Friday, July 27, 2012

Bethlehem: Wall of Pain, Wall of Shame

The Wall

The Separation Wall stretches across the ancient land of Palestine. Like the walls of any European ghetto or East Berlin or any prison, it proclaims the might of the State (in this case Israel) and its 'right' to control all who live in this land according to its own rules, right or wrong.

And it is wrong. It is hateful. It is hate itself.

The city of Bethlehem is a prison today. In order to leave Bethlehem, we join the local inhabitants who must pass through a cattle run that stretches a good 300 meters, with metal bars keeping people gated in. I feel claustrophobic. Then we must pass through two lockable turnstiles with a courtyard in between. After the second one, a metal detector must be traversed, with all metal objects and shoes placed in bins to pass through an X-ray as in the airport. But that isn't enough. We are then herded into line, and must show identification papers to a border guard. Palestinians must also be fingerprinted. Only then, if all gates have been passed, are we allowed to walk out beyond the walls of Bethlehem.

This can take hours. Which means, if you work on the other side of the Wall you must line up in the early hours of the morning, and never know when you might make it home. It means that if you own an Olive grove outside the new wall, you will lose it. Any land uncultivated for three years is taken by the Israeli government. So people are locked away from their land.

Yet the feeling inside Bethlehem is welcoming. People deeply appreciate that we have taken the time to come. The Israeli government will do anything to stop people staying the night in Bethlehem. Tourists come for day tours only. Our hotel is nearly empty and the people so kind. We spend an evening in the courtyard of a local businessman, sharing his food and listening to his stories. The stars shine down as they always do here in Bethlehem.

Jewish Israeli citizens are not allowed into Bethlehem by order of the Israeli government. They do not want their citizens to see the poverty, the way the wall has killed commerce and created suffering. Better to believe people are happy to be imprisoned behind the wall. Good fences make good neighbors...

The Wall is a travesty of human rights. Still it grows, separating people, whispering hate. The Palestinians fight back, decorating the wall with proclamations of peace and brotherly love. I pray their wishes come true. I pray we open our eyes. I pray we remember that Jesus came to set the prisoners free - his words not mine. And he came here first. I pray the Wall comes down.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hebron Hills: Heaven and Hell

Part 1: At-Tuwani

We drive up through hilly rocky land to the stone building in the center of the small village of At-Tuwani. Laundry flaps in the wind from other buildings, the whole place giving a sense of space under bright hot skies. Hafez meet us at the door, and invites us in to sit on mats as he tells us the story of the village.

At-Tuwani is a tenacious town, clinging to its centuries old history. But it has suffered. In 1980 almost 700 people lived in the village, surrounded by their lands where they grew olive trees, and pastured their sheep. But in 1982 the first of the illegal Zionist settlements was established on the hill tops around the village, on land that belonged to Palestinian At-Tuwani families. They have the deeds to prove it dating back to the Ottoman empire. Neither the legal documents nor the actual existence of Palestinians living on the land stopped Zionist settlers from destroying fields and orchards and building houses, aided and abetted by the Israeli army.

The same story took place all over the South Hebron hills, and refugees from other villages fled to At-Tuwani. Other villagers left for Yatta and further places to escape the persecution. But At-Tuwani fought back, and with the help of human rights organizations like Rabbis for Human Rights, Tayush and the International Solidarity Movement they tried to stop the continual encroachment of Israeli settler homes onto At-Tuwani land. By 2002 the population of the village had dropped to a mere 100 residents, the others fleeing in self-protection from attacks from the settlers that were neither impeded by the army or prosecuted by the courts.

At-Tuwani grew as a centre for non-violence. Operation Dove from Italy and Christian Peacemakers Teams arrived to help ensure that there would be an international presence to document the continued abuses, including attacks on children as they made their way to school. Some of these observers suffered serious injury in attacks. Tony Blair heard of the village thanks to the media efforts of the international peace workers, and showed up for a visit in 2010. With his influence the village was finally able to obtain electricity and water, forbidden by the army until then even though wires and pipes ran through the village to the settlement.

Today the village is still under constant threat from the settlers who move closer and closer one house at a time. Hafez tells us of a particularly horrific attack on his elderly mother as she herded sheep. When he heard her cries he was meeting with Jewish Israeli peacemakers. They ran to the field where she was being attacked and found her bloodied with her jaw broken. One of the settlers shot at Hafez as he ran toward them, wounding an Israeli peacemaker. Only when the bullets were gone did they turn, abandon the sheep they were trying to steal and run back to their settlement.

