Friday, July 7, 2006

Way of Sorrows

The two nations I hold most dear celebrated birthdays in the last week. Here in Jerusalem, standing on guard conjures images of armed Israeli soldiers checking IDs and of militant youths preparing to protect neighborhood streets from imminent assault. Over here, the rocket’s red glare gives proof to the obvious—that an intractable conflict is still there.

Hamas’ military wing has now managed to lob a couple of Qassam rockets as far as Ashkelon, a major Israeli city. This is not good news. Fortunately, these unguided rockets usually land harmlessly wide of their target. The numbers I’ve seen suggest that some 1,000 rockets over roughly five years have been responsible for about fifty injuries and a total of eleven Israeli deaths (including, tragically, several young children). Call it provocation. Escalation. Retaliation. Retribution. I call it one more step toward the abyss. And one less reason to be hopeful. Under the red glare of those rockets the world witnessed the kidnapping of a young Israeli soldier. Sadly, Hamas is showing none of the moderation many hoped the weight of responsibility would bring. Either the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority cannot control it’s military wing or it is choosing not to. Both scenarios are depressing.

At the same time, Israel’s response to Palestinian belligerency continues to be heavily disproportionate. Thursday alone saw the deaths of some 21 Palestinians. The current troop deployment, ostensibly intended to rescue the kidnapee, is freeing Israel to target known and potential Qassam launch pads, round up militants, arrest (allegedly complicit) elected officials and extensively damage the governmental infrastructure. Israeli planes have taken out buildings, a power plant, several strategic bridges and, as war tends to do, have inflicted considerable collateral damage. For residents of the most densely populated stretch of real estate in the world, life is going to be hand-to-mouth for months to come.

The disproportionate impact on the Palestinian side seems borne out by statistics. According to B’Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), during the six years of the current intifada, Israel has killed 3,554 Palestinians while Palestinians have killed 1,008 Israelis (of which 311 were security forces). I suspect the data on property damage (detonated busses, bull-dozed houses, etc.) would make the contrast sharper. Much sharper.

So troops are deploying, bullets are flying and people (mostly Palestinian) are dying. Meanwhile, I’m spending a quiet day in the Old City attempting to trace the route of another victim of another occupation, another figure targeted for execution for potential insurgency. My goal for yesterday was to trace the physical path the King of the Jews followed, from garden arrest to praetorium trial to Golgotha execution. It requires a lot of map work, homework, guesswork and traipsing about. Call it the real Via Dolorosa, if you like, though one might argue that the traditional route, the one countless pilgrims follow to enact their own passion plays, is real-er. Either way, while Israel and Palestine were walking their Way of Sorrows, I was walking Jesus’.

The number of IDF (Israel Defense Forces) troops one encounters on such a walk is considerable. Up from last year, I think. But tourism is also up according to my highly sensitive crowd-ometer backed up by the infallible testimony of several Arab shopkeepers whose livelihood depends on such things. The only sign I've detected that the brewing crisis in the Gaza is affecting things here was the news, from an Arab friend (who proudly showed me his new carpet store) that the Israelis blocked the entrances to the Old City today to keep Muslims from entering the city for Friday prayers.

Otherwise, life bumbles along. I watched carefully when an observant Jew patronized an Arab shop. As with the tilted scales elsewhere in this country, the Arab spoke Hebrew. The Jew didn’t speak Arabic.

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