Tuesday, June 1, 2010
This was a true Istanbul tourist's day! We started off with a visit to Hagia Sophia, which is a truly magnificent museum. Once a Byzanine Cathedral, then an Ottoman Empire mosque, it is quite a testament to interfaith co-existence. While the Muslims took it over after the Byzantine Christians, they did not destroy the Christian art. They simply plastered over it to make the space work for Muslim worship (which does not allow for any images of God or saints or the like.) Now both the Christian and Muslim religious symbols are visible - Christian mosaics alongside Muslim calligraphy with phrases from the Qur'an and Hadiths. It is truly a unique building to visit, steeped in centuries of both Christian and Muslim spirituality.
Then we crossed the street to visit the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque is a magnificent structure, very reminiscent (for good reason!) of Byzantine Church architecture. Our three Muslims prayed while we were there, while the rest of us simply soaked up the prayerful atmosphere of the Mosque and took time for our own meditation.
THen we enjoyed lunch in a lovely cafe, with a rooftop seating area which accommodated our crowd quite well. After lunch we hit the Grand Bazaar, and that is truly an experience! I set off with my co-mentor in the EFM group at St. Paul's and we bargained hard for scarves, both for our group and for our own personal purposes. Neither of us particularly care for bargaining, but we got a very gentle shopkeeper, who schooled us in the art of bargaining. We actually did quite well, all things considered! The Grand Bazaar is about a 15 minute walk from our hotel, but we took a few detours (??) on the way back and got to our hotel just minutes before the group was leaving for a boat ride on the Bosporus.
The boat ride was terrific. We were the only ones on the boat, and our guide was a young, 24 year old boy from Anatolia, who moved to the big city to try to make a living and taught himself English so he could do these boat tours. He was very, very sweet and amazingly helpful and well meaning. We had a wonderful time talking to him and finding out about his life in Turkey and his views of world events. This was one of those times when you really appreciate the excitement of traveling to foreign lands and speaking with people from widely differing backgrounds. The city was spectacular to view from the water and as the sun set and the lights came on it was truly magical. And I've spent a lot of time on boats in New York Harbor, and I'm here to attest that Istanbul has New York beat hands down in terms of volume of traffic through the harbor. Istanbul is truly a wonderful, exciting, sophisticated, trendy, "happening" city. I hope to spend much more time here in the coming years.
The news here has been full of reports about the confrontation between the Israelis and the human rights activists on Turkish vessels that were stormed upon by the IDF and on which some number of activists lost their lives. It has been hard for us to watch these unfolding events, having just left Israel. Unfortunately, as I listen to the news reports on the BBC, I must say I sympathize and empathize with those condemning Israel for its overreaction and excessive use of force. Once again, I see the bunker mentality at work, where they try to justify everything as if they were the victims, the ones being attacked and they are merely defending themselves, It is simply not true now and hasn't been true in the past when they've tried to claim self defense. I wonder if the strong international sentiment against their aggressive response will do anything at all to make them think twice about how they handle such situations. I fear it won't make a difference and I despair that the United States stays silent in the face of this incident, once again giving at least tacit approval to this bullying, over-reactive Israeli action. Many of our party have gotten e-mails from home worrying about us, but I am here to say that while demonstrations are happening in Istanbul, we have not seen any evidence of those demonstrations. They are happening by the Israeli consulate, and are not widespread around the city. The disgust and dispproval of Israel's actions, however, is being voiced all over the place.
Now its off to our last dinner on the rooftop overlooking the Blue Mosque and then pack for a very early departure tomorrow. By tomorrow evening, I will be back in Rochester.
