Yesterday was one of the most fascinating days we have experienced! We began our day by walking to the ICCI. (I can’t help but think of my New Testament professor, whose humor did not always appeal to everyone but I always enjoyed it, who once said that she was sure that Jesus was either buff or fat because it appears he was constantly walking or eating. Well one thing I can say about this trip, we have either been walking, eating, or sleeping! I think in that order.)
Our first session was entitled, “Women as Catalysts for Peace.” We were joined by a Jewish Israeli, a Christian Palestinian, and a Muslim Palestinian. It was fascinating to hear their stories. We actually spent most of our time hearing the stories of the two Arab women, which was fine because we have heard the Jewish side of the story a lot since we have arrived. The Muslim woman told her story of moving from being an “Intafatata teenager” who wanted Jews to leave Palestine to becoming a woman who is working for peace using the model of the Highlander School in Monteagle. She is still very outspoken and all three women disagreed on the solution to the problem, but it was powerful to watch them listen to each other and to see the knowledge of one another that had built during their year or so of listening to each other’s stories. The second Arab woman was an Armenian Christian, heavily involved in her faith and her church. She is from Bethlehem originally and has chosen not to have an Israeli passport so she can easily get through the checkpoints to the West Bank to visit family and so that she can help her church by being able to travel more freely.
The checkpoints between the West Bank and the rest of Israel are a major area of passion. I was surprised how much they came up in conversation as being moments of pain, frustration and sadness for most people. Palestinians feel humiliated. Most everyone will point out that the soldiers at these checkpoints are really young! We are talking 18, 19 year olds. It is very sad. (I have more to share on all of this but it will have to wait.)
After our time with the women was over (and I could have sat and listened for much longer!), we began our “alternative tour of Jerusalem.” First, we met in the Arab part of the new city. Our guide for the Arab portion of the tour was Dr. Ali Qielbo, an anthropologist, artist, writer, and teacher, whose family has roots in Jerusalem for at least 400 years. Israeli folklore says that the Jews were the first to move outside the city walls, but Dr. Quilbo’s family actually moved out to a summer palace/fortress in the 18th century. He took us through the new city and talked about the evolution of Arab life there since the first fortresses were built and then he took us into the Old City where we explored back alleyways of the Old City and saw some interesting places that most tourists do not see. He ended his part of the tour by introducing us to a Sufi Sheikh who lives above the Viadolorosa. We had the privilege of being welcomed into his home where we saw his family’s writings that he is in the process of preserving. Then he took us down to his “museum” where we visited a bit then he led us in a moment of interfaith meditation which consisted of chanting/singing thanks and praise to God in Arabic. He also shared his peace making work and asked us to share the work he and others are doing to promote peace and interfaith understanding in Israel.
After our visit with the Sheikh, we had lunch at reportedly one of Jerusalem’s best hummus restaurants. If you ever want to try it out, it is located right on the Viadolorosa and I can give you directions. It was very good.
After lunch, we went own a tour of the Jewish portion of the New City. Our guide there, Orphir Yarden, taught us about the evolution of Jewish life in Jerusalem since the advent of Zionism in the late 19th century and the conflict between the Old Yeshuv (ultra-Orthodox Jews who concentrate on the religion) and the new ones who came mainly in the 20th centuries with the idea of building a Jewish state.
Since it was the Rabbi’s birthday, we walked to a very nice restaurant for dinner. We’ve been eating kosher. Saturday night we ate at a dairy restaurant—which means milk products, vegetables and fish. There I had a wonderful dinner of mushroom macaroni. Last night we ate at a meat restaurant, so we had beef skewers but no diary products. In fact, we even had “ice cream” made out of non-diary products. It was very good but different.
Today is our last full day in Jerusalem and it should be overwhelming because we are beginning with the Holocaust Museum.