A Stone's Throw Away

There is that old refrain—or retort—from childhood that is usually said upon instances of bullying or teasing: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Unfortunately, when it comes to the reality of living in the Holy Land—specifically Israel—words, sticks and crucially—the stones—have become very harmful to the public order, not to mention the peace. And given the recent history of Palestinian-Israeli relations, a lot more than stones have been hurled by the contending parties, making the goal of replacing enmity with amity remains frustratingly elusive.

The Israeli government is considering the enactment of a law that would impose harsh prison sentences of up to 20 years upon those who throw rocks and stones as an act of protest, political or otherwise. For Israel, this is no idle measure—it is an attempt to deal with the very critical problem of Palestinian youths (and in many cases, mere children) throwing stones at vehicles, buildings and people (specifically, security personnel). For Palestinians, stone throwing is seen as an act of protest in response to what they view—and perceive—as the inequities of the conditions of life under which they have to live under. To Israelis, the Palestinian “protests” are simply terrorist acts, where stone throwing is believed to be (and often is) an attempt to inflict harm to people as well as property. Unfortunately, there is no end to the conflict; and, as there are a plentiful supply of stones, there seems to be no end as to what can be hurled, resulting in even more pain and harm. Like the stones that fly through the air, the question remains high above us: can simply enacting laws prohibiting such actions as stone throwing cause the problem (as well as its underlying causes) to go away?

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Protests of this sort are nothing new; it is the action that is taken by peoples who feel themselves subjugated and oppressed. They throw whatever projectiles they can at authority when they feel themselves outnumbered and overwhelmed by the circumstances in which they live. It has happened long ago in colonial Boston against the redcoats of England and it’s happening in cities like contemporary Baltimore against perceived—and actual—inequalities. For decades, it was a way of life in the enclaves of Northern Ireland, where hope and justice were in short supply, while alas, the stones were not. And now, Israel.

Upon first reading, a 20 year sentence for stone throwing seems not only excessive, but severe. When you consider what led to this proposed law, you begin to understand what prompted it in the first place. It is supposed to supplant an already existing law whereby those who engage in such activity were given a three-month sentence; but given the frequency and the severity of the attacks of late (such as the recent one upon the light-rail service in East Jerusalem and those on commuter buses), a much more drastic response was called for, hence, this new law.

The newly re-elected Likud government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (which controls 61 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, or parliament), under the auspices of the newly-appointed Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (of the far right Jewish Home Party), has moved to be more aggressive in dealing with this issue than previously done. A similar bill had been proposed last fall before this spring’s national elections; now with this reconstituted government, a stronger bill has been put forward by Ms. Shaked.  According to the preamble to the new bill that is under consideration in parliamentary committees, the number of stone throwing incidents have resulted in about 1,000 indictments every year—and the number of such incidents show no sign of abating.  If the bill passes the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, it can then be fast-tracked in the law-making process. In the meantime, however, there are various issues that need to be resolved concerning it, such as questions concerning the manner and intent of such incidents: is the act being perpetrated merely one of idleness of disaffected youth or one with political overtones, with the sinister intent to inflict harm? For example, in certain instances, there may be little danger to a well-armed, trained and protected soldier, but grievous harm could harm to innocent passengers in a vehicle, out on shopping trip, just driving by.

So, obviously—and naturally—this proposed measure is seen differently by both sides. To the Palestinians, it appears to be an example of double-sided system of justice, one for Israelis, and another for Palestinians: they see it as punitive and regressive measure, something else besides a security wall designed to “enclose” them. For Israelis, it is simply an act of self-defense, an attempt to address an assault on their national identity, well-being, security and peace. But there is something else to consider here, apart from the political and legal implications of the issues involving the implementation of such a law.  

What is really shocking and tragic about the whole affair is the fact that it is that young people—mere children—are being used as pawns in the political struggles of an adult world. They are being taught the ways of hate and violence when they should be allowed to be what they are: children. This is the greatest of tragedies of the modern world, that children are meant to be used as instruments for political and military ends, whether as rock throwers or suicide bombers. That is truly another form of child abuse and just as vile. It is hard to comprehend the fact that children—who are supposedly born out of love between two people—should be brought into this world only to be groomed in the ways of hatred and violence, taught to look askance at another people who—though they may not be like them, live like them, worship like them—are still people, just as human as they are, with the same wants, needs, hopes and desires.

A report in Salon from May 27th states that since the year 2000, Israel has had to put in jail over 7,000 children and that currently, only 156 remain incarcerated for stone throwing. Given the circumstances and the atmosphere that arises from security threats and concerns, that is understandable; but that too is tragic. For a nation that prides itself on the love of family and family connections and treasures her children—and is renowned for it—it must be a difficult measure to contemplate, never mind undertake.

This is the world such children live in.

It shouldn’t be that way.

The fact that they do, is an unconscionable failure on the part of the adults who have loved them into life and have failed to nurture them to become what they are meant to be and in fact already are: children of God.  If children are our “last natural resource” (as John F. Kennedy once said), then they are being squandered and the future is in danger of being lost through the lives of these children: truly, they, too are becoming the “lost generation” of this new century. Children suffer and die every day for a number of reasons: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They should not have to die because of politics.

The life, history and politics of the Middle East are vastly complicated are not easily solvable—everyone knows that. But what if a solution could be found in the lives of children? What if the adults who cannot—and in some cases, will not—resolve their differences around a conference table try a different tack, and groom their children into what they themselves cannot be—peacemakers? It is worth trying, since everything has apparently failed. Life in the Holy Land—the home of the world’s three great religions—could be transformed through the lives of its children, if they could be allowed to flourish and thrive. That goal won’t be easy to accomplish—but then no worthy goal usually is.

Stone throwing only leads to more stone throwing and leads nowhere. The more stones are thrown, the more things will remain the same for everyone, with sad and predictable results. Extremism, whether in politics or religion, will not help. It is a vice that has no virtue. However, on the other hand—if only a different approach and a different attitude were taken, maybe, then maybe, a peace of a flourishing kind could be established, remaking the face of a land that is supposed to be "holy."  

It all could be just a stone’s throw away.

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