Global Analysis

Peace and Reconciliation as Mission in a World in Conflict

A Christian perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Rula Khoury Mansour May 2024

As I write this article, the Israel-Gaza war rages on, leaving behind a tragic scene with immense suffering and destruction. The urgency for a shift away from military approaches towards a foundation of historical reconciliation has never been more tangible. In this article, I aim to outline a path illuminated by four key principles, guiding Israelis and Palestinians alike towards a shared vision of peace amidst the ongoing century-long conflict.

‘. . . amid deep-rooted violent contexts, reconciliation is not just a nice idea—it is an absolute necessity. It is the key to breaking the cycles of conflict and creating a future where Israelis and Palestinians can coexist peacefully.’

As a Palestinian-Israeli Christian lawyer and peace scholar-practitioner with a deep understanding of the complexities and nuances of this lifelong conflict, I believe that amid deep-rooted violent contexts, reconciliation is not just a nice idea—it is an absolute necessity. It is the key to breaking the cycles of conflict and creating a future where Israelis and Palestinians can coexist peacefully. Rooted in my faith, I understand reconciliation as a divine mandate, echoing God’s response to human failure through the establishment of his kingdom on earth through Christ. It is within this sacred framework that Christ’s followers are compelled to actively participate in the restoration of humanity, addressing suffering and confronting injustice. Through the transformative power of truth, forgiveness, justice, and healing, we glimpse the dawn of the new world where hope prevails over despair, and the promise of reconciliation illuminates even the darkest of conflicts.


Reconciliation has diverse meanings. It is associated with ‘shalom’ in the Old Testament, emphasizing justice and love within a community.[1] In Hebrew, since the early rabbinic period, it is ‘tikkun olam’ meaning ‘mending the world’.[2] In the New Testament, it pertains to Christ’s work, overcoming enmity between God and humanity, leading to eschatological ‘shalom’[3] while in the present time reconciliation addresses human limitation and brokenness, easing rather than eliminating conflicts. 

In political discourse, reconciliation implies setting aside past animosities, allowing former enemies to work together in the future,[4] which may range from a simple ‘accommodation’[5] to a shared future.[6] Reconciliation is a process through which a society moves from a divided past to a shared future, including the search for truth, forgiveness, justice, and healing. Practically, reconciliation is essential for building a supportive environment for effective governance that provides foundations for economic justice and power-sharing. Politics and reconciliation are separate but interdependent processes.


The ninth commandment instructs believers not to bear false witness,[7] emphasizing the moral principle of truth-telling to mirror God’s character. Truthfulness involves treating others justly by preventing untruthfulness, which is essential for avoiding conflict and fostering reconciliation.[8] 

Truth-telling is crucial for healing and justice; it involves facing contested histories, acknowledging wrongdoing, and creating an atmosphere of forgiveness. In longstanding conflicts, reconciliation faces challenges like ‘mythohistory’ where events are distorted to create mythic pasts, with groups exaggerating enemies’ atrocities while downplaying their own wrongs. This ‘egoism of victimization’ hinders peace efforts. Another challenge is ‘contested history’ where groups disagree on what ‘really’ happened, why, and who the true perpetrators and victims are.[9]

Ignoring the past is a serious obstacle for reconciliation. Amnesia denies victims’ pain, encourages denial among offenders, and robs future generations of learning. Acknowledging the truth, through confession, contributes significantly to victims’ healing.[10] Validating victims’ experiences is essential. It recognizes that perpetrators systematically undermine identities, imposing false narratives, leaving victims isolated and powerless.[11] Speaking the truth enables victims to articulate new narratives, exposing lies, affirming guilt and validating emotions. An uncontested, documented truth record is significant for ending violence cycles, creating a shared narrative or at least mutually-acknowledged varied histories. It acknowledges the fractured past through collective memory, creating the foundation for healing and a shared future.[12] While essential for the long-term, this process can be initially divisive, requiring a transformative process of ‘negotiating identity’ that allows both sides to release aspects of identity through confronting the conditions that gave rise to them, such as the humiliation of a low power group or the emotional integration of the high power group’s identity that enabled acts of violence.[13] Establishing an authoritative record of a contested past requires an unbiased approach. The legitimacy of truth commissions, a common practice worldwide, depends on key groups believing in its fairness.[14] 

Balancing remembering and forgetting is essential; excessive focus on the past perpetuates divisions, while selective memory is risky. Considering that ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,’[15] memory, when employed wisely, provides early warnings, and facilitates healing. Publicly acknowledging the past, for example through public memorials and art, may allow competing memories to coexist.[16]

Forgiveness encourages truth-telling. In longstanding conflicts, acknowledging the contested nature of truth is important, hoping consensus may grow. Mutual forgiveness may be needed, recognizing complexity and mutual victimization.


