City of God: Deconstructing the Irony of the "Holy" Land
As a devout Christian-Catholic, the pinnacle of my spiritual journey was to make a pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City in Jerusalem; in an area which some have called the ‘Holy Land’. Through the Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Program (ILDP), I was finally able to do this along with many other experiences in the Middle East. Yet, after being in the Holy Land for almost two weeks, I have discovered that the name in itself is a paradox.
Prior to our arrival in Israel/Palestine, I was walking through the Citadel and Roman ruins of Amman, Jordan. I remember hearing a comment from one of my colleagues, “Isn’t it funny how Israel/Palestine is called the Holy Land but so many unholy things are being done there?” It was not until arriving a few days later that I understood fully what that comment implied. Throughout the trip and debriefings, conversations always led to the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict. Conversations were intense and opinions were strong. I could not sympathize for either side because before our arrival, my knowledge was so limited. I understood that there was a state of Palestine and then after 1948, there was a state of Israel and Palestine slowly ceased to exist. I did not understand the details of the situation yet I did register the use of the word occupation in many of our meetings.
When we traveled to Ramallah which, serves as the administrative center of the Palestinian Authority and is the major Palestinian city in the West Bank. I imagined a vibrant location very similar to Tel-Aviv but with Arabic speakers and Palestinians. However, I was shocked to see the city was completely contrary to the other side of the Green line, which seemed like a paradise in comparison. That night, I met a local who walked me around the downtown area of Ramallah and explained to me the conflict according to her and what she has lived and experienced as a Christian-Palestinian. The sentiments she expressed were similar to the people we met in the camp but I was also struck by the hate that was expressed. The local stated that this land is only Palestine and that what is going on is occupation which is unjust. She stated that the resolution of twenty-two percent was nonsense. She felt that even if the Israelis and Palestinians were to come up with a resolution for the conflict over the land, there would be no resolution for the hate that both people feel towards each other because hate is the root of the conflict. She also expressed that the westerns perspective of this conflict being a religious one is completely misleading due to the fact that this is between Israelis and Palestinians, it has absolutely nothing to do with religion, being Jews or Muslims and if so, then where are the Christians in this “religious war?” From my time in Israel-Palestine and that specific conversation, I understood that despite the different narratives there were a number of recurring themes I had heard, these included: hatred, the fight over land, occupation, settlements, biased media coverage, and unfortunately the lack of a resolution.
Upon entering the Old City, there was a feeling of uncertainty because of the terror attack in Tel Aviv the night before. Notwithstanding, we passed through routine security measures and after almost a one hour wait in line we finally reached the entrance to the Haram Al-Sharif . I was surprised to learn that according to a ruling by the Rabbinical Authority in Israel, Jews are in theory forbidden from worshipping ontop the Temple Mount. . However, by agreement with the Waqf they can visit the compound as long they do not pray. If Jews decide to enter the Temple Mount, they will be escorted by Israeli security and members of the Waqf. We saw one small group of Jewish visitors visiting the compound being heckled by Muslims who chanted Allahu Ahkbar. We learnt from our guide that in recent years some Jews have fought for their right to pray at the Temple Mount. It’s insane to see and experience this type of division in the “City of God”. As we walked through the Old City I came across a map and saw how the quarters are split up: Christian, Armenian, Jewish, and Muslim. Despite the physical proximity they are by faith and politics.
I experienced a moment of hope when earlier at al-Jalazon, in Ramallah, a little boy ran to a map of Israel/Palestine and pointed in excitement yelling, “PALESTINE, PALESTINE” reminding us of the hope the Palestinian people have for one day reclaiming their homes. The experience to the ‘Holy Land’ was surreal and enlightened me on the both worlds that are being lived in the “City of God.” Hope and the ability to reclaim victory and its history on one end and the victors writing the history of this “City of God,” on the opposite end.
Claudio Josuel Alejo is a member of the 2016 Ibrahim cohort.