Sunday, October 30, 2011

mere talk of peace

Love all and hate none,
mere talk of peace will avail you nothing.
Mere talk of God and religion will not take you far.
Be a blazing fire of truth,
be a beauteous blossom of love
and be a soothing balm of peace.
With your spiritual light,
dispel the darkness of ignorance,
dissolve the clouds of discord and war
and spread good will, peace, and harmony among the people.
(Hazrat Jhuaja)
friday, october 28

Some corrections before I continue:
--the Messiah is not expected to come in through the Lion's Gate in the Old City, but the Golden Gate;
--the campus of Haddasah hospital where we went to see the Chagall windows was not the campus that was an island of Israel in Jordanian territory;
--here they call the skull cap a kippa not a yarmulka (which I had also misspelled as yamulka).

And please forgive the other countless typos and misspellings throughout. I do not have my Mac, the computer I'm using does not have WORD on it but a very basic word processing program that has no spell check, and the spell check on blogspot is not functioning (I think, because all the commands show up in Hebrew). And I am dashing out these blogs pretty much uncensored and unedited at the end of very long days, trying to do a good job on my assignment. (Maybe I'll even get some extra credit?)

And one more thing: the affluence of Israel is not spread around evenly. Many people here are struggling to make ends meet and some have left the country because they cannot make a decent living. I learned this because some of the folks from our group are going to a protest tomorrow night in the name of economic justice. I thought that this perhaps was mainly concerned with Arab Israelis, but actually the majority that have been attending these rallies have been Israeli Jews.

I am feeling so conflicted as we all are in the group, I think. As we were driving into the West Bank/Occupied Territories the other day, I said to Dave, "Most tour busses don't come in here, do they?" But of course that is why I decided to do this pilgrimage with this group, mixed group that we are (sorry that there are no Muslims with us, though Gitanjali is a stalwart well-studied Sufi), as a consciousness-raising trip together. I am (as we all are) so moved by the beauty of this city and the country in general. And I am so impressed with what a great job the Israelis have done of building this country, the infrastructure, the social services, the educational system. Much of this has been done with the influx of foreign money of course, much of it from America.

Today we visited Mount Zion proper. There is all kinds of confusion about what piece of property is actually exactly Mount Zion (as opposed to Mount Sion). Where we were today is. It's divided from the Old City by a little valley. It contains a wealth of treasures from all three traditions. Our first stop was the Benedictine abbey of the Dormition. This is in honor of the place where Mary the mother of Jesus died ("fell asleep"), surrounded by the apostles, as legend has it (there is of course no historical record), before she was assumed body and soul into heaven. The current buildings were only built in the early 1900's and bears all the hallmarks of modern artistic (and perhaps German) sensibilities, clean lines and non-proliferation of images. The church is two circular buildings attached, the one being for the monastic choir which opens to the other for the rest of the assembly. There were beautiful mosaics in the ceiling. Below there is a crypt of sorts with a statue of Mary reclining on a bier, the Blessed Sacrament chapel and more beautiful mosaics. I was quite excited for folks to see this place, feeling as if it made up for the heaviness of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; this place was all light and spaciousness. And a lightness in other subtle ways, too: the lettering in the mosaic over the tabernacle read: Deus caritas es... "God is love and those who abide in love, abide in God"; and the most prominent crucifix, in one of the side chapels, showed what I've come to think of as a pre-Franciscan Christus. It was uncolored and showed Jesus dressed as a king, reigning from the cross, having conquered death, with even a hint of a smile on his face.

We then visited a building known as the Cenacolo, (the cenacle), which contains the Upper Room where Jesus ate the Last Supper with the apostles as well as where the Holy Spirit came upon them in tongues of flame. Of course the current building again comes from Crusader times, so it is not the exact room, but tradition has it that this is the location. Morgie tells us they figured out that it would have been this location because Jesus told his apostles (in the Gospel of Mark) to go prepare to eat the Sabbath by going into the city and find "a man carrying a jar of water." But this same building also houses the what is thought (hoped) to be the tomb of David's, and outside was some stunning modern Jeiwsh artistic representations of the tablets of the Ten Commandments. In addition at one point the building had functioned as a mosque. One of my favorite images of Christ, the Pie Pelicanus, the mother pelican tearing her own flesh to feed her children her blood, was on the lecturn that was used by the Muslims, and there is still Arabic script high on the walls around the room though it has been reclaimed for Christian use. As we walked into the upper room there was a Brazilian charismatic group in there singing in Portuguese, waving their hands in the air and laying on hands in healing. As we walked out the other end there was a Jewish family in the courtyard performing a rite of passage for a three year old boy on his birthday, giving him his first haircut, singing and clapping all around him while he was in a special raised chair whose back was made in the shape of scissors. To go from one to the other was beautifully satisfying. Talk about changing the narrative: so these traditions can live together. Morgie had been quoting Isaiah 2 to us at the start of this tour, and everyone had pointed to me and said, "Cyprian!" since they were the exact words used in our song "The Lord's Mountain" as I had explained to the group the day before. Morgie wanted to hear it, so we sat in a little alcove on the street after these visits and sang it for her a capella, with plenty of harmony. It was a good moment.

