Skip to content

Old City and New City

May 16, 2009


Saturday, 9:56 pm local time


The city of Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged twenty-three times, attacked fifty-two times, and captured or recaptured forty-four times. In 1948, it became the capital of the new state of Israel; in 1967, Israel annexed divided East Jerusalem. The city covers 125 square kilometers; the Old City covers less than one square kilometer. It is a holy place, and a wholly other place, and a place that yearns to be whole. It is, in name – but not in spirit.

We’ve been spiraling around Jerusalem since the beginning of our trip, and we completed the last arm of the spiral today. Samir started by telling us of the four mountains that surround the city: Mount Scopus, Mount Zion, Mount Moriah, and the Mount of Olives. From Mount Scopus, upon which part of the Hebrew University sits, we could see the entire city from the Kidron Valley on up. From there, we moved to the Mount of Olives, and saw three sites on our way down to the foot of the mountain:
– The Church of the Lord’s Prayer, commemorating Jesus’ teaching of the Lord’s Prayer to the disciples. The Prayer has been translated into 150 languages, mosaics of which surround the area.
– Dominus Flavius, or the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
– The Church of Gethsemane, memorializing Jesus’ time in the garden on Maundy Thursday.
I hadn’t realized that all of those sites were so close together; my Godbrother can throw footballs longer distances.

From the foot of the Mount of Olives, we bussed up to the Southern Gate of the Old City, stopping briefly at the burial place of King David, and walked through the Armenian Quarter to the heart of the city. We broke for lunch, and a group of us stayed with Gordon and walked the Via Dolorosa, along which we saw:
– St. Anne’s Church, which commemorates the birth of the Virgin Mary.
– The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, from the top of which you can see the whole city.
– The Church of the Holy Sepulcher (or, as I affectionately call it, the Church of the Holy Whatever, as I cannot pronounce that word to save my life).

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher enshrines Golgotha, the Stone of Unction where they prepared Jesus’ body for burial, and the tomb in which they laid him and from which he rose – again, all within less than 100 yards of each other. In my head, these places were great distances from each other, but if they have it right, Mary Magdelene and Mary the mother of Christ could see the place where Jesus was crucified from the site of his burial. There’s a lot that’ll preach in there.

What might also preach, in a negative context, is the sad situation of the church itself. The site of the church is so holy that no less than six Christian sects – including the Greek Orthodox, the Catholics, the Armenians, and the Ethiopians – have each laid claim to a particular section of the church and will not leave. They sleep there, knowing that if they vacate a room, someone else will take ownership of it. The situation is so bad that when monks from certain sects process through other rooms during worship times, they will literally come to blows with their fellow Christian brothers. A Muslim keeps the key to the front door of the church because the sects have all agreed that none of them can be trusted to keep it. Take from that what you will.

We wandered a bit of the Old City today, and will wander more in the coming days, but we stopped and had a early dinner because tonight, we were invited into the home of Ed Greenstein and Beverly Gribetz to discuss Israel along with a member of the Jerusalem City Council named Edna. The discussion was fascinating, with topics ranging from the steps taken to encourage environmentalism to the creating of a committee on Women’s Issues. As always, though, the conversation turned to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

In Edna’s view, it is a question of safety and security. She, like my Shabbat host Sharon, feels she cannot trust Palestinian overtures anymore because of so many broken promises and shattered hopes over the years. She is frustrated by the lack of Palestinian voices in the Israeli political process, for instance; Arabs living in annexed East Jerusalem, while choosing not to be citizens of the state of Israel, are citizens of the municipality of Jerusalem and therefore have the right to vote. Edna says that they choose not to exercise that right, whether due to pressure from Hamas or just sheer stubbornness, and because of that there is not a single Palestinian on the Jerusalem City Council when sheer demographics would give them fully a third of the 31 seats. Ed points out that they would be willing to dialogue with a Palestinian partner if only such a voice would emerge.

