The Walls that Divide

Tall concrete barrier topped by razor wire, set on the kerb of a street.
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I have been living in an Arab suburb of Jerusalem (or, Quds). The first day I was here the landlords invited me for coffee. They built their house here over 30 years ago, with room enough for a growing family. About ten years ago a mosque was built only 50 yards away. Speakers on the minaret broadcast prayers to the neighbourhood, and on Fridays that includes the sermon as well. I asked my landlord what the sermon was about. He grimaced, indicating he doesn’t listen. We have coffee just about every week; every week he comments on the loudness of the prayers. Eventually he told me that the sermons often have anti-Christian and anti-Jewish content. The Christians in the community feel the volume is so loud purposely to annoy them.

I have been trying to understand what it is like to be a member of a minority faith in relation to the majority faith. Here Christians are a double minority—both among Jews and among Muslims. While Muslims are the majority in the Palestinian context (with 1% of these being Christian), they in turn are the minority in the Israeli context (about 30%, and a Christian population of 1.5%). By comparison, the Muslim population of the UK is reported to be about 4%. What one feels keenly as a small minority is the barriers that communities raise between each other.

I began my reflections on Israel/Palestine in this Blog by speaking of the mental maps that people bring with them to Israel/Palestine, and how those maps affect what they see. In this, my last blog from Jerusalem, I consider the walls that are built by the various communities.

Tall concrete barrier topped by razor wire, set on the kerb of a street.

The ‘separation wall’

The most obvious wall here, impossible to ignore, is the barrier built by the Israelis between Israel and the Palestinian Territories during the Second Intifada. The very terminology used for this wall is an example of how everything is contended: for Israelis, it is a ‘separation’ wall, using the same term used for the central median on dual carriageways, or ‘security’ wall; for Palestinians it is the ‘apartheid’ wall. At checkpoints large signs in red lettering warn Israeli citizens that it is against the law to go beyond the wall/fence. Palestinians seeking to enter Israel face mountains of bureaucracy to gain entry papers, then stringent searches at the checkpoints. This physical barrier separates the communities, and prevents people from mixing or meeting one another in every day settings.

But there are other walls, or barriers, that are not as visible or easily detectable, and which are just as impermeable. There are the barriers of race, tribe, language. But overall is the barrier of religion and sect. These barriers appear on both sides of the wall. Jews, Muslims, and Christians create barriers between each other—and amongst themselves. This is not a phenomenon unique to this land, of course—but it is, perhaps, keenly visible in ways not always observable in the West to the majority populations —and the examples here are illustrative of the sharp divisions that shape the conflict in Syria and Iraq today. The ‘sound’ barrier in my neighbourhood separates my Christian landlord from his Muslim neighbours.
In a conversation with a Palestinian Christian teacher I was told that schools are still using textbooks introduced when Hamas was in the Palestinian Authority government, and that these included anti-Christian material.

Church building, with banner in front reading 'And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers'

Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel. The population is 65% Muslim, 35% Christian. I am told there are good relations between the two groups. On my recent visit my host received many warm greetings from Muslims as we walked along the street. He told me, though, that they simply do not talk about religion. That is how they get along. The sign posted in front of the Church of the Annunciation, however, seems a rather blatant antagonism: ‘And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers’ (Qur’an 3:85; see photo).
Traveling through Jordan and Lebanon I have found similar barriers of religion. My hosts regularly identified the village or the neighbourhood we came through as ‘Christian’ or ‘Sunni’ or ‘Shia’, or ‘Druze’. As conflicts continue, there seems to be an increasing clarity of demarcation between these identifiers. The religious identification inhibits social mixing—not simply in every day discourse, but in the choices of where to live and go to school.
This discussion focuses on religion as a major barrier placed between communities. This is a reflection of the extent to which religion has become the focal point of identity in today’s world. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not primarily religious, but political and even nationalist. The same may be seen in other conflicts. But since 9/11 everything is viewed through the lens of religion. This is the world in which we now live, and while the solutions to conflict must address the political, nationalist—and economic—sources, they cannot ignore the role of religion.

It is easy to spot the barriers of others and to overlook those we ourselves erect—it is easier to see the speck of dust in the other’s eye than the plank in our own. It seems particularly difficult for a majority group to empathise with minority groups—rather than to be irritated with them for not being ‘like us’; for not assimilating to the majority. In our conflicted world, the great barrier between communities is fear. We see the Other, the one not like us, the immigrant and refugee, the person of a different colour or nationality or faith, as a threat to our routine lives and to our security. This fearful Other tends, in the West, to be Muslim. Out of fear we erect further barriers—silence, hostility, discrimination, ignorance.

