on an unsettling research journey into the Nakba—Arabic for “catastrophe”—the name given to the violent dispossession and displacement of Arabs in Palestine during the 1948 war. So when Salim asked if she’d be willing to join him and start a Musalaha program for women, she said yes right away. “It was an answer to prayer,” she recalled.

From the beginning, Musalaha was an intentional collaboration between Palestinian and Jewish believers. The first challenge was bringing Jews and Palestinians together without sparking verbal fights. They needed something creative, something to disconnect people from the conflict and force them to see each other as vulnerable humans.

“Out of desperation, we had to do something drastic,” Salim said. So they created a retreat experience and took the first participants into the desert on camels. There, surrounded by starkness and sand, the “desert encounter” seemed to work. For four days, Jews and Palestinians gathered around a campfire and talked about their faith, families, and stories. They shared tents under a diamond-speckled sky. They hiked and prayed in the dunes. And they listened uncomfortably to each other’s pain.

“The desert is a neutral place,” Salim said. “The imbalance of power disappeared in the desert. It destroyed the concept of ‘us’ and ‘them.’”

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The desert encounters, which have continued for decades though are on pause during the war, are meant to be only the beginning. Musalaha sees reconciliation not as a one-time event but as a gradual, ongoing process. After a desert encounter—which leaders call the “hallelujah and hummus” stage—participants are encouraged to open up about their differences during workshops, seminars, and trips. They unload their grievances in face-to-face meetings. They discuss identity, seeking to understand how they view themselves, to affirm the distinctiveness of others, and to confirm everyone’s equal value as members of the body of Christ. Participants who want can go further, critically analyzing and confessing their own roles in injustice and pursuing advocacy.

At the time of its inception, it was a novel approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Musalaha’s first decade was full of enthusiasm and optimism. The Oslo peace process in the 1990s sparked hopes that Israelis and Palestinians could one day coexist peacefully, and Musalaha meetings bubbled with good feelings that Christ could bridge their differences.

Daniel Munayer was born into those years. He remembers his father converting their tiny apartment basement into a makeshift office with two desks and a couch and then holing up there, researching and writing curriculum and preparing for conferences. His mother shushed the boys when they were loud.

However, in Musalaha’s second decade, the bubble burst. Negotiations for a peace deal between Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat failed. The Second Intifada, a much bloodier Islamic uprising, erupted in 2000, killing more than 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis. Most felt that it also killed the possibility of a two-state solution with an independent Palestine.

In the early 2000s, Israel began erecting what is now a 440-mile barrier of concrete and barbed wire in the West Bank, physically dividing the two peoples. Israelis saw it as a necessary security measure. Palestinians saw it as racial segregation and illegal usurpation of part of their land. (The barrier was built as much as 11 miles beyond the Green Line, an internationally recognized boundary between Israel and the Palestinian territory.)

Daniel became acutely aware of his identity as “the other.” As a Palestinian Israeli, he’s a minority; as a Christian, he’s a double minority. Daniel and his three brothers attended Jewish schools where they were the only Palestinians. Yet their Arab cousins saw them as “white cousins who speak English,” because their mother is British. And when they traveled to England, their dark features stood out.

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The Munayer brothers also felt excluded by their international faith community. Christians visiting the Holy Land seemed more interested in engaging with “the chosen people” than with them, Daniel said.

Daniel Munayer
Image: Ofir Berman for Christianity Today

Daniel Munayer

Meanwhile, the brothers heard what Jews were saying about Palestinians, what Palestinians were saying about Jews, and what Christians outside of the country were saying about the Promised Land. In some ways the siblings were typical founders’ kids, evaluating their parents’ ministry as participants and as observers straddling multiple cultures. As young adults, they frequently exchanged ideas from the literature they were reading: liberation theology as explored by James H. Cone, Gustavo Gutiérrez, and Naim Ateek and settler colonialism as unpacked by scholars such as Edward Said, Mahmood Mamdani, and Frantz Fanon.

What they read touched nerves from their experience growing up as Palestinian Israeli Christians. They discussed these topics vigorously at dinner, during car rides, and while sipping whiskey with their father. And they pressed Salim with hard questions: “Where do liberation and justice fit in reconciliation?” “How do we reconcile with our neighbors, when they place us in a system that oppresses and dehumanizes us?”

