Another post from our good friend Michael Ramos
Rev. Joshua Liljenstolpe, Michael Ramos, and Rev. Sandy Brown outside the Council's bus during the Israel-Palestine trip
“A small stone can carry a big rock.”
--Bishop Munib Younan
Bishop Munib Younan (Lutheran) insists that the right of return for refugees is much more than a matter of compensation. “The city of Beer-sheba (where we met Bedouin communities on Sunday) no longer has any Christians.” Twenty years after my family was displaced from there, “in 1968 my father came back to see his house. He had hoped to see his room, but he was told when he arrived only to ‘go away’.” Heartbroken, “he couldn’t eat or sleep for 2-3 days.” It is hard to imagine what it is like “to lose your house you have built.”
“Confirming the right of return would be an acknowledgement of my ‘nakba’ (or ‘catastrophe’, the loss of a way of life, including land),” Bishop Younan concluded. “Because we are broken doesn’t mean we have lost everything. We will continue to work for peace and justice. The cross is my dignity.”
The theater/dance performance of “The Last Supper in Palestine” began with the six Palestinian performers balancing a small stone over a large one on their heads. Stones were a prominent symbol later in the performance as the actors passed an Israeli checkpoint, presumably in the West Bank. Some had them in their pockets; all were flushed out. Were they planning – as goes the stereotype – to throw these at the military police? Yet, they were allowed to keep the stones. A ritual cleansing began, each washing his or her body with the stones.
Suddenly, one of them lay stricken, killed it appeared, no stone ever tossed. His companions lay stones on top of him, anointing him and sealing his resting place at the same time. Is his fate final? What is the fate of the others? Will they dance together again?
These stones give power. They suggest the building blocks of life and life in abundance. Placed one on top of the other, even a small stone can carry a large one, bearing many times its size and weight. In the spirit of Bishop Younan, the small stones of the actions of education, training and advocacy can carry the big rocks of humility, love and justice. “The cross is my dignity,” says the bishop. In bearing it, the Christian community in Palestine collectively carries the large rock of nonviolent transformation.
Our journey has come to an end. It is with a great deal of gratitude that I head home. My prayer as we left Seattle to begin the trip was “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice” (Psalm 130). Our prayers have been heard. The trip was safe and everyone returns healthy. I am full.
My devotion on the trip was built upon the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:9), “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One,” and the prayer of Archbishop Romero about the Reign of God. These both still sit with me as we depart the Holy Land. Somehow, the intimacy with which all the people, Israeli and Palestinian, embrace the land, is reflective of a shared understanding of God as being One, our Ground in whom we live and move (breathe) and have our being. This is the reality that they are living into, two peoples sharing one land (even as two states), learning to live together in dignity and justice.
The horizon toward which we look from the land is the Reign of God, the reality that is our hope beyond hope, yet emerging in the Person of Jesus Christ. We feel small and insignificant in the face of the conflict on the ground, the pain and suffering of the people and the years of political failure to achieve peace. Yet, despite the dwindling number of Christians there, the seeds of peace are being sown, the resilience of people who know the cross leaves them undeterred, and stones are being used to lay a non-violent path for a future beyond our imagination.
Queen Rafia of Jordan said in an interview with CNN that leaders need the “political willpower and sincerity of spirit” to craft a solution that offers a measure of peace with justice in Israel/Palestine. Her prophetic words came in the context of commenting on the humanitarian disaster in Gaza while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Countries of the world were discussing the spreading of wealth, while people like Bono and Bill Gates were suggesting global, market-based strategies to address malaria and poverty. Such collective, world-class thinking ought to be applied, with similar tenacity and creativity, to fostering peace. This is especially the case in the place – more than any other in the world – where the religious convictions of the three Abrahamic faiths converge. The Old City of Jerusalem is that melting pot, where people criss-cross each other in pilgrimage and tolerance begets hospitality begets conversation over strong Arabic coffee.
In the heart of Jerusalem, on the last day of our trip, I got lost in the heart of the Old City. Up and down one set of market stalls on narrow cobble-stone streets, then another, I could not find my way to the church where we were having a meeting with a bishop. I had learned to put my self-reliant bravado aside and ask for directions. Eventually, I found my way and my destination. For decades, efforts for peace have proven just as vexing as trying to make your way through the Old City. Still, Israelis and Palestinians, as evidenced by those whom we encountered, have the wisdom to “make a way out of no way.”
Clarity and courage were two hallmarks of the people whom we met. There was agreement, even among people coming from very distinct perspectives and world-views, about the basic framework of a peace initiative. Genuine movement toward forging a two-state solution, addressing the rights and needs of the displaced, preserving the sacredness and centrality politically of Jerusalem, enhancing the integrity of the borders of the Occupied Territories to that of 1967 in forming a new state, tackling the obstacles of settlements and the security wall, while leaving all people more secure, are understood (with some differences in detail) as necessary, urgent overlapping issues. Physical security for all is needed, while recognizing that it is linked to political, social and economic security for all. The best and really only option for genuine “security” is the accomplishment of a secure peace that bears the honoring of two peoples on one land as two nations emerge.
Advocates need to step forward from wherever they call home and create conditions for this political will to be unleashed. Otherwise, the cycle of suffering, unrest and repression will continue as the predominant facts on the ground. Candidates for office and elected officials in all the relevant countries need to be challenged to bring these issues to the forefront rather than consign them to the back pages.
From a faith perspective, I find myself returning to the phrase “sincerity of spirit.”. It connotes for me the “pureness of heart” that Jesus calls us to in the Sermon on the Mount, with the promise that we shall “see God.” Sincerity of spirit also suggests the Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). These combine the single-mindedness of conviction with the humility to explore truth before God and neighbor regardless of the consequences. Pursuing this truth steadfastly (“samat” or “sumut” in Arabic and Hebrew respectively), is the grace we Christians in the United States are invited to seek, while affirming and upholding these gifts in the brothers and sisters we met.