Hafez talks about how hard it was afterwards to stick to his commitment to non-violence. But his mother, released from hospital three days later, told him that he must look to the future, to hope and peace. Revenge was worth nothing.

Today At-Tuwani runs an annual festival for non-violence. Jews, Christians and Muslims both international and local come together to work for a just future. It still suffers attacks from settlers and persecution from the army. But it is a place of courage and hope. Villagers have started to return and the population has risen to 350. Every week the villagers perform a non-violent resistance action, whether it is simply building a fence or replanting trees. But their greatest action is simply staying there and working for a normal future for their children on the land of their ancestors.



Part 2: Susya

The ramshackle collection of makeshift tents hardly qualifies for the title village in my experience, but Susya has a heart of home. Nasser Nawaja tells us of the severe persecution suffered by this little village as it tries to maintain its precarious existence under constant threat. Like At-Tuwani, a Zionist settlement has been established nearby on the land of the Palestinian villagers. And they want to grow.

Susya was first demolished in 1986 when the Israeli government discovered an ancient synagogue on their land and told them that they could not live that near to an archaelogical site. Many of the stone homes of this old village were destroyed and the villagers shifted across the road. A month later, zionist settlers moved into the remaining houses and started to build their own.

The Susya Palestinians complained but to no avail. Their new houses were constantly attacked, either demolished by the army or sabotaged by the settlers. They were told they were on their land illegally and had to leave. Their wells were poisoned, one by settlers dropping an old car in it. Their olive trees were cut.

Then four months ago a radical settler organization called Rigavim applied to the supreme court to have Susya destroyed once and for all. Human rights organizations, both Israeli and international have been advocating and protesting but so far without success.

The whole area is under attack by settlers and army. Last night 45 olive trees belonging to a neighboring Palestinian family were cut down by settlers. Any semi-permanent residences are destroyed. Roads are blocked.

Nasser's cell phone rings as we sit under the tree. We can tell by his voice he is agitated. He works for a Jewish Israeli human rights organization called Bet' Salem, or 'Shoot Back', which takes pictures of human rights violations. The caller tells him a road into a nearby village has been bulldozed by the army. We ask if we can go with him to take pictures and he invites us along. We are joined by some members of a British Jewish human rights organization called Yachad. Their leader is a Jewish Israeli man, a young former soldier who also joined a group called Breaking the Silence, former soldiers who speak of the atrocities they performed and work for justice and peace. it's worth googling them to find out more.

As we drive to the village, we stop briefly so Nasser can show us the olive trees chopped down last night. 'Death to Arabs' has been spray painted on a nearby rock. When we arrive at the road, it looks as if bombs have been set off all along it. The stone walls that lined it have been caved in and deep gouges intersperse piles of boulders. Nasser tells me the road was funded by 'Save the Children' foundation. A neighbour tells me it is the only access to the village, who were supposed to receive a water cistern.

The army says it can demolish roads and homes because if they are built without a permit. But the Israeli government does not grant permits to Palestinians. So clinics, schools and homes must be built without permits only to be destroyed again and again. I wonder how the families in this village will cope. I wonder what the generous people of 'Save the Children' will think. I wonder how and when this will ever end.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Checkpoint Persecution: Racism is Alive and Well

Persecution at an Israeli Military Checkpoint

We approach the checkpoint leaving Hebron without much expectation of a problem. Tour buses only occasionally get stopped. But three Israeli soldiers pull us over, each of them barely out of their teens, if that. The one in charge is belligerent, angry. He demands our passports and orders Tony, our Palestinian driver out of the large van.

Our leader Bob Holmes hands over his passport and makes a joke, "I hope you like it." The soldier has no patience for humor. He mocks Bob, a man in his 70s, then asks, "Do you think I like this? Look at what I'm wearing! It's hot!" We agree, because what else can you do, and it's true.

By now Tony has descended from the driver's side, and the soldier starts yelling at him. Tony replies, and goes to open the back. Their voices go up, and the soldier begins to say one word over and over. Tony's face darkens and his response is angry. We learn later that the soldier was calling him a donkey. I look at the two other soldiers. They look uncomfortable, embarrassed even at their companion. But they say nothing.

Tony is ordered over to the side of the road with his hands behind his back. They make him sit on the rocky ground in the sun facing us. I can see the stress on his face, and I find myself gripping my seat, but he catches my eye and winks. I think, he must have done this dozens of times before - faced harassment and winked at his wife, his daughter, his sister to reassure them he is alright.

