Monday, January 24, 2005

The Rock of Foundation

Flying over the Mediterranean to Amman, Jordan in September of 2004 I felt a great deal of anticipation as the plane neared the coastline of Israel and Palestine. I had never been to the Middle East and was beginning my first tour of service with the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Baghdad, Iraq. I had purchased the audio book “Abraham- A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths” by Bruce Feiler to listen to on the twelve-hour flight. The first chapter of the book details the author’s experience of being at the Dome of the Rock in the old city of Jerusalem. There within several hundred yards are some of the most sacred sites of the three monotheistic faiths. Our flight path took us just to the north of the old city and I could see the golden panels of the Dome glistening in the late afternoon sun. I had a very strong image of myself walking on the plaza of the Dome. Of being in such a powerful spiritual space that it had a physical impact.

Before my return to America in January of 2005 I was able to spend ten days with the CPT project in Hebron, Palestine. My flight to the U.S. left from Amman and I needed to travel through Jerusalem to reach the border with Jordan. Would I be able to bring my image to reality and travel to the Dome? I left Hebron early on January 6th so I would have time to walk the sacred spaces of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. I had read about the deep, rich and turbulent history of that rock and the city that it anchors. It is called the Even Shetiyah (Rock of Foundation) in the Jewish faith. It is the site where Abraham, the father of both Jews and Muslims, was led by God to renounce human sacrifice. It is the site of the Two Temples of Jerusalem of which now only the Wailing Wall remains as the most sacred site in Judaism. It is the place where Satan took Jesus to tempt him. It is the site of the Dome of the Rock as it was from that rock that the prophet Mohammed made his Night Journey into the seventh heaven. As I walked the plaza it was if I was walking into the epicenter of three faiths. Before me was the Dome of the Rock where I felt the children of Ishmael looking for solace as they mourned the loss of their homeland. To my right I felt the energy of the Wailing Wall as the children of Isaac mourned the passing of their Temple. To my left I felt the pain of the Via Dolorosa as the other children of Isaac mourned the suffering of Jesus on his final journey in this world.

All the children of Abraham see this site as being at the center of their faith. All the children of Abraham see the rock as being an important symbol of their faith. All the children of Abraham don’t see the rock as belonging to anyone else. What should be seen as the epicenter of God’s love and compassion for all humans has been the site of conflict, bloodshed and hatred.

If the rock is the epicenter then Jerusalem is the first shock wave of monotheism. The city is a microcosm of the conflict between the three monotheistic faiths. Can it be the model for the non-violent resolution of that conflict? But before that question can be answered first there must be an answer to the question, “Whose city is this? Whose faith has the strongest claim to being the possessor of the rock and the city it anchors?”

Whose city is it? It’s God’s city, and not the sole possession of any of God’s children. It belongs to all and it needs to be open to all. No one group can say it is theirs and theirs alone.

While Jerusalem is God’s city it must be under the stewardship of God’s children. If Jerusalem and the rock that is the foundation of the world belong to the world then it should be administered by the world. It needs to be a world city and under the care of the United Nations. Only a world body can begin the work to heal centuries and centuries of anger and hatred. With much hard work and after many generations there can come a time when faithful Jews, Muslims and Christians can work together to care for the city. But in the beginning this care must be given by a world body. Listening must replace shouting. A commitment to peace must replace the failed heritage of violence. As Abraham, the father of all three faiths, came to see that God did not require human sacrifice as a means of worship Abraham’s children must come to see that the rock and the city are whole and can not be broken up and divided. Only then will the true meaning of the rock of foundation of the world become reality.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


The Palestinian village of Jayyous is blessed. Blessed by a wonderful hilltop location looking over a fertile valley with olive trees, orange groves and greenhouses. The village of Jayyous is cursed. Cursed by the Israeli “security” fence that cuts the village off from the fields with one gate open three times a day to allow some (less than 10% of the villagers) to farm the land. The village of Jayyous maybe doomed. The settlement of Zufin, which is entirely on the Palestinian side of the Green Line, is expanding. Not expanding towards Israel but expanding towards the olive groves of Jayyous.

On December 31st over two hundred Israeli peace activists and dozens of internationals drove from Tel Aviv towards the fields of Jayyous to plant hundreds of saplings where part of the olive grove had been uprooted. Legal proceedings have put a temporary halt to the expansion but the settlers maintain that they have “bought” the land from an Israeli company. The activists were stopped by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Israeli police some three miles outside the grove. They got out of their busses and walked the rest of the way with police and IDF taking pictures of them and shouting out on bullhorns, “This is private property belonging to the settlers”.

On the village side of the fence over a hundred Palestinian villagers and about twenty internationals (including two CPTers) marched down the hill to find a way to come together with the Israelis who had planted the olive saplings. The march was organized by local civic and religious leaders and was totally nonviolent. The organizers had the kids carry the signs (it’s harder to throw rocks with a sign in your hand) and kept everybody focused on standing firm against the IDF but not provoking them.
In between the two sides at the gate were an additional 60 IDF and about a dozen police. Intense negotiations ensued between the villagers and the IDF on one side and the Israeli activists and the IDF on the other side of the fence. Eventually four people (one Jayyous farmer and three Israelis) carried one of the uprooted trees that had been left to die through the gate to the village side to be replanted. One of Israelis who carried the tree said, “This is a token act of solidarity of the joint struggle of Israelis and Palestinians. It is a campaign that will continue to grow in strength until the walls and fences are brought down.”

Uprooting an olive grove that has been fruitful for generations is a disheartening act. The sight of Palestinians and Israelis carrying a tree together to replant it is a hopeful act. The only thing that will tip the balance towards planting and away from uprooting is for all peoples, Jewish, Muslim and Christian to work together in solidarity. We must pray together. We must work together. We must continue to bring light to those from all faiths whose hearts are trapped in darkness. We must all find ways to root ourselves in the creation of peace.