We return to the Jewish quarter with our passports and after a few phone calls we are finally granted access. It is much quieter and less crowded than the Arab Quarter of the city. There are European and American cafes boasting bagels and burgers. There are kids on field trips perusing the sites with their teachers clad in matching uniforms. One of them comes up to my baby girl and makes an affectionate fuss and kisses her cheek. Sometimes language isn’t necessary, some sentiments are universal. We visit the Abbey where Jesus dined with his disciples for the last time. I’ve seen the famous painting of The Last Supper and it feels like I’ve completed some circle to sit in the room that inspired one of the greatest works of art. The chapel floor is a complicated calendar mosaic that is so scientific and precise that hundreds of years after its construction, still displays the accurate date and time as a beam of sunlight moves through the openings above, a constant reminder that despite what is going on in the world, time silently conquers all. We cruise around to the Armenian quarter where byzantine chapels are interspersed with pubs and café’s and the music makes you want to link up arms with strangers and dance in circles. We decide to get out of Jerusalem for the afternoon and drive north by bus to Nablus, another ancient walled town home to a famous Arab dessert called kunafeh. My husband has spent the last 20 years trying to recreate and perfect this dish, he is anxious to know what original tastes like. Nablus is about 30 miles north of Jerusalem but the scenic drive becomes one of impatience as we have to navigate around the giant, haphazard wall that has been constructed to keep the Palestinians controlled. As we reach the final check point in Ramallah, it dawns on me that walls to keep humans contained reduces us to barking guard dogs, and belittles the collective consciousness of humanity. It feels wrong and bad and my spirit twinges, and the wall isn’t even there for me. In Nablus the stay is brief as it took us over an hour and a half to get 30 miles. We try some local dishes and chat with the locals. As we tell them of our experiences in Jerusalem they listen and sigh knowing regretfully they will die before ever seeing inside those sacred walls. The only Palestinians who are allowed in Jerusalem are the families who have been there since the 60’s and they are barely allowed to leave. With very limited visas they have little time to travel out and visit family and if they stay out beyond the expiration of their visa, they forfeit their right to ever return. Just take a few minutes to entertain the possibility of a life lived in one city, never allowed to leave, your entire life and the generations you leave behind contained within a few square miles. After traveling so long and so far to come here and experience all that we have, I can’t imagine it, it’s too disturbing.
After experiencing more of the West Bank and Jerusalem, I think maybe it is not religion that is divisive. After all, Jeruselm, a city that has been conquered and re-conquered more than any city in the world enjoyed 200 years of peace prior to the end of WWII. The Jewish, Catholic, Coptic, Lutherans and Muslims lived and worshipped in this tiny space side by side. There are mosques a few feet from church doors, one built as a gift to a ruling sultan from the Catholics. I think perhaps it reducing a whole and diverse people to a few stereotypes and generalizations and the proliferation of fear that keeps peace at bay. When you let your guard down and truly seek to know and understand a culture and people foreign to you, you will love them. You may not always agree or understand everything about them, but you will love them. And when you love a people, you will not stand idly by as governments dictate and force destructive policies upon them.