Today, we returned to the most historic part of Jerusalem – the city of David. Just south of the Old City near the Dung Gate there have been excavations that date this part of the city back to the Hittites, Amorites, and the Jebusites. When David conquered the Jebusites, he built his palace on top of their fortifications. Solomon expanded the city to include his palace and the first temple inside a walled extension of the city around Mt. Moriah, upon which the Temple was built. After an archeological tour of the ancient City of David, we went down in Hezekiah’s Tunnel, cut through the stone to link the pool of Siloam with the fortifications of Jerusalem’s walled city. It proved to be enough to stop the Assyrian siege in 723, but not the Babylonians in 586.
Today, tourists can wade through the waters in the 533 meters of the tunnel to the pool of Siloam, known in Arabic as Silwan, from which the village takes its name. Some tourists stay dry by going through the older Canaanite dry tunnel, but five of us went through the water, ducking when the tunnel became lower. Great fun. We saw where the ancient Hebrew burial caves were and heard the story of the increasing conflict between the Settlers in Silwan and their Palestinian neighbors.
We said goodbye to our guide, and picked up Mohammed of Abraham’ Herberge in Beit Jala. We met with the Mayor of Al-Ubeidyeh, a small town just northeast of Beit Sahour. This community is along the new road to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Jericho for Palestinians in the South. Because Israel has made the more direct road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem an Israel-only road, Palestinians must drive well out of their way, and through a container checkpoint, to get to the other major Palestinian work and office centers. The road north of Al-Ubeidyeh is very steep with many turnbacks, and so there are many accidents along this road. The city of Al-Ubeidyeh is proud of their new solar powered street lights on this dangerous stretch of road. Since water is a huge issue, they would like to create a water reclamation project for the polluted stream that comes through the town from Jerusalem and the Settlements. Har Homa Settlement recently took some of the city’s farmers’ land by extending the Separation Barrier (here in the form of a fence) around two nearby hilltops.
Next we went to Abraham’s Tent, an after school program for Muslim and Christian youth in Al-Ubeidyeh. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Beit Jala sponsors this free program, which serves 120 children and youth in Al-Ubeidyeh. They have operated this program elsewhere, and many other towns are asking for it as well. Each child gets a hot meal, help with homework, and enrichment classes including music, art, and dance. It’s called Abraham’s Tent because any child of Abraham is welcome. Most of the kids are Muslim, but they take field trips to Christian churches, Mosques, Jericho, and other historical sites in Palestine.
We had an informal lunch with the kids and teachers, learning names, playing games, and taking pictures. The young men performed a traditional Palestinian dance for the group, and then we met at the Tent for group pictures. The kids got to practice their English, and we shared our limited Arabic and smiles all around. The program puts on a Summer Camp each year, and is supported by the local municipality. Last summer, the church in Germany raised the funds to bring 10 youth to Germany to do peacemaking work with German Christians and Jews there. We are exploring whether it would be in both of our interests to have a sister church relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Beit Jala, including some of the interfaith peace work that they are already doing.
This is our last night in Palestine. We will be traveling to Petra, Jordan tomorrow. The time we spent here has been fruitful in meeting wonderfully warm people who desire peace and an end to this conflict. We have also experienced new historic places in the Holy Land. We have shed tears, shared laughter, and experienced holy surprises. For those of us who have been here before, we have seen little progress and significant digression from a peaceful solution to the occupation. For none of us will leave this land the same people who arrived.