Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Highs and Lows of Jerusalem

Our morning began with an introduction by our ground tour coordinator, Dr. Kathy Nichols. Obviously a brilliant woman, Kathy represents the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Israel. She's put together a wonderful tour for us and we'll meet many Church leaders, members of the peace movement and others too numerous to mention here.

We walked through Herod's Gate into the Old City of Jerusalem, stopping first at Ecce Homo Convent for a look at the ancient Lithostratos stones. We continued along the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, one of my favorite sites in the whole world. There's a holy chaos about this interdenominational church. Given the poor relations among the Christian tribes there, we couldn't quite call it an "ecumenical" experience. But I like the darkness, the antiquity of it, the incense, and the sheer beauty of a building that's so complex and rambling that it could never have been designed by a single architect - unless he was mad!

After a quick lunch at Papandreaou's we headed to the Jaffa Gate and an appointment with Angela Godfrey-Goldstein of the Israeli Coalition Against House Demolitions. With Angela's commentary on the bus microphone we toured through sections of East Jerusalem that have been taken over by Jewish settlements. Few in the outside world believe there is any legitimacy to building settlements on land that is still of disputed ownership, but there are literally thousands of homes anyway. I was surprised to see the way the town of Bethany, for instance, had changed. My last time in Bethany was 10 years ago and the difference is even more striking than, say, the level of new development in Seattle's South Lake Union. In the SLU at least there were commercial structures prior to Paul Allen's rapid development of the area. In East Jerusalem there are acres of houses where 10 years ago there were hillsides and goat tracks. Unbelievable.

Saddest, though, was the existence of The Wall. Locally it goes by two names, "The Separation Barrier" to Jews and "The Apartheid Wall" to Palestinians. As low as 6 meters in some places, the height of the wall in Bethany is 12 meters - over 36 feet. Topping the sad structure is electrified barbed wire in case anyone could possibly scale the monstrosity.

The Wall snakes its way through East Jerusalem, separating neighbor from neighbor, Palestinian from Jew. Around 100 Palestinian homes on the Israeli side are demolished each year for the stated reason of lack of permits. It would be hard to argue that the presence of the Wall, far into East Jerusalem as it is, is anything other than an attempt to bump out the borders of Israeli farther and farther into West Bank land. And because Jerusalem's final status is so important to a lasting peace, it's also hard to feel anything other than sadness -- sadness that the Wall will just make peace that much harder to achieve. It would take billions and billions and billions of dollars to remove Jewish settlements on the West Bank. That is if anyone could actually ever succeed at dislodging the powerful settler community from their new homes.

Time now to catch up on sleep and try to get over this jet lag. More to come tomorrow.


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