It’s been a week of discussions, meetings and travel - our ‘mid-term orientation’, focusing on Israel. The twenty-four of us that add up to the 31st group of Ecumenical Accompaniers here, gathered together again in Jerusalem, after our first six weeks of work. We were there to review and to learn something of the Israeli Jewish experience.
There are, as usual, contrasts. On Monday morning we listened to Bob Lang, public relations man at the Efrat Settlement, a wealthy Jewish-only suburb of Jerusalem. Pointing across the hills ahead, he told us: ‘We as Jews have a history. If you take out the Jewish history book, the Bible, 90% of the places here are Jewish.’ Proud to have a protecting army, and proud of a heritage with this claim to the land, this speaker had no problems knowing where his loyalties lay. (It's strange to think that, the same day as Bob was talking to us of his settlement's plans for growth, President Obama was telling the Israeli Prime Minister to freeze settlement building at their meeting in Washington, headlined in the world's media the following day.)
Two days later, Ruth Hillier, an Israeli Jew herself told us of a different view - of the struggle her family had had to get her son released from conscription to the Israeli army.. As a pacifist, he could not accept the three-year conscription. Mother of six children, two of whom had already done military service, Ruth went on to found New Profile, the organization which provides advice and support to other families like hers and which a couple of weeks ago was in the news charged with ‘inciting refusal’ among Israeli youth.
Back home in Tulkarem, I take a walk up the street. Ruth had told us of what she called the militarization of the society. ‘The soldier is conditioned to think that his gun is his best friend’, she had said. ‘He takes his gun into his home. The army doesn’t have a place to leave it before he goes home. We see armed soldiers in the mall, in the bank, in the grocery store, at the seaside’.
And sure enough, at the end of the street, three armed soldiers are lounging on the corner. (But this is Palestine, not Israel? Oh yes, of course, this is also the occupation.)
After these and many other confusions, I was glad to have a couple of hours with our women’s conversation group at the refugee camp today. Last week we’d been exchanging notes about children’s games. This week, we had agreed that I would write down in English how two of them are played, if we could work it out between us. The two we chose were: ‘five stones’ and what in English we call ‘hopscotch’.
Turns out, from the group, that this game, known in Arabic as ‘jump’, has two variations. In Jordan, the first round entails jumping – with two feet. In Palestine, it’s hopping, from the word go. As some of you will know, this makes a difference when you come back to pick up your stone. Any player who wobbles or puts her foot on the line is out.
As to five stones, well, Sefiyeh was the one with the nifty snatching skills. (Throw one stone up and snatch the others: first one at a time, then two at a time, and so on). The clatter of stones on the table and the noisy laughter as we checked and disagreed on the best way to play – these were the sounds of a welcome peace.