May 6

Welcome to Israel

Israel is a strange place. First of all, I took this photo on my phone and posted it to FB. But now this photo (and only this photo) is missing from my phone. I can only speculate as to how that might have happened.

They did let me in. I was concerned that with my history of peace work and my friendship with some critical voices, they might not. But they barely asked me any questions at all.

One of my friends was not so lucky. An American Christian, he was detained for four hours at passport control because his last name is Lebanese. They did eventually let him in. They had no reason not to– and no real reason to question him in the first place, since he was a member of a tour group from a Christian university. But one thing I am learning: Israel likes to let people know who has power and who doesn’t.

We spent much of today seeing religious sites. St. Mark’s Church, a Syrian Orthodox church that boasts the Upper Room, and King David’s Tomb, which also boasts the Upper Room. Today we saw the Church of the Holy Sepluchre, where Jesus was crucified and buried. Tomorrow we’ll see the other place where Jesus was crucified and buried. We’ll also walk both paths he took to his death. Such paradox seems fully accepted in the world of religious tourism.

In a similar vein, we visited the Church of the Dormition, where Mary died–based on a 12th century story that led to the construction of this “ancient” church in 1910 by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Clearly, religious real estate is at a premium here such that there’s a market for new ones!

How does one evaluate the validity of what one sees here? It’s not easy. Jerusalem was razed by Emperor Hadrian in 132. There’s some archaeological evidence for some of the sites. But mostly, I go by feel. The Upper Room at St, Mark’s was a primitive room under the church, since centuries of building layer-upon-layer have put the first century stuff well underneath. The Tomb of David, on the other hand, has the Upper Room¬†upstairs (over a tomb that is itself of questionable validity). But more to the point for me, when I entered the Upper Room at St. Mark’s, I felt a flash of Spirit. When I entered the other one, I felt nothing. That’s hardly a scientific diagnosis, but it works for personal use.

What else is there to say about my first day in Israel? I had a lovely lunch at a sandwich place run by Palestinian Christians who served an excellent spicy felafel sandwich. for 15 shekels. I later discovered I could have paid three times as much around the corner near the tourist attractions. That’s not much different than anywhere else.

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