As relations deteriorated between Israelis and Palestinians, a rupture was also growing within Musalaha, something that’s still a sore spot for Salim and Daniel. Within the past decade, the organization lost favor with most Messianic Jews.

Outside of its annual summer camp for children, Musalaha has no remaining Messianic Jewish participants. The Munayers told me that’s because the organization won’t promote Zionist politics and theology. Thomas, the Messianic Jewish pastor who served on Musalaha’s board for 29 years, said trust eroded as the organization became involved with Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC), a biennial conference held by Bethlehem Bible College.

The first CATC was held in 2010 as “an opportunity for evangelical Christians to prayerfully seek a proper awareness of issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation,” according to the conference website. It is also fiercely critical of Christian Zionism.

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Most Messianic Jews saw CATC as not just misguided but also dangerously antisemitic. They accused CATC of platforming speakers who embrace supersessionism (the idea that the church has replaced Israel in God’s covenant and plans) such as Sami Awad, the executive director of Holy Land Trust, and Mitri Raheb, founder and president of Dar al-Kalima University in Bethlehem. One for Israel, a media ministry of the Israel College of the Bible, called CATC “a one-sided, anti-Israel Palestinian political program” that “promote[s] the destruction of the Jewish state in the Land of Israel.”

In 2012, Messianic groups around the world released a joint statement criticizing CATC: “We recognize and are deeply concerned with the struggle of Palestinian Christians. What we object to is a conference that is explicitly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel, which seeks to promote itself as a conference on peace and reconciliation.” Any effort for peace and reconciliation between Jews and non-Jews, the statement concluded, “must recognize that the gifts and calling of God toward our Jewish people are irrevocable and still in effect today.”

CATC invited Musalaha to speak about reconciliation. Both Salim and Thomas accepted, even though Thomas later received fierce criticism—even death threats—for it. But at the time, Thomas felt convicted to attend. “How could I not be there?” he said. “I’m a senior spokesman for reconciliation. That’s the very sort of place I should be speaking.”

But looking back, Thomas calls his decision to speak at CATC “a grave mistake.” Musalaha’s participation, he now says, was a “watershed moment” and “an absolute outrage and offense to the entire Messianic community.” Once Musalaha lost the credibility of Messianic Jews, “then we’ve lost one of our most important partners.”

Loden was also on Musalaha’s board for 29 years until she resigned in 2019. Over the years, she saw women in Musalaha build friendships. For the first time, many Jewish women learned about the Nakba and many Palestinian women learned about the Holocaust and the Jews who fled to Israel after many countries shut their doors.

But some Jewish women also came to Loden frustrated. “We’re always the ones who are guilty here,” they told her. “We’re always the ones asking for forgiveness.” What about all the Palestinian suicide bombings and rocket attacks? they asked.

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“They felt there was no mutual sense that both people had suffered,” Loden said. Many Jewish women dropped out of the program.

Today, most participants in Musalaha’s programs are secular Israeli Jews, Palestinian Muslims, and Palestinian Christians. Musalaha wants to work with Messianic Jews, the Munayers told me, but the feeling isn’t mutual. And if he has any regrets, Salim said, it’s that he didn’t move fast enough to include non-Christians. Why should reconciliation be limited to believers?

That change in attitude prompted Loden’s resignation. “My passion is to see the body of Christ be reconciled, walking together, living out the kingdom of God in our midst,” she told me. “Musalaha at the moment is not working in that area.”

Thomas left for somewhat different reasons. In 2019, while guiding Messianic Jewish and German Christian youth through the Auschwitz concentration camp, he reread John 17:21 and had an epiphany: “I realized that reconciliation was never designed to be an end in and of itself.” The goal of peacemaking, he said, is to witness to the world that Jesus is the Messiah. He shared his interpretation with Salim, who disagreed. Thomas—whose heart was for the Messianic community—already felt he had become irrelevant at Musalaha, given its shift toward secular Jews. So he resigned.

Musalaha was not just losing Israeli believers. It was also losing Palestinian participants.

