The Holy Lands, Israel and Palestine, April 2012

Shalom, My latest journey has taken me on an unplanned detour… the history of this region is inextricably linked with the Holy Lands.  Whether by irony or providence I travelled to Jerusalem and the Palestinian West Bank for the Easter weekend.

The old city of Jerusalem is a fascinating place – within its ancient walls, all within a “stone’s throw” of each other are churches, mosques and synagogues venerating sacred sites of three of the world’s major religions.  Wandering its narrow streets is a kaleidoscope of people – religious pilgrims, Arabs and Muslims, Armenians, Catholics, Greek and Russian Orthodox, Ethiopian Coptics and Jews… oh, and a generous sprinkling of pimply teenage Israeli soldiers (on compulsory military service) brandishing machine guns.

The struggle to tangibly connect with these holy sites has continued for millennia – the most quarrelsome still remain the Christians (Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Coptic and Catholics) with ownership of important churches partitioned into naves, apses, altars and even lanterns!  Indeed the keys to the most sacred Holy Sepulchre Church (supposed site of Jesus’ crucifixion) have to be left in the safe-keeping of a local Muslim family!

The current reality of this region is also the conflict between Israel and Palestine.  I travelled to the West Bank in Palestine and it comes as a shock to see the 8 metre high “Apartheid walls” that Israel continues to build to “protect” their illegal(according to the United Nations) Jewish settlements that are gradually encroaching on Palestinian lands.  The situation is complex.. but leafing through local Israeli newspapers the days I have spent here they are filled with articles on anecdotes of continued discrimination against Jews around the world and even bold calculations of how long a war against Iran would last before Israel emerged victorious. Israeli nationalism and identity seems to be unfortunately carved from conflict.

People are not their governments, however, and wherever I travel they are generally warm and hospitable.  It has been a treat to see the parade of orthodox Jewish families dressed in their finest visiting the old City of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

With a week to go now I am returning to Jordan.. I will be pleased to see the nation of smiling Arabs and Bedouins again.

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