Posts tagged ‘Jerusalem’
The last two days I was in Israel I traveled to the West Bank. The first day I went to Bethlehem. That was my first experience crossing to the other side of the separation wall. Here, rather than the tension that makes up the invisible wall in the old city, there was a physical wall in which the boundaries were clear to everyone.
It was so wonderful to see the sights of the Christmas story. Where the shepherds lived, the location where they first saw the star and where Jesus was born. However, it made me sad that the place where the Prince of Peace was born had to have a wall which separated the people in order to keep the peace. This first day was a good introduction to the most difficult and disputed area in the country which I visited the following day…Hebron.
Hebron is one of the oldest cities in the world. At the top of the hill, all three religions believe that Abraham and Sarah established their home and below, at the base of that hill, lies the burial grounds for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives. The building over the graves is called the Tomb of the Patriarchs and is sacred to the three major religions. It has had several additions over the centuries but the largest visible part of the construction was completed by Herod during the second temple period.
One of the few archeological digs allowed by the government in Hebron is at the top of the hill. Here one can view 4,500 years old structural remains. Yes, an archeological dig from the time of Abraham and Sarah! That was an unexpected “Wow!” experience during this tour. Even though I was captivated by the historical significance of this area, I was here for another purpose.
I found a rare tour of the West Bank that was started just over a year ago which takes small groups to the heart of Hebron; half of the day is given to an Israeli guide and half is given to a Palestinian guide. Each guide had walked us through the exact same areas but narration of the story had completely changed.
Both had prepared for us to listen to people who lived in the city who had experienced extreme tragedy. Both had family members that paid the ultimate price in this long standing conflict. We heard also about the hardships of living here from both sides. Each side explained the significant moments of history which they hold as an important memory of their story. It is clear that these memories and this personal history infects the conversation of the current conflict.
What I know for sure is that both sides agree that there was a time, only two generations ago, that all people lived here in peace…side by side. Both sides had grandparents who were friends with someone from the other religious group.
In the nineteen twenties there was a shift and everything changed. There are a lot of “What if’s?” historians and peacemakers can speculate about. Yet again on this world tour Britain is involved in part of those historic decisions when they occupied this land in the early twentieth century.
From the time the British government created it’s 1929 “solution” to the 1994 “peace accord”, it seems that only “a” solution was found in both cases; I can not believe that either the 1929 or 1994 solution promoted peace. It is clear that sending each group to “its separate side of the playground” is not creating any type of true or lasting peace….helping people to move on from the past.
A past which has created intense fear of the other side and an unwillingness to trust again after such atrocities. Everyone feels like they are the victim here. Additionally, there are common people on both sides that feel that the government is not supportive in giving them what they deserve. It is easy to see in their eyes, through their tears, that each side feels like they were the most victimized.
How do you do something differently here….with so much history, so much hurt, so much fear.
I now understand more about the current conflict and know there is not an easy solution. Anyone who thinks there is an easy solution does not understand the conflict from either side and should not have a seat at the decision table. There is so much layering of history, religion, anger and tears that I realize that simple solutions of most western people are obtuse considerations and will also fail.
Most westerners are not religious in the same way as the people living in the holy lands are religious. So most westerners, especially the non-religious, will not fully understand an important side of the conflict. Additionally, we can not comprehend not only their connections to scriptural ties as well as their religious attachment to the land.
I don’t have a solution. I feel more confused about how there is going to be a resolution to the situation in the Middle East now that I have listened to people living amidst the conflict. I also understand that any solution that comes from the government, and even worse foreign governments, will fail over time. The issue is between the people of this land and only these people can resolve the conflict there.
One thing I have learned on this year-long journey, is that when there have been deep wounds that have threatened a region or a country, there can be no peaceful solution until there is reconciliation and forgiveness from within. It was only a few months ago I wrote about the path to peace in South Africa. It was a religious movement and the act of forgiving that made all the difference towards a path to the future. Only those who have been hurt can lay down their past and trust again. Only then can a new relationship begin.