Miriam seemed to get a little frustrated during the conversation at Edna’s lack of ability or will to articulate the Palestinian side of the argument, but for Edna, this is an issue of national sovereignty, of Israel’s right to control its own destiny. Jerusalem gives Arabs the right to vote, but will not force them (or encourage them, maybe?) to exercise it; Arab Palestinians give Israel nothing but harsh words and violent actions in return, it seems. Articulating the other side of the argument isn’t helpful because the other side isn’t willing to acknowledge that you should even exist, much less the fact that you have an argument to articulate. Israel has a primary right to defend itself; articulation is secondary.

There’s a conversation to be had here between the process of political dialogue and the education of children and people in general, I think. Part of our discussion turned toward education in Jerusalem, and the tendency to split between religious and secular schools, or the right of parents to choose schools and so the tendency towards a core of ‘elite’ schools. Arab schools in East Jerusalem are under Jerusalemite control and enjoy tax dollars and resources from Jerusalem’s Ministry of Education, but the separation is clear. I wonder if it’s fair to expect a Palestinian voice to emerge that is able to articulate both sides of the argument if Palestinian children are not given the right kind of education. Ed made the very good point that any Arab educated by Israel automatically has no credibility in Palestinians eyes, but it seems to me that there should be a way for Israel to resource the opposition side of the argument in order to give the opposition a voice. The danger is that the voice will turn against them; the hope is that voice will become a partner in dialogue.

We are here in Jerusalem until we leave on Thursday, and I hope that we will be able to add many more voices to this conversation. I leave you with a question: at what point does educating the “enemy” become problematic? Is it ever helpful, particularly if you identify the other as an enemy? Can an Israeli-educated Palestinian possibly be the voice for a generation? I don’t know, but I intend to keep my voice in the conversation.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim Timpte permalink
    May 16, 2009 5:25 pm

    Here are a few questions to your question: How much does Israel (or the Israeli people) trust God at this point in their history? What does their history show them regarding their treatment of enemies (good or bad)? What does the Old Testament say about educating (loving?) your enemies? I am certainly no expert in this area, and maybe I am making a mistake by equating Israel with Judaism. My naive answer is that Israel should educate the Palestinians, thereby not only giving a voice to the opposition, but hoping that the process of education would educate the Palestinian people that there are ways other than violence to voice opposition. I call this answer naive because I am not an expert on Islam or the Muslim mind-set. Further, until 9/11, I lived in a country that had never sustained an attack on its native soil. Even then, it happened almost 2,ooo miles away from where I live, so I and my family were never really threatened.

  2. October 31, 2009 11:24 pm

    As the writer of I have spent with
    my family about 2 years in the Holy mountain areas living with basically
    Arabic people. There is a deep sense of education from a strict Muslim point of
    view that causes a strong distrust in the Secular Israeli society. It is like
    putting a strip joint next to a conservative church. The unbridgeable problem
    is that the western governments are all far from the conservative Muslim
    mind set. The political thought process of a Muslim nation has no way to
    engulf a democratic liberal government because it is an abomination to the
    Abrahamic lifestyle. A secular media dare not mention this because they are
    an extension of the liberal secular world who does not embrace such conservative values. Therefore the existence of a secular Israel is an abomination to a Muslim no matter which country he is from not because he
    fails to see Israelis as sons of Abraham but because they are not conservative
    enough to be recognized as a nation before God because of their liberal views.
    This is also seen by some Orthodox Jews. If a local unified conservative
    Abrahamic position emerges from The old city it would be accepted as the
    true Jerusalem and the other political parts of the greater municipality would
    be political capitals but very separate. In this way the true capitol would be very conservative but also unified as above the political national mentallitys.
    The only other option to this is the proof of manifest destiny by war alone.
    Thanks Keter a servant of Moriah. Stephen Paul Dunphy president of Ancient
    Israelis of the Human family RA Israel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: