Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, Jerusalem, the Old City

Written from an internet cafe a block from our hotel in the Old City, in the Christian Quarter.

It's warm here - very warm (like Denver this week, I think - dry heat that cools in the evening, when we need sweaters). I wake each morning to the loud chirping of the birds in the tree in the courtyard below my room in the Gloria Hotel. There must be a whole flock because they are very loud - making a joyful noise to the Lord, coming before the Lord's presence with singing, grateful for another dawn, no doubt, as am I.

There is much to see and learn here. What I write will reflect what I see - news that does not appear in the Denver Post or on CNN, or even in the New York Times or NPR. I hope to tell the stories of the people whose stories are not told in the American media I watch. They are stories told by Jews and Christians and Muslims, by Israelis and Palestinians.

Monday we walked the Holy City, spending time at the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Shariff. Everywhere here there are at least two names for every building and site, sometimes a single building has been synagogue, mosque and church, depending on who won the last war. We visited the Mount of Olives, where we saw churches commemorating Jesus' weeping over Jerusalem, his teaching of the Lord's prayer to his disciples and the agony of his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, where we cooled off in the shade of the 2000 and 3000-year-old olive trees in the garden that is thought to be Gethsemane. We also toured Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem and met with its administrator, ELCA Lutheran Mark Brown. He took us to the back of the hospital grounds, where we looked out from the top of the hill over the Palestinian villages and the Israeli settlements that are even now being built in the West Bank on Palestinian lands. Just over the fence, he showed us the ruins of a house that was demolished three weeks ago Wednesday. It is all rubble now, but the family, having nowhere else to go, is sleeping outside on the beds they rescued from the ruins. They have rigged a makeshift kitchen under a tarp in what was their backyard and they are already beginning construction of new floors and walls.

Today, Tuesday, we were led on a tour by a representative of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Angela Goldstein (her name reflecting both her Christian and her Jewish heritage) showed us more houses that have been demolished and told us the stories of the Palestinian families who live daily in fear that the Israeli Defense Forces will show up as they feed their children breakfast to announce that their houses will be bulldozed at 10:00 am because they did not have a valid permit to build (even though they had tried for years to obtain a permit on their own land and been denied). This was a sharp contrast to the Israeli settlements still being constructed on Palestinian-owned lands - lands that were deemed "abandoned" because no one was living there. After the settlements are built, the Wall is built around the settlement and around the road that connects the settlement to the rest of Israel, a road open to Israelis only. It reminds me of the videogame my children played, Munchman or Packman, the ever-expanding settlements gobbling up the land that was once Palestinian farmers' grazing lands or olive groves, or Bedouin homes. We saw one settlement in particular, being marketed to American Jews who cannot see its view atop a hill in East Jerusalem which clearly reveals that it is on the Palestinian side of the security Wall.

We talked to Anat, who is a researcher for B't selem, the Israeli human rights organization. Her human rights studies abroad opened her eyes to the ways her own beloved Israel was treating the Palestinians from whom they received their homeland. She now documents settlers'
attacks on Palestinian farmers - in the Hebron area where Heidi Schramm worked for Christian Peacemakers Teams (Heidi was a member of the St. Paul community two years ago as an Urban Servant Corps volunteer. In 2007, she came back to Denver and spoke to us about her work in Hebron.)

What truths will I learn about my own homeland in my own two-week study abroad in Israel?

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