It would be easy to write tonight’s column about visiting the place where Jesus was crucified, to talk about what it was like to pray there, to describe the emotions from praying where he was laid to rest, and what it was like to visit the entire Old Jerusalem areas. I will save those for another occasion.
Tonight I’m drawn to the many interactions of conflict we encountered as we walked throughout Old Jerusalem. You couldn’t help but notice it. The signs of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians were all around us.
We saw it as we approached the entrance to the Dome of the Rock. It is a highly secured area and as we approached the sight it was one of the few times on the trip that we saw machine guns out in full force. The other time was when we approached the Church of the Nativity. We waited in a line to enter through security checkpoints, which prohibited certain items (such as crosses and Bibles from being brought in). I had to go through the checkpoint three times due to my Daniel Tiger toy, which I have been using to take photos for Noah, and some prayer cards for the church.
As we approached the Dome we saw security all around. We didn’t go far without someone knowing where we were at all times. It wasn’t scary or intimidating. It was just odd and unfortunate that on a place where all three Abrahamic faiths draw a connection to there has to be that much security presence.
That was the case, also, as we visited the Western Wall. It is a holy site for the Jews because the Wall is the last remaining remnant of the old Temple and is close to where the Holy of Holies may have been. The security was not as tight, but it was still a visible presence. I had to be patted down, because, again, I had my Daniel Tiger toy. That was an odd experience to have in a place of holy worship. Never in my life would I have imagined needing to be patted down before going to a place to worship God.
A conversation we had later on in the evening helped to put this day of experiencing conflict into perspective. We had the opportunity to hear from two individuals – one a Palestinian Christian and another a tourism official in Israel. During their conversation, both individuals articulated their understanding of the issues and their desired pathways to peace. The Palestinians see the issues as being centered on control of Jerusalem, the settlements in the West Bank, and the status of refugees who have fled the area. The Palestinians believe the settlements prevent peace from occurring. The Israelis say the possibility for peace lies with Arab countries ending terrorism.
After listening to both parties list what I described as a difference on the interpretation of the facts, I asked both to mention what they could agree upon. They said that a two-state solution was possible, but the quest towards commonality ends at where to begin that process. You could feel the tension in the room as they described passionately their frustrations surrounding a decades long struggle.
I was left with wondering if the end to conflict in this holy land is a noble goal that has no easy solution. Both the withdrawing of Israeli settlements and ending terrorism are noble efforts, but it appears that the Palestinians and Israelis are waiting for the other side to blink first in order to claim victory.
One thing is for certain that securing peace never can occur so long as both sides feel threatened by the other and believe they are completely in the right. The tension in the air that you feel as you walk through certain areas of Jerusalem will not fade overnight. It will only happen when people on both sides begin to work together to find a common path forward.
The problem is no one, including myself, knows how to get there.
And that is why conflict is the word of the day on this Sunday in Israel.