Barriers prevent understanding, enhance suspicion, and perpetuate themselves when we hide behind them. If there is to be any hope of an end to the bloody conflicts of our time, it has to begin with the breaking down of the walls we place between ourselves, and with the necessary effort of trying to understand each other. When we do this, we are likely to discover our common humanity, our hopes and desires for a peaceful and secure life in which our families may thrive. From such ‘common ground’ we can then work at understanding how to live with our differences.
The great challenge of our time is to learn how to live together with our differences. MCSCI exists to advance this purpose.

More food for thought:

http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/declining-palestinian-christian-population-fears-its-churches-are-turning-into-museums-1.317689
http://www.acommonword.com/finding-common-ground-between-muslims-and-christians/

Return to Damascus Gate

Satirical cartoon with figure on wall by banner declaring 'United Jerusalem' as various skirmishes take place below
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A small crowd gathered inside a taped-off section of walkway, in front of a gate in the city wall

Recent scenes at the Damascus Gate.
Photo: Haaretz.com

In my last post I introduced Jerusalem via the Damascus Gate of the Old City—the neighbourhood of my church. That week there had been two incidents at the Gate—a 16 year-old boy attacked police with a knife, and three West Bank men were shot dead when found with guns and bombs. The Damascus Gate continues to weigh heavily on my mind, as it has remained regularly in the news. In the past week there have been four more incidents. In two cases the attackers were shot dead; in the others a young woman and a young man were arrested.

In two weeks, six attacks, six dead, at the end of the very street where my church is located.

These, however, were only part of the almost daily incidents taking place in the West Bank. I call them incidents because they are hard to label. Some may involve armed men with clear intent to kill many people. Others seem opportunistic and random, such as driving cars into pedestrians. So many, however, are young people with common kitchen knives lashing out at highly armed police and soldiers.

The ministry of foreign affairs describes all of these as terrorist attacks, incited by radical Islamist groups. The army Chief of Staff, on the other hand, commented on the fact that half of what is now nearly 200 such attacks in the past five months have been by young people under the age of twenty. Teenagers. Security forces have had no advance intelligence about any of the attacks, few of them had links to terrorist groups or strong ideological motives.

Since September Palestinians have killed 28 Israelis and 4 others. More than 160 Palestinians have been killed — 111 during attacks; 50 in clashes with Israeli forces (figures change daily).

The Damascus Gate seems to have become a focal point for young Palestinians. What is the reason for this wave of hopeless attacks by youngsters?

Where might we begin to try to answer? Do we start with the present as it is, or view it all in the context of its history? Recourse to history is fraught with difficulties. How far back do we go? The 1967 war in which Israel first occupied the West Bank of Jordan and Gaza? The creation of the state of Israel by UN vote in1947? The Arab conquest of Jerusalem in 637 CE? The Jewish Hasmonean Kingdom of 135 BCE? I have seen all of these appealed to as explanation or rationale for actions of the present. The past is a tangible component of the present in the Middle East. An inescapable aspect of the conflicts which rage across the region is the clash of competing narratives about the past—the competing maps.

But, for today, it is not the history I wish to note, but the present reality coming out of that history. That reality has two sides of consequence: one, the existence of the state of Israel, and, two, the ambiguous status of Palestine after nearly 50 years of Israeli administration as an occupying power. The first is, and must be, unequivocal; the second is, and must be, resolved.

The Israelis live with the constant fear of terrorism; Hamas presents a realistic threat of violence at any moment, and the recent attackers from the West Bank have been able to enter Israel and settlements ‘below the radar’.

The Palestinians, in turn, live under military occupation and governance, increasing building of permanent settlements in their territory, and regular destruction of their own houses with little warning (113 houses just last week).

Hope of a solution is exasperated by a total lack of contact between the two communities, apart from the efforts of a few groups seeking reconciliation, and the absence of sufficient political will on either side.

Satirical cartoon with figure on wall by banner declaring 'United Jerusalem' as various skirmishes take place below

Yossi Verter cartoon. From Haaretz.com article

One thing that is inescapable to notice here is the security measures. There is the constant presence of police on the streets and street corners of the cities; outside of the cities there are army vehicles everywhere. There is the ‘security wall’, and control points; there is the continual military patrol of the borders, of the occupied territories, of the sea and the air; there is a huge network of prisons. The cost is enormous, and strains the national budget even with the vast subsidies from the US.

