I set out to write this blog after prompting from those who look after the Diocese of Leicester web site ahead of my trip (http://www.leicester.anglican.org). The purpose was to participate in a course at St George’s College Jerusalem in a course entitled “Sharing Perspectives: Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land”.
I have written with a little trepidation. Visiting Jerusalem with a group of Christians and Muslims was always going to be a challenging learning experience. So my thoughts below are very much my first thoughts, not I hope my last, as I reflect on what I have seen, done and heard. I am not planning to write any more here but may do so in other places.
Above all things I have learned how important it is to build good relations with those among whom we live. In Jerusalem I have seen the potential of truly good relations reaching across great divides and the destructiveness of bad relations. It is clear to me where human flourishing is to be found and what is most honouring to God.
It has been a delight to travel to Jerusalem with the companions I have had over the last week and to learn alongside members of St George’s College. We have, I hope, shared good relations on which we can build.
Below I have included a few photographs that never made it into the original blog but which I like nevertheless. If you want to see more they are here: (http://www.dropbox.com/sh/5icbiyn8hgu60a3/74AFrqpBiY#). Please contact me directly through the Diocese of Leicester if you want to use any of the photographs for commercial purposes.
The flight home was delayed. Fog in Luton. British Passport Control was a complete mess when we tried to get through the airport. It took ¾ hour just to get to the front of the queue. Ibrahim was then detained without any of the rest of us realising. He was told by the Special Branch Officer that this was because he looked “middle eastern”. Having hung around the other side of baggage reclaim for ages waiting to give him a lift back up the M1, Clive and I decided he may have already given up and left as we had been so slow having our passports checked. We were just about to leave when he came through the arrivals doors flustered and irritated. “This is worse than Israel”, he exclaimed, “This is my home!”
There was a whole morning to spend wondering around Jerusalem at leisure before flying home today. Christine, Clive and I decided we would take a walk around the rampart. Only half of the walls were open today, presumably because it was Friday and the security forces were twitchy, so we could only walk the west side. That was good as we have become quite familiar with East Jerusalem and this gave a different perspective.
West Jerusalem is exactly as the name would suggest – more western. Looking out from these walls over the outer city it looked like any bustling busy highly developed European city. I guess the ramparts are a strong metaphor of how the predominantly Jewish Israeli population here feel. They need a wall between them and the Arabs. They do, of course, have a huge separation wall that separates those parts of Israel controlled by the Palestinian Authority (The Gaza Strip and The West Bank) from those places under Israeli State control. Our minibus has sped along lengths of this wall for much of the week, only stopping at check-points, but stopping for a photo shoot has been right off limits. So these ramparts, now maintained for tourist access at ₪16 per adult, serve as a metaphor.
Top: panorama looking out over West Jerusalem from the ramparts.
Triptych left: Excavated Herodian foundations just below the western ramparts.
Triptych middle: A cafe culture square in the Jewish Quarter on the western side of the Old City.
Triptych right: A market street in the Jewish quarter. Its glass fronted shops, carefully manicured stone work, expensive goods and open space is in strong contrast with the Arab Quarter. This was a more pleasant experience, but there seemed so much more life and vibrancy amid the corded and messy streets on the east side.
I am left wondering why it is that Jewish streets and Arab streets are so different. Is it because of an imbalance in power advantaging Hebrew culture or is it because Arab society doesn’t care about building the city? My inner city experience in the UK suggests to me there is much more of the former than the latter.
This was a demanding eight days. It has been a stretch to get my head around some of the complexities of this contended city in a contended land and I feel I have only just begun. My admiration for the way that Palestinian Christians and Muslims are able to share space and friendships has only developed and grown since I have been here. And my fear for the way that anxious Judaism and a fearful Israeli state raise tension and provoke anger is new to me too. I need to reflect on this more.
I have also made new and deeper friendships with those I have spent time with here – both Christian and Muslim. I hope that something of what we have found in the adversity of this Holy Land we can bring back to the comfort of our UK lives.
