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from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Giving no quarter, Jerusalem’s Armenians keep flame alive

armenianThe rare sense of space and calm that marks out the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City is both its blessing and its curse. The acquisition of the land, and construction of the beautiful St. James Cathedral at its heart, speaks volumes for the abilities of this small ethnic diaspora from the Caucasus to secure favour from the Ottoman sultans who partitioned the walled holy city in the hope of a bit of peace from religious rivalries.

But the limited, and shrinking population of the Armenians has made their Quarter an object of envy and desire for other groups, not least the fast-expanding Jewish Quarter next door, which has been massively rebuilt during 43 years of Israeli control after being ravaged during the period of Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1967.

For a look at the issues, you can read our story and the accompanying factbox.

The Church itself, proud of a tradition that it was an Armenian king in 301 who first adopted Christianity as a state religion (some years before the Roman Empire), is  a solid fixture of Christian Jerusalem. The small ethnic Armenian lay community around it feels less sure of its future.

Having broken with authorities in Constantinople and Rome as early as the 6th century (in a complex dispute over the human and divine nature of Jesus), the Church later secured under the Ottoman-era status quo which still governs such matters a share of the tripartite governance of Jerusalem's Christian holy sites, notably the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with the very much larger Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic denominations. The latter churches and a small community of their Arab Christian adherents dominate the Christian Quarter, leaving the Armenians in splendid, if potentially precarious, isolation in their own Armenian Quarter, following their distinctive traditions in their unfamiliar Indo-European tongue with its unique script.

Among challenges facing, the Armenians and the also dwindling populations of other Christian denominations is ensuring cooperation while retaining their distinct traditions. Inter-marriage among different Christian groups is seen by many as a welcome and inevitable way to maintain the communities, but also poses problems for those keen to maintain linguistic, religious and other differences.

Witness – Writing on the walls in the Holy Land

bethlehem wall 1 (Photo: A Palestinian near the Israeli barrier in the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank town of Bethlehem November 9, 2009/Darren Whiteside)

Alastair Macdonald has been Reuters Bureau Chief in Israel and the Palestinian territories for the past three years. As a foreign correspondent over the past 20, he has previously been based in London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin and Baghdad.  As he ends his assignment in Jerusalem, he reflects in the following story on how he has watched people in the region build an array of barriers, both physical and emotional, to cut themselves off from each other.

With one last exit stamp in my passport, I end a three-year reporting assignment in the Holy Land that has been marked by images of frontiers, by a sense of walls going up and fewer and fewer people finding a way through.

From the minefields of Israel’s frontlines with Syria and Lebanon to the fortified fences around the West Bank and Gaza Strip — much in this month’s headlines — to the walls, old and new, of Jerusalem, physical barriers shape the lives of the 12 million people cut off here in what was once called Palestine.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Jerusalem Power

holy fireTo 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.

Jerusalem: heart of the Mideast conflict

jerusalem

Jerusalem, December 8, 2009/Ammar Awad

Next week is the time of year when millions of people around the world look to Jerusalem as the source of inspiration for the Christian festival of Easter and Jewish Passover celebrations. But this week the city is also the recurrent focus of bitter dispute. The United States has directed rare strong criticism at Israel over its plans to expand Jewish settlements there, saying the building undermines U.S. efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

SETTLEMENT2Want to know more? Following are links to a sampling of recent Reuters stories about Jerusalem and a Reuters graphic on new Israeli construction in East Jerusalems:

LATEST NEWS

Israel awaits word, signs are no deal with US

Israel, undeterred, to build in East Jerusalem

FEATURE STORIES

Jerusalem struggle goes on, years after war

Researchers dig up controversy in Jerusalem

ANALYSIS/BACKGROUND

Leaders’ Jerusalem rhetoric mirrors conflict

Q+A-Jerusalem: What’s at stake? Why does it matter?

Jerusalem clashes could signal more trouble

Jerusalem, focus of faith, conflict

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Out of the spotlight, Israel and Vatican negotiate holy sites

Vatican flag in Jerusalem, Reuters photo by Baz Ratner

Vatican flags raised outside Jerusalem's Old City before Pope Benedict's visit, 6 May 2009/Baz Rattner

There have been a series of significant and highly publicised events recently in Vatican-Jewish relations.