It has to be clear, terror is not acceptable, nor in any way to be condoned. But if the only response to the security dangers is more security, tighter controls, screwing down the lid on Palestinian society, it can be no surprise if, as with any pressure cooker when the lid is kept on too long, there is an explosion.

The question raised in my mind by the phenomenon of teenagers throwing themselves at police at the Damascus Gate is whether it can be labelled as terrorism in comparison to pipe bombs and missiles. These are children, no more than infants during the last Intifada.

Fifty years of occupation has been corrosive to Israel’s democratic ideals, and has undermined all Palestinian institutions of society and development. Both communities suffer in a death grip with little hope of resolution.

It would seem that desperation lies at the heart of the issue.

I know that virtually everything I have written here will likely be contested by someone. But the reality that sparked this post is the particularity of six people lying dead at Damascus Gate in the past two weeks, in my neighbourhood. Six grieving families, Muslim and Jew. And local teenagers are in prison for assaults that will pursue them and their families for the rest of their lives. And no resolution is in sight.

This is but a small example of the cycle of violence and response, violence and response, taking place in much more deadly fashion just across the border in Syria and across the Middle East. In each case we in the West are participants. Bombs and missiles rain from the skies from Western air forces to add to those on the ground.

And while armed men vie for power, another generation of children is born into the normalcy of bloodshed.

Jerusalem: roadblocks, mental maps and the “Third Intifada”

An red ambulance being searched by soldiers in green uniform, behind concrete barriers
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Photo of a street with a car passing and a neo-Romanesque square church tower in the background

St George’s cathedral in Jerusalem.
Photo by Ron AlmogCC-BY

If you walk out the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City, and go straight up Nablus Road (Derek Shechem in Hebrew)—past the Garden Tomb and the École Biblique on the right, the bus station, former US consulate and the British Council on the left, but not as far as St George’s Anglican Cathedral—within about 4 minutes you will come to the Jerusalem Church of the Nazarene.

Over the years I have brought groups of students to Israel for study trips. I speak to them about the ‘mental maps’ we bring with us to Israel, and how those maps determine what we see. Readers who have been to Israel on pilgrimage may recognise certain of the places mentioned above, but not others. Most likely not the Church of the Nazarene.

For most Christians the mental map is that of the time of Christ. Those who come on pilgrimage, or as part of studies, tend to look at the experience with that biblical map in mind as the focus is on the places where Jesus walked, or where Old Testament events took place. Orthodox believers move from church to church. It is possible to spend two weeks in Israel and live altogether in the past. For others the present reality will come as a shock—sprawling cities, traffic jams, and fast-food jostle alongside holy places crowded with the thousands of pilgrims all seeking the connection with the ancient stories and events.

In the interest of disclosure, I should declare the influences on my mental map of Israel.

An red ambulance being searched by soldiers in green uniform, behind concrete barriers

A Red Crescent Ambulance being searched at a checkpoint into Jerusalem.
Photo by JustinMcIntosh, CC-BY.

The first time I visited the Nazarene church on Nablus Road was in 1988 in the early days of the first Intifada, or Palestinian uprising. As I was leaving the Israeli security forces were just setting up a road-block on what was then the main road into Jerusalem from the north. The soldiers were calmly leafing through papers found in one of the cars. Traffic was backed up as far as could be seen. It was not clear to me then, nor is it even now, what purpose the roadblock served.

In 2004, I was living in the Old City during an earlier sabbatical, this time in the midst of the second Intifada. I was wakened one morning by the explosion of the Number 19 bus, packed with young people on their way to the university. Some of them may have been among the students—typical students—I watched getting on the buses to go home each evening. I could not understand then, nor do I now, what purpose the targeting of young people, Jew and Arab, served.

The first Intifada was characterised by youth throwing stones at soldiers with guns; the second by the emergence of Hamas, suicide bombings, and the Separation Wall.

Photo of a street market with city walls in the background

Old Jerusalem Street, with the Damascus Gate in background. Photo by James Emery. CC-BY.

It is 2016, and I am back in East Jerusalem, this time in pastoral support of the church. Last week a Palestinian youth attacked a Jewish youth outside the Damascus Gate—just 4 minutes’ walk from the church—with a knife, causing light injuries. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz this was the 33rd attack in Jerusalem alone in the past four months, in a phenomenon that the Israeli authorities are struggling to come to terms with. The incidents are most often knifings, and the attackers include young teenaged girls—not the normal terrorist suspects. They are clearly not coordinated or instigated by the ‘professionals’. But all are labelled ‘terrorists’.