Well, we have just had our final meal. Here is Dr Mustafa Abu Sway with the Bishop of Kingston who organised the course. I hope +Richard can get his new scarf through airport security – there can be no guarantees.
Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is a small rise on the edge of East Jerusalem with a great drop from the 1000m height of the city towards the Dead Sea further east and 400m below sea level. You can see the Dead Sea from the top. The mount also has a commanding view of the city if you look west. Presumably it was once full of olive trees. Now it is 50% cemetery.
Our group of Christians and Muslims took to an olive grove near the crest of the ridge to reflect on the past few days. It was clear that we were still not ready to ask really difficult questions of each other but that relationships had grown with a deeper understanding and respect. Perhaps reaching out across the faiths is after all about relationships before anything else. In Jerusalem it is clear that there is a deep level of interfaith friendship between Christian and Muslim (at least in some sectors of society) that could be a real example to the world. Our group had mainly been exposed to Palestinians that the British would think of as the middle classes and it would be interesting to test out how relationships work at other levels of society here another time. But this is a nation that is anxious and fearful. And the fearfulness draws a hard boundary between Jew and Arab that very few yet seem to be reaching across. It is difficult to see hope where there is an imbalance of power and force, but the relationships that the Christians and Muslims we met have forged is somewhere that hope can be found here. I pray that this is a source of spreading hope and not one that will be extinguished. It is a delicate flower and, as Arab Christians flee the land, it only becomes more fragile.
Top: The Mount of Olives as seen from the Muslim Cemetery just below Haram al-Sharif
Left: Poppies growing in an olive grove
Middle: The Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, now part of a Mosque complex (see the minaret in the background) but open for Christians to worship here – a powerful example of a shared worship space
Right: The modern and Islamic influenced Church of the Agony of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane
The golden onions of the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene with the Islamic Cemetery in the background.
The Jerusalem Princess Basma Centre for Disabled Children
This morning’s visit to The Mount of Olives began with a stop at the Princess Basma Centre for Children with Disabilities. This is a hospital run by the Diocese of Jerusalem seeing mainly out-patients from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The hospital helps children with a wide range of disabilities and their families learn to lead full lives.
inclusive education for children with disabilities
Empowerment of the children and parents
Building capacity to act as a national resource
Capacity building and job creation for people with disabilities
It currently runs at a deficit with some voluntary funding and some from the Palestinian Authority (PA). The hospital used to receive money from the American Government but since American disagreement with the PA this has stopped.
You cannot help but be impressed at what this small diocese does running thirty five institutions, of which this is only one, making a material difference to the lives of Palestinians. In the UK we are used to the idea of running schools but we gave up running hospitals very quickly after the state took responsibility. The Diocese of Jerusalem seems to run on a knife edge. Governance of its institutions is a huge responsibility for senior members of the diocese and the risks are significant. Muslim colleagues said it was difficult to see the same sense of social responsibility turning into action among Islamic societies.
I wonder why that is? I wonder too why we would struggle to find an English diocese running a hospital and yet we have so many schools?
Two speakers at dinner last night: Tala Dawani who works for World Vision as their fund raiser here and is also the Bishop’s daughter, and Aminah Abu Sway who works at al-Quds University and is daughter of Dr Mustafa Abu Sway, our Muslim guide earlier in the week. They both spoke about loving your neighbour as yourself. As Christian and Muslim Palestinians they were united. But both struggled with the idea of loving one’s enemies. I think they wanted to, but it was hard now under the experience of oppression.
Tala told us of her journey to work in the morning. A house was being bulldozed down and the soldiers had surrounded it, clearly pleased it was being demolished. Some of them looked only 17 or 18 years old. And they were rejoicing that someone’s home was being destroyed. And she had to drive by because you couldn’t stop or help or do anything. It was a raw moment shared over beautifully cooked Palestinian food.