Monday, May 31, 2010
Today we toured around Istanbul, which has the most incredible traffic jams I’ve seen in a long time! We visited the Jewish Museum which is located in the Asian section of the city, far off the beaten tourist track, so much so that our driver and guide did not know how to get there and we drove around the section of the city that caters to contractors (block after block of lighting shops and tool shops and machine shops) before we finally located the museum which is on a tiny back street that is only accessible on foot. The museum used to be a synagogue. It was fascinating to learn about the welcoming attitude the Ottoman Empire had to Jews throughout its history. The Jews of Turkey are primarily Sephardim and have enjoyed prosperity and comfort in their years here. Notwithstanding that, they are a tiny minority of modern Turkey. Some of the artifacts in the museum attested to the peaceful co-existence of Muslims and Jews in this country as there were Jewish prayer shawls that bore the crescent moon and star symbol of the Turkish culture and even more surprising were the Torah scrolls that are held together by two long rods the top of which are very ornately decorated and there were several scrolls that had the crescent/star symbol on the top of the two posts or rods that the scroll is wound around. It was an amazing show of interfaith understanding and respect going back centuries.
After lunch by the Bosphorus, we went to the Topkapi Palace, the palace of the great Sultans of Ottoman history. That palace is a spectacular place to visit and one could easily spend an entire day just to see it all. We didn’t have that much time. The highlight of that tour is the building housing the religious relics of Islam, including relics of the beard of Mohammad, the tooth of Mohammad, the saucepan supposedly used by Abraham for entertaining guests, the turban of Joseph (Hebrew prophet, not husband of Mary!), and the arm and skull of John the Baptist. In that same building the Qur’an is recited constantly, 24 hours a day so you walk through seeing all these very holy relics and objects while listening to the chanting of the Qur’an. When you go through the room where the person is doing the chanting they have a screen that is scrolling the words being chanted in both Turkish and English, so I spent quite a while in there just listening to the chanting while reading along. I could have stayed much longer, but had to catch up with my group! Alas, photography is forbidden so I couldn’t take any pictures of the beautiful objects we were seeing. A trip through that palace gives one an idea of the extreme wealth of the Sultans of the empire. The jewels and gold and spectacular medals, and carpets and throne hangings and the like are absolutely breathtaking. Apparently during the time of the Sultans, 4000 people lived within the palace enclosure. It was a little city all unto itself. The group photo was taken on one of the verandas overlooking the Bosphorus Strait, on the palace grounds.
During our travels today we ran into a group of high school girls on a school trip. They were an amazing sight as they all had extremely colorful headscarves on and as they approached it was an beautiful kaleidoscope of color. I’ve included a picture of a group of them so you can see the beauty of their attire. It’s amazing how Turkish Muslim women manage to make the most of their “modest” code of dress. They know a lot about color and are anything but dowdy or plain!
This evening we went to the Mevlevi Sema Ceremony and Sufi music concert, which featured Sufis chanting, and the whirling dirvishes doing their dance. That was enchanting. There is something mesmerizing about the dervishes dancing. As you watch it becomes a form of meditation even for the spectator. The chant that accompanies it was a combination of verses from the Qur’an as well as Persian poetry and poetry by the famous Sufi mystic, Rumi.
We are now retiring to the rooftop terrace for dinner where we will once again be able to look over at the Blue Mosque all lit up and hear the last call to prayer for the day.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Today we left our Jerusalem hotel early and went to the Haram Al Sharif where we got an up close look at the Dome of the Rock. Unfortunately, since 2000, no one who is not Muslim is allowed in either the Al Aqsa Mosque or the Dome so Dr. Shafiq and Mustafa went into the Dome to pray but the rest of us had to wait outside. We then left through the Lion's Gate and I made a note to self never to enter or leave the Old City through that gate. What a madhouse! Hordes of tourists and its one entrance that a lot of cars and trucks use so it is very hard to traverse. We were very glad to see Sami our driver and our bus after struggling through the crowds to get out of there.
We got to Ben Gurion airport with plenty of time to spare. Getting out of there was the usual Israeli third degree. Our team leader explained to the airport security folks what we had been doing in Israel, but they still pulled one of our members out of the line for extra questioning. They had her there for quite a while, asking very detailed questions about who we are, what we had done while there, lots of questions about our two young men, especially Mustafa who is Muslim. Then a few folks had to have their suitcases opened and searched and there was lots of drama about some books we had been given at Al Quds University. Susan and George had to mediate that mess but in the end they let us all through and didn't confiscate any material or haul anyone off for extended questioning, thank goodness. Honestly, the entire atmosphere in Israel is anything but welcoming, with army soldiers all over the place toting their uzzis and the pervasive atmosphere of suspicion and danger. Our flight left about 45 minutes late. Nonetheless, I recommend Turkish Airlines - the flights have been great and the in flight service is very good too. Much more civilized than most American airlines these days.
