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Holy Week in the Holy Land

A Letter from Doug Dicks, serving in Israel and Palestine

Spring 2022

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Dear family and friends,

Easter greetings from the city of the Resurrection! Christ is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia!

In a rare convergence, and one that happens only once every thirty-three years, the Holy Month of Ramadan, for Muslims, Easter, for Christians, and Passover or Pessach for Jews, all converged during the month of April this year. This meant that the potential for tensions and perhaps hostilities was great, given the extremely large number of people of all three faiths that consider Jerusalem sacred to their respective faiths.

In March and April, three separate attacks took place in Israel proper, resulting in the deaths of at least fifteen Israelis. During that same period, numerous Palestinians were killed – executed, if you will – by the current Israel government’s “shoot to kill” policy.

Only weeks before Easter celebrations in Jerusalem, the right-wing group Ateret Cohanim, an organization that seeks to establish a Jewish majority in Jerusalem’s Old City, laid claim to part of the Petra Youth Hostel, and just inside of Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate area. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem condemned the seizure of this historic hotel in the city by this Israeli settler group. The hotel, which the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate says it owns, is often used by Christian pilgrims, as it lies on their pilgrimage route.

The hotel is located at the entrance to what is known in Arabic as Bab Al-Khalil (The Gate of Hebron), and more commonly called Jaffa Gate. It is one of the gates to Jerusalem’s Old City that leads to the Christian and Armenian quarters and to Christian holy sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, considered to be the holiest place in all of Christendom. The Church is built around what is believed by most Christians to be the mountain of Calvary, and the Tomb of Christ.

“The seizure of the Little Petra Hotel by the radical extremist group Ateret Cohanim is a threat to the continued existence of a Christian Quarter in Jerusalem,” the patriarchate said in a statement.

Furthermore, the patriarchate warned against what it called the repeated illegitimate Israeli actions which “followed a pattern of intimidation, violence, and lawless action to drive Christians and Muslims from the city that we share.”

For now, Israeli courts are continuing to look into the dispute between the two parties and have not decided at this stage on the rightful ownership of the property.

The Israeli move “will lead to instability and tension at a time when all are trying to de-escalate and build trust, to build toward justice and peace,” the patriarchate warned. “Acts of coercion and violence cannot lead to peace,” it said, demanding a halt to “criminal activities on the Christian pilgrim route and in our beloved Old City.”

No less alarming was a BBC report issued in March, which detailed the actions and intentions of right-wing Israeli Jews who dress as Muslim, in order to go up to the Haram Al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) to perform prayers. See: https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-middle-east-60291670. According to Torah Law, entering the area that is called the “Temple Mount” is strictly forbidden to Jews due to the holiness of the site. Nonetheless, every day, and when permitted, many do make the journey up to the mount. In April, a right-wing Jewish Israeli group known as Hozrim Lahar tried to gain access to the site, in order to sacrifice a lamb at the site, and organizers of this travesty were offering up to 10,000 New Israeli Shekels (about $2,985.00 USD) should they succeed. Tensions remained high in Jerusalem during the entire month of April due to these provocations.

I attended the usual Holy Week events along with the Anglican, Lutheran, and Protestant families of churches, and which included Germans, Danes, Palestinians, ex-pats and others who were either visiting or living here. Of particular concern this year was the annual Good Friday procession, which for Protestants begins just after dawn, and at the First Station of the Via Dolorosa. I was asked to carry the cross in part of the procession, and did so with humility as we all recalled the events of that first “Good” Friday over 2,000 years ago, in the very city where the events of Christ’s passion played themselves out.

The highlight of Holy Week in the Holy Land for me is always the annual sunrise service, held on the back side of the Mount of Olives and behind the Augusta Victoria Church and Hospital. Though the crowd was smaller than usual this year, the weather was good, as Easter fell late on the calendar this year.

Both Israelis – and in particular Palestinians – have suffered huge losses in the tourism industry over the past two years, and due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Now that tourists and pilgrims are once again returning to the land we call “holy”. I hope that they will come with a new spirit, and a new sense of what it means to walk where Jesus once walked, and to tred in His footsteps.
May the knowledge of the living, Risen Christ strengthen your hearts in these difficult times, as we seek to do His will in our troubled world.

Thanks for all of your correspondence, and in particular, your financial support. All are most appreciated, and without your support, my work would not be possible here.

Please continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem!

In gratitude,

Doug


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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