Bob exits the car, and politely engages the soldier, asking him what the problem could be. The soldier doesn't even try to find an excuse. "I don't like the way he talks to me." Tony tells us the soldier wanted him to open the bags at the back, but he had told the soldier to ask us since they were our bags. We offer to open them, but the bags are not, and never have been, the problem.

The problem is that Tony is Palestinian. His race is the problem. His existence is the problem. Although his family has lived in this land as far back as memory allows, he is not considered worthy of human consideration by people like this soldier.

One of the other soldiers calls their captain. I leave the van and go over to talk to him. He's from Nazareth, and I think truly unhappy about the way this episode is going. Bob has gone to talk to the aggressive soldier again, but to no avail. Tony is ordered up off the ground, but keeps his hands behind his back as he too argues his case. It doesn't matter because there is no case.

We wait, trying to make conversation with the soldiers and touch their human side. One of my companions offers them plums but they refuse. Tony is ordered back into the sun, but he refuses, a small act of defiance which the soldier must let go under our watchful eye. A half hour goes by and the captain arrives. Again Tony must stand in front of them with his hands behind his back. Bob tries to talk to the captain but he will not answer him. I talk to one of the other soldiers and find out he is only twenty. My daughter is twenty.

Tony has returned to us and urges me to talk to the captain. I approach but none of the soldiers will even make eye contact. They walk away, gather the nail studded chain they have laid across the road, and all of them depart with Tony's ID.

We are left on the side of the road, and Tony tells us it will be at least another hour before they return with his ID. They want to make him sweat, but he told them to take 8 hours if they want, he doesn't care. He has reached his limit for today. Earlier, as we walked through Hebron, he had already been detained and harassed. It's ongoing he says. They want the Palestinians to leave or die. He tells me he has watched soldiers hit his wife and children, and threaten them with guns. "Why?" he asks, "Why?" He talks in his broken English of the stress he faces every day, and clenches his fists to his chests to show the feeling it provokes. And he is just one of millions of Palestinians who face this every single day.

It is somewhat unusual to have a bunch of tourists stranded by the side of a highway in Hebron, and cars pause to ask what we are doing. One car stops and two Palestinian men get out. They are appreciative that we have come, and listen to what we are doing. One tells me that nothing we can do will resolve the situation here, that it's up to God, but still we must do it. And their act of solidarity puts their words into action. They take a few of us to pick up drinks for the group, even though they themselves cannot drink since this is Ramadan and they fast during daylight hours. They wait an hour with us, talking and making music on a flute one of my fellow travelers has bought. They talk to Tony, and help ground him in ways we cannot.

I sit on a rock by the road, looking out over the scrub brush toward the city and begin to journal. We are prepared to wait, all of us, as long as is necessary. After about an hour and fifteen minutes, a military vehicle pulls up in front of one of my companions and without a word hands her Tony's ID. The soldiers drive off before she can say anything. Tony's ordeal is over, but only for now. He may get stopped again before he reaches home. And tomorrow. And the day after that.

I wonder if it was like this in 1930s Germany when the Nazis persecuted the Jews? We have already seen graffiti today written by Zionist settlers in Hebron that proclaimed, "Gas the Arabs". The city is tense, with 520 Palestinian family businesses closed because of the occupation, soldiers on rooftops, and frequent harassment. The soldiers are there to protect the settlers, not the peace. Settlers throw refuse, excrement and eggs down on Palestinians in the Souk with impunity. They carry guns. They beat up Palestinians. But less than 0.3% face arrest.

I wonder where God is today. And then I remember Tony's wink, and the men who stood with us. I remember that Jesus was oppressed in an occupied land - this occupied land. I am rattled tonight, frustrated and upset. I can't imagine how Tony lives with this. But he is not alone. Wherever the poor are found, wherever the oppressed suffer, wherever violence threatens, the non-violent Christ will be there, offering solidarity, hope and love.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tent of Nations

A GUEST BLOG FROM FELLOW TRAVELLER TIM O'CONNOR:
Another magnificent day in the Holy Land surrounded by what I have come to know as the Living Stones - those are the voices who celebrate the quest for a just peace through their prophetic voices. While many people come here to be inspired by the architecture and the sacred religious sites, I have found that the living stones provide the most inspiration to me.