We got to Istanbul and just arrived at the Almina Hotel, in a wonderful lively neighborhood within walking distance of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The rooms are lovely, and I'm delighted to finally have internet in the room!! This feels like a luxury. We're pretty tired but are going to convene on the roof in a few minutes for dinner overlooking Istanbul and the lights on the Blue Mosque. Then I suspect we'll all crash, as it has been a long, tiring day.
P.S. - Dinner on the rooftop terrace was spectacular. The Blue Mosque is vividly visible lit up against the night sky and the water of the Bosphorous is on the other side view. As we were sitting enjoying our dinner and fascinating conversation with two young men who were exchange students at Nazareth College last year, both of whom are Kurds, the evening call to prayer sounded. It was gorgeous to hear the muezzin from the Blue Mosque, who was described by one of our party as the Pavarotti of muezzin. Truly, the chanting of the call to prayer was magical, and as we looked at the minarets against the night sky, there were seagulls flying all around the minarets, almost as though they were dancing to the call to prayer. It was truly breathtaking. We'd all been in animated conversation until the call to prayer sounded and then we were simply transfixed by the sound. What is also incredible in Istanbul is that there are so many mosques and they all do the call to prayer at the same time so you hear it echoing all over the city from every direction. Truly beautiful. I've posted a blurry, but suggestive photo of the Blue Mosque taken from the rooftop where we were sitting.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Today we started out to see the Al Aqsa mosque, only to discover that it is closed to tourists on Saturdays! Dr. Shafiq tried his best to negotiate an exception to the rule, but negotiating with the Israeli police doesn’t work. So we stopped in the Arab quarter of the old city for Turkish coffee, and spent some time shopping before heading to the West Bank town of Abu Dis where Al Quds University is located.
Al Quds is a Palestinian university and it is very impressive. Nazareth College has recently negotiated an agreement with them for academic and cultural exchange and so when we arrived the ceremonial signing of that agreement was the first order of business. Then we were privileged to meet with students in the American Studies program who were there for classes. In the class I was in there were a number of students who are employees of the Palestinian government, who are studying in this particular program because they believe that an understanding of American culture and politics is critical for them in their jobs. Susan asked them what they think of America and Americans and one student, a woman who spoke fluent English, was quite frank in saying that for Palestinians, Americans are equated with Israelis because of the political and economic and military support that the US gives to Israel. She stated bluntly that most Palestinians equate the US with Israel, and Israel is most definitely the “enemy” in the eyes of Palestinians. Remember that these students live in the West Bank so they live daily with checkpoints, restrictions on movement within the West Bank, separate roads, permits required to go to Jerusalem which are routinely denied or, if granted, often ignored by soldiers at the checkpoints. Despite the difficult and oppressive conditions under which they live these Palestinians are very serious about education because they truly believe it is essential if they are to improve their lives and the lives of their children.
After our classroom experience we toured two museums that are on the university campus. One is a tribute to Palestinians who have been imprisoned in Israeli jails. That was an amazing exhibit as it chronicled the journey of those who are arrested by the IDF and imprisoned. For Palestinian families, it is normal for the men in the family to spend some time in an Israeli prison. An amazing section of the exhibit showcased the beautiful artwork that the prisoners do while in prison. In order to get the materials they need to do the artwork they have to go on a hunger strike, but apparently, when they do, they can negotiate these art supplies and the work they produce is spectacular. I’ve included a picture of a model of the Dome of the Rock that a prisoner made while in an Israeli jail. We then toured the Math museum and that was great fun.