This is being called the third Intifada.

Plaza with steps down to small gate in large city wall

The Damascus Gate in Jerusalem

This week three young men from the West Bank attacked security forces when stopped at the same point outside the Damascus Gate. One border police woman was killed. The three men were killed. They were found to have guns, knives, and pipe-bombs. This is feared to be the introduction of a new level of violence.

These events frame my experience of the Israel/Palestine. They have re-written my mental maps over the years. In the coming weeks I shall post observations on life in Jerusalem, and Christian/Muslim/Jewish relations from the perspective of life in Jerusalem, and three decades of engagement with the Church here. The emphasis will be on observation, and does not propose to have answers to the problems, but rather to seek understanding.

The challenge of life here is that one has to learn what mental maps the people one meets are travelling by. There are Israeli and Palestinian maps, for instance, that give different names to the same places and draw lines in different places. For many Europeans, particularly on the political left, the Palestinian map takes priority, and no legitimacy is given to other maps. For many Christians, usually evangelical and particularly Dispensationalist in eschatology, the Zionist map takes priority and there is no place for Palestinians in The Land.

These are maps that mark the political fault-line that exists in Israel/Palestine as well, and there are variations and fault-lines on each side. There are no simple solutions, and even discussing the problems is like walking through a minefield. Yet, many of the issues facing Israel and the Palestinians today are tied in with the complexities of the Middle East as a whole; and, with the challenges which the refugee crisis brings to the West. As such, the reflections on the situation here are not just about another place. They are part and parcel of the interconnectedness of East and West, Muslim and Christian, and Jew.

Israel-Palestine and the Clash of Domination

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Dr Salim Munayer

Dr Salim Munayer

The speech “Israel-Palestine and the Clash of Domination” will be given by Dr Salim Munayer, who founded Musalaha, in Jerusalem

This will be the third speech at the MCSCI Conference in January 2016.

Listen to this speech

This is a recording of the speech, which has been edited for clarity and to remove questions (which could not be heard over the microphone).

Notes

[embeddoc url=”https://www.mcsci.org.uk/mcsci/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Munayer-A-Biblical-Response-to-the-Clash-between-Radical-Islam-and-the-West.pdf”]

Abstract: Israel-Palestine and the Clash of Domination

Dr Munayer writes:

In this paper we will look at a Middle Eastern Christian perspective and response to the clash between political Islam and Western political ideology.  We will also reflect on the effects of the nation-state’s breakdown on Middle Eastern Christians, and radical Islam’s marginalization of this group.

 

 

Middle Eastern Christians were leaders in the rise of nationalism in this region as it ensured better rights for minorities and upheld a group identity regardless of religious affiliation.  With the rise of political Islam, Middle Eastern Christians feel marginalized as implementation of sharia contradicts the Western secular values of nationalism.  At the same time, Middle Eastern Christians need to be aware of the non-Christian values that accompany secularism and Westernization and turn a critical eye not just toward political Islam, but also ourselves.  As followers of God, we cannot divorce politics from religion.  Additionally, we cannot only look inward and advocate the interests of our particular religious community.  We must articulate a model that includes a message of hope for us, and also for those around us, Christian, Muslim and Jewish.

When can I hear him?

Dr Munayer is expected to bring the conference’s third speech, “Israel-Palestine and the Clash of Domination”, on Friday 8th January 2016 at approximately 9:30am. Day visitors are asked to arrive no later than 9:15am to allow time for registration.

Please note that all times are given as-planned in good faith, but the schedule may be amended without notice if required.

Who is he?

Salim J. Munayer is director and founder of Musalaha Ministry of Reconciliation, which has been bringing Israelis and Palestinian together since 1990 and creating a forum for reconciliation. Salim is a Palestinian-Israeli born in Lod as one of six children and received his BA from Tel Aviv University in History and Geography, his MA from Fuller Theological Seminary, graduate studies in New Testament from Pepperdine University and his PhD from the Oxford Centre of Mission Studies in the UK. Salim served as academic dean of the Bethlehem Bible College from 1989 to 2008, and is a professor at the college. He is also an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. Salim is married to Kay and has four sons, Jack, Daniel, John and Sam.

Publications

His doctoral dissertation was written on “The Ethnic Identity of Palestinian Arab Christian Adolescents in Israel.” He has published several books on Reconciliation, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and Christians in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, his most recent work was the groundbreaking book Through My Enemy’s Eyes, Envisioning Reconciliation in Israel-Palestine, co-authored with Lisa Loden.