Jerusalem! – home to Israelis, Palestinians and… Lutherans

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, what can one say or write about this timeless, beautiful, sacred city. We spent 8 days here getting the briefest of glimpses

The Kidron Valley

into the wonder, the treasure that is Jerusalem. We based ourselves with the Benedictine and Brigidine sisters on the mount of Olives, from where we set out each day, down the via dolorosa, to experience some of the many of the holy places within the city. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the most memorable experiences were not elbowing past 6,000 tourists (with 8,000 cameras) to touch the very slab upon which the body of Jesus was laid after His crucifixion.

The most moving experiences resulted from us taking the time to sit, pray,

Dome of the Rock viewed from Mt. of Olives

ponder and reflect on the great events that unfolded beneath our feet, or bask in the faith of the centuries of pilgrims who preceded us. A particularly memorable encounter was in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where a young Silesian priest gave us a mind-bending 30-second explanation of the exact moment of humanity’s  salvation using a Matrix-style flying kick.

The West Bank.Note that we only visited the West bank twice and have not visited Gaza at all. So please understand that our comments refer to our limited, specific experiences only.

While sucking in deep breaths on the way to the ‘high place of sacrifice’ at

No security at the Damascus gate

Petra, we came across six lovely young Americans, volunteering in various parts of Israel and Palestine. They were kind enough to adopt us into the english-speaking Lutheran community in Jerusalem and be our guides for our week in Jerusalem.

My last trip to Jerusalem , in 2005, was at a time when security-related tension was high. Suicide bombings in the city were disturbingly regular occurrences, the Israeli army patrolled the streets, construction of the (now infamous) security-fence was beginning and tourists were thin on the ground.

This time, in our wandering through the city and conversations with

The tomb of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah

members of the Lutheran community who work in Jerusalem and the west bank, it’s obvious that things are very different. There haven’t been any bombings in several years now, I was not once asked for my passport by security policing the streets, the security fence is now largely complete and more or less accepted (It’s existence, rather than it’s location of course!) and there are hordes of tourist-laden buses roaming the roads. It’s a somewhat surprising result given that the last 4 years have seen the population elect more hard-line leaders on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

Being hooked up with locals meant a guided tour of Ramallah (capital of the

English club in Ramallah

West Bank) including a visit to an international school for ‘English club’. Topic for the day: New Zealand. Coming from our recent experiences of teaching Burmese teenagers in Ranong, the comparisons to this Palestinian school were fascinating. The students are tall and stylish dressed, they speak excellent English; they talk of their upcoming basketball trip to Norway and the University they’ll attend. Outside the school, Mercedes taxis cruise the streets, people chat away on their iphones and your latte comes with free wireless. Our initial and overriding reaction was one of utter shock.

After all we’ve read and heard about the ‘poverty and malnutrition’, we

View from where Jesus wept for Jerusalem

witnesses no evidence of that. Certainly in comparison to the conditions we’ve seen people living in Burma, India, Pakistan, even Syria and parts of Lebanon etc, life here in the West Bank appears to be rather comfortable. Of course there are major justice issues associated with the route of the Israeli security wall i.e through highly disputed land. But the procedures we endured travelling through the security checkpoints  are much more professional and civilized than those faced by Burmese in Thailand, Pakistanis in Pakistan or anyone in Burma.

And yet, the Palestinians we spoke to have an incredible sense of entitlement about them… they feel like they, and only they, are the victims of the world’s greatest injustice, something that the whole world ought to take responsibility for and somehow ‘solve’. While the Palestinians are eminently more likeable than the Israelis, (Seriously, they’re friendly, helpful, warm, hospitable and actually human – all traits that are seemingly alien to Israelis) and do have genuine grievances, it seems that you’d only think they were suffering if your whole world only consisted of the US, Europe and the middle east. Sadly for the hundreds of millions of people suffering more than the Palestinians, for the people with power, the world does only consist of the US, Europe and sometimes the middle east.

Finally, this post couldn’t possibly end without a massive thank you to all of you who made our time in Jerusalem a memorable and moving experience rather than just a visit. Sr. Marta and the crew at Maison D’Abraham, Sr. Theresa and co. of the Brigidines and all of you from the Lutheran community in Jerusalem – there are really too many of you to name.

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