We enjoyed lunch with the students in a local restaurant where we had a chance for more informal conversation. Most of us came away with great respect for these folks who are working so very hard to gain an education while holding down full time jobs in a place where life is very, very difficult. I participated in a lively discussion with a young woman who is an oral surgeon, currently doing her master’s in American Studies and who spoke quite eloquently about her issues with Israelis and her dismay at what she considers their complete ignorance of Palestinians and Palestinian culture. I’ve included a picture of her at lunch.
In the evening, after a couple of hours of shopping in the Old City, we went to the home of Dr. Mohammad Darjani a professor of American Studies at Al Quds. His home is beautiful, and just inside the Separation Wall between the West Bank and Jerusalem. He spoke to us about his work with Muslim clergy and the Muslim establishment, not only in Palestine but throughout the Middle East to promote the concept of “wasatia” which is a Muslim version of “the middle way” or moderation. He gave us an incredibly thorough lecture parsing out verses in the Qur’an and the Hadiths of the Muslim tradition that can lend themselves to a moderate, pluralist position towards other faiths, particularly Judaism and Christianity. I was fascinated to watch him doing what the theologians that I most often teach have done within the Christian tradition, which is to find a theological basis for an attitude of openness to other religions, particularly the other two Abrahamic faiths. He also shared with us a lecture he does all over the world called Big Dreamz and Small Hope which was truly brilliant as an analysis of the two competing narratives in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and of an approach that gets around the competition to the possibility of shared hope for peace. It was a superb lecture and I hope to find it on his website and spend more time going through it slowly. He then offered us dinner, which was a traditional bedoin meal of tabouli and a delicious beef dish in a cheese sauce with rice. We finally rolled out of his house at 10, exhausted, but intellectually and physically fully nourished. I’ve posted Dr. Darjani’s picture also as he was talking to us on his balcony overlooking the city.
Tomorrow we’re going to try to get to the Al Aqsa Mosque again before leaving for the airport. We move on to Istanbul tomorrow afternoon.
Friday, May 28, 2010
Today we visited the Jewish Arab village known as Neve Shalom Wahat al Salam, which means Oasis of Peace. This is a small, intentional village in which the families who comprise the village have made a conscious decision to raise their children in a place that is both Jewish and Arab and where both Hebrew and Arabic are spoken. The school is completely integrated and bilingual giving the children the unique opportunity to grow up knowing people from the “other side” of the conflict here. Israeli schools are segregated – either Jewish or Arab and children who grow up in the Israeli public schools never meet people not like them. There are 55 families living in the village at this time, although they have enough room for 90 more and they are continually growing. The village also sponsors a School for Peace which offers programs and institutes both in Israel and around the world on peacemaking, conflict resolution and the like. They have offered these programs to professionals of all stripes – teachers, lawyers, doctors, politicians and civil servants and others. They are now involving Palestinians from the West Bank in their programs but have to conduct those programs outside of Israel because the West Bank Palestinians cannot enter Israel.
The village was founded in the early 1970s and was the dream of Bruno Hassar a Roman Catholic monk who was born a Hungarian Jew and raised Jewish who converted to Roman Catholicism in college. He dreamed of starting a community where Jews and Arabs could live together in peace and his dream, through his very hard work and persistence became a reality. The land for the village was originally donated by Trappist Monks from a monastery nearby.
Touring the village we had a chance to see how very possible it is for Jews and Arabs (both Christian and Muslim) to co-exist and live in peace together. The members of the village who spoke with us about their lives and their mission were inspiring to hear. They acknowledge that it is not easy in this country where the tensions are so high to do what they are doing, but that they hope that they can prove by example that peace is possible. They told us of some of the tensions, most particularly the difficulty that the children in the village face when the Israeli Jewish youth become of age to do their obligatory army service. The Arab kids are not required to do Army service and, indeed, the Arabs are ambivalent at best about the Army since it is the tool by which the Israelis enforce their occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Apparently, when the Israeli Jewish kids are ready to go off for their Army stint it sometimes causes sadness, tension and strain with their Arab friends. Many of the youth in the village opt for community service rather than the Army, which is only an option for the girls. Some kids from the village have refused to go into the Army, but that then means they do time in jail.
