Saturday, February 27, 2010

East Jerusalem Settlements

The above map is produced by Ir Amin (, an Israeli organization that monitors Jewish settlements in Arab East Jerusalem. The founder of Ir Amin, Danny Seidemann, takes students on a field trip each semester for a overview of the settlement areas as well as the wall. During the last few weeks as I have traversed East Jerusalem with student field trips, family outings and my own walk-about I have taken photos of some of these settlements. From an Israeli point of view the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem are an undisputed part of Israel. From a U.S. government point of view, these settlements are an obstacle to peace and they should be part of the current moratorium on settlement building--which they are not. From an Arab point of view the settlements are more facts on the ground used by Israel to further justify its claim to what Arabs see as an illegal occupation of East Jerusalem. Many of these settlements have been hot topics in the news over the past few months.
Many of the settlements are in the Arab (Muslim and Christian) quarters of the old city. This is a yeshiva in the Muslim quarter along the Via Dolorosa. In the distance beneath the menorah is the home of former prime minister Ariel Sharon. He moved in back in the 1980s to show that Jews had the right to live in any part of the city.
Just down the street from the BYU Jerusalem Center is Beit Orot.
It started out as a yeshiva and is funded by a wealthy American Jew named Irving Moskowitz.
A few weeks ago it was announced that Beit Orot would expand with the construction of housing for 20 or so families. The square tower of the Jerusalem Center can be seen in the distance.
The seven story building with the Israeli flag draped down its side is Beit Yonatan. It was built illegally by Jewish settlers in the middle of Arab Silwan. Five years ago the Israeli government declared it illegal. Recently the Israeli Supreme Court upheld that ruling and ordered it destroyed. The mayor of Jerusalem is not so anxious to have it removed. If he does he will anger many right-wingers. To keep them happy and to make the demolition seem more fair he has also proposed to demolish 70+ Arabs homes in the same neighborhood that are also illegal (never mind that Arabs in Jerusalem are most often refused building permits and are forced to build without permits).
Beit Yonatan in the midst of Arab Silwan
Beit Yonatan is in the upper right. The neighborhood of Silwan straddles both sides of the Kidron Valley in the area of the Gihon Spring and Hezekiah's Tunnel. Most of the Arab homes targeted for destruction are in the Bustan area along the valley floor. The mayor wants to build new apartments for the Arabs and to make this a park like area in honor of the area where Solomon was anointed king. It all sounds like a nice idea, but the local Arabs are resisting saying it is just another land grab.

Looking south into Silwan. The right side of the valley is also known as the City of David. It is here where David conquered the Jebusite city and established his capital.

Over the past few decades, Israeli settlers have slowly crept into this part of Silwan. Arab residents felt helpless in trying to hold onto their lands and homes. It was Arabs in this area who enlisted the help of Ir Amin founder Danny Seidemann. The area in front of the pines/cedars is the main area of City of David.
The entrance to the City of David on the left. It is a national park run by a right-wing settler organization (a curious arrangement to say the least). As this park has expanded, more Arabs have lost their homes. To the right behind the decorated wall is the latest excavation in the city of David.

The excavations abut right up to Arab homes and undermine their stability. The intent of the excavations in this area is to find more links back to David and Solomon in order to give further legitimacy to an expanded Jewish presence. One Israeli archeologist told a colleague of mine that those whose finance such excavations have no interest in the Byzantine/Arab/Crusader ruins that are in the upper layers of theses digs--the only interest is to get down to the Israelite/Kingdom of Judah era. The City of David extends southward from the gray domed Al-Aqsa Mosque. Jewish homes are now scattered throughout the area
At the northern end of Silwan is another settlement called Ma'aleh Zeitim. The crane is busy at work building housing for Jewish settlers.

Further up the Mount of Olives a large flag flies above a several story settler building near the Pater Noster Church and the Mosque of the Ascension.

