I feel that President Bush is following me. Not really. But this is the second time during my journey that our president and I have been in the same country. In February we crossed paths in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and now today on May 14 in Jerusalem. This day is very important to Israeli’s as it marks the 60th Anniversary in which the United Nations proclaimed the State of Israel and thereby ending more than 30 years of the British Mandate.
But an ensuing war thrust the Old City of Jerusalem into turmoil and at one point an agreement divided the old city between Jordan and Israel with Israel ultimately declaring Jerusalem its capital. Yet Jerusalem and its old city has seen a tumultuous ride since it was referred to as Rusalimum in ancient Egyptian texts. Jerusalem during the Hyksos Period saw the reign Kings David, Solomon and Judah and ultimately a continuous battle between the Assyrians, Babylonians and Nebuchadnezzar. Then as the centuries clicked away Jerusalem fell to the Persians, Egyptians, Maccabeans, Romans, and Byzantines before the Muslims took over the city ultimately pushed out by the Crusaders. Then the Egyptian Memluks have their turn before Sultan Suleiman and the Ottoman’s rebuilt the city and constructed the walls that still exist today. By World War I the British commanded the territory until after World War II when Israel was formally granted statehood sixty years ago to this date.
Not that I expect you to remember all this or that it’s entirely complete. Suffice to say that the lands that are now Israel have changed hands dozens of times over the last several thousand years. And while President Bush is congratulating Israel on its 60 years of statehood, the Palestinians, Syrians and many others in the Arab and Muslim world who’d rather abstain from such pomp and circumstance. As unmarked dark black cars with tinted windows and nests of antennas are escorted through the streets by a bodacious display of lights, sirens and artillery, its another blatant snub in the face those who would have preferred an alternate destiny for the holy land post World War II.
And then these are the problems of the world. Today and Yesterday. Will be tomorrow, too.
Meanwhile the Iranian-backed Hezbollah has reignited the Sunni-Shiite conflict in Lebanon under the guise of enforcing a strike protesting government economic policies and demanding an increase to the minimum wage. Hezbollah mobs have blocked roads with burning tires and garbage cans, and set cars and fighting political opponents in open street gun battles. Never a dull moment here in the Middle East.
Yet as I take quiet time to wander through the Jewish Quarter of Old Jerusalem and climb and walk above the city in the ramparts built originally by the Ottoman Turks, I can’t help but think that this is a city that belongs to everyone. For on these grounds walked the leaders, believers, followers and originators of many of the world’s great religions: Christian, Muslim and Jew. Two temples built and later destroyed mark the holiest land to the Jews. And yet just above the only remaining wall of the second temple is the second most important Mosque in the Muslim World, the Dome of the Rock. And a scant half-mile away is the site considered to be where Jesus was crucified. And in this city Jews, Christians and Muslims walk the same pathways, eat the same food, shop in many of the same markets. So close yet generations and history apart.