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Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Off Topic - Report from Jerusalem

This has nothing to do with land trusts.... but I'll hope you'll forgive the tangent. The following is by Robert Bryce, and was published in Arab News. Bob is an old friend from high school, and was in Israel on assignment for World Energy Review Monthly. This was originally intended as a note for friends and family, but gives a perspective on the Middle East I haven't seen.
Hope you find it worthwhile.
Third Intifada May Not Be Long in Coming
Robert Bryce, Arab News

After a week in this country, and four trips to the West Bank (three of them to Ramallah, which requires passage through the chaotic, dusty, noisy checkpoint at Calandia) I find that the sense of anger among the Arab population is palpable. More interesting perhaps, is that both Israelis and Palestinians alike believe that the third intifada is coming and that it won’t be long in coming. And as one Palestinian who lives in East Jerusalem told me, “three is a magic number.” Thus, the third war will be bloodier, longer, and nastier than the first two intifadas.
This picture is from the top of the Mount of Olives, in the town of Bethany. For Christians, Bethany is one of the most important locations in the Holy Land. Bethany is where the Palm Sunday procession began. Bethany was the home of Mary and Martha, in whose home Jesus stayed. Today, a nine-meter high wall has divided Bethany. For residents of Bethany, getting to the other side of their town now requires a 30-minute drive around the “separation wall.” The impoverished little town that has a couple of Christian enclaves has been sliced in two.
I didn’t come here to write about the plight of Christians in the Holy Land. That said, it’s more than obvious that the holiest places in Christendom are besieged. Roadblocks, checkpoints and the ongoing construction of Israel’s “separation” wall are garroting Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
I just got a UN report that says that ten percent of Bethlehem’s Christians have fled the city in the past four years. The report, issued in December 2004, begins by saying “The glory of Bethlehem...is vanishing.”
The Mount of Olives has been carved in two by the wall.
In the Old City, in Jerusalem, the Christian Quarter is a stark contrast to the Arab and Jewish Quarters. In the other two quarters, the two faiths appear to be locked in a population race. Nearly every Orthodox Jewish couple is pushing a stroller or carrying a baby. In the always-mobbed Arab Quarter, teenagers and kids are everywhere. The statisticians say that half of the Palestinian population is under the age of 17.
In both the Jewish Quarter and the Arab Quarter, you have to watch where you walk, and keep your arms at your sides, because people are everywhere, squeezing through the narrow passages of the Old City. In the Christian Quarter — except perhaps, for the areas directly adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — you can walk with your arms akimbo, hell, you can walk with your arms stretched full out, and you probably won’t hit a single person. It’s a ghost town.
So, after a week in Israel, the question that jumps out at me is obvious: Why don’t American Christians give a damn?
The fundamentalist Christian movement in America has never been stronger. President George W. Bush frequently professes his faith and has even declared that God guided his war in Iraq. Tom DeLay, the House Majority leader, is born again. The Religious Right dominates the discussion on abortion, prayer in schools, and many other matters.
And yet, when it comes to the Holy Land, there is silence. Is this Christian eschatology run amok? Do America’s conservative Christians simply not understand what’s happening in Israel? Or, more cynically, do they simply not care? When it comes to their faith, do these Christians not care about the turf that provides the physical underpinnings for their faith? My friend, Saro Nakashian, is an Armenian Christian who lives in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City, in a small house that is 300 years old. He’s exactly my age, 44. He studied in the states for six years. He works in Ramallah as a consultant to the Palestinian Authority. He speaks four languages: “Armenian at home. Arabic at the market. Hebrew to pay my phone bill. And English for business.” Saro has lived in Jerusalem since 1968. At that time there were 18,000 Armenian Christians in the Quarter. Today, there are 2,000. When I asked him why the Americans aren’t interested in what’s happening the Holy Land, he replied, “The American churches only care about expanding the size of their congregations. They don’t care about what’s happening over here.”
Finally, after a week in this town, walking all over, taking taxis all over the region, I expected to see just a bit of a Catholic presence. Yet, in all my time here, I have seen exactly one Roman collar. And that collar was on a Japanese Catholic priest and he was in the plaza in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And I might be mistaken about his collar. The Vatican may be expanding its influence in Africa and Latin America, but it’s got nothing happening in Jerusalem.
I want to like Israel. I want to see peace here between the Jews and the Arabs. Alas, after seeing the wall, after seeing what’s happening in the Old City, after seeing the daily humiliation of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces, I’m not holding my breath.

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