When the news talks about the people of Jerusalem, it’s usually to highlight their differences. While those certainly exist, there’s more to it than that. People all have their own opinions and priorities and the folks living in Jerusalem are no exception. In this video, a group of Jerusalem residents are asked all the same question: if you had one wish, what would you wish for?
Their answers are surprising, and cut across religious, political and ethnic lines. There doesn’t seem to be any agenda to this video, as the divisive comments (some quite nasty) are left in along with the heartwarming ones. Naturally, many address the big issues, while some are tied up in their own affairs. This reflects my own experiences in Israel, where people range from good to bad to just plain ugly.
But mostly good, and that’s important to remember.
The church in Bethlehem is built on the supposed site of the birth of Jesus Christ. There has been a church here since the reign of Constantine, the emperor who made Christianity the favored religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine completed a basilica there in the year 333. That building burnt down and was rebuilt in 565.
Despite changes and expansions over the centuries, the interior has many original elements, including early Byzantine mosaics. Beneath the basilica lies a cave that is the purported birthplace of Jesus, with a fourteen-pointed star marking the exact spot.
The World Monuments Fund put the church on its list of a 100 Most Endangered Sites, citing decay of the structure. The Palestinian Authority responded by announcing a multimillion-dollar restoration campaign. Placement of the building on the UNESCO World Heritage List would help bring attention to its fragile state.
UNESCO will decide whether to put the church on the list later this month.
Here’s a big surprise–the Israelis and Palestinians are squabbling over land rights in Jerusalem again.
Archaeologists have cleared an ancient passageway they believe was a drainage tunnel leading away from the Second Temple, the Jewish holy spot destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The Canadian Press reports the tunnel runs from the Temple Mount, now the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, 2,000 feet under the Old City and into the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.
The controversy centers around the dig’s sponsors, the Elad Association. Not only do they fund excavations of Jewish sites, but they also move Jewish families into Silwan. Locals have cried foul and say the dig is politically motivated, that what the archaeologists are really trying to do is make a connection with the Jewish temple and Silwan as a justification for moving the Palestinians out. Archaeology quickly gets political in a land where the past justifies the present. As I discussed in my article Two Tours, Two Jerusalems, residents of this city can look at the same thing and see something completely different. Silwan even has another name in Hebrew–The City of David.
But none of this matters to the child in this lovely photo by user Flavio@Flickr via Gadling’s flickr pool. She’s content to sip her drink in a quiet spot somewhere in Jerusalem’s Old City. Looking at her face you can’t tell if she’s Jewish or Arab. Many Israeli Jews can pass for Arab and vice versa. They both speak Semitic languages that share a large number of words. In Hebrew, the word for peace is shalom. In Arabic it’s salaam.My Spanish wife commented that the kid looks Spanish. Hardly surprising considering that many Spaniards have both Arab and Jewish blood, a legacy of the many periods in that nation’s history when they lived in peace. A thousand years ago, this kid would have been allowed to play with “the other side”. I doubt she gets to now.
I wish it were the same in Israel. When I was working there as an archaeology student back in the Nineties, I made friends with a Palestinian guy and an Orthodox Jewish family. Despite their homes being only a few minutes’ walk apart, they never met. I tried to get them all together, but they weren’t interested. So if you go to Jerusalem, remember you’re actually going to two cities and try to visit both.
A group of A-students from the Gaza Strip are to visit the nation’s capital on a UN-sponsored educational visit. Their tour is to include the Holocaust Museum, but Hamas, which runs the Palestinian Authority, has criticized the plan. A Hamas spokesman says Palestinian children suffer enough persecution and can’t deal with learning about other people’s suffering.
That prompted the Islamic Society of North America to make a public statement endorsing the plan, saying they’ve taken Muslims there before and that it has had a positive effect on Muslim-Jewish relations.
I’ve never seen this museum, but I have been to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Although I went nearly twenty years ago, I have a very clear memory of speaking to a German student who I met there. Her reason for going? “I feel it’s my responsibility as a German.” She became a friend, and although she often criticizes Israel’s policies, she’s fully aware of what happened in the biggest crime of the twentieth century.
Who knows? Perhaps this will encourage Jewish-American children to visit Palestinian high schools, or Iranian and American kids to set up an exchange program, or North and South Korea to create a communal youth group.
Hmmm. . .is that too much to hope for this holiday season?
One thing that travel teaches you is that wherever you go, people want to have fun. You just don’t expect that people are able to have fun in some places.
The West Bank is commonly perceived to be one of those places. The Israeli blockade, factional power struggles, terrorism, and poverty should be enough to kill all the fun in the region. Yet some Palestinians are determined to buck the vibe by opening nightclubs to give locals the chance to relax in what has to be one of the most stressful places in the world.
One popular club is al-SnowBar in Ramallah, 10 km (6 miles) north of Jerusalem. Their Facebook page, which has more than 550 fans, explains that the club offers day and night activities. By day, “families can relax and enjoy both good food and swimming. Al-SnowBar offers a full restaurant with its own personal chef, full bar service, and argyleh (hooka) service. Al-SnowBar is soon to be offering a basketball court.”
How many Ibiza clubs offer a basketball court?
At night it becomes more like what you’d expect from a club with “Jazz nights, weddings, exclusive parties, and DJ nights.” There’s also a bonfire that clubbers like to dance around.
Sounds pretty cool, and it’s only one club among many, but as a BBC report points out, only a small percentage of Palestinians can afford to go to such places. The clubs are doing well, however, and draw in people from other towns. A Palestinian woman from Jerusalem explained that she comes to Ramallah to party because she doesn’t feel welcome in Jewish-owned clubs. So while Palestine isn’t about to join places like Goa in the international clubbing circuit, it’s nice to know that even in the toughest conditions, people can still have a good time. If you want to join them, check out this handy guide to traveling safely in the West Bank.
Photo of Ramallah courtesy Soman via Wikimedia Commons.