The school in the village is intentionally bilingual and binational and they told us of how they have to create their own curricular materials to supplement the official Israeli public school curriculum to correct for the Zionist bias in the official curriculum. They have had to be creative to find ways to teach the history of Israel and Palestine that honors both narratives. All the children learn both Hebrew and Arabic and all classes have either a teacher who is bilingual or two teachers so that all classes are taught in both Arabic and Hebrew. Since we were visiting on a Friday, classes were not in session, except the kindergarten. The “weekend” in Israel is Friday/Saturday. When I inquired about whether this school had classes on Sunday they said yes, and that school starts at 8. When I then asked how Christian children can go to church if they are supposed to be in school, the principal admitted that this is a problem. In Israel, Christians are really marginalized, because Sunday is a regular workday, so schools and businesses are open. It makes it very hard for Christian communities to function when they are not able to worship on their holy day.
They also have created a Pluralist Spiritual Centre where people of the three religions can share a sacred space. They have built a “House of Silence” on a hill overlooking a valley, which is a place for prayer and meditation for people of all faiths or none at all. We stopped in there for some silent prayer and it was truly a holy space. It would make a wonderful place to do a retreat. I’ve included a picture in the House of Silence and some of the children’s artwork that is displayed near the school complex as well as a shot of the kindergarteners we met today at their storytime.
It was heartening to see that peaceful co-existence really is possible and to realize that at the grassroots people truly are capable of living peacefully together. The status quo does not have to remain the status quo.
We then went to Abu Gosh, a Muslim Arab village where we had lunch in a little restaurant that claims to have the best hummus in the world (??!!?? –Actually, it was pretty delicious!) and while we sat eating our lunch we listened to the sermon and prayers from Friday Ummah, as the mosque was right down the street and the Friday midday prayer service was broadcast from the minaret. Dr. Shafiq and Mustafa stayed with us through the sermon and then ran over to the mosque when the prayers began so as to meet their Friday obligation.
This evening we had a fascinating meeting with a Palestinian woman who works for the NGO Justvision, which is active in fighting for Palestinian rights. She is an Israeli Arab but works closely with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. She showed us their most recent documentary, entitled Budrus, which chronicles the non-violent resistance movement of Palestinians in a West Bank village where the Israeli government was taking land from the villagers, specifically their olive groves from which they make their living, in order to build their Separation Wall. This was a “good news” story in that the resistance by the local Palestinians along with Israeli activists and international activists who supported them in that work actually caused the Israelis to pull back and erect the wall closer to the Green Line leaving 95% of the olive groves to the village. The woman who spoke with us was very articulate and quite outspoken about the need to raise up a new generation of leaders both for the Palestinians and for the Israelis. She was quite clear that neither set of leaders are going to manage this conflict in a productive way and that they do not have the interests of the people on the ground at heart. She believes strongly in grass roots work and in training and raising up a new generation of leaders who will not be as corrupt as the current group. By the end of her presentation we were all ready to vote her into office!! The film she screened for us is doing the film festival circuit all over the world, but should be available for purchase on DVD in about a year. (This is the same group who produced the documentary “Encounter Point” that has been released in select theaters in the US in the past couple of years.)
So now I’m off to bed. I’m mostly recovered from my desert experience, except for very sore leg muscles used on the descent! Apparently my regime in the gym doesn’t work out those particular muscles!
