by Stephanie Saldaña in America
Yesterday, I walked through the Old City of Jerusalem to Calvary. I could not think of where else to go. The shops were shuttered, and there was a ghostly quiet as I passed through the alleys towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. On the way, a few young girls, dressed in sparkling new clothes for the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, came into my line of vision, and the sight of them, threading their way through the quiet streets, broke my heart. There is a war in Gaza. Mob violence was breaking out all over Israel: both Palestinians and Israelis attacked in the streets, shops and synagogues set on fire. Every day brought news of more and more dead, more and more wounded.
The church was open.
So I began writing these lines at the foot of the cross because Jesus crucified is the only place I know where to turn, the only person I can think of to ask for help right now. I gazed at the cross, to try to understand what to do in crucified times such as these.
Jesus nailed down, loving the thieves beside him. Jesus forgiving those who killed him. Jesus offering himself: “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Jesus, loving beyond love, loving when it should not be possible to still love, loving until the end.
At the foot of the cross, I learn again. Love is the hardest and only path forward.
I should begin by trying to explain the events that sparked this latest cycle of violence in Jerusalem, where I live, as best as I am able.
There are many places to begin telling the events of the last tense weeks, and where someone begins telling the story inevitably impacts what the story means. From my vantage point as one who lives here, tensions were sparked by the looming expulsions of Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. At the beginning of this week, the Israeli Supreme Court was scheduled to hold a hearing that might have given the final decisions on whether or not they would forcibly evict families from their homes in this historic neighborhood of Jerusalem.
The Palestinian families in question had lived there for generations, resettled by the Jordanians after they were expelled from their homes in Palestine in 1948. Jewish settler groups were trying to claim the houses, using an Israeli law that said that Jews could re-claim land that belonged to them prior to 1948. But there is no similar Israeli law that allows for Palestinians to reclaim their own land, confiscated in 1948. It is therefore a law selectively applied.
For Palestinians, it was not only these houses in Sheikh Jarrah that were at stake in this legal battle. It was the very character of the city of Jerusalem itself. By placing their claim on a historically Palestinian neighborhood, still recognized as occupied territory by international law, these Jewish settler groups were making it clear that they hoped to change the makeup of the city, slowly taking over Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem. Christian leaders—Palestinian and non-Palestinian alike—were also concerned with the outcome, both in solidarity with their Palestinian neighbors but also because they saw in it a threat to the multi-religious and multi-cultural fabric of the holy city. Many sympathetic Jewish Israeli activists were also regularly demonstrating against the coming evictions, calling out an unfair legal system.
As the court date approached, tensions continued building in Jerusalem. On the last Friday of Ramadan, clashes broke out between Palestinians and Israeli police forces inside of the al-Aqsa mosque, where thousands of Muslims had gathered to pray…