Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Cesarea and Jerusalem
Another full and tiring day. We were up extra early this morning, as we had to be on the bus at 8 and had to pack up to leave the kibbutz for our journey to Jerusalem. We had a meeting first with Galilee College, a small institute that brings in delegations of people from various developing countries for training in all manner of professional areas – health care, tourism, business, political leadership. There were a lot of groups of Africans from Nigeria staying at the kibbutz while pursuing their training programs at Galilee College. A professor there gave us a fast pass through Israeli history, with a pretty clear bias for the Israeli narrative. I found it hard to believe him when he opined that a two state solution is possible and that the Israelis in the West Bank settlements would willingly leave to make room for Palestinians who would then move in as part of the reshuffling that a two state solution would require. I’d like to think his sentiments represent a large percent of the Israeli population, but I don’t think they do. And I’m not sure he was being completely forthright with us.
Last night we met with three Israeli young people, all of whom are just 18 months out of their army service. Two are in college now and one is working. Their perspective on the conflict was a bit discouraging, in that they are obviously steeped in the Israeli narrative so completely that it would take a lot to move them to a different place. They are young and even though they’ve done their military service they all admitted to never having met or spoken to a Palestinian. They’ve met some Israeli Arabs, but never anyone from the Occupied Territories. They spouted the usual “everyone is out to get us so we have to defend ourselves militarily” and “the Arab world wants Israel to go away” and the sanitized history of what happened in 1948. I couldn’t help but remember a young woman about their age who spoke to my delegation two years ago quite eloquently about her own “awakening” when she travelled outside of Israel for awhile and learned a more nuanced version of the history. She returned to become quite an activist for Palestinian rights. These kids are not even close to being there. The hopeful thing was that they all said they want to meet Palestinians and would welcome the opportunity to hear their stories and learn about how they perceive this conflict. One girl struggled with how her narrative could be right and the Palestinian narrative also be right. We old folks tried to suggest that she consider the possibility that both narratives are “true” in their own way and that the first step is to learn the other person’s narrative and listen closely.
After our Galilee College visit, we headed to the ruins in Cesarea, the city of Herod the Great. Cesarea is on the Mediterranean coast, so we rejoiced in the chance to walk on the beach and dip our feet in the warm waters of the Mediterranean sea. It was lovely to visit the excavated ruins, which are still being excavated with interesting new finds all the time. I’ve included a photo of the whole group taken in front of the aqueduct and a shot of the sea scenes. A lot of us were wishing we could just spend the whole day there on the beach!
We then drove the hour to Jerusalem and checked into our hotel, the Seven Arches Hotel which is on the Mount of Olives and looks out over the old city. We can see the Dome of the Rock from the dining room. We had a late, light lunch and then entered the city through the Joffa Gate, walked through the Christian quarter first, stopping at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was absolutely mobbed with people. When I visited it two years ago it was nowhere near as busy. Towards the end of our visit there, the Greek Orthodox began to chant vespers, and the sound of the chanting and the scent of the incense was heavenly, despite the crowds and noise.
We then made our way through the winding, stoned streets of the Christian quarter, through the souk (trying very hard not to look at all the wares for sale from very enthusiastic vendors!), then through the Jewish Quarter to the Wailing Wall. I really love the Wailing Wall. There is something deeply spiritual and powerful about it. Unlike the Christian shrines that are simply mobbed and seem very commercial, the Wall is quiet, even with the significant crowds and there is a sense of holiness and solemnity that permeates the area. I joined the women at the women’s section of the wall where I prayed and with many other pilgrims, placed prayers written on a small piece of paper into the cracks in the wall. Pilgrims bring their prayers and leave them in the wall so we all wrote out prayers for peace and interfaith understanding and put them in the holy wall.
After that we had to make our way back to the hotel for dinner and after dinner we had a lecture from a professor at Al Quds University, a Palestinian University, about Jerusalem and its significance for all three Abrahamic faiths. This professor, Dr. Darjani, has written a book about Jerusalem as an interfaith city and is a vocal supporter of Jerusalem remaining a city for all three faiths, rather than allowing it to become the capital of Israel and be controlled solely by the Israeli Jews.
I’m loving being back in Jerusalem. The Old City is truly an amazing place, with its narrow winding streets, and the centuries of history embedded in every stone. Not to mention the hordes of people of all different religions from all over the world who are there to visit the holy sites. The excitement and energy and vitality of the Old City is palpable, even with the obvious signs of the tense political situation in the Israeli soldiers patrolling the city carefully, with their weapons slung over their shoulders as they keep an eye on everyone’s activity.
I’m off to bed now. We have to be up early again tomorrow. We do the Holocaust Memorial – Yad Vashem in the morning and then the Dead Sea Scrolls in the afternoon.