As I am writing this article, the study trip to Israel-Palestine has almost come to an end. In about an hour ‘our’ bus will bring us to Ben Gurion Airport. For someone to fully grasp the nature, magnitude, and implications of the conflict here, a week is simply not enough. Yet each of the eighteen participants did develop a different view on the matter than he or she had before we arrived here. That is not to say that our views have become clearer. On the contrary: confusion has only increased, as testified during our evaluation this morning. But each participant was capable to summarise this week in a single word. Mine was: stones.
This land is filled with stoned, build with them, and upon them. Our first encounter with the old centre of Jerusalem involved a story about stones. The Palestinian guide told us about the immense stoned that form the basis of the Lion’s Gate, one of the city gates and part of its historic wall. These stones weigh tonnes and it is hard to grasp how the people of ancient times were able to place them without the tools and techniques we have today.
Stones also play a role in the Palestine-Israel conflict. Youths throw stones to soldiers, are then arrested, and sometimes held in detention for months without sufficient juridical ground. The youngest of them are about eight years old. For soldiers, a child with dusty hands can be considered sufficient evidence that the child threw the stone. Of course, the child could have just as easily have fallen, or perhaps it just touched a dusty wall. All the streets and walls in these lands are dusty.
Low walls of piled up stones circumference fields. Palestinian neighbourhoods are sometimes secluded by high walls of concrete, sturdier than stones. These circumferences force Palestinians to make detours, sometimes quite long ones, to reach their orchards or their jobs in other neighbourhoods, towns, or cities.
Stones are everywhere: boulders, rocks, pebbles. In Lucas 19 we find the story of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. His disciples cried out loud: “Blessed is the king, Who come in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and Glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees are disapproving of this and say to Jesus that he should tell his disciples to be silent. But Jesus replies: “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40, New International).
Jesus could say the same today: If you do not speak out about the injustices that are occurring here, the stones will do so.
Well, the stones are crying out in Palestine. They cry out together with the Palestinians and with the Jews who disapprove of their government’s policies.
The question that continuously returned in our group and which we asked various people: is a just peace possible here? And if it is, how may that be reached? It is the most complex question one can ask there. We spoke with many people about it. Some said: maybe in a hundred or a hundred and fifty years. Others were more sanguine. One of the participants recalled a parable of Jesus during our evaluation: Like a seed of mustard, faith can move mountains. His thoughts were that if each single person involved in this conflict would move a pebble and with that pebble builds a just peace, eventually a whole mountain will arise entirely consisting of small pebbles.
We often have the tendency to look at those who are in charge: politicians, policy makers, the military, and the police. But we forget that each and every one of us can contribute in a positive way, to add further constructive efforts to what others have already brought – and continue to bring. Among Israelis and Palestinians, there remain many with hope, who long for a society without walls, without segregation. People who long to a peace accompanied with justice, where the victims of both sides can share their story and receive the recognition that is their due. Those little stones of hope will eventually make the walls fall.