Forgiveness is tough after horrific events like mass killings. Suggesting that survivors should forgive perpetrators can be offensive, especially when the conflict is still ongoing. Yet it is vital for healing and reconciliation. While shared truth enables accountability and creates a foundation for a shared future, forgiveness abandons vengeance, repairs enmity, and builds a new, shared, political community.[17] 

In Christianity, forgiveness is rooted in God’s example and Christ’s teachings.[18] It is a social relationship, and part of the larger strategy to overcome evil with good. We accuse when we forgive, affirming the rightful claims of justice.[19] Forgiveness confronts systemic injustices, and aims for a just and reconciled world. This commitment demands sacrifice and effort, yet brings healing and liberation, breaking cycles of violence. 

‘Forgiveness serves as a catalyst for truth and justice. It is only through the forgiveness of injustice that reconciliation is possible, because justice alone is powerless to deal with past injustices, whereas forgiveness calls for the unjust causes to be removed.’

Forgiveness is the space between enmity and reconciliation, where the wall of hostility created by wrongdoing is torn down, but the reconciliation itself is not fully arrived at.[20] It creates a neutral space, preserving the possibility of eventual reconciliation. While some may prefer to stay in this neutral state, forgiveness aims for relationship restoration, imagining something new that moves beyond destructive patterns.[21] 

Forgiveness serves as a catalyst for truth and justice. It is only through the forgiveness of injustice that reconciliation is possible, because justice alone is powerless to deal with past injustices, whereas forgiveness calls for the unjust causes to be removed.[22]

Memory plays an important role in forgiveness. Remembering allows us to process events without denial, reclaiming and interpreting them in light of the present and future. This process contributes to healing and may generate empathy for the ‘enemy’s humanity’, enabling forbearance,[23] and even self-forgiveness for perpetrators. Since Christ comes not to ask us to forget the past but to redeem it, ‘forgive and forget’ becomes ‘remember and forgive’.[24]


The prophetic condemnation of injustice is inscribed in the character of the Christian faith.[25] Nonetheless, reconciliation is not based on justice done and the cause of enmity removed, but it creates a path to achieve justice and live in peace.[26] Biblical justice generously redeems and restores sinners. It sees no conflict between divine justice and mercy; if we understand justice in terms of the restoration of relationships, then mercy serves justice.[27] 

Reconciliation cannot be achieved without justice, and forgiveness does not deny justice but ‘enthrones’ it.[28] Justice, then, must be sought within the context of forgiveness, because only those who are forgiven and forgivers can pursue justice without corrupting it.[29] Additionally, punishment does not oppose forgiveness; both express disapproval and affirm dignity, aiming for protection, discipline, and restoration of shalom. Combining forgiveness with punishment removes obstacles from the past to create conditions for peace in the present.[30] 

Justice has many faces—restorative justice based on mediation, retributive justice based on prosecution, historical justice produced by truth commissions, and compensatory justice achieved through reparations.[31] Integrating these justice types in long-standing conflicts, observed in various contexts, is essential for genuine reconciliation despite its complications and challenges.[32]

Restorative justice promotes collaboration between justice and reconciliation, emphasizing the healing of broken relationships, rejecting dehumanizing practices of the past. It seeks three goals: Establishing an uncontested record of atrocities; validating victims’ experiences by exposing false narratives, affirming guilt, and restoring dignity; holding perpetrators accountable, preventing distortion of realities, and ensuring justice aligns with reconciliation.[33] 

Retributive justice is significant for holding individuals accountable. It often faces challenges in post-conflict societies due to difficulty in gathering evidence. It is less effective in conflict regions with low prosecution success. In conflicts, ethical challenges arise in balancing justice, forgiveness, and political peace. Pragmatically, forgiveness is crucial when strict retributive justice undermines peace efforts. Sometimes, compromising justice, particularly its retributive aspect, becomes necessary for the sake of political stability.[34] Although frustrating for victims, making political and juridical compromises for the sake of peace is not entirely unethical.[35] 