Today, I met Daoud Nassar - a Palestinian Christian who has created a magnificent oasis of peace outside of Bethlehem called the Tent of Nations. You can't drive right up to the Tent of Nations because the road has been intentionally blockaded - for security reasons he is told (more on that in a moment). When we climb over the blockades which are clearly the refuse from home demolitions (sending a message perhaps), we are greeted by a warm and peaceful man. This is Daoud (David). You are immediately struck upon entering the tent city by the painting on the rockface - It reads "With heart and hand, we change the land..." The painting was created by youngsters who attended an annual two-week non-violence camp here. Similar paintings adorn the landscape as we enter.

Inside, we are treated to some delicious grapes and fresh tea while listening to the unbelievable story of this place. Daoud's family has been here since 1916 - and they have documentation to prove it. He has been in court for 20 years at a personal cost of $150,000 in an effort to establish ownership of the land. The court proceedings are a total travesty. He is told the documentation is not enough - he needs eyewitnesses. So, he comes back with 50 eyewitnesses - they are left outside standing in the sun for 5 hours before a soldier comes out and they are told that the court has no time to talk to them today. They are told to get the land surveyed. They do - 11 times. Then they are told that the surveys are inconclusive, they need eyewitnesses. But Daoud persists and they become legally strong - so the settlers begin physically attacking the Tent of Nations. When they cal the police, they don't respond. So, 250 olive trees are destroyed - but Daoud replants.

So, with violence failing, the Israelis offer a blank cheque to buy the land - anything to get the Palestinians off the land. Daoud refuses. "Our land is out mother - and our mother is not for sale" So, the next strategy is isolation. The access road is blockaded so that people can not drive on and off the property. Checkpoints are established on the highways so that teachers who live on the land can not drive to work. They must move - or face losing their jobs.

But through this all, Daoud and his family persist. While 70% of Palestinian land is now under direct Israeli control, he believes that "anything built on injustice can not last". They have no running water - and no electricity - but the Tent of Nations persists. They collect rainwater and arrange for solar panels to provide their own electricity. But, of course, they have no permits for solar panels, they are told - so these are illegal. This is the game that is played here - day after day, year after year. Many leave. Some get violently angry. Daoud develops another approach - We refuse to be Enemies - he declares and the Tent of Nations is born. They choose to develop a quiet and creative response. They plant trees and international support comes in. Volunteers from all over the world come to run a childrens camp in July that uses theatre, painting and non-violent games to empower the children in the community. They work on women's empowerment projects in Bethlehem.

There is a life on this hillside that is absolutely beyond words. You stand in this tent village and look out at the snake-like settlements that enclose it - but you can't help but feel renewed by the spirit that is bringing in volunteers from across the world. We meet two such volunteers from Seattle and from Germany.

As we leave, we climb over the obscene rocks and refuse that forms the blockade on the road. Perhaps, the Israeli government is on to something when they identify Daoud as a "security threat". This seems such a laughable accusation as we sit and chat with him here, but upon reflection, Daoud is a legitimate threat to the occupation. I think that the occupation tries to provoke a violent response. People like Daoud are much more difficult to intimidate.

What a beautiful place. I am inspired.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bedouin Sorrow

Palestine Pilgrimage Day 5

The hot desert wind pushes and pulls at us as we stand on the barren hill in the Negev desert. Our Bedouin host gestures toward the land, showing us the makeshift homesteads where he and his family now live. We are in the Sagaya, the ghetto created for Bedouins in the Negev after they were ousted from their ancestral lands by the Zionists. The establishment of the state of Israel rose out of the call for 'A land without a people, for a people without a land'. Noble, but it never took into account the 100 000 Bedouins who farmed the Negev region, on land passed down to them for generations. The Negev provides a perfect environment for growing wheat and barley in the rainy season, when the desert is transformed, and for herding camels, sheep and horses. Olive orchards thrive here too.

We are welcomed into the home of Nuri Al-Uqbi. He shows us the deed for his land, purchased by his grandfather decades ago. He shows us references to his family's farm in anthropological texts. His family name appears on an old official map. But the Zionists promote the myth that Bedouins are nomads, and have no land, eerily echoing the voices of Canada's first European colonists, who also saw the land as empty despite the presence of our aboriginal people. Nuri has been arrested 60 times for re-entering his land, or holding signs across the road from his farm claiming it. His family was forced out, and then the government of Israel declared his land unoccupied, and so available for settlement and reforestation.