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Today wins the prize for an endurance test. We left at 7:00 to drive to Masada, in the southern part of the Judean desert, near the Dead Sea. There we visited the ruins of the fortress built by Herod the Great. It’s an incredible city on a desert mountain the ruins of which were excavated in the 1950s and 1960s. This is where the Jews fought to their death in the Great Revolt that began in 66 CE and ended with the siege of the fortress by the Romans in 73 or 74 CE. The site is now on the World Heritage sites list of UNESCO and it is something to behold. The plateau on which Herod built his fortress is 450 meters above sea level, rising up as a massive mountain out of the Judean desert. Visitors can go up to tour the ruins via cable car or by hiking up what is called the snake pit trail. Our leader advised us against trying to walk up since we arrived by about 8:30 and he felt it was too hot. Some of us were skeptical about his concerns until we decided to walk down it rather than take the cable car. After touring the ruins for about an hour in the blazing sun, 7 of us decided we’d walk down rather than ride. It took us 45 minutes walking carefully down the side of the mountain, which is rocky, dusty and HOT!!! I drank 1.5 liters of water just on the sightseeing above and the descent on foot, the last slugs of my water bottle feeling like I was drinking from the hot water tap. There are stairs cut into the mountain for much of the descent and the rest is a dusty footpath. We were all drenched in sweat by the time we got to the bottom, and we learned that the temperature was 110 degrees! I think I’m glad I didn’t know that as I was walking down. The views were amazing out across the desert to the Dead Sea but I am now paying with very sore muscles in my legs just above my knees and a whopping headache, probably from dehydration. I’ve been pounding down the water all day but still do not feel rehydrated. I have a new found respect for the perils of the desert!
We then went to the Dead Sea and put our feet in the water there. It was amazing to watch folks floating effortlessly on the dense and chemically rich water! It felt good to have my feet in water, even though it was particularly warm and not what one would call refreshing water either! I’ve included pictures of me on the top of Masada and one of me and Susan Nowak dunking our feet in the Dead Sea.
From there we went to Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity. As we were driving back to Jerusalem to head on to Bethlehem, the sky became especially hazy (it had been somewhat hazy all day, even in Masada) and began spitting rain a little. Before long the air was thick whitish brown and opaque. Apparently this is not uncommon here to have a weather system move in that traps desert dust and moisture in the atmosphere, causing a heavy pressure in the air and this thick cloud of whitish brown dust. It is rather oppressive and was sufficiently thick that when we returned to the hotel our view of the Old City was gone!
Our evening lecture was by a young Palestinian woman who is working on a PHD in conflict resolution. Her story about being a Palestinian woman seeking advanced education was very moving, as by doing so she is going against some cultural norms. She is a sign of new things happening for women in this Middle Eastern culture and it was inspiring to hear her story.
At this point, I’m completely exhausted, and still suffering from a bad headache and sore muscles. I’m hoping a good night’s sleep will revive me because at present I’m done in! I don’t think I’d make a good desert nomad!
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Today we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial. It is more than simply a memorial or a museum, it is also the pre-eminent venue for Holocaust studies in the world. Scholars from all over the world come to Yad Vashem to study the Holocaust. The exhibit is incredible, following the build up to the holocaust in the early part of the 20th century, through the years of the war and to the death marches, the liberation of the camps, and the stories of survivors who then emigrated to Israel and other parts of the world to rebuild their lives. There are thousands of artifacts in the museum as well as movie/video footage from the holocaust years. What is particularly powerful are the videotaped interviews with holocaust survivors telling their stories. Many of them never spoke of the holocaust and had to be coaxed into speaking and being videoed for the museum. Their testimony is riveting to say the least. I listened to two survivors from Lithuania describing in detail their experiences of the Nazi soldiers hauling all the Jews in their town out to a pit where they were made to strip off their clothes and the soldiers shot them right beside the pit where folks fell into mass graves. Both these survivors were children at the time. In each case they fell into the pit but had not actually been hit by a bullet. They managed to crawl out and escape to safety once the soldiers had left. The woman who told her story was 7 years old when this happened, the man 16. Then the artifacts in the museum are truly riveting. I spent time reading postcards and handwritten journal pages written by Jews on the trains to the camps, telling of what was happening and specifically saying that they were writing this in the hopes that someday someone would find the postcard or journal pages and know what had transpired. Two of the postcards were written by women who then threw them out of the train hoping they’d be found someday. The journal was written by a man who buried it by the train tracks and hoped it would later be discovered. Really riveting stuff.