Saleem Anfous was a spiritually hungry 16-year-old studying to be a Catholic priest when the Second Intifada broke out. The conflict awoke his social consciousness and broke his faith. How could he serve fellow Palestinians as a priest, he wondered, pointing them to a God who apparently favored Jews and allowed them to subject his people to bombs, evictions, land-snatching, surveillance, curfews, and checkpoints? He left seminary and his faith.

Anfous decided to study journalism at Bethlehem Bible College. There, for the first time, he heard biblical answers to his big theological questions. He was repairing his relationship with God but still simmering with hate toward Israel and frustrated with the church for not doing enough. One day, he created a giant poster featuring images of dead Palestinian children and rubble, writing on it in big letters: “Where are you in all this?” He hung it on a bulletin board in the student lobby and nearly got kicked off campus.

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Many didn’t take him seriously. But Salim did. He saw in Anfous a youthful fire that could be powerful if directed. A few months later, he sought out the student in his dorm and asked, “Do you like traveling?”


“There’s a trip to the desert in Jordan coming up. You want to come?”


Anfous knew little about Musalaha back then, in 2004. He went because he respected Salim; he thought hanging out in the wilderness with other young men and women would be rad.

His first evening in the Jordanian desert, Anfous sat next to a friendly young man who turned out to be a Messianic Jew finishing his IDF conscription. And then Salim assigned Anfous to share a tent with another Israeli Jew. That night, Anfous couldn’t sleep. But gradually, he let his guard down. Why not let Christ be the bridge? Through Musalaha he made friendships with Israeli Jews that lasted for years.

Saleem Anfous
Image: Maya Levin for Christianity Today

Saleem Anfous

Then the 2014 Gaza War erupted. Hamas militants launched thousands of rockets and killed just over 70 Israelis; the IDF killed more than 2,000 Palestinians. Anfous saw his Jewish friends on Facebook posting support for Israel’s military, which to him was equivalent to cheering on the slaughter of his people. But his Jewish friends said they had to defend themselves. They exchanged heated messages that inevitably dived into theological debates. So Anfous clicked “unfriend” on all the Jews he’d met through Musalaha.

“It isn’t that Christ is not concrete enough,” Anfous told me years later at a shawarma restaurant in Beit Sahour, outside Bethlehem. “Apparently, the bases that we thought we were building weren’t concrete enough.” Their differences were too profound, he said. “When these problems hit the fan, you cannot ignore it. You have to really deal with it. And when the time came to deal with it, friendship wasn’t good enough.”

Anfous represents a generation of Palestinians fed up with attempts at reconciliation that do not insist on liberating Palestine from occupation. He says he cares about peacemaking; his email signature is “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” But his definition of peace has changed. What’s the point of friendship, he says, if the sides are clearly unequal and one side is intent on keeping the system unequal? That kind of peacemaking “means being silent. This is weakness! This is not the time for weakness. It’s time to fight for justice.”

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For five years, Anfous was a youth leader at Immanuel Evangelical Church, one of the biggest evangelical congregations in the West Bank. He’s passionate about helping younger generations reconcile their faith with their Palestinian identity, and he watches with dismay when young Palestinians walk away from their Christian faith. “The church doesn’t do its role as a church in society here,” he said. “And because of that, the younger generation has completely taken different directions.”

Anfous also clashed with his senior pastor, Nihad Salman. Salman agrees Israel oppresses Palestinians under an “evil” occupation. He lives in it. But his priority as a spiritual leader, he told me, is “to lead people to worship God despite war, pain, or suffering.” There are enough people calling for social justice, he said, but so few shepherds leading Palestinians to joy and peace in God in the midst of hardship. Peacemaking to him means reconciling people to God. “Then,” he said, “immediately you will be reconciled with your neighbors.”

This take on peacemaking frustrated Anfous. “Okay, but I’m already reconciled with God,” he told his pastor. “What’s next for me then? Should I sit and wait on the bench until everyone else is reconciled with God? I feel like you’re still treating me like a toddler when I’ve already graduated.”

Anfous eventually left Immanuel in frustration and joined the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church—whose current pastor, Munther Isaac, is the director of Christ at the Checkpoint and a longtime board member of Musalaha.

