Going Where Locals Can’t Go

January 13, 2014 – Jerusalem

Sunday morning began as any other Sunday morning would begin for many Christians. A wake up call from the alarm, breakfast and coffee or tea, and a dash to put on your finest clothing before going to church. The difference here was that we were making a few stops before visiting St. George’s Anglican Church. We had a mosque visit. And not just any mosque, but THE mosque in Jerusalem: the Al-Haram.

Entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Now, let’s put all of this into context. The Haram is the complex that includes the Dome of the Chain, the Dome of the Rock, as well as the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This complex (the entire complex is considered a mosque, technically), sits on the same platform site as the 2 temples once stood. Therefore, making this a hot-button place for Jews and Muslims, especially.  For Jews, this is a place that should rightfully belong to them (sound familiar?), and for Muslims, this is the place where the rock of Muhammad’s ascension into heaven took place. This is the space within the Muslim Quarter of the Old City that has been carved out for Muslims. Controlled by the Jordanians, this place is under lock and key to outsiders for several reasons. And sadly, because Jerusalem and Israel/Palestine is under lock and key to its own natural inhabitants, the Palestinians, even those Muslim Palestinians who have been denied legal status in their own homeland are unable to witness this place.

Dome of the Rock and Dome of the Chain.
Dome of the Rock and Dome of the Chain.

It is one thing to get onto the complex within the Muslim quarter of the Old city, but it is another to get into the Al-Aqsa. Somehow, our group was given special permission to enter the buildings and experience them, first hand. I can only describe them as breathtaking and moving. God is truly present in this space. To deny that is to essentially deny God.

Inside of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Inside of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

After our time in the Muslim Quarter, we made our way to church at St. George’s Anglican Church. Besides the biting cold, it was a service representative of the kingdom of God. People of all colors and from all over the world were present for one hour and 15 minutes.

After our church services and our lunch, we made our way through to Bethany, an old place that is, like everything else, Biblically referenced, and is in what many Americans would consider ruins. This is an Area “C,” an area that is controlled by Israel with no ability for the Palestinian people to govern themselves. Sadly, it is also a place where, while controlled by Israeli government, less than 8% of services are provided to the people despite their taxes being paid. No police, no social services like other areas, nothing. An intentional limbo outside of the wall build around Jerusalem.

Signage for occupied "Area A."
Signage for Area “A” put up by the Israel government to keep people out of Palestinian controlled areas under occupation.

Now, Bethany is not your typical tourist destination. It’s not even a place where tourists go at all. But, we had a date with Professor Dr. Mustafa Abu-Sway. A professor at Al-Quds University, a Palestinian University. Now, Bethany is not in Area “A” as you see in the sign above, but it is, as I mentioned in Area “C.”

Dr. Mustafa Abu-Sway
Dr. Mustafa Abu-Sway.

Dr. Abu-Sway told his personal story of being a Palestinian Muslim in occupied territory; a story that is heartbreaking. While some found it devoid of hope, others of us found it simply realistic in a situation where hope is hard to see.

As a young boy, Abu-Sway was born and raised as a child on the Mount of Olives. According to Islamic law and his mother’s love for her neighbor, he has a Christian sister, and despite the actions of the 6 days war in 1967, his mother kept an open house for all to come and go as needed. As a child he and his family fled to Jericho and were eventually smuggled back into Jerusalem just in time for the census. Left and right, he watched as Palestinians lost their citizenship to their homeland.

Now, let’s pause here and have a thought experiment.

Imagine that I return to the US after this trip. As I am walking through customs, with my partner waiting in the airport lobby, and I am informed that I no longer have citizenship and I cannot enter the country of my birthright. What happens to my bank accounts, my apartment, my family, my belongings, where do I go? If I have no identification then I cannot enter into another country or get onto another plane. My cell phone is no longer good. I have nothing except for the material things I carry with me and my God. That is it.

As Americans, we have no clue what that looks like, whatsoever. Nothing. And imagine you are a member of the people who are revoking my ID. How do you fight the injustice? Can you? How are you left in limbo when your group is the group who is responsible for something like this? (What I’m trying to get at is that not everyone wishes this and that there are two sides to every story. Right now, I am only focusing on one side.)

As Abu-Sway talked of his story and of the hope that is so hard to find, the hope that is nothing like what American Christians would think hope to be. We find hope in others who come to our aid. We know that at some point, someone will help us. When we realize no one is coming, that is when hope disappears. According to Abu-Sway as well as Cedar, the Christian Palestinian from Sabeel, hope in the young people is not present. There is no trust. And who can blame them? As Abu-Sway said, “what light at the end of the tunnel? We don’t see any light because there is no tunnel for us.” In other words, ‘where are those who will help us because so far, no one has.’

“The wall rapes our psyche on a daily basis,” claimed Dr. Sway. A wall constructed to keep out those who are deemed unworthy; a wall that is meant to demoralize and make a bold statement.

How do you find hope when no one comes to stop the rape?

Wall from inside a Palestinian refugee camp.
Wall from inside a Palestinian refugee camp.

At the end of the day, as an American Christian tourist, the wall reminds me of the inequality within this place. Now, you’re saying, “inequality is everywhere! Why are you only talking about this place? Why not Syria or other areas of the world?” Because, this is what I experienced first-hand. There are other blogs that talk about those subjects. And for now, so long as I recount my story, this is what I’ll be talking about.

As a tourist I was allowed inside walls that not even locals are allowed into. Not because it’s just that exclusive to get into, but because I am not a Palestinian but an American. My dollars go to give this country military support and support an agenda that I don’t agree with. The US gives around 1.5 billion dollars to Israel each year. Imagine what money like that could do in our own country.

I got to the other side of the wall because I am an American, an outsider.

Does it seem right that I should be allowed to go where even the locals can’t go?

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