After lunch, Morgie left us again in the very capable hands of Sarah, a Jewish Israeli who works for an Israeli NGO on the humanitarian crisis looming with the Palestinian people. Our main topic was the security wall that has become so famous and emblematic. She took us (Mahmoud amazingly guiding the tour bus up steep hills on narrow streets; most tour busses don't go here either) to several spots where we could see both the serpentine configuration of the wall. We were also able to see the stark contrast in many areas in Jerusalem itself­­--not the West Bank--where there are derelict under-funded Palestinian neighborhoods on one side of the road and fenced in Israeli settlements on the other. She gave us a dizzying array of facts and seemed to be able to answer any question no matter how complex, but she really made a conscious effort not to editorialize. She just gave us the cold facts, and let us draw our conclusions, 'til the end. The last area she showed us was high up Mount Scopus near the Hebrew University, looking east toward the desert. You could see the spot where we believe Moses stood and looked into the Promised Land though was not allowed to enter, you could see deep into the West Bank, and you could see the Israeli settlements cutting the West Bank in half.

As for the security walls, they work. Suicide bombings have decreased greatly, for instance. According to Sarah and her colleagues, they also have gone beyond their mandate, and seem to intentionally cut neighborhoods in half and cut people off from their livelihoods, as if to intentionally diminish the Palestinian neighborhoods' chance of survival beyond providing security, using security as an excuse to further the "greater Israel" agenda.

As I understand it, in 1947 the U.N. proposed General Assembly Resolution 181, the partition of then British-ruled Palestine into two states, which would have created a Palestinian state as well as the state of Israel. This paved the way for Jewish statehood, but the Arabs refused it, and Palestinian leaders have always insisted that it was right to do so. It is very timely that just today President Abbas, in a rare interview on Israeli television, said that that was a mistake, because now, "Israel existed. Palestine diminished."

Everything seems to hinge on Israel'e existence and expansion. Israel says that the diplomatic deadlock is caused by Palestine's (or at least some elements' in Palestine) refusal to accept the existence of a Jewish state. Hamas and other radical elements, especially Palestinians who were dispossessed in the 1947-1948 war, oppose permanent coexistence with a Jewish state. Obviously practically speaking it is too late for that, and one wonders how they can hold on still to such a position. They refuse even to call it Israel, referring to them simply as the Occupiers, because Israel took territory even beyond what had been allotted it by Resolution 181. Palestine and Abbas, on the other hand, say the problem is the Netanyahu government's allowing these continued settlements of the West Bank exactly where, along with the Gaza Strip, Palestinians want to make their state.

The so-called Green Line in Jerusalem was established in the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and its neighbors--Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan--after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War to mark out areas that are administered by the State of Israel and the areas outside of it, which are adminstered either by the Israeli military or the Palestinian National Authority. After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel annexed more areas outside of that Green Line, areas that had been ruled by Jordan up 'til then. Israel calls that the "extended municipality of Jerusalem." The Green Line is not an international or permanent border but it was meant "to preserve the territorial claims of all parties." But again, the contested settlements are in areas beyond the Green Line where Palestinians wish to make a state and make a capital in Jerusalem.

What Sarah showed us yesterday is that it is near the tipping point where Isreal is going to make such a piece meal in both Jerusalem and in the West Bank that there will be no contiguous area for the Palestinians to make a state nor to make of Jerusalem a capital. And this certainly appears to be the intention; the far right wants exactly this and is not afraid to say so, to establish (or re-establish) the divinely mandated "Greater Israel." So Sarah proposed to us that there are actually three different solutions: there is still a chance that Palestinians will get a state and a shared capital along the Green Line, even if it is an amended Green Line to post-war 1967 borders; or that there will be a bi-national state shared by Israel Jews and Arab Palestinians with equal rigths and justice for everyone (I can barely imagine that); or one state, Israel, with apartheid.

Those, I think, are just the facts. We were all once again exhausted and overwhelemed and confused by the onslaught of information. We had a couple of hours break in the afternoon and then Morgie hosted us at her reformed synagogue for Sabbath evening service. It is a very progressive congregation, both Sarah and Rabbi Arlich (the one who had just been arrested) we in attendance too. The rabbi was wonderful and led us through their very contemporary service (all the psalms in totally inclusive language translations for God and people) with wonderful singing throughout and wonderful modern prayers. And a very welcoming community. We're definitely hanging out with the leftist Israelis, but they are Israelis, the ones who are fighting for their country to do the right thing. As one person described it: "We do everything in the name of our defensible borders. But we go beyond our defensible borders: we act like bullies."

That is partially because of this: when the Israelis ascended to the Temple Mount at the end of the Six-Day War in 1967, having warded off the threat from the united Arab nations, Karen Armstrong writes:
The phrase "Never again!" now sprang instantly to Jewish lips in connection with the Nazi Holocaust. This tragedy had become inextricably fused with the identity of the new state. Many Jews saw the State of Israel as an attempt to create new life in the face of that darkness. Memories of the Holocaust had ineveitably surfaced in the weeks before the Six Day War, as Israelis listened to Nasser's rhetori of hatred [He threatened to "drive them into the sea."] Now that they had returned to the Western Wall, the words "Never again!" were immediately heard in a new context. "We shall never move out of here"...

I heard one Israeli commentator say on NPR some months ago, "We don't care if the rest of the world hates us. We will survive."