Jerusalem, Moving the Ladder

After 4 weeks, we’re leaving Jerusalem. The finest puzzle of human passion, and passion beyond, resting solidly and unsteadily on 5000 years or so of accumulated white stone and dirt. The most complicated and absurd and somehow, sometimes wonderful city. Our host Micha Kurz of Grassroots Jerusalem warned us that 4 weeks would be just enough to just begin understanding Jerusalem. In fact, it’s only enough time for the city to get a healthy grip on you so that you really don’t want to leave. And it’s definitely not enough time to come up for air for any writing and reflection … hopefully now I have a little space, on my trip back down to Dar es Salaam, the other end from here of the Great Rift Valley, where in complete contrast, the biggest conflict is that there might, maybe, be another political party in a couple years.

There is a ladder resting on the front balcony of the Chuch of the Holy Sepluchure. Centuries of delicate negotiation guide how priests and monks of various sects of Christianity move throughout the twisting bizarre space that might possibly be the site of the crucifixion of Jesus. No set of rules for behavior are comprehensive enough to cover every situation, and you hope you have good faith enough for dialogue when the loopholes come up. Not so here, where no one knows which sect originally placed the ladder, so they all refuse to move it. In the middle of all this, hoards of Russian pilgrims take pouty glamour shots in front of what might possibly be the site of a great suffering of Jesus. Thank you for the absurdity and the warning, that ladder should be the symbol of the city.

Remember this is also the country where there is meticulous debate on automated milking of cows on Shabbat.

Jerusalem is a place where they play excellent music in the streets on Friday, and no one notices a soldier dancing with a machine gun. In Silwan, down the slopes of the Old City, young men ride horses through streets defiantly kept 2-way as it has been for thousands of years, and gallop against slowly trudging tourist buses making their way to the City of David, where archeological diggings expose Biblical history, and expose too much of the present day, with houses and mosques collapsing above the excavations. Kites flew above all of this, