Flights of Faith

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sign of the Times



The messages are everywhere. They start at the edge of the walkway to Jaffa Gate and end at its doorway. The gate is in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. Besides the caretakers of holy sites, most of the residents are Palestinian Christians. The gate also leads to the only walking path to the Western Wall, the holiest site for the Jewish people.

It’s the most integrated place in Jerusalem, a town ruled by unofficial segregation. Still, the Old City itself is divided into four quarters: Christian, Moslem, Armenian, and Jewish. All but one are obvious in terms of which ethnicity resides there. I still get a laugh from the look on the faces of white Christians when they realize the Christian quarter does not look like them.

Serving as a geographic and political crossroads, the area is always an odd scene. Palestinian kids playing on bicycles outside the gate. Israeli soldiers walking stridently. They pass Orthodox Jews, footwork identical. Tourists extend their giraffe necks making sure safety is assured at every turn. Palestinian teens quietly argue with each other as they decide which one will invite the tourists into their shops.

“Excuse me? Excuse me? Would you like to shop today? Got a wife?”
“A girlfriend.”
“A sister? C’mon…I know you have a mother!”
“Please please. Come to my shop!”

I watch from afar careful to act busy. Loitering brings similar offers and while I always respond back knowing how others brush them off, I simply don’t have enough money to go souvenir shopping every time I visit the Old City. It’s an easy place to be misunderstood and resentment has made a home in the streets’ ancient cracks.

Like the signs, the hatred here is silent but worn loudly. Whether it’s Palestinians frustrated at Americans ignoring them while clutching their bags or Jews eyeing the undeniably beautiful Dome of the Rock on what they claim to be their sacred ground, I feel it. We all can. No one talks about it though. We just write the sentiments in our hearts. Sometimes, on the walls.


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