a different side of Israel

Tag: Old City

With Satan In The Driver’s Seat, Peace Is Nowhere To Be Found

Jerusalem, nay, the Middle East is a place where everyone thinks they have authority over the ‘other-guy’, yet the situation is proverbially out-of-control.

Led by Hezbollah member, Raed Salah, the Northern Branch-Israeli Islamic Movement has demanded all Mezuzot be taken off the gates of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Salah said:

“This is a disgusting attempt to Judaize the Arab and Islamic heritage of the old city…and all Islamic institutions are called upon to act quickly to remove the Mezuzot.”

(Judaize the Jewish State? I don’t know you guys!)

Spokesman for the Al-Aqsa “institution” Mahmoud Abu Atta, says:

“The only religion who owns Jerusalem is Islam…The old city of Jerusalem to the Arabs forever.”

Jerusalem Little Kotel Meanwhile, in a different part of the Old City, the Jerusalem Development Authority opened its Muslim Quarter site – ‘Little Kotel‘ – to Jewish prayer. Scaffolding was removed from under an arch supporting Palestinian homes.

According to the Ateret Cohanim Website, students at Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim pray every Friday in the courtyard, where no disturbances a have been recorded in recent years.

This move does not come in response to Palestinian groups last month claiming the Western Wall is not a Jewish holy site, and instead, is sacred to Muslims.

And then, in an unrelated story, Gaza’s health sector seems to be on the verge of collapse due to a lack of medicine.

Medical care, said Medhat Abbas, general director of the Ash-Shifa medical complex in Gaza City, must be separated from political disputes.

Gaza’s Health Ministry has blamed its counterpart in Ramallah for a shortage of medicine in the Strip. Health Minister of Hamas, Bassem Naim, said Gaza was lacking 40% of basic medicines which he accused the PA of withholding.

Meanwhile, Israeli spokesman, Ofer Gendalman, warned Hamas to stop firing projectiles into southern Israel.

Dozens of projectiles have been launched from Gaza at Israel since the start of 2011. The launches have been the work of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the National Resistance Brigades, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad.

Pope’s Visit Anticipated Amid Property Disputes

Pope Benedict XVIThe arrival in Israel of Pope Benedict XVI on May 14 is already being prepared for in earnest by Israeli and Catholic Church authorities. The visit of the Pontiff will include a formal call to Israel President Shimon Peres at Beit Hanassi, and to the Beit HaShoah Holocaust memorial as well as the usual holy places in the Old City and elsewhere. Benedict’s visit to Yad Vashem will be the second by a reining Pontiff following Pope John Paul II ‘s historic visit there in March, 2000. Being of German descent, and due to his membership in the National Socialist Youth Movement as a child, his visit to Israel and to Yad Vashem takes on an even more significant aspect.

The visit will not be without its problems, however, as the Catholic Church is presently in dispute with the Israeli government over the ownership of some church properties in Jerusalem and other locations, including the building on Mt. Zion which is known by the Church as the Coenaculum, where Jesus and his disciples held the Last Supper. Other disputed properties include the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Church and Gardens of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives, the Monastery on the summit of Mt. Tabor; and the Church of the Multiplication, which is located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee

Church JerusalemPresident Peres, in a gesture of good will is trying to persuade the government to abide by the Church’s requests (demands?), hoping that this will enable more tourists and pilgrims to visit Israel and the Holy Land. So far, however, the government including the Interior and Tourism ministers are not ready to give these places up. As was noted to a Haaretz reporter by Tourism Minister, Stas Misezhnikov, “If we were certain this great gift would bring millions of Christian pilgrims to visit here we would have good reason to agree to these demands. But since we are not certain this will happen, why should we give out gifts?”

A considerable amount of Christian church property is in the control of various religious denominations, but these particular properties have been in dispute for some time, especially ones located in East Jerusalem since the Six Day War of 1967. The Pope’s visit in itself will be a logistical challenge, and some protests are being planned against the temporary closure of some of the holy sites he will visit, including the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth and the Kotel or Western Wall in the Old City.

