Saturday, January 8, 2011

Shining City on a Hill

In the movie Kingdom of Heaven, Balian speaks to the people of Jerusalem:

"It has fallen to us to defend Jerusalem, and we have made our preparations as well as they can be made. None of us took this city from Muslims. No Muslim of the great army now coming against us was born when this city was lost. We fight over an offence we did not give against those who were not alive to be offended. What is Jerusalem? Your holy places lie over the Jewish temple that the Romans pulled down. The Muslims places of worship lie over yours. Which is holy? The Wall? The Mosque? The Sepulcher? Who has claim? No one has claim.

Then he raised his voice and said, “All have claim” The patriarch of Jerusalem who was standing by said “That is blasphemy!” Balian of Ibelin continued, “we defend this city, not to protect theses stones, but the people living within these walls.”" (as dictated by Naim Ateek)

Today we walked around the old city of Jerusalem. We saw all the typical sites: the wailing wall, the mosque, the holy Sepulcher and we even walked the Via Dolorosa- the path that Jesus walked up to his Crucifixation. We toured the Garden of Gesemene and the Garden Tomb. We saw it all... well minus three of the seven gates, but we got to walk through four of them! It was a tourist day for sure.

Yet as I reflect on the day, it was not the sights that most interested me. Nor the stones in unto themselves. It was the faces that I saw; the people who live there in Jerusalem and all the people whom these stones have witnessed over the years. I found myself imagining what the city was like during the time of the crusaders and I was tickled to find the above quote in my theology book on a Christian Palestinians perspective on the Middle East conflict. Who has claim to these houses? to this land? all of us? none of us?

The conflict that I am witnessing is a present one but as the years 1948, 1967, 2000, 2001 etc begin to fade, what are we fighting over? I say we because as an American I am wrapped up in this mess too. Are we fighting for security? Are we fighting for land? Are we fighting for rights? Can we stop fighting, stop committing grave injustices and start living in a way that in one, two, three generations, we can have peace? Must we continue to fight for the past of which we have not lived? If only it were that simple.

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