Isaac was an advocate for reconciliation for two decades. He began leading desert encounter trips in his 20s. “I believed in it,” he told me at his church office in Bethlehem. “I believed that the only true path to peace is if we believe in Jesus. If we have Jesus, we have peace.”

In the early years of CATC, Isaac insisted that the conference include Messianic Jews. “I was so dedicated to it,” he recalled, that he drove hours to the homes of Messianic Jews to invite them. “We can’t have a conversation about the conflict without your voice,” he told them.

So to hear Messianic criticism that CATC was antisemitic political propaganda greatly disappointed him.

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Over the years, Isaac became increasingly troubled about peacemaking as he knew it. People might be gaining knowledge of different perspectives, but Palestinians had still not gained freedom. In fact, the possibility of a Palestinian state seemed more remote than ever: Over the past six decades, more than 750,000 Jewish settlers, backed and supported by the Israeli state, have erected heavily armed, barricaded compounds across the West Bank, carving what should have been a Palestinian state into a sort of Swiss cheese.

Isaac was also troubled by Zionist theology, which he sees as a false theology that delegitimizes the existence and dignity of Palestinians and upholds Israeli occupation. He believes in the importance of reconciliation, but he began wondering if he was merely satisfying people’s desire to feel better about themselves without doing anything to solve the conflict.

His turning point came in 2016, when he joined a group of about 30 Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews under the Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation in Israel/Palestine. Isaac, Salim, and Loden helped organize the meeting.

For several days, the group prayed and worshiped together in Larnaca, Cyprus, to seek unity regarding the conflict. Isaac gave a presentation making the case that God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants no longer applies only to the Jews and the land of Israel, but to all God’s children and the whole earth. Jesus, he argued, was interested in the kingdom of God, not the land of Israel.

One of the participants of the Larnaca group, Jamie Cowen, a Messianic Jewish lawyer, remembers feeling “disturbed and challenged” by Isaac’s presentation. “It was like, Okay, I’m not sure if we’re reading the same Bible. It was classic replacement theology,” he said. Cowen voiced disagreement with Isaac’s points, and others chimed in. The debate got heated, some people raised their voices, and in the end nobody changed their mind.

These differing views about the theology of the Holy Land are why so many attempts at peacemaking between believing Jews and Palestinians screech to a halt. They are why most Messianic Jews are wary of conferences like CATC, even if they make statements denouncing antisemitism—for them, the boundary between anti-Zionism and antisemitism is wafer-thin. The land God gave to their ancestors is core to their identity and faith.

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Yet for many Palestinian Christians, Zionism is an “ethnocentric political theology” that privileges one people at the expense of another. Their long historical presence in the same land where Jesus walked is a source of pride and a testimony of God’s faithfulness.

That the group managed to draft and sign a statement at the Cyprus meeting was “somewhat miraculous,” Cowen said. They debated for hours about whether to include the word occupation. Some participants chose not to sign the document, known as the Larnaca Statement, which affirmed the unity of believers in Christ and listed several key disagreements between Jewish and Palestinian factions.

Munther Isaac
Image: Maya Levin for Christianity Today

Munther Isaac

I’ve heard some people dismiss the Larnaca Statement as inconsequential. But it was consequential at least to some of the people who signed it. Loden, who helped organize the event, called it a “historic moment.” Statements were never meant to change things anyway, she said. Rather, “Statements chronicle history.” That a group of influential Jews and Palestinians sat together, wrote something, and signed it was a historic accomplishment in itself.

Cowen, despite his disagreements, called it a “life-changing” experience: “Of all the things that I’ve done here since I’ve come to Israel, that was the most significant thing that I’ve participated in, by far.” Larnaca was the first time he understood the Palestinian experience, and after the conference, he continued reading historians such as Benny Morris who challenged his assumptions about the founding of Israel. He also made new friendships: One Palestinian Israeli lawyer he met at Larnaca invited him to his son’s wedding.

Larnaca was life-changing for Isaac, too. He came home physically and mentally sick. He was wiped out from having to explain and defend and debate words and phrases that, to him, were not opinion but reality. He signed the statement only because he felt pressured to. But he felt like he had put his name to something that “legitimized the rationalization of the oppression of my people.”

