Another beautiful sky is greeting us this morning. The sun is bright and it’s just a tad breezy. Leaving on time for our destination was our plan but going through the check point was slow. The Prime Minister of Palestine was visiting Bethlehem this morning so we had to be patient. We actually got to see the car that he was being driven in—a beautiful, black Mercedes. Oooo lala. We also had to show our passports while a soldier came onto the bus and checked all of them. And of course, while getting mine out I dropped it down the side of my seat! YIKES! It was a woman soldier and she said “it’s okay” and went on to the next person. WHEW!
Our guide Rami is always quizzing us on the info he has shared with us over the week. And, because our brains are on over load and like mush, we can never really remember. As we were going through this check point, Rami asked, “Why do the trunks of the cars need to be checked at the check point”? He “scolded” all of us in a nice fashion for not knowing the answer. He once again reminded us that soldiers are making sure that items and products are not being purchased in the West Bank. That would be a big no, no for any Israeli with a permit to be in the West Bank. Most Israelis are not allowed into the West Bank.
Our touring for the day began in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Old City has four quarters and the Muslim quarter, which we visited mostly, is the largest of the four. We enter at Lions Gate (sometimes referred to as St Stephen’s Gate), which has two panthers on each side of the gate. Through this high arched gate we visit St. Ann’s Church. Ann is the mother of Mary (Jesus’ mother). According to tradition it is believed that a cave underneath St. Ann’s Church is the birthplace. The Crusaders built this beautiful church and is one of the many churches that was not destroyed by the Muslims. This church has a special echoing effect. Many people enter to share a song or two. Our group sang the Doxology. The harmonies and heartfelt singing brought shivers and goose bumps to many of us.
Close by St. Ann’s are the Pools of Bethesda. The two pools were main sources of water to the Temple. These pools were used to wash the sacrifices that were then sent to the Temple. Many people believed that the pools had magical powers and could heal people. After the pools were blessed by an angel, it is said that the first person to enter the pools will be healed.
The streets in the Old City are very narrow and there are many, many people walking through them. It was a little challenging getting to our next destination as we had to share these narrow streets with tractors and cars. We also had to maneuver through a bazaar (shopping area) to begin our tour of the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrow). The Via Dolorosa takes the visitor through the 14 Stations of the Cross. Each station represents a place or an event of a sacred memory on the route where Jesus followed bearing His cross. There are only nine Stations of the Cross that are spoken about in the Bible. It would be difficult to explain all of the stations but to highlight a few we begin with Jesus being condemned to death, Jesus falling three times as he carries the cross, Jesus being nailed to the cross, Jesus dying on the cross and Jesus being laid in the tomb. I encourage you to study and explore on your own to educate yourself regarding this part of Jesus’ story. As we approached the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre (site of Jesus burial and Resurrection), the last five Stations of the Cross are within the Basilica. There are hundreds of people waiting to get into the church. Today, entering the Basilica was like a mob scene. Our guide constantly reminds us to stay together in situations like this. Keeping track of 21 people is quite the challenge! The station that is symbolized of where Jesus dies on the cross and the last station where Jesus is laid in the tomb is so crowded that it is difficult to see the beautiful altars and wonderful presentations at these stations. A very long line is formed to get close and pray at these stations. Our group did not have time for the line but we are able to walk around these stations and admire and pay our own respects to these holy sites.
Before leaving the Old City, we ate lunch at a wonderful Palestinian restaurant. Our lunch was a delightful pita sandwich, a Sharma, full of chicken, veggies and tahini sauce with the best spices imaginable for flavor. Of course, some choose our drink of choice—Pepsi.
Our afternoon is spent with an Israeli Jew, Itamar who guided us through the streets of “modern” Jerusalem. Itamar explained the complicated history of the Israel and Palestine conflict. He wants us to be aware of the historical significance of what we see as the “Holy Land” and how this conflict has been passed on generation after generation. This conflict has progressed over the years and is more and more complicated.
To hear Itamar share his point of view is a complicated story but one that needs to be shared and heard. Of course, it is all too much to record here in this blog, but IMAGINE your own state of Oregon where you have to go through check points and identifications are checked to get yourself to work, IMAGINE if you were born in Oregon but not considered a resident, IMAGINE you are at a check point and your car is searched because you are not allowed to purchase any goods or items from a particular section of Oregon, and IMAGINE you are not even allowed to drive your car in SE Portland because you were born in NE Portland. IMAGINE a separation wall that divides your own block from east and west. This is what it is like for many Palestinians.
IMAGINE a world where everyone got along and that there is world peace. There is a lot of beauty and sorrow that our group witnessed today and I believe that we will all take a hope home to Oregon with the intentions to make the world a better place….not just in our own community but globally as well.