|Lili can safely play with stones|
My two “little” granddaughters (ages 5 and 3) were visiting last week. At one point, Lili, the three-year-old, picked up some rocks from the parking strip in front of my building and started throwing them. My reaction was visceral – I grabbed her arm and started to shout at her, fearful for her life!
Almost immediately, I realized what I was doing and I calmed down. We were in Portland, Oregon, not in Palestine, and the IDF was not about to detain this child for rock-throwing!
Later, while on the Oregon coast with the girls, I noticed several children picking up rocks and aimlessly throwing them. “It’s what kids do,” I remember an EA friend saying last year after her return from Bethlehem, and before my departure for Tulkarm.
While other grandparents watched their grandchildren idly tossing rocks as part of their beach play, I remained uneasy. “They’re just being kids,” said a grandmother sitting beside me.
“It’s fine - here,” I said – “I just think about what would happen if we were in Palestine,” I added, at which point I launched into stories of children detained for rock-throwing across the West Bank (see blog post “Please Pray for the Children" – July 14, 2013).
I was, of course, grateful that my grandchildren would never have to live in fear of being detained by soldiers for an innocent game, but my heart remained heavy as I thought of the children who would never enjoy the childhood pleasures that these youngsters took for granted.
|Elias Chacour speaks at Mar Elias|
And then I started thinking about another kind of “stones” – the living kind, as the Palestinian Christians frequently call themselves. I remember my first visit to Palestine in 2008 – the first time I understood it as an actual place – and hearing Elias Chacour speak at Mar Elias.
“We are the living stones,” he told us. “We are the descendants of the first Christians, the ones who were here at the time of Christ. People come here to see the stones, the ancient land, but they don’t see us.”
During my stay in Palestine, I met other living stones. Not a lot – remember, I was living in a Muslim city in which remained only one church, which had been burned during the violence of the second Intifada and later restored.
|Daoud and his son|
But, while in Tulkarm, I met Daoud, one of three remaining Christians in what had once been a vibrant Christian community. He was the self-appointed caretaker of Mar Gerias, the once-vibrant Greek Orthodox church that Daoud and a cadre of Muslim friends had lovingly re-built after the fire. And at the time of our meeting, he was building toilet facilities for the rare visitors who came long distances for occasional services at the church.
We also met Moana, an Anglican who could only rarely attend worship because she worked on Sundays (the Middle-Eastern weekend is Friday and Saturday), and her mother, who was housebound and depended upon visitors for her fellowship.
Unlike the stones thrown by the children, which appear to be limitless, the “living stones” are in danger of extinction. The Israeli government blames Muslim “persecution” for the departure of the Christians but, based upon my observations and interviews, it is far more likely that the Israeli government itself is to blame.
|Greek Orthodox Church Mar Gerias|
While I observed nothing but courteous and friendly relationships between the Christian and Muslim “Arabs” (the pejorative term by which the Israelis lump both groups), the actions of Israeli soldiers, settlers and “government policies” themselves seem to be the real reason that Palestinian Christians leave to seek more hospitable surroundings.
When one wants peace, it is difficult to live in a situation that breeds war. And when one’s children are being threatened, a move to safety is the natural reaction. So I pray for the stones – that the living ones will have the strength to stay in the face of adversity and that the children can play without fear.