That was it, he decided. “I don’t want to do this ever again.”

In 2021, when Isaac went to a meeting between believing Israeli Jews, German Jews, and Palestinians, he listened impatiently to people sharing their different narratives. Then he lost it.

“I’m tired of this,” he told the group. “We’re not talking about any of the real issues, including the fact that your theology has been used to justify the occupation. You’re part of the system that’s pushing my people out, replacing them with your people. And you want to come and have peace with me? Come on.”

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Since Larnaca, Isaac has developed a very different peacemaking approach. He’s still soft-spoken and gentle; he gives the impression of a meek priest. But he’s clearly blunt, unafraid to offend. The first step to peace, he said, is to call things by their name. He frequently uses electric terms like ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and settler colonialism.

Trying to be neutral, to hold both perspectives in tension, is not biblical peacemaking, he said. “To me, it’s clear that God takes sides—not with an ethnicity, but with the oppressed, the afflicted, the marginalized. And if God takes sides with this group of people, then so should we.”

Some people have told Isaac he’s changed. He’s too confrontational, they say. His approach is not going to work. He responds, “Did the soft approach work?”

In 2019, not long after Isaac altered his views on peacemaking, Daniel Munayer returned to Israel from studying in the US and England. He had turned down job offers in London to come back. He believed in the importance of Musalaha’s work.

Then in 2020, a friend from the West Bank told Daniel something that sparked a turn for Musalaha. This friend said he enjoyed participating in Musalaha’s programs and making friends with Israeli Jews. But after the program ended, he returned home to a refugee camp. “I want to live in peace with the Israelis,” the friend told Daniel. “But how can I? I don’t want to live in this occupation. I don’t want my daughter to grow up in this refugee camp. And I don’t see for myself any future. Are your programs moving us toward a different future?”

That conversation haunted Daniel. “I couldn’t get it out of my head,” he said. He felt his friend was right. “What Musalaha is doing is great, but we can tweak and improve it. We can make it more relevant to our political realities.”

That became a hot conversation between Salim and his sons. His sons challenged him to rethink Musalaha. If Israel is a settler-colonial project, they told Salim, that should change the way Musalaha approaches reconciliation.

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Perhaps, Daniel told his father, Musalaha shouldn’t be so much about “coexistence” as about nonviolent “coresistance.” They should continue working on interpersonal reconciliation, but they should also work on structural reconciliation, calling out the systems that oppress and make interpersonal reconciliation nearly impossible.

Salim listened and wrestled. It was not easy to consider that he may have fundamentally misunderstood the conflict and that Musalaha’s work may have suffered for it. Eventually, after research and reflection, he agreed with Daniel.

Today, there’s been a changing of the guard. Musalaha’s board is more aligned with the new vision. In 2022, Salim stepped back into a consultant role, and Daniel became the new executive director.

When I met Salim at the tiny Musalaha office in an industrial zone of Jerusalem, he was vibrant, with sharp hazel eyes beneath graying hair. As always, he did not mince words.

In the beginning, Salim said, he had envisioned Jesus-followers, Israeli Jews and Palestinians, making peace in the Holy Land where Jesus came, died, and was resurrected. What a witness and testimony they would be to God’s desire to reconcile with the world.

“That was my dream,” Salim told me. “And we failed.”

Musalaha fostered countless friendships between Israelis and Palestinians. It developed a theological methodology of reconciliation that stood out from other peacebuilding organizations. “But we failed when it came to the political structure inside and outside the church,” Salim said. “Palestinians are not equal.”

Yet he’s still hopeful.

“I truly, truly until today believe that our central identity in Christ supersedes and enriches our ethnic identity. I believe that we can—and I grew up with that possibility—that Palestinians and Israelis can live with each other, if—if—they are equal.” Peace is not just about understanding one another and reconciling differences. Peace must include justice, liberation, and equality.

Salim has long argued for justice and equality in peacemaking. He wrote about it in Through My Enemy’s Eyes, a book he coauthored with Loden in 2014. That is not new. But what has changed is Salim’s framing of Israel as a settler-colonialist project, and the rebranding of reconciliation as part of “coresisting” Israeli occupation. These are major shifts in Musalaha’s vision and mission; they cast Palestinians as the more oppressed party, encourage Palestinians to take the lead, and endorse a specific political solution.