The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood is north of the old city. The tomb of Simon the Just (Shimon ha-Tzaddik) is a sacred site for Jews that is located in the neighborhood. Up until the 1948 Jews lived in homes surrounding the tomb. These Jews fled west in the 1948 war and eventually Arab refugees fleeing east were settled in these homes by the UN. Last fall these Arabs were evicted from the homes they have lived in for over 50 years with the justification that the homes were once Jewish owned. The problem with such a policy is that it does not allow Arab refugees the same right to claim homes in West Jerusalem (or Jaffa, Haifa, Ramla etc) that they left in the 1948 war.
This is the disputed area.
One Jewish home is on the left (complete with menorah on top). The recently inhabited Jewish homes are on the right.
For several months last fall, the evicted Arab families camped in tents on the side walk in front of their former homes. The tents are no longer there, just chairs where the residents sit in protest. Every Friday afternoon, Jews (many Jews are against these settlements) and Arabs come here to protest the evictions.
One of the disputed homes--Israeli flags now fly above it.
The graffiti on the front wall is also contentious. The Arab cityscape is defaced with Stars of David which are then blotted out.
The longer inhabited Jewish home across the street.
Behind the newly occupied homes is the tomb of Simon the Just--at the end of the street.
This modern building covers the medieval tomb.

I peaked down into the tomb area where Orthodox Jews were busy with prayers and study.
Looking south you can see the roof of the tomb (bottom of screen), the menorah of the home across the street from the newly disputed homes and if you look close in the distance you can see one more settler home (to the right of the tall building) with Israeli flags flying.
To the north up the hill from the tomb are more settler homes.
Above those homes is a guard tower.
The guard tower over-looking the expanding Jewish presence in Arab Sheikh Jarrah.
A little further north is the disputed Shepherd Hotel. Once Arab owned it is now Jewish owned. The change in ownership has also been contentious. More Jewish housing is planned for this area. All of these settlements in Arab areas are leading to greater tension in Jerusalem. Arabs are fast losing hope for any fair solution of sharing the land.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Kidron Valley

Last Sunday (February 21st) we headed out for an enjoyable walk through the Kidron Valley. From the BYU Jerusalem Center we zig-zagged down the path through the Orson Hyde Garden toward Gethsemane. This is a photo of an Olive orchard near the lower entrance to the Orson Hyde Garden. It is just up the hill to the northeast from the traditional site of Gethsemane.

Next to Gethsemane is the Church of the Assumption (Mary's Tomb). This Church is one of the jointly shared churches regulated by the Ottoman Status Quo agreement. Since the Roman Catholics have the Church of the Dormition on Mt. Zion, they do not maintain a presence in this church, even though the Status Quo grants them the rights. It is thus the Greek Orthodox and Armenians who have rights as the main claimants with the Syrian Orthodox, Copts and Ethiopian churches have additional rights.

The cross shaped church is in a grotto.
It was a Sunday morning and two Orthodox priests were just finishing a service. The empty tomb of Mary is behind the altar.

We then walked down the Kidron Valley to the so called tomb/monument of Absalom, son of David. We read the biblical account of how his head got caught in a tree and then David's general Joab killed him (2 Samuel 18).
I then related an account of an ancient Jerusalem custom where fathers would bring their rebellious sons to this monument and throw stones at it to illustrate the fate that befalls sons who rebel against their fathers as did Absalom. One guide book says that archeologists found the base of this structure covered with piles of stones, which indicates the popularity of fathers trying to teach their sons to be obedient. Let's hope willful Will was listening! :)
We climbed up (via a set of metal stairs) into the tomb of the sons of Hezir (left) which is most likely a family tomb for a wealthy priestly family from the Hamonean period. Zechariah's tomb--which is solid stone and cut from bedrock (right) is associated either with Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest (2 Chronicles 24) or Zechariah the prophet.

