AxisMundi Jerusalem

Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories

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A Muddy Journey: Sewage Tunnel becomes transit point to Jerusalem

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Ordinary women and men, wearing plastic bags on their feet, pulling pants up to knee level, clutch their children to their chests and roam along a 110-metre dark tunnel of sewage to cross from the Israeli-occupied West Bank to East Jerusalem.

Erected under a barrier that Israel is building in the West Bank in defiance of a World Court ruling,  the tunnel serves as a gateway connecting Palestinians from the West Bank to East Jerusalem, a centre for medical, social, religious and other services for the Palestinians.

The passage goes from the village of Old Beit Hanina in the West Bank to the area also called Beit Hanina in what Israel has annexed as part of its Jerusalem municipality. It was first used in early 2004, locals say, when Israel erected the barrier between the two Beit Haninas. What was originally essentially one village became physically divided  in two.  The tunnel was last used during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in late September by people anxious to visit family or to pray in Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque. Israel restricts entry for Palestinians to the city. Since then Israel has blocked off the passage — not for the first time.

Scenes of people’s legs sinking up to the knee in sewage are depicted in  ”Journey 110″ by Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar, who spent six hours capturing the 12-minute-long clip last year.

Tony Blair assailed at a Palestinian mosque

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tonyblairTony Blair, the Middle East envoy for the “Quartet” of powers – the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations, was assailed by a Palestinian man during a visit to a mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday.

“You are terrorism,” the man shouted as guards tried to cover his mouth. “He is not welcome in the land of Palestine.”

The Mysterious Mr. Mitchell’s MacGuffin

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It’s a bit like a Hitchock thriller. Nobody knows where he is — not even the U.S. State Department — and nobody knows when he will show up in Israel. All we know is, suspense is building and it’s time to watch out for surprises.

President Barack Obama’s Middle East peace envoy Senator George Mitchell is somewhere in transit — probably – and expected in Israel and the Palestinian Territories next week –  sometime.

Insulting the intelligence

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Good morning, children.

Today we are going to learn about two common rhetorical tricks that help greatly with the cynical manipulation of arguments.

First, disingenuousness. The Oxford Shorter English Dictionary defines disingenuous as “lacking in frankness, insincere, morally fraudulent”, in the sense of pretending not to know what you in fact know very well.

Man with a plan

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bibi1 Israel’s annual political exercise of passing a budget reached a successful conclusion on Wednesday, albeit a few months behind schedule given that 2009 is already more than halfway through.

Another plus for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that he was able to make history without much diplomatic risk, but by getting Israel’s fractious parliament to back the nation’s first two-year spending plan.

The new budget totals 316.5 billion shekels ($80.7 billion) for 2009, and an additional 325.3 billion shekels ($82.9 billion) earmarked for next year, 2010.

from Global News Journal:

Peace is no kiss, Israeli aide says

A top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used an odd turn of phrase to explain what some see as a puzzling demand put to Palestinians by the right-wing leader as a condition for any any Israeli agreement to establishing a state in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu wants Palestinians to recognise Israel explicitly as a Jewish state, in addition to their having recognised Israeli sovereignty as part of an interim peace deal in 1993. He feels this would symbolise an historic end of conflict, his aides have explained.

from FaithWorld:

PAPA DIXIT: to Muslims, rabbis, bishops, faithful in Jerusalem

Four speeches today to four quite different audiences. Pope Benedict first addressed Muslim religious leaders (see our separate blog on that) and then Israel's two grand rabbis. Both were about interfaith dialogue, but he was encouraging the Muslims to pursue it while he reassured the Jews the Catholic Church remained committed to it. He then addressed the Catholic bishops of the Holy Land and a Mass in the Valley of Josephat, just east of Jerusalem's old city. At that Mass, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, delivered an interesting address comparing the Palestinians and Israelis to Jesus in his agony in the nearby Garden of Gethsemane and the international community to the three Apostles who slept during that crucial period in Christ's passion (see our separate blog on that).

Here are excerpts from the day's speeches:

TO MUSLIM RELIGIOUS LEADERS IN DOME OF THE ROCK:

dome-and-vatican-flagINTERFAITH DIALOGUE: "Since the teachings of religious traditions ultimately concern the reality of God, the meaning of life, and the common destiny of mankind – that is to say, all that is most sacred and dear to us – there may be a temptation to engage in such dialogue with reluctance or ambivalence about its possibilities for success. Yet we can begin with the belief that the One God is the infinite source of justice and mercy, since in him the two exist in perfect unity. Those who confess his name are entrusted with the task of striving tirelessly for righteousness while imitating his forgiveness..."

from FaithWorld:

Palestinians & Israelis like Jesus, int’l community like Apostles?

It's not often you hear the Palestinians and Israelis compared to Jesus or the international community likened to Christ's closest disciples. But the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, did just that in his address at Pope Benedict's Mass in the Valley of Josephat today. This is the valley just east of the old city of Jerusalem, close to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed in agony before he was arrested by the Romans led by Judas. The Apostles Peter, James and John had accompanied him but they stayed a short distance away and fell asleep while Jesus prayed. Twal used this image to make a link between that Gospel episode and current day Middle East politics:

pope-gethsemane-2"Just a few yards from here, Jesus said to his most favored disciples "Remain here, and watch with me" (Mt. 26:39). But these same disciples closed their eyes, not losing sleep over Jesus' agony, only a short distance away in the Garden of Gethsemane."

Holy Slideshow

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Here’s a slideshow of the best pictures from the first days of Pope Benedict’s visit to the Middle East. Click on the photo to enjoy.

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Speak softly and carry a big staff

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As a long-time visitor and resident of the Middle East, I often feel a twinge of sympathy for visitors who might not be as inured as I have become to the rough-and-tumble of a region where religious, political and cultural sensitivites permeate every aspect of daily life, where arguments can blow up from the seemingly trivial and where, confusingly, remarkable levels of co-habitation and co-existence still show up against this explosive backdrop.

Pope Benedict, with his army of advisers and counsellors, is better prepared than many visitors for what the region might hold in store during his week here. But he must be acutely aware of the delicate nature of his trip – and that any gesture, word or act could become a major international issue

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