Within this land and between the people, not the heads of governments, this is the only way forward to any type of lasting peaceful resolution. This opinion is based on so many other countries I have seen move beyond the horrors of their own history. My prayer is that someday this would happen in this place too…..And wouldn’t this be what Abraham would have wanted for all his children…..True peace among all the members of his family.
Quote from January 1, 2013 Blog: My Journey So Far – A Historical Perspective
“Forgiving is not forgetting; its actually remembering–remembering and not using your right to hit back. Its a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.”
– Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of Cape Town, Anglican Church of South Africa
Those of you who know me well, you are already aware that Jerusalem has been my home base for the last two weeks. In fact, I lodged at a hospice within the old city walls for the first week I was in Jerusalem. I have delayed in posting about this place because I have struggled with how to explain everything I have absorbed during this time; And the fact is that there is simply too much to tell.
I saw countless holy sites for the three major religions. I walked through archeological excavations and museums. In fact, I went back to a few main attractions more than once.
I guess I thought by being in the land of all those historical accounts and biblical stories that I would also feel some spiritual transformation; an extension of my spiritual journey from the Himalayan Mountains. I can’t honestly say that was my experience here.
The first week, I greeted every morning with a lesson plan I had outlined for the day. After the first couple of days, I knew the “lay of the land”. I could get to each section of the old city maze without too much trouble and I had learned when I need to go to each destination to avoid the crowds in order to have a more peaceful experience.
Let’s be real…This place is intense. So much to take in and several times people, locals and tourists alike, are not that friendly and, at times, downright curt. The locals are direct in their language and don’t mince words which can come across as abrupt. This is especially evident to those staying in the city for a bit longer and who are not insulated by a large tour group environment.
It seems that good people often leave their manners at the door. Some even recognize their bad behavior as they act in a way they never would act normally. For example, at one of the holiest sites in Christianity more than one person turned back as they cut with several others in front of me and said bluntly, “I am sorry. I have to stay with my guide.”
Now that is true. I could not imagine being on a tour with only two or three days to “cram in” all of the highlights and, on top of that, lose my group in the mass of people that walk these cobblestone roads everyday; but, that is the old city. It is masses of people, in a small space, living their lives and trying to worship as they “work around” all the tourists which have come in masses; And most of those tourists are rushed around, on a time limit, to see the highlights of the city.
The local residents all own a “piece” of this bit of earth; Whether individually or collectively, they own it and all seem to know where the invisible boundary line is located marking the end of “their” land. Many do not cross even semi-common areas in order to “keep the peace.” I am not talking only about the three major religions here….I am also talking about the sects within each religion.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a perfect example; Here the oldest Christian sects divide the church and it is clearly understood who controls which part. What is most interesting is it is a Muslim family that opens and closes the church each day to assist in keeping the peace. Yes, that may be over simplifying the issue but one has to admit there is some chaos in the overall organization here. I visited this site four times to see all the “holy” places within this one church.
The first two times my own Pacific Northwest culture, of expected personal space, could not handle the crowds pushing and cutting in line; so I left. I just could not see this place Jesus had spent his last hours of human life while being irritated at my neighbor. The third time I had a moving early morning experience at a mass at the crucifixion site of Jesus; however, I had to return a forth time to see the tomb since the sect in charge of that area decided to close for cleaning that morning.
Yes, I saw the sights….ones I knew were here and others I discovered. It was meaningful to learn the history and see the archeological discoveries throughout the area within and just outside of the old walls.
I spent an entire day at the Israeli Museum. I especially loved seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls and new Herod the Great exhibit located at the Israeli Museum. I love walking around the Mount of Olives and seeing New Testament locations. I thoroughly enjoyed the Night by Light show at David’s Tower and walking on top of the southern ramparts of the old city walls. Looking back, another highlight was walking the Via Del La Rosa after the tour groups left and some of the businesses and churches closed.