Post-conflict amnesty is criticized for neglecting justice. Critics reject ‘forgive and forget’, advocating ‘remember and repent’ for perpetrators and ‘remember and forgive’ for victims. Aligning amnesty with restorative justice is challenging. South Africa linked amnesty to full truth disclosure, public acknowledgment, and victim-perpetrator confrontation.[36] These public confrontations, in once-oppressive spaces now used for justice, dismantling the ‘lie narrative’, empower victims and humanize wrongdoers, launching reconciliation. Expressing guilt contributes to justice, and truth commissions serve as initial steps in ongoing reconciliation efforts.

Reparation is vital in addressing victims’ justice needs, symbolically repairing harm. It includes material and immaterial forms to honor their dignity, foster psychological healing and ease tensions. Reparation bridges the past and future, compensating victims, contributing to political reform, and providing a compromise when prosecuting all perpetrators risks stability.


Healing at the group level is essential for improving the wellbeing of its members and to make it less likely that the group becomes a perpetrator. Individuals who have experienced trauma need to feel security to begin their healing journey. Addressing the aftermath of extensive violence in a society is a complex, long-term process involving truth commissions, criminal trials, counseling, and support. However, it is important to recognize the limitations of these efforts and the lengthy nature of the healing process.

Healing programs should be context-specific, integrating psychosocial initiatives, counseling, community training, symbolic healing, educational programs, and self-help support groups. Self-help support groups in post-conflict contexts from Northern Ireland to Sri Lanka have played a crucial role in reconciliation by uniting individuals facing shared challenges.[37] Healing involves reconciling past suffering with the present through ongoing personal, community, and political actions. Healing programs for children are also crucial for breaking the cycle of fear and empowering victims.[38] Also, traumatized leaders require healing for leading to societal peace as seen in Rwanda. Conversely, in Bosnia, unhealed leaders like General Mladic incited violence.


Addressing historical injustices and building relationships between Palestinians and Israelis demand a very long-term commitment, fostering empathy, trust, and coexistence through public discourse led by authorities, media, schools, and civil society. Current leadership lacks the visionary approach needed to instill hope. We long for courageous leaders, on a local and international scale, who understand the necessity of truth, forgiveness, justice, and healing in transitioning from a turbulent past to a peaceful future. Reconciliation, transcending political and ethnic boundaries, is essential for a shared destiny. Through sincere dialogue, acknowledging shared suffering and conflicting histories, and embracing forgiveness, a new narrative can emerge. By applying justice in its diverse forms and embarking on a journey of collective healing, we lay the foundation for a harmonious tomorrow, transcending the wounds of the past.


