Headlines from First Thoughts

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jerusalem & Bethlehem

Slide show of pictures here

Images below: The Bethlehem Wall (Bethlehem side)
Rabbi talking on a cell phone at the Western (wailing) Wall
Overlooking Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives

Kelly and I were in Jerusalem and Bethlehem Saturday-Tuesday March 13-16 during the most recent tensions between the Israeli government and Palestinian leadership. We arrived as part of a travel group with a tourist's-eye view of incidents. Keep in mind that tour groups are intentionally sheltered from problems. We would have only known what was going on from reading the hotel newspapers or seeing a sound byte on CNN's international station. I did not see a report on the Fox news hotel channel. We knew that we were following in Joe Biden's footsteps. We were in the same gift shop on Saturday, March 13 in Bethlehem that he visited the day before. We did hear two different perspectives from our Jewish tour guide in Jerusalem and the Orthodox Christian tour guide in Bethlehem.

The contrasts were striking. On Saturday afternoon we were in Bethlehem seeing the Church of the Nativity in Christian Bethlehem the traditional site of the place where Jesus was born. On Sunday morning, we were in the Muslim area of Jerusalem to see the Church of the Holy Sepulchure, the traditional sites of Golgotha and the Joseph of Arimathea's family tomb. We saw two different worship services in action as well. We had plenty of incense to go around by the end of the day.

The most recent tensions were caused by the announcement of continued Jewish rebuilding efforts in East Jerusalem, and the dedication of the Hurva synagogue in East Jerusalem. We walked right past the synagogue. From the larger perspective, the issues revolve around the Israeli government's and Palestinian authority's continual struggle to deal with its political, spiritual, and religious disagreements. Not all Israelis are Jews; not all Jews want to throw out the Palestinians. 35% of Bethlehem is Christian (mainly Baptists and Orthodox Christian); many Palestinians are not Muslims; most Muslims are not pro-suicide bombers. If you can figure all this out on a grid, let me know.

From a tourist's viewpoint, all I see are shades of Berlin circa 1989. The Israeli government has erected a wall using Palestinian labor between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. If Mary and Joseph wanted to have a baby there today they would need, "special permission," and clearance through checkpoints. My South African friends would probably say this reminds them of apartheid. Palestinians cannot leave Bethlehem without clearance from Israeli officials.

From the average secular Israeli perspective, the standard argument is, "We've been planning to do this for a long time." And "This" is fill in the blank. Rebuild the synagogue (destroyed in the 1967 6-day war), put more housing in east Jerusalem, you name it.

From the Palestinian Christian perspective, the only thing they asks is, "Pray for us," "Pray for peace," or "Pray for jobs."

Behind the scenes, we know there are ongoing meetings. I talked to one pastor in the airport whose church sponsors a meeting in Bethlehem between Muslims, Jews, and Christians secretly. If South Africa and Germany (throw in Ireland too) are any examples, we need several things like that. We need lots of secret meetings between people who seem to be spiritually the opposite. We need teenagers eating pizza together who do not share the same neighborhoods. And we need churches to become educated about all the dynamics of the problem, not just the ones they can see from the safety of a tour bus. Sounds like a good theme to conclude Passover and Holy Week. We're right on time.

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