How the Dual Narrative Tour changed the way I see Jerusalem
While I was walking through the alleys and the narrow streets of the souks in the Old City of Jerusalem, I started to think about how this city holds great religious, historical and political power and continues to be a mysterious place for many travelers. And to try to get a full perspective of the land, I decided to join a dual narrative tour where the Old City is presented by two tour knowledgeable guides – one Palestinian and one Jewish Israeli – side-by-side. Both guides work in tandem to present a broad range of perspectives acres complex terrain. The tour explores the past, consider current realities, and imagine new ways to build the future.
The city of Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, captured and recaptured forty-four times and attacked many more during its long history. Although religious conflicts may not have political solutions, the first thing Ildad, our forty-aged Israeli guide, said is that religion and nationality cannot be separated. Moreover, Israeli Jews are still more likely to frame the conflict as nationalist than religious. So, if we want to learn more information and insights of Jerusalem and the holy country we’ll need to be open-minded, as there are different perspectives on everything.
Ildad is a Jewish born and raised in Jerusalem whose family moved from the religious persecution in Europe during the Holocaust. He decided to be a tour guide to open to the public a way to understand his ancestral homeland and also a combination of culture and religion in different communities. On the other side, there is Noor, our Palestinian tour guide, around his thirty-years who was raised in Bethlehem, an ancient town in the West Bank, known as the birthplace of Christ. Noor’s family is Muslim and not a citizen of Israel. As most Palestinians can’t enjoy the rights of citizenship, they’re barred from living in or even visiting East Jerusalem.
Jerusalem has over 4000 years old and before I sum up with some key dates and terms, it’s important to understand why this city is sacred to the followers of the three major faiths on Earth: for the 2% of Christians population, the city is the site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. A two parts street located in the Old City held to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. Since the early days of Christianity, pilgrims of all over the world come daily to the city to walk through the narrow street, retracing the steps of the torture, sentencing, carrying of the cross, death, and burial of Jesus.
For Jews, who comprise 62% of the population, the city if holy because of the important events that took place here. Jerusalem is the capital of the ancient Israelite kingdom and the former location of the Jewish temples. The patriarch of the Jews, Abraham, was asked by God to sacrifice his only son on Mount Moriah, which is in present-day Jerusalem.
And finally, for the Muslims, who make up more than a third of the city’s population, it’s believed that here is the place where Prophet Muhammad was transported from Meca to Jerusalem during his Night Journey to heaven.
In 1947, the Partition Plan formalized in the UN General Assembly voted for a division of the British Mandate into an Arab (43% of the land) and a Jewish state (56%of the land). While Jewish accepted the Resolution, the Arab states rejected it, perceived as unfair. One year later, Arab States attack Israel with waves of terrorism targeting Jewish Israeli military and civilians. Although Israel wins, Jerusalem was divided into East and West.
In 1967, The Six-Day War takes place and East Jerusalem comes under Israeli. Israel also captures the Golan Hights and Sinai and Old City falls from Jordanian to Israeli authority. Palestinians start living in the West Bank and Gaza. It’s estimated that the population was divided by 337.400 Arabs and over 215.900 Jewish inhabitants. On the other hand, The Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research estimates that the West part of the city had only 3.900 Arab inhabitants against over 343.900 Jewish under Israeli control after the Arab-Israeli War in 1948.
It’s only in 1993, with the Oslo Accords, that a formal peace process is initiated between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. Nowadays, Palestinians (Muslims and Christians), Israelis (Jews and Arabs), Armenians and some smaller ethnic and religious groups are living together in the Old City of Jerusalem.
To understand the duality between Palestinians and Jewish people, we need to continue going further back in time. That’s why the tour starts in the Tower of David, a holy place for both religious. Located atop Mount Zion ridge, also known as the Jerusalem Citadel, here is quite literally where Jerusalem began-from historical, religious, and geographical perspectives, considered the third holiest site in Islam. Revered as the Noble Sanctuary, the location of Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven, the site is also associated with Jewish biblical prophets.
As the tour takes place in the Old City, we walked through the most important sacred sites, such as the four quarters (the Muslim, the Christian, the Armenian and the Jewish Quarter), Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Western Wall, until we reach the final stop of the day, the Temple Mount, the holiest place for the Jews, and also known as Al Aqsa-Haram al-Sharif by the Muslims, where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son and ascended to heaven.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about many things and is driven by several factors, as both sides have important material stakes and demands: contiguous borders, mutual security, and access to resources. While Jerusalem’s future remains uncertain, many international groups and countries support efforts to divide the holy city into Israeli and Palestinian sections. But, securing a plan that everyone agrees on is difficult.
For me, a Brazilian woman who was born and raised in a country where religious intolerance and cultural animosity in my generation is way less marked than it’s experienced in Israel, and where the high level of religious and ethnicity freedom is notable, the struggle between Israeli and Palestinians may never be clearly understood. Although we all know that a lesson in the peaceful navigation of religious tolerance is necessary, while the situation doesn’t change, we claim over the divine will: Who arrived first and who has the God-given right to this land?
By the end of the day, the question remains unsolved by both sides: Any ideas to solve it?
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