  1. Shalom is a Hebrew word meaning peace. It denotes the presence of harmony and wholeness, of health and prosperity, of integration and balance. Shalom is when everything is as it ought to be, and thus, it combines into one concept the meaning of justice and peace. Chris Marshall, Little Book of Biblical Justice: A Fresh Approach to the Bible’s Teachings on Justice (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2005), 12–13.
  2. Jacob Wolf Arnold, ‘Repairing Tikkun Olam,’ Judaism 50, no. 4 (Fall 2001): 479-82.
  3. Romans 8; Revelation 21-22.
  4. Brandon Hamber and Gráinne Kelly, ‘Beyond Coexistence: Towards a Working Definition of Reconciliation,’ in Reconciliation(S): Transitional Justice in Postconflict Societies, ed., Joanna R. Quinn (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009), 287. 
  5. Nigel Biggar, ‘Forgiveness in the Twentieth Century: A Review of the Literature, 1901–2001,’ in Forgiveness and Truth: Explorations in Contemporary Theology, eds., Alistair McFadyen and Marcel Sarot (Edinburgh & New York: T&T Clark, 2001), 215.
  6. Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 125-26.
  7. Exodus 20:16.
  8. Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 51-56.
  9. William Bole, et al. Forgiveness in International Politics: An Alternative Road to Peace (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004).
  10. John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1997).
  11. Robert J. Schreiter, Reconciliation: Mission and Ministry in a Changing Social Order (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Press, 1992), 30-34.
  12. Donald W. Jr. Shriver, ‘Forgiveness: A Bridge Across an Abyss of Revenge,’ in Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Religion, Public Policy, and Conflict Transformation, eds., Raymond G. Helmick and Rodney L. Petersen (Philadelphia & London: Templeton Foundation Press, 2001), 156.
  13. Donna Hicks, ‘The Role of Identity Reconstruction in Promoting Reconciliation,’ in Forgiveness and Reconciliation, 129-149.
  14. Audrey R. Chapman, ‘Truth Commissions as Instruments of Forgiveness and Reconciliation,’ in Forgiveness and Reconciliation, 261-62.
  15. Philosopher Georges Santayana says this line in the closing section of Volume I of his book. He argues that, if our world is ever going to make progress, it needs to remember what it’s learned from the past. Santayana, George. The Life of Reason Vol. 1: Reason in Common Sense. London: Constable, 1905. 
  16. Huyse Luc, ‘The Process of Reconciliation,’ in Reconciliation After Violent Conflict, eds., David Bloomfield, Teresa Barnes, and Luc Huyse (Stockholm: IDEA, 2003),19-33.
  17. Donald Shriver Jr., An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 7–9. 
  18. Matt 6:12; Eph 4:32. Editor’s note: See article entitled ‘Witnessing to the Gospel through Forgiveness’ by Wafik Wahba, Lausanne Global Analysis, January 2018.
  19. Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 166-169.
  20. Volf, Free of Charge, 18.
  21. John Paul Lederach, The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 182.
  22. Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 224–25.
  23. Shriver, An Ethic for Enemies.
  24. Donald Shriver, ‘Where and When in Political Life is Justice Served by Forgiveness?’ in Burying the Past: Making Peace and Doing Justice after Civil Conflict, ed., N. Biggar, (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2001), 23–39.
  25. Miroslav Volf, ‘Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Justice: A Christian Contribution to a More Peaceful Social Environment,’ in Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Religion, Public Policy, and Conflict Transformation, eds., S.J. Raymond, G. Helmick and Rodney L. Petersen (Philadelphia & London: Templeton Foundation Press, 2001), 27–49.
  26. Miroslav Volf, ‘The Social Meaning of Reconciliation,’ Transformation 16 (1999): 7–12.
  27. Psalm 85:10; Marshall, Little Book of Biblical Justice. 
  28. Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 123.
  29. Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 123. 
  30. Miroslav Volf, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015).
  31. Huyse Luc, ‘Justice,’ in Reconciliation After Violent Conflict, 97-115.
  32. Integrating the four faces of justice, seen in Sierra Leone (truth commission and hybrid national–international criminal court operate alongside one another), Rwanda (gacaca system merging prosecutorial goals with pursuit of truth and community reintegration), and East Timor (where a truth commission serves as a facilitator of refugee return, the prosecution of serious crime, and restitution and reintegration for less serious offences). There are many challenges and complications in trying to integrate transitional goals and mechanisms in this way, generating creative and original solutions. Mark Freeman and Priscilla B. Hayner, ‘Truth-telling,’ In Reconciliation After Violent Conflict, 122-38.
  33. Anna Scheid, Just Revolution: A Christian Ethic of Political Resistance and Social Transformation (Mayland USA: Lexington Books, 2015), 119.
  34. Nigel Biggar, ‘Conclusion,’ in Burying the Past: Making Peace and Doing Justice after Civil Conflict, ed., Nigel Biggar (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2003), 307–330.
  35. Shriver, ‘Where and When,’ 27.
  36. Scheid, Just Revolution, 124, 127. Critics of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) question its focus on reconciliation, with concerns ranging from an emphasis on individual forgiveness, influenced possibly by Archbishop Tutu, to neglect of apartheid’s systemic violence. Procedural issues include prioritizing reconciliation over truth-seeking and administrative shortcomings like underusing subpoena powers and lacking a remorse requirement for amnesty. Despite criticisms, the TRC marked a beginning for reconciliation, highlighting the necessity of addressing systemic violence for enduring social change and justice. 
  37. Brandon Hamber, ‘Healing,’ in Reconciliation After Violent Conflict, 77-88. 
  38. Ervin Staub and Laurie Anne Pearlman, ‘Healing, Reconciliation, and Forgiving after Genocide and Other Collective Violence,’ in Forgiveness and Reconciliation, 224.