Jerusalem is an absolutely incredible city. Throughout our time here we have been able to experience a wide array of what this place has to offer. Visiting crowded holy sites, bustling markets, and little known restaurants have filled our days. Even more, we’ve had the pleasure of hearing from a number of speakers that have helped to shed light on the overwhelming complexities that exist in an area that is so important to so many people from a religious and geopolitical standpoint.
One of the things you learn while spending time in Jerusalem is that history isn’t pretty. Each new civilization that claimed authority over this region, brought with it conquest and destruction. New occupants would destroy existing structures and re-arrange the layout of the city in an attempt to prioritize their ideologies and make the city their own. The desecration of temples, walls, and houses became the literal foundation new civilizations and kingdoms were built on. Archaeological excavations have uncovered these layers and many of the stories they hold.
Now, it's important to note that the complexities that find their home in this region of the world don't only exist vertically in the layers of earth below the city, but horizontally amidst the people as well. The modern day climate of Israel is one of palpable tension. We spent one morning with a gentleman by the name of Dr. Danny Tirza. He was the main figure responsible for the plan and construction of the current wall that separates Jerusalem from the West Bank. (You can learn more about Dany in a recent Forbes article that features him HERE)
The wall itself is constructed from concrete walls that reach nearly 30 feet high, as well as a network of smaller chain-link fences that stretch for miles. The first thing that stands out when you view the wall is that only about 5% of it is made up of the tall concrete barriers whereas the rest is made up of the network of chain-link (a fact you would be hardpressed to find in communication by today’s global media).
There are dangerous and competing narratives about the purpose this wall serves, and due to the fact that I am far from an expert on the issues I wanted to focus on two hopeful facts that stood out to me from this portion of our trip:
In the end, the decision to build the wall was made after a barrage of attacks on people in Jerusalem that left hundreds of innocent people dead. Since the construction of this wall, the Israel Defence Forces continues to catch people headed towards Jerusalem with explosives, thus hundreds, if not thousands, of lives have been saved as a result.
The wall was constructed in a way that makes it removable if and when the leaders of the Israel and surrounding regions can come to peace agreements.
On every level, this trip has been completely eye-opening. Amidst all of the new learning, the most important thing that I'll be taking away is clear: CONTEXT. I don’t leave with clarity on all my questions, and in many cases more questions were raised. I am not able to see pathways to clear solutions for the layers of issues that pervade the Middle East. However, I am leaving with a better understanding, a more complete awareness, and a heightened sensitivity for the challenges that face Israel and this region of our world.
My hope for all of us who were on this trip is that we can take this context and information to engage in the issues more fully and lean into productive conversations and solutions.