Holy Land, Travelogue

Day One in Jerusalem: A View of Contrasts

Arriving tired but eager to take in as much as possible, the first day was one of contrasts for our group, from the peaceful spirituality of mass at St. Savior’s Church in Jerusalem’s Old City, to the 8.5 meter-high separation wall that slices through the eastern side of Jerusalem.

Sunday started with an early meeting with Avraham Lavine and Eliane Haddad of Israel’s Department of International Relations (part of the Ministry of Social Affairs). Lavine is the Department’s Director. A man with decades of experience of working with aid and development agencies, he made clear his government’s thanks for the work done by Catholic Relief Services and others to support Palestinians in need.

Sadly, Levine says that the humanitarian situation has deteriorated in Palestinian areas over the last decade. He and his colleague Haddad urge the international community to continue their aid to the Palestinian people and they add that “Israel is genuinely interested in peace, we always have been.”

A little later after mass, Rosine, a young Palestinian girl tells us that she wants to invite American Catholics to visit her parish of Jerusalem. “Maybe they think that we don’t want peace, that there are no Christians here. We want to show them that this is not true,” she says.

Parish Priest Fr. Ibrahim Faltas relates how the parish has some 6,000 members, while before 1948 there were over 100,000 Catholics in Jerusalem. Economics and insecurity have driven people away.

The Seperation Wall
The massive gray concrete separation wall cuts across the land on the east side of Jerusalem, snaking in and out of Jewish and Palestinian communities. It divides communities and hinders basic access that had been part of everyday routines, such as trips to work or school. The wall is only 60% complete but already runs for 400 Km, the length of the West Bank. The group is shown the wall by Gilad Michael of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD).

A Demolished House in JerusalemA Demolished House in Jerusalem

He also points out where new Jewish settlements are springing up on the west side of the wall, on land previous occupied by Palestinians, and where Palestinian homes have been demolished by the Jerusalem city authorities. ICAHD says that some 18,000 homes have been demolished since 1967.

“We don’t like this solution, but this fence prevents a lot of terrorist activity,” says Bahig Mansour, the Director of Israel’s Department for Religious Affairs of the Foreign Ministry. He adds that at the moment his government does not have another solution. We can’t move it until we have a peaceful solution, he says.

Holy Land Travel Group
The contrast, the pain of both communities is set against the sometimes ironic tranquility of this ancient city. From a high outcrop above the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal al Mukabber, in east Jerusalem, the Group has a clear view of the separation wall, the physical manifestation of a policy of division. In front of us, a multi-million dollar housing development is under construction for Jewish families. To our left are palm tress along the top of the Mount of Olives and further west the Old City, dominated by the great Dome of the Rock, the light glinting off its golden dome in the afternoon sun. This is a view that will long stay with the entire group, as will the words we heard from both communities today.

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