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City of Broken Hearts: Divisions in Jerusalem

Tuesday, May 29

My entry into the country went very well. No "custom" issues. I did get a bit ill on the flight because of tremendous turbulence. I'm okay today.

We started the day off with Catherina Wilson from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) who presented to us what we were about to encounter through actual observation. With maps and statistics she made us acutely aware of the ongoing situation of the destruction of Palestinian homes since 1997 and the Israeli occupation through the arbitrary Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank and what 'was' and still is Palestinian-owned lands.

To obtain a house permit to build or expand one's home a Palestinian is required to pay $20,000 U.S. inside of East Jerusalem and outside of East Jerusalem the fee is $5,000 U.S. As one can see this price is almost impossible, although there are some people who can come up with this fee. Outside of this enormous expense, The owner of the land is frequently denied a permit. If the house is built and if the house is demolished by Israeli authorities because of house permit violations, the Palestinian owner is required to clear the area of the debris from the demolition or be fined. Our group went to an actual house that had been demolished, a seven story building which housed twenty-one families. These families had to find other housing and/or become homeless. Homes in Palestine are the basis of people's savings, so demolishing a home, is destroying most of the resources of a family.

On the other hand Israelis can and have obtained parcels of land or existing homes without going through the house permit process and/or not paying the taxes required of a Palestinian.

Later today, we met with Hasan Abu Asleh, who explained to us the struggle in Sur Baher, a village not far from Bethlehem, and with Naim Atrash, a Sur Baher resident. Naim is Palestinian, 60 years old, a math teacher of 27 years and a father of 10 well educated, children. He owns several acres of land of olive trees. The town was able to prevent the "security barrier" (the complicated electrified fences) from splitting the town into two between Jerusalem and the West Bank. However, the 'separation barrier" cuts directly into his olive trees. He has to travel 1 ½ or two hours around the surrounding villages, through Bethlehem and three checkpoints to tend to his land. Unfortunately, this has situation has gone on for two years and he has found no relief from the government.

Prayer at Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock: I was able to enter and say Thuhr and Asr prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. During our walking tour, I met an Ethiopian brother named Bilal at the Ethiopian Christian Orthodox community and I trekked through one of the marketplaces, where we came upon the African Palestinian section. I spoke with a couple of Muslim sisters who I promised to come back to their locations to make a purchase, InshaAllah.

--Zarinah Shakir

When I was a little girl in North Carolina, at church we sometimes sang the old hymn “I walked today where Jesus walked . . . and felt His presence there.” As my steps followed the Via Dolorosa today, I trembled on those cobbled streets where love and sorrow meet. Within the 700-year-old walls of this “Old City” stand deeply holy places for Jews, Muslims and Christians. I watched the faithful Jews at prayer at the Western Wall, the devoted Ethiopian Christian monks praying beside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the committed Muslims entering the Dome of the Rock to fall to their knees in prayer.

Perhaps most tour guides focus on the holy sights omitting the pain of recent history and the present. It would be much easier for me to be on that sort of tour, but I am not. I learned how the Israelis in 1967 bulldozed homes to provide a courtyard near the Western Wall, giving the uncompensated residents two hours notice to gather their belongings and leave. We heard that an eight-year-old Muslim boy took the hands of his two blind parents and led them from their home with no place to go. When the international community did not react, the Israelis knew they had a green light to displace unwanted people and ignore even their most basic civil rights. Today I saw other bulldozed homes, illegal settlements, checkpoints and a Separation Wall which divides farmer from fields, shopkeeper from shop, and parent from child. The contradiction of these state-sanctioned atrocities woven so close to the precious places of faith cut me deep.

Jerusalem is a city of broken hearts. As I walked today where Jesus walked, I kept heart-hearing Jesus’s words, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I long to gather you up as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, but you wouldn’t let me.” I too grieve for Jerusalem.

--Eugenia Brown

Our first full day in Israel/Palestine highlighted a seemingly endless array of distinctions - between Palestinian and Israeli, between East and West Jerusalem, between Jerusalemites and West Bank residents, between the Green Line and the Separation Wall, between areas A, B, and C, between Ideological and Economic Settler, between Settler and Villager. These divisions define the parameters of day-to-day life for Palestinians, defining and restricting their possibilities by religion, ethnicity, geography, and history. Belonging to the wrong group can mean having one's house demolished for lack of a permit. Living on the wrong side of a line can mean being unable to find work inside Israel or to visit a relative on the other side.

We visited the town of Sur Baher, for many years split in two by the lines of the Jerusalem municipality, a line with no real meaning for those who lived there. Recently that line was to be set in concrete and barbed wire fence. The people of Sur Baher fought to move the path of the fence so as to include all or none. We saw the fruits of their effort - a fence that does not divide the town but which still separates it from its olive groves. The owner of the grove must travel 50 kilometers to reach the other side. We also visited the massive settlement of Maaleh Adumim, connected to Jerusalem by a tunnel. All obvious divisions between Israel and Palestine, East and West have been erased to ease the conscience of the suburbanites who call it home.

Some divisions are old, such as the division of the Old City into its Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian quarters. More and more, Jewish extremists have acquired property, legally and illegally, and moved in with private bodyguards. Many have threatened their neighbors. Many Armenian families, Jerusalemites of long standing, have left due to the intimidation. The visit of Ariel Sharon and a phalanx of bodyguards to the Temple Mount/Haram as-Sharif in 2001 reinforced the division between Muslims and non-Muslims, who since then have not been allowed to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock.

For me, staying in East Jerusalem and visiting the West Bank represents the crossing of a psychological line. Although I have been to some of these places before, I have never had the opportunity to immerse myself in them fully and to view them, not as the "other," but in the context of their own narratives. I look forward to crossing each line in its turn.

--Daniel Rice



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