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In the wake of October 7, most Israeli Jews I spoke to were focused not on the heady theories of peacemaking but on the particular shock and trauma of the Hamas attack—which included raping women, killing children and the elderly, and binding a parent and child and burning them alive. It triggered the deep existential anxiety of a people who have been persecuted throughout their millennia-long history.

The Palestinian Christians I met made no attempt to justify what Hamas did. But those in the West Bank barely mentioned the attack, talking instead about the bombings of Gaza. Every Palestinian I spoke with called the war in Gaza a “genocide.” When I asked them to explain, they would pull out phones and show me videos of hollowed-out houses, corpses of children wrapped in white cloth, and wailing, ashen mothers. Would Israel have dropped hundreds of 2,000-pound bombs if Hamas militants had been hiding in Jewish enclaves? Who could do this and expect Gaza to survive? “If this isn’t genocide,” Anfous asked me, “what is?”

After the attack, Musalaha published a “letter of lamentation” mourning the deaths of Israeli and Gazan civilians and the actions of both the IDF and Hamas militants. But some statements from Palestinian Christians have not acknowledged Hamas’s role in initiating the war, nor have they condemned what amounted to the largest mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust.

And after the dust settles, the Jews will remember their silence, said Thomas, the former board member.

“If you don’t acknowledge it, then in the eyes of the Messianic community, in some ways, you endorse it,” he said. “It’s not always fair, nor is it always intrinsically true. But that’s how it’s perceived.”

Loden, who is 77, has always been an optimist. She has championed peace and reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians even though, since her move to Israel, she has witnessed six wars. But this attack struck her differently. Grief immobilized her for days.

“I do not know if reconciliation can happen,” Loden told me at her house in Netanya in west-central Israel. “We’ve talked for many years: ‘Can we build a bridging narrative? Can we build a bridging theology?’ And every effort to do this has dissipated.”

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She’s willing to try again. But not now. “There are times you can talk about these things and times when you cannot. This is not the time.”

Meanwhile, the paradigm of settler colonialism—the narrative that white Jewish settlers came to colonize brown indigenous people rather than to assimilate—is gaining traction among Palestinians like Anfous, and that’s how they see the current war: a colonial aggression meant to wipe out native culture and belonging.

That kind of language can shut down any dialogue about peace and reconciliation. To many Jews, the “white European colonizers” they’re accused of being are the very ones who murdered millions of Jews in the 20th century. They point to the Torah as written evidence that they too have a historical claim of the land. They say that Palestinians wishing they were gone could be tantamount to a genocide of its own.

Daniel tells Israeli Jews, “I’m not suggesting we need to erase Israel. What I’m saying is we need to rethink the foundations of our political landscape, so that all of us can live here equally, that our rights and freedoms are based on our citizenship, not our ethnic or religious background. I want a country that’s for all its citizens.”

Following October 7, participants on both sides of the conflict have asked Daniel, “Is there any point in reconciliation after all this?”

But this war is exactly the point, Daniel argues.

“We have to provide frameworks in which people can have conversations and work through their emotions,” he said. “Because if not, it’s going to be an all-out burst of rage and anger, and it’s just going to bring up retaliation and destruction. And that’s been the ongoing cycle.”

Musalaha wants to try to bridge two seemingly incompatible ideas, Salim told me. He wants to encourage reconciliation and embrace the narrative of Israel as a settler-colonial project.

“I’m very hopeful,” he said. He sees an awakening in Israel and the international community about the need to find a solution for Israel-Palestine after years of putting the issue aside. Musalaha, he said, is a prophetic voice.

The question now is if others will see it that way.

While I was walking on Star Street in Bethlehem with Anfous, he got a call from Daniel. He was trying to convince Anfous to give Musalaha another chance. Go read our latest newsletter, Daniel told him. We’re going in a new direction. It’s going to change things.

“We shall see,” Anfous said.

Sophia Lee is global staff writer for CT.

[ This article is also available in español Português العربية Français 한국어 Indonesian русский, and Українська. ]

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