Conference missionary Tina Whitehead of Oakmont UMC is in the Holy Land, where tensions have been escalating in East Jerusalem. She asks for prayers for peace and sent the following report of what she has experienced.
I’ve been in Jerusalem for one month now and should have written long ago. Where to start?
At present, the situation is very tense in East Jerusalem and has been since July. While the world was focused on Gaza this summer, life in Jerusalem became more and more difficult. Israel has accelerated its project of judaizing East Jerusalem, and of course, the focus of attention is the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third most holy site in Islam.
Initially on returning, I was hearing nightly shooting in the Old City and on the Mt. of Olives. I’ve been told stories of tear-gassing, of the use of “skunk water” (which I had a mild experience of last week when visiting Hebron. 3 days old, but still a disgusting smell permeating the neighborhoods). And tonight in Ramallah I smelled the faint odor of tear gas which burned my eyes and throat. And what is written on the tear gas canisters? Made in Pennsylvania.
A friend in the Old City, a Palestinian Muslim, has been tear-gassed three times this summer, one time taking a direct hit from a canister which exploded, badly burning his arm and clothing. He has also had soldiers enter his home at night, searching for who knows what. He’s in his mid 70’s and has known nothing but occupation and oppression for 66 years.
Another friend, a Palestinian Christian who lives on the Mt. of Olives, tells me that her grandchildren are afraid to visit her in the evenings and that she routinely lines her windows with vinegar soaked cloths to keep the tear gas from invading her home. She’s a woman who receives invitations from all over the world to speak of her work for peace and non-violence.
All summer, through the holy month of Ramadan until now Muslims have been tear-gassed while they prayed in Al Aqsa. Until last Friday, no man under the age of 50 was allowed to enter the mosque to pray.
This week, the anger that has been bubbling beneath the surface has begun to explode. Today you will read about the killings in the synagogue, but will you hear of the Palestinian bus driver who was strangled and hung yesterday as he went to work in West Jerusalem? Have you read of the young Palestinian who was burned alive earlier in the summer or the 5-year-old Palestinian girl who was run over and killed just a few weeks ago? And the list goes on and on and on.
None of these are to be condoned. No life is more important or more precious than any other. But the news you read back home only reflects one side. It never asks “why”, but only leads you to believe that one side is the “terrorist” side. No context is given for the violence. No mention is made of 47 years of brutal military occupation, the longest occupation of a people in recent history.
Before this summer, I had no fear of walking by myself at night in or near the Old City. Random acts of violence were unheard of. But now, violence could be anywhere and anyone could be a target. Two stabbings have occurred this week alone near the Damascus Gate and in the market where I shop. This is not going to stop anytime soon. When people lose hope, which is what is happening now, they become desperate and the result is desperate acts of violence. My heart breaks for what is happening here.
I love Jerusalem, primarily East Jerusalem, the site of the holy places--Gethsemane, Calvary, the Holy Sepulchre, the Mt. of Olives—all the beautiful places where Jesus ministered, lived, died and where he was resurrected. And also the home of my Palestinian neighbors and friends. We are told in the Gospel of Luke (19:41-42) that Jesus looked out over Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives and wept, saying “…if only you had recognized the things that make for peace.”
I hope you will join me in praying for an end to this present round of violence and for that peace that has too long been absent from this troubled part of the world.