I had the same uneasiness going through the museum as I had two years ago, however, as I looked at the images of the brutalities that the Nazis visited upon the Jews of Europe and think about the human and civil rights violations now being visited upon the Palestinians by the Israelis. The checkpoints, the separate roads in the West Bank, the denial of water and electricity, the situation in Gaza are all too reminiscent of the Warsaw ghetto and the terrible discrimination and persecution of Jews in Europe leading up to the war. Much as Israelis bristle at the suggestion, it is so obvious that what is happening is the classic situation of those who are abused later become an abuser. And the other disturbing reality that I saw today was hordes of young Israeli soldiers, carrying their guns, swarming through the museum. We were told that visiting Yad Vashem is part of the training of the soldiers when they enlist in the army, so that “they will know why it is so important to defend this country.” Given that the 18 year olds now enlisting in the army are the third generation after the holocaust generation, I find myself wondering where we draw the line between wanting them to know and learn the history so that they will not repeat it, and perpetuating the anger, hurt and bitterness unto the generations to come so that the wound never heals. They so internalize the narrative and the pain of that narrative that the anger, bitterness, depression, sense of persecution does not abate making them live with a fearful, bunker mentality which sees the world and everyone outside of Israel as a potential enemy who is out to destroy them. This is not the best world view to have going through life and certainly does not create a climate where peace may be negotiated. As horrible and reprehensible and undefensible as the holocaust was, there has to come a time when it takes its place in history and the younger generations become able to live in the world as they encounter it, not as their great grandparents encountered it. They need to be able to become the change they’d like to see in the world, and I wonder how that can happen with this heavy emphasis on “Never forget.”
I was also unsettled as I looked at the photos of Germany in the early 1930’s where there were signs telling people to boycott Jewish businesses, being very aware of the growing movement worldwide right now for “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) to try to pressure Israel to change its behavior towards the Palestinians. Once again, one could argue, “the world” is calling for a boycott of Jewish business, although this time I believe it is not on the basis of their religion or ethnicity, but on the basis of their political actions. Still, its curious and gives me pause.
We went from Yad Vashem to the offices of an interfaith peace group called Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) which is an Israeli-Palestinian partnership joining activists, academics, negotiators, political and military experts in the development of a viable two state solution to the conflict. These folks have been in existence since 1988 and they really know their stuff. They work with the US government on pretty high level negotiations. We were all enthralled as we listened to the Israeli Gershon Baskin talk about how a two state solution can work and his firm belief that it is very possible. The Palestinian Hanna Siniora was similarly convinced and reiterated what we’ve heard from a number of Palestinians on this trip that the Arab world is ready to make peace with Israel, to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a state and to work out an agreement, if Israel will deal with the issues of the settlements, refugees and the status of Jerusalem. This organization is working closely with the Obama administration in their efforts to broker a peace agreement, and these men seemed genuinely hopeful that a workable two state solution and agreement can be worked out and soon. They expressed remarkable confidence in George Mitchell and what he might be able to pull off. We all came away from that discussion feeling far more hopeful about the possibilities for this conflict than we have before.
Our next stop was to have been the museum of the Dead Sea Scrolls but we learned that it was under construction so that plan was scrapped. A few of us decided to go back to the Old City. Dr. Shafiq and our two young men were going to go to Al Aqsa mosque for evening prayers and three of us decided we’d do some shopping and go again to the Western Wall and Holy Sepulcher (one of our number had missed that part of yesterday.) We had a blast shopping in the market and Dr. Shafiq proved to be an expert negotiator with the vendors making sure we drove hard bargains for our purchases! No wonder he’s so good at interfaith work! This time when we got the Holy Sepulcher the Franciscans were doing Vespers, with incense and chanting and processions all over the church to various parts of the shrine, so we enjoyed a good dose of ancient Christian tradition and liturgy. It was fun to think of Dr. Shafiq nearby praying in Al Aqsa mosque as we were praying in the Holy Sepulcher church. We finished our day back at the hotel with dinner and a lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Tomorrow we are off to Masada, the Dead Sea and Bethlehem. We have a very early start, so as to get to Masada before it is too hot. So I’m off to bed. More tomorrow.