We hear many other stories from the Bedouin. Homes and orchards demolished. Children denied schools. Families moved again and again. These stories are repeated across the country, but barely scratch the consciousness of the West. Now I know. Now you know. What can we do?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Protest in Palestine

Pilgrimage Day 4: Women in Black and Sheik Jarrah Protests

The old city of Jerusalem is crawling with soldiers and police this morning. It's the first day of Ramadan, and 10 000 more Palestinian Muslims have crossed the checkpoints into Jerusalem to worship at the ancient mosques. Here and there we hear soldiers yelling at the pilgrims, gripping their rifles tightly as they move the crowds. People who pray are so terrifying...

We wander the narrow stone streets, exploring the souk and checking out the various gates to the old city. The crowds press against us, but the atmosphere is celebratory.

We participate in two protests today. The first is the weekly gathering of the Women in Black. These are Jewish Israeli women who are reaching out in solidarity to the Palestinian women. The protest began after the Intifada or uprising in 1988, when teenagers armed with rocks were brutally assaulted by the Israeli armed forces. The Jewish women saw the suffering of the young and their mothers and stood up to end the occupation which steals the rights, the homes and sometimes the lives of Palestinians. We stand with the women in the heat at a busy round-about in the heart of the Jewish part of the City. A woman comes by yelling at me, then finally spits. Drivers give us the finger and yell obscenities I can't understand. Counter-protesters yell at us from across the street. But I am honored to stand with these courageous women, awed that they would subject themselves to this every week out of compassion and hope for a better world.

The second protest is in a Palestinian neighborhood called Sheik Jarrah, where Palestinians are being evicted to make room for Jewish families. The houses had been abandoned in 1948 by Jewish owners and authorities had allowed Palestinians displaced from their own homes by Zionists to move in. Now they are being told to leave. The Palestinians would be happy to leave if they too could be given their ancestral homes back, but this is not on offer. They will be given no compensation, and no access to the lands stolen from them. In this community we are roundly supported by the Palestinian locals who honk and give us a thumbs up, or even join us. The day is long, full of emotion, and I struggle to find sleep in the night, wondering how the people who live in these situations ever find rest. I pray for them,think of the struggles Jesus faced, and slip into sleep.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Palestine Pilgrimage 3: Justice and Peace Seekers

Pilgrimage 3: Sabeel, ICAHD and Mordechai Vanunu

Sabeel

We begin the day with a bus ride to the headquarters of Sabeel, a Palestinian organization that seeks peace and justice through liberation theology. Sabeel means the Way, and Water, because traditionally Palestinians left clay urns full of water out by the road for passersby. We sit in a circle in a bright friendly room and Omar, a young Christian Palestinian tells us what it is like to find out you are a descendant of Goliath, and to realize the bible has always been interpreted for you through the eyes of other peoples. He talks about reclaiming the biblical stories from the perspective of Palestinians. He tells us of the struggles of his family to maintain citizenship, and the right to live in their ancestral home of Jerusalem. His sister married a man from the West Bank and her children cannot come to Jerusalem. Neither can her husband. Many Palestinians live in Jerusalem secretly with their spouses, dreading the day they will be discovered as illegals. The penalty can include detention without charges for up to six months. Love and marriage is no excuse.

Cedar Daybuis reminds me of a grandmother, as she sips water and talks with us about the history of this land, and the need to speak for peace, to find a solution. She speaks of the hope when Israel declared itself a nation that would care for all its citizens. Then the terror that followed. She tells us of fleeing Haifa in 1948 at age 12, after other homes on her street have been destroyed, and after petrol was run down her street and lit on fire. Those who tried to stop the fire were shot. Loudspeakers in the night announced that anyone who stayed would be massacred as had happened in a nearby village. So they fled with nothing to refugee camps and the homes of relatives. She speaks of families that have never been reunited. I am overwhelmed.

We follow with a eucharist led by a Methodist minister. We pray and experience fellowship of spirit, then of body with lunch.

Israel Coalition Against Home Demolition

In the afternoon we take a tour with Chaska Katz of the Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolition, or ICAHD. Standing on a hill overlooking Jerusalem she shows us how the wall snakes along dividing the city, making life miserable for Palestinians. A walk across the street to the university now becomes a two hour journey to the checkpoint and back. We visit the wall up close, see its threatening presence for ourselves. But the graffiti gives hope. 'We are all human' someone has proclaimed. 'Freedom for all'. We head up to see a gorgeous settlement, with fountains and flowers in the desert. The homes have running water and garbage pick up. The Palestinian homes (Muslim or Christian) right next door have neither, although all pay the same taxes. This deliberately makes life difficult for the Palestinians, encouraging them to leave as refuse inevitably piles up or burn piles smolder. The water delivered to them once a week must be rationed carefully in containers on the roof. This feeds into a stereotype for tourists of 'dirty Arabs' . It's a strategic move on the part of the government because who in the world is going to get excited about municipal services? But day to day it makes life miserable.

