As always, it’s an interesting time to be back in Jerusalem. Today is the first day of President Obama’s visit. By the time you read this, you’ll know how it turned out, but right now everything is just a question and a hope. I do know that life here will be disrupted by security for the next three days. Already, streets have been closed and travel restrictions are in place.
Yesterday at work we were told that we had to leave early, that the main road in Jerusalem was going to close. I met a friend in East Jerusalem and he wanted to go to Ramallah. I’d read that there was going to be a protest demonstration in Ramallah in the evening, but we decided to see if we could get in. (I use the word “in” because you have to go through a checkpoint to travel from Jerusalem to Ramallah which is in the West Bank and sometimes security is tight.) We took a bus, got off at the checkpoint and immediately were warned that there were problems in the city and we were advised not to go. We went anyway.
We took another shared taxi and got off near Manara Square, where the demonstration was to have taken place. All we saw were families and young people walking in the streets, enjoying a pleasant, spring-like evening. We stopped at Rukab’s, a well-known ice cream shop and did see some people watching, but there was no sign of a protest. President Obama will be in Ramallah on Thursday (tomorrow) and will be meeting with government officials as well as some young people at a nearby youth center. Few people believe that his visit will make a difference in the lives of the Palestinians, but some of us still cling to the hope that he will have the courage to speak out against the occupation, which is now in its 46th year.
On Friday he will travel to Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity, the site which marks the place where Jesus was born. I can walk to Bethlehem from my apartment, but my guess is that the city will be closed to all traffic on Friday, so I’m fairly certain I won’t be able to get in (again, in the West Bank and surrounded by the Wall and controlled by security and checkpoints).
He leaves Friday evening and then a new week begins, a week of real hope: Holy Week. Celebrations begin with the Palm Sunday Walk from the Mt. of Olives to the Old City on Sunday afternoon, the Maundy Thursday service and procession from Gethsemane to the House of Caiaphas, a sunrise service on the Mt. of Olives and Sunday morning worship. El Mesiah kam; hakan kam is what we’ll hear in the service on Easter Sunday, Arabic for “The Lord is risen; he is risen indeed.” Political systems and leaders may disappoint us, but the message of Easter remains our real hope.
Blessings and peace,