Hear, O Israel: The Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6: 4-5
Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. Psalm 122: 2
Our day started early with a visit to the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) in the Old City gates of Jerusalem. It is the most significant relic of the Second Temple that stood in Jerusalem and later was destroyed. The Wall serves as a place of adoration for Jews from all over the world. Our visit allowed each of us time to pray, women on one side and men on the other and offer our written prayers between the stones of the wall. We arrived early to avoid large crowds at this holiest of holy sites where people of all faiths (including Muslims at limited times) can revere the wall that represents the closest you can get to where the temple once stood.
We then went to Elharm Esh-Sharif (The Dome of The Rock) the first Muslim masterpiece that was built half a century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The rock marks the site of Prophet Muhammad’s Mirraj or Night Journey into heaven and back to Mecca ( Qur’an 17:1). While Jews continue to wait for the Messiah, a savior and liberator of the Jewish people, to come, we as Christians believe that the Messiah is the Christ, the Son of God.
We continued our journey through the Old City, arriving at the Pools of Bethesda where according to the Gospel of John 5: 2-17 it is known as the story of healing the paralytic. In the beautiful herb filled garden, surrounded by St. Anne’s Church, where during the Roman period it was a pagan shrine to either the Egyptian god Serapis or the Roman Asclepius, both gods of healing, Fr. Andy offered healing prayers to each of those who chose to participate.
Upon exiting The Old City with its towering walls and securely guarded gates, I couldn’t help but reflect on the conflict that the people of Israel and Palestine live with every day. Having grown up in a partly Jewish household myself, standing at The Western Wall was particularly moving to me. Our visit to the Old City represents how Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are divided into areas, while at the same time co-existing in this most holy space where everyone can go and worship and pray in the way according to their religious beliefs.
We then returned to The Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr, where we attended Sunday Eucharist with local parishioners and guests from around the globe in an Arabic/English service. It was followed by a visit with Archbishop Suheil Dawani, who talked about the dwindling Christian population, down from 10% to 1% in the last ten years. He also talked about the important role the church plays in their work within the community and their mission to be a bridge builder for peace and reconciliation between the Muslims and the Jews. Through its ecumenical and inter-faith work with the Diocese, they seek to promote friendship, understanding and mutual respect, exemplified in their support of hospitals and serving the needs of Muslim children in St. George’s school who make up 80% of the students.
In the last few days, we have heard from different speakers who have shared their insights into the current conflict and the potential path to peace. We have learned how these communities live side by side and in many cases work together to be good neighbors. However, over 65% of voting Israelis want a Jewish State without a clear idea of how to integrate multiple ethnic and religious factions. We have learned how Israel controls and rations the amount of water to Palestinians and limits their entrance into Israel. And we have seen first hand the difference in infrastructure in both the Palestinian side and the Israeli side of the West Bank.
Since arriving in Israel, my previously held beliefs and support for a two-state solution have been challenged. Hearing first hand accounts from people who consider themselves Israeli, Muslim and Christian have opened my eyes to the impact of the two-state solution on those Christians and Muslims who have lived here for years and how they would no longer be a part of Israel, since they are not Jewish and they would not truly be part of Palestine since they have been Israeli for many years prior. This conflict is bigger than any one person can solve. So, I, like many of you will continue to pray for peace.
As it says in Psalm 122: 6-8,
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”