Mordechai Vanunu

That evening we sit on our rooftop terrace with Mordechai Vanunu who had blown the whistle on the Israeli nuclear program in 1983. He tells us his story - immigration to Israel from Morocco as a child, growing up in a devout Jewish family, military service, the realization that militarization was wrong, his growing horror at the bomb, conversion to Christianity, of sneaking pictures of the plutonium producing facility where he worked, his search in Europe and Australia for a newspaper to print his store. Then the Sunday Times agreeing to it, and the Daily Mirror finding out and trying to subvert it, then the wait while the Times checked him out, exposing him to Israeli authorities.

As he speaks, fire crackers go off repeatedly celebrating high school graduation in the Palestinian quarter where we are located. The light dims to dark and a cool breeze helps us slip into his story. He tells us of the woman he met who was so friendly, and who invited him to Rome where he was kidnapped, drugged and shipped to Tel Aviv. Eighteen years in prison, twelve in solitary confinement. Lights on at night, harassment, authorities refuse to let him talk to a priest or his girlfriend. And now, released in 2004, telling his story to people like us. He breaks the conditions of his release in doing so - he recently spent 3 more months in prison for speaking with CNN. He has been nominated 9 times for a Nobel Peace Prize, has support from people over the world, but still struggles with loneliness. His story moves me in ways I cannot yet express.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gethsemane, the Wall and Via Dolorosa

Gethsemane

I can see why he came here. The peace emanates from the olive grove, wafts around tall evergreens, wraps itself around me in this ancient place. The Mount of Olives lies relatively unchanged after two thousand years, still providing a quiet counterpoint to the busyness and violence of Jerusalem's history. Tellingly Jesus chose to come here for his last moments of freedom instead of the temple, the predictable place of prayer. His spirit lives richly here, and prayer cannot be resisted.


The Western Wall

Why do we build walls to separate ourselves from God? I understand the need for respect; I know the biblical story. But when I finally see the western or wailing wall, full of eagerness for a sense of the divine, of history, this last standing part of the Temple of Jerusalem simply disappoints. I am moved by the people who come to pray, and yet saddened by those who are kept out. Women on one side, the smaller side of course, men on the other. A checkpoint to keep Palestinians out.

When did humanity become so divisive? When did we first forget that every human is created in the image of God and loved by God? When did we first say God is for me, my people alone, or at least those among my people that worship according to the right rites, the right dress, the right gender? Because every religion does this. So when are we going to let God out from behind our walls and into our hearts?

Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Via Delorosa

Our guide Johnny speaks precisely, sharing the history of this walk of sorrow. We see the Church of the Flagellation, the fortress of Antonia where Pilate lived. The markers let us know as we come to each station of the cross. On this hottest of days we finally make it to The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, perched on top of the hill. The art is beautiful and disappointing. Too much for a place so simple and so sacred. Here Jesus died. Here he was anointed and buried. I am most moved by the places where the bare rock still shows through.

Shared by seven denominations, visited by thousands, the Church testifies to our struggles for ecumenism. Mostly the churches work together well, but there is much more to do. A simple wooden ladder leans against a window on a ledge. We ask its purpose, and our guide explains that no one remembers. But it is located in a place where no one denomination has specific jurisdiction. No one has the right to take it down. So it sits there year after year testifying to humanity's unreasonableness in this holiest of sites.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Palestine Peace and Justice Pilgrimage 1



We arrive at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, nine of us pilgrims, tired but excited to begin our two week journey through Palestine. Our bus driver negotiates the checkpoints and country side to bring us the hour's journey to Jerusalem. We disembark outside the old city at the foot of the steep cobblestoned street that will lead us through the Lion's Gate, through more narrow stone streets to our guest house at Ecce Homo. Run by the Daughters of Zion, the name means 'Behold the Man', because the house rests above the place where Pilate condemned Jesus. 'Behold the city' would be an equally appropriate name, as the terraced roof offers breathtaking views of the Dome of the Rock and the rest of the city, looking out toward the Mount of Olives, and upwards towards the Church of the Sepulchre.

We have all come looking for something - a new experience perhaps, self-knowledge, a glimpse of a land we have heard so much about, wisdom about the political situation, hope for the world even. I don't know yet what I will find. But despite missing my children, jet lag, some anxiety and disorientation, I know I'm in the right place.