Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
To spend the past few days in the crowded, narrow streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, among the multilingual throngs marking Passover or Easter, was to get an unforgettable sense of the power this place has over the minds of millions. It also gives an insight into some of the ways Jerusalem, and control of access to its holy sites, plays into global power politics.
For the majority of Palestinians who are Muslim, as well as for the Islamic world beyond, the Jewish state of Israel’s hold on the city since its capture from Jordan in the 1967 war is a deep grievance. Sporadic violence around the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque has flared again this year.
But with the confluence this year of the Easter calendars of both Western and Eastern churches, as well as the Jewish Passover celebrations, it was the issue of Christian access and the competing claims of different Christian denominations to the holy sites of Jerusalem, that was particularly in focus this past week. And if it was American-accented English that dominated among the visiting Jewish families crowding towards prayers at the Western Wall and which served as a reminder of the powerful alliance Israel enjoys, despite current turbulence, with the United States, it was the Russian spoken by many of the Christian pilgrims which indicated one of the main trends changing the balance of power within that fractured religious community.
The Israeli state insists on its commitment to free access to the Old City for all religion. Complaints over Easter from the Palestinian Christian minority have been met by Israeli assurances that permission to enter Jerusalem is granted where possible and by pleas for understanding of security concerns in a city blighted by violence. There are also concerns about crowd control. Some Israelis also point out that, under Jordanian control from 1948 to 1967, Jews had virtually no access. Local Christians in the, predominantly Greek Orthodox, Christian Quarter and in the Armenian Quarter now complain however, like their neighbours in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, of encroachment on territory by Jewish groups seeking property. Israel says its laws are fair to all. Some among the Old City’s Christian minority, notably clergy, complain of intimidation by Jewish radicals, including spitting on them in the street.
It’s a reality television show whose contestants are isolated from the outside world, but “Big Brother” in Israel has managed to set off yet another controversy over Palestine policies.
Cameras at the studio-cum-commune outside Jerusalem caught Edna Canetti, a 54-year-old liberal activist, telling fellow residents over the weekend she wanted to see a peaceful popular campaign against Israel’s West Bank occupation.
Last week: Sunday – clashes in the Old City of Jerusalem which to some resemble the events that led to the outbreak of the Second Intifada nine years ago; Tuesday – shooting by Palestinians wounds an Israeli motorist in the West Bank; Wednesday – an Israeli Army jeep hitting and killing a 17-year-old Palestinian. (Read more about the September 27th, 2009 clashes here.)
This week: Sunday again – hundreds of Arabs clash again with police in the Old City of Jerusalem. Police briefly block all access to the al-Aqsa mosque compound.
While Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. leaders debated the status of settlement expansion in New York, Palestinian workers carried on building the fenced-off red-roofed suburban enclaves in the West Bank.
With the settlement issue continuing to heat up the discussions, we sent our correspondents to a settlement construction site to see it for ourselves.
Israeli media reacted strongly to the report issued by the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which criticised both the Israeli military and Palestinian militants for actions that could be considered war crimes during the December-January Gaza War. A “declaration of war” and “classic anti-Semitism” against Israel were some of the descriptions used by the Israeli media . (Read more about the report here.)
The media reports noted that Justice Richard Goldstone, a South African, is Jewish.
The elections for Fatah’s sixth conference, which just ended in Bethlehem, had an unusual first: their first Jewish Israeli member elected to the 120-member Revolutionary Council. Uri Davis, an Israeli citizen living in the West Bank, has been a member of Fatah for 25 years.
Here are some excerpts from Reuters correspondent Ali Sawafta’s article on new council member Uri Davis for Reuters Arabic-language service:
Israel’s leading paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote an article about health concerns raised by Israel’s Ultra Orthodox media: kissing mezuzahs. A mezuzah is a tiny encasement holding a piece of parchment with a Jewish prayer enscribed on it. Mezuzahs are nailed to most doorways inside a Jewish home, and traditionally, Jews will touch the mezuzah and kiss their fingers when entering a house. An ultra-orthodox journalist decided to ask seven doctors their opinion on whether this tradition could be dangerous in the Swine flu era.
Although thousands of Israelis participated in Jerusalem’s 8th annual gay pride parade, which went off without a hitch, some signs of tension were visible. The parade ended with a small concert organized at a city centre park, which had been surrounded with high fences covered in black mesh.
Despite the cheerful singing and colourful banners, many participants who attend both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’s gay pride parades, say the Israeli parade in Jerusalem, a holy city for the religious, is markedly different from a similar parade in the secular coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv, held a couple of weeks ago.
On the last day of his Holy Land pilgrimage, Pope Benedict visited the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic partriarchates, prayed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and delivered a farewell address that touched on the main political points of his trip.
Here are some excerpts from his speeches:
ECUMENISM: "I pray that our gathering today will give new impetus to the work of theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, adding to the recent fruits of study documents and other joint initiatives. Of particular joy for our Churches has been the participation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomew I, at the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome dedicated to the theme: The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. The warm welcome he received and his moving intervention were sincere expressions of the deep spiritual joy that arises from the extent to which communion is already present between our Churches. Such ecumenical experience bears clear witness to the link between the unity of the Church and her mission."