Pope Benedict put his predecessor Pius XII along the road to Roman Catholic sainthood last month, angering many Jews who accused the wartime pope of turning a blind eye to the Nazi Holocaust.  Benedict defended the move this week during his first visit to Rome’s synagogue, which prompted Israel to ask the pope to open up the Vatican archives covering Pius’ reign between 1939-1958.

Jerusalem mayor and tensions with ultra-Orthodox Jews

Jerusalem on a cloudy day. October 30, 2009. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Photo: Jerusalem on a cloudy day, 30 Oct 2009/Darren Whiteside

I had a rare opportunity to talk with Israel’s mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat on Sunday about how he spent most of his first year in office trying to find a political homeostasis in the city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The main news that came out of it was his call for the European Union on Monday to reject any future division of the city (read that story here).

We sat together for about an hour in his office on the top floor of the city hall. He has a large balcony that overlooks the modern part of the city from one side, where cranes and crews are hard at work building and developing. The other side overlooks the walled Old City, a view that has highlighted the hilly Jerusalem landscape for centuries. Nir Barkat walks through a Jerusalem market while he was running for mayor last year. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (JERUSALEM)

Nir Barkat campaigning for mayor last year in a Jerusalem market, 6 Nov 2009/Baz Ratner

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Jews take on Intel

In recent months, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem have taken to the streets in protest over businesses operating on Saturday -- the Jewish Sabbath when ritual law bans Jews from working.  At times, the demonstrations have even turned violent, like a conflagration in July over a parking lot near the Old City. Most of the ultra-Orthodox ire has been directed at the Jerusalem municipality.

jer01nov14BAZ.jpg

Until now.

Last week, the Shabbat Strife took a surprising turn with some ultra-Orthodox taking aim at the world's biggest electronic chip maker for keeping their new Jerusalem plant open on the Jewish day of rest. Though the building is located in an industrial park on the outskirts of the city, it is nearby a religious neighborhood that strictly observes the Sabbath laws.

Intel's new electronic chip plant was inaugurated on Nov. 15, and the company said it would operate on Saturdays in accordance with its business needs and Israeli law. This announcement drew hundreds of angry ultra-Orthodox Jews who gathered outside the building. Some threw rocks at police trying to disperse the crowd.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Turmoil on Via Dolorosa

jerusalem1Hundreds of visitors to Jerusalem's old walled city got more than the tour of religious holy sites they had bargained for on Sunday, as violence between Israeli police and Muslims at al-Aqsa Mosque spilled over into some of the otherwise charming cobblestone alleys that frame the compound.

 

Eighteen Palestinians and three Israeli policemen were injured in the latest of a series of recent confrontations at the mosque, situated on al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), which Muslims regard as their third holiest site. Jews revere the area as the Temple Mount, a site where two ancient temples once stood. The Western Wall remnant to a Roman-era temple, one of Judaim's holiest sites, is right next door.

As the clashes ensued, tourists visiting a Christian holy site on a neighbouring Jerusalem street hurried on past as Israeli police scuffled with Palestinian protesters throwing stones, hurling an occasional firebomb and burning trash on an intersecting alley.

Will Orthodox Jews say good-bye to Sabbath elevators?

jerusalem-cropped (Photo: Posters for protest in Jerusalem against parking lot open on Sabbath, 8 July 2009/Baz Ratner)

In a move that may literally take the breath away from many of the world’s Orthodox Jews, a group of Israel’s top rabbis recently ruled that riding in what for decades have been designated as “Shabbat (Sabbath) elevators,” is  against Jewish law. This decision — already been opposed by other leading rabbis – could force many Jews who live in apartment buildings to sweat their way up staircases once a week.

The Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat, is meant to be a day of rest. Observant Jews refrain from working, traveling in vehicles, spending money and from using electricity.

Reuters photoIn modern times, it’s tough to imagine going 24 hours without using anything electric. So gadgets have been invented to allow the use of certain appliances without physically turning them on. Like timers for lights, called Shabbat clocks. Or special cookers for stove tops. Or elevators for Shabbat.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Ultra-Orthodox protest

ISRAEL/ 

Click on the window bellow to watch a multimedia "essay" on Ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting the opening of a parking lot in Jerusalem on the Jewish Sabath.