Pope John Paul II’s visit in 2000 had hoped to bring millions of pilgrims to Israel, due to it heralding the 2nd Millennium. But not only did this not happen (less than 100,000 actually came) but the Second Intifada broke out in September of the same year. Many people wonder now what will be the outcome of this papal visit, taking the current political and security state of the region into account.

Jerusalem Like it Was

Kotel Jerusalem 2007It is said in Jewish tradition that there are three important times to visit the city of Jerusalem during the course of a year. These times are during the High Holidays, especially during Sukkoth; during the Passover Holiday, and during Shavuot. At the end of the Sukkoth festival, my wife and I, along with another couple, made a pilgrimage to the Holy City which included visiting a number of sites in and around the Old City. What made this event additionally interesting it that it occurred during the Christian Feast of the Tabernacles, as well as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Though I have been to Jerusalem on several occasions during the past few years, there were some places, especially in East Jerusalem, that I had not personally visited since before the occurrence of what became known as the First Intifada, in September, 1987. Despite the current political and security situation, we felt as if we had gone back in time and were visiting the city as it was during an earlier time when such visits were more possible.

We began our tour with some Christian holy sites on the Mount of Olives, including the Chapel of St. Peter, and the Basilica of the Agony, otherwise known as the Church of All Nations. Both of these sites, located on the Mt. of Olives have rich religious and historical meaning to the Christian World, including the Garden of Gethsemane; where Jesus and his disciples slept and where he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. Some of the olive trees in both this garden and on the grounds of the basilica are more than two thousand years old. I was impressed by the size and appearance of the olives, which didn’t appear to have any blemishes; not like the olive trees growing where we live in Netanya. The basilica itself was very impressive and we happened to encounter a group of visiting pilgrims from Mexico who were engaged in a special prayer ceremony including baroque guitar music by one of the pilgrims. We toured also parts of the Jewish cemetery on the Mount, some of which is still in disrepair following the period from 1948 to 1967 when this part of Jerusalem was occupied by the Jordanian Army. One small triangular shaped section was so neglected that most of the graves were unreadable; and only a few had been partially restored by either the Hevra Kadisha burial society or by descendants of the deceased who were buried there. We also visited the lookout point in front of was once the Intercontinental Hotel, giving one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the Old City; a place I had not personally been to since 1987.

Going into the Old City, we visited the Kotel, or Western Wall, Judaism’s most holy site. Being there on the last day of Sukkoth, or Simchat Torah, I was able to participate in one the many “Hakafot” or dancing with the Torah scrolls in front of Kotel, which made our visit even more meaningful. We were impressed by the number of foreign groups present at both the Kotel and in the oriental “Shuk ” market in the Old City. We noted groups from Russia, Germany, Italy, France, and other countries as well.

Finding businesses in the Jewish Quarter closed for the holiday, we ate a modest lunch in an Armenian restaurant near the Jaffa Gate; and afterwards visited King David’s Tomb and an interesting place known as The President’s Room, located on the roof of the synagogue where the tomb is located on Mt. Zion. The President’s room was used by Israeli President Zalman Shazar who used to go there to view parts of the Old City, including the Temple Mount, when it was still under the control of the Jordanians prior to the June 6, 1967 Six Day War.

The last place we visited was Mary’s Church and the grotto where Mary, the mother of Jesus, is said to be “sleeping”. Christian legend says that she will ‘awaken’ when her son returns to rule over mankind again. There is also a less known spot nearby where the Israeli Haganah forces tried to blow an opening in the Old City wall during the siege of Jerusalem in 1948. Despite using more then 200 kilograms of explosives, all they managed to do was to make a small dent in more than six foot thick city wall.

We were all impressed by the seeming peaceful atmosphere of the entire area, including the Shuk, which was crowded with tourists and pilgrims and virtually every shop was open; a far cry from previous years, especially after the Second Intifada uprising in September, 2000. With so many religious holidays and festivals occurring concurrently, including Ramadan, it was lovely to see the Old City in such a splendor.

The question we all had upon leaving is how long this seeming tranquility will last, taking future events, including the proposed international summit in America into consideration, not to mention demands by the Palestinians and others unfriendly to Israel. For those who live in Jerusalem, especially in and near the Old City, most residents would like to see what we saw on Thursday to be like this every day. And why not – isn’t it better to have peaceful coexistence rather than armed conflict?

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