Rising from these three tombs in the Kidron Valley is the large Jewish Cemetery (right) and the olive trees surrounding Gethsemane (left)
We climbed out of the valley and entered the old city via Dung Gate. We then headed to shops on Christian Quarter road. Sarah bought some leather sandals.
Then in Shaban's shop (where BYU students love to shop) Sarah got a shoulder bag, Joel a leather scripture tote--with the skyline of Jerusalem imprinted on it, and Will a wool stuffed ram (which he is holding out from behind Sarah).
Sarah already has two skirts and a scarf from this shop and would have loved to have bought more. The bag she bought is the striped blue bag hanging on her right shoulder. From there we had hummus for lunch at Lina's restaurant. Then we walked down and up through the Kidron Valley back to the center. We have enjoyed evenings of Olympic watching the past two weeks via the Eurosport channel. Last night and today were full of thunderstorms.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mt. Zion

The kids had Thursday and Friday off so on Thursday morning we went to visit a few churches that are not open to tourists on Sundays--our usual touring days. Our first two choices on the Mt. of Olives were closed during the first week of lent so we opted for plan B. Our first stop was the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (cockcrow). It is on the lower slope of Mt. Zion on the traditional site of the home of Ciaphas, High Priest of the Sanhedrin.
The entry door is a metal sculpture of Jesus at the last supper telling Peter that before the cock crows (red tail in center of photo) he will deny Jesus three times. Peter looks shocked at such an accusation.
Beautiful stained class ceiling. This was a first time visit for everyone but me. It is now one of our favorite sites.
Mosaic in the upper level of the church showing Jesus being tried before the Sanhedrin.
Painting in the lower level of Peter weeping after the betrayal.
From the lower level you can look down to the lowest level via this hole in the rock floor. Byzantine crosses identify this as a holy site.
The hole leads into a chamber that is considered a possible dungeon where those tried before the Sanhedrin were imprisoned.
Next door are chambers where prisoners may have been held. There are holes in the stone above the center section. These holes might have been used to tie up the arms of prisoners so that they could receive their punishment of lashings. While few things are certain when trying to identify holy sites, this is a nice place to consider the trial, suffering and betrayal of Jesus.
Outside of the church are Roman era stone steps that lead down the hill to the Kidron valley and then on to Gethsemane. Jesus may have very likely walked down these steps going from the Last Supper to Gethsemane and then up them later that night for his trial before Ciaphas. This is one of the best places in the land to sing "I walked today where Jesus walked."
Next stop the German built Dormition Abbey.
This church commemorates the place where Mary fell into her eternal sleep before her assumption into heaven. Near Gethsemane is a church commemorating her burial and assumption. All of the Mary traditions are very confusing. The Catholic and Orthodox views of what happened to Mary are not in agreement.
At the center of the crypt of the church is a life size statue of Mary in her eternal rest. The dome above Mary includes wonderful mosaics of six other important biblical women.
Jael with the head of Sisera whom she killed by pounding a tent peg in his temple while he slept after fleeing Deborah and Barak. Ruth with her gleanings.
Esther--the Jewish queen of Persia who saved her people (Purim next week celebrates this event) and Eve.
The prophetess Miriam (Moses' sister) with a tambourine celebrating deliverance from Egypt and Judith (who has a whole book named after her in the Catholic Apocrypha).
The bell tower of the Dormition Abbey and and the Mosque minaret at the Upper Room.
One of the most unusual holy sites in Jerusalem is the structure that houses the traditional tomb of David in the lower level and the chamber associated with the last supper in the upper level.
The Upper Room commemorates the last supper. It is a Crusader structure that was then turned into a mosque (notice the mihrab pointing the prayer direction to Mecca) that is still claimed by the Franciscans. The Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Mark in the Armenian quarter is another traditional site of the last supper. In that church the upper room of the last supper is in the basement of the church--which at the time of Jesus would have been at the level of an upper room. The tomb of David below. The validity of this site is highly doubted, but it still serves as a place of Jewish prayer and veneration.

Zion's Gate into the old city. The pockmarks are from the fighting for the city in 1948 and 1967.