To my dear friends Mary, Jimmy and Ela, as you travel to the Holy City of Jerusalem. I am sorry not to be joining you today, but I am with you in my prayers.
Jerusalem evokes bittersweet feelings for many of us: it is a city so holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam and yet is entangled in one of the most divisive conflicts in modern history. It is also a city that unites the three Abrahamic faiths which have, at their core, a deep commitment to peace and justice.
It is this commitment that drives so many of us to continue working to build peace, to defend human rights, and to mend our fractured societies, in the Middle East and beyond.
When you travelled to Gaza this week, you saw with your own eyes just how bad things are. The blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, with the compliance of the west, is an absolute abomination, in spite of any moves to ‘ease’ the restrictions. I was deeply troubled to hear your reports of young people unable to attend school, unable to find employment, and to know that this injustice is the result of political failure.
I was encouraged, however, to hear that the young people you met were so determined and forward-looking. It takes great courage to look beyond fear and despondency to the future, and to reject the violence that surrounds you. It takes creativity and a strong spirit to resist peacefully, and I encourage those young people to keep seeking that alternative.
Indeed, it can appear easy to choose violence – but ultimately, it will get you nowhere. In South Africa we learned that stability and security do not come from the barrel of a gun; they come when the inalienable human rights of every individual are respected and protected. The Holy Land should not be any different.
As you travel through a divided Jerusalem, I hope that you will encounter that same spirit. When we went to Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem with the Elders last year, it was terribly sad to meet Palestinian families evicted from their homes, yet also encouraging to meet Israelis who stand beside them in the struggle against injustice.
Peace in the Holy Land will not be achieved while people fail to respect each other and resort to violence. Peace will be achieved when justice is our guide, when international law is fully respected, when Israelis have secure and universally recognised borders and when Palestinians live in a viable sovereign land.
People may look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and shrug their shoulders. Peace, they may say, is a long way off. But as you know my friends, I am a prisoner of hope. This is, after all, a moral universe and I do have faith that right will prevail.