The Ministry of Tourism had provided a several excellent self guided audio tours of the old city which I downloaded on my iPad. I loved walking through the city at my own pace and when I wanted to stop I could just hit pause on my iPad screen.
After a few days, I found locals who recognized me and were happy to greet me. It made me feel like I belonged. I found that I would make a point to return or pass by their businesses, even if the walk was a little out of my way. The second week, I moved outside the city walls to a hostel that seemed to insulate pilgrims from the outside world. The soccer game was always on the big screen and the foreigners would all find their way to the social area and common kitchen on the first floor to visit about their day. This was a great benefit as I planned the rest of my trip beyond the old city.
In the end, I realize that for me this area holds a lot of historical significance; but as a Christian I know that Jesus is no longer here. He is not at the Mount of Olives, He is not on the cross, He is not at the tomb. He is gone and maybe for me that is the lesson here.
An hour south of Jerusalem is an historic flat top rock mountain with cliffs on all sides called Masada. The first fortress built on this mount was completed in 150 BC by Jonathan the Maccabee. The same Maccabee’s that were the force of the Jewish revolt at that time.
Later the Maccabee’s ruled during the Hasmonean Dynasty and are still remembered today during Hanukkah celebrations. Herod the Great decided to rebuild during his reign, just over a hundred years later, in the only way he knew how….with total exuberance.
However, what Masada is most know for is that second revolt. The one that occurred after the second temple was destroyed by the Romans. (Yes, the same second tempe that was incidentally built by Herod the Great.) The group that was left from this revolt fled to Masada. About one thousand men, women and children were able to survive as long as they did with the provisions that Herod had generously left behind. It took three years before the Romans were within reach of the top of the cliff. When they arrived they found their enemy, dead. The massive group suicide left a message….Better to die than live as slaves. To this day Israeli’s vow that Masada shall “never fall again.”
Many hike up to the top but I choose to ride the cable car in both directions to maximize my time on the mountain. I was so glad I did. I purchase the audio guide and walked through the fortress but the two hours I was given was not enough. I was surprised to learn how large the surface area of the top of the mountain was and I was even more surprised how much Herod actually built here.
I continue to be impressed with this man that left so much behind. However, after seeing his reconstructed sarcophagus in the city museum, I am not sure he realized that he would end up like everyone else. In the end, historians, not himself, would describe in their own terms who he was as a man.
After leaving the mountain we visited the nearby peaceful spring in the desert called Ein Gedi. Water bubbled and fell from the death of the desert to bring life. Beside the water was green grass and trees in the middle of nothingness.
This area is mentioned several times in the old testament. In Joshua, Ezekiel, Samuel I, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiasticus. However, the highest falls, named David Falls, is said to be the place mentioned in Samuel I, where King David hid from King Saul.
We walked to the top of the falls and I thought that if I had to hide out for a while, this would not be a bad place. We stayed longer than anticipated but decided that we could have lunch any day but to be in this calm; This was not easily left behind.
Soon after we were in the van headed for the jewel that was “just in view” all day: The Dead Sea. We bobbed like a fishing bobbers in the water and laughed at the feel of it. It was easiest to just lay back in the salt water and rest form the early morning. The water had healing power, or so they say, so what else was there to do….Well, maybe one thing.
One by one we scooped up the mud and cover our bodies in the clay that would be an expensive treatment in any nearby spa. Some of us put more effort than others on applying the thick substance to our skin. We laughed as the waves lapped on our legs and we had to redo our handiwork.
It seemed like forever for the clay to bake into crust in the hot summer sun. When we could not stand it anymore we were back in the Sea or nearby showers. Some hoping for the miracles that they claim. All I noticed was, whether the sea or clay, my skin felt so much softer than it had earlier.
And thus ended my day in an area that was a symbol of martyrdom, reconciliation and hedonism. What a combination!