Grassroots Jerusalem Tour and our Arrival to Bethlehem

Update from the 2016 Mosaic of Peace Conference

(These blog entries provide brief reports and insights from our conference in Israel and Palestine.  They are written by our participants Anne French and Emily Oshinskie and are neither comprehensive nor in depth reports, but simply glimpses into the amazing experiences we are having together.)

The group visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem. A few of us made the short journey at the first light of day to arrive in time to witness the door to the oldest Christian church in the world being opened by a young Muslim man whose family has been in possession of the key for over seven hundred years. The rest of the group arrived shortly after to experience this pilgrimage site for Christians, where Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead.

We then took part in a guided tour of Jerusalem led by Fayrouz Sharqawi of Grassroots Jerusalem, an organization that does mapping and assessment of communities within Jerusalem, mobilization and networking for those communities, and works to deliver their findings to the international community.  Fayrouz first took us to an area designated by Israel as a peace park overlooking the city, where our attention was directed back to the old city and Temple Mount.  We were asked to look in two directions, toward East and West Jerusalem, and note the differences.   From this perspective we could see the impact of political policies, military occupation and artificially imposed boundaries on this Holy Landscape, the most egregious of which is the separation wall. As we drove along Jericho Road, formerly a road that would have reached Jericho directly, we were forced to stop, as a 24 foot high wall came right across the road, preventing us from going on.

Fayrouz was quickly able to find a spent tear gas canister and an exploded sound bomb by looking through the rubble that lined the ground below the wall. She explained that this section of the wall has been a flashpoint for significant confrontations between demonstrators and soldiers due to its prominent location. The industrial gray slabs that make up the wall are 24 feet high, with barbed wire fencing running along the top. Once we identified the tear gas canisters littering the ground, we looked up and noticed several undetonated canisters caught in overhead wires.

Fayrouz helped us to understand the immense hardships and challenges faced by Palestinians in Jerusalem in relation to all aspects of daily living, including transportation, education, work, relationships, healthcare and virtually all facets of life. At a brief stop near Hebrew University, we were shown a wide expanse of open land that had been confiscated from Palestinians to create a park for endangered plant species. As we looked out over the arid valley, it was hard to reconcile the intent of the project with what we were seeing.  Fayrouz pointed out many such examples of injustice and inequality that can cause her and her friends to lose hope.  But opportunities like today’s tour – when she gets groups of Christians to come, see and learn the facts on the ground – help to restore her hope and strengthen her efforts.

Our day ended in Bethlehem where several of our group toured the Church of the Nativity and then we were welcomed to the International Center of Bethlehem (ICB) and the Diyar Consortium by Rev. Victor Makari, Presbyterian Church (USA) Liaison for Ecumenical Partnership in Israel and Palestine.  We shared a delicious traditional meal prepared at the ICB and were entertained by musicians from the group Lamma Bethlehem.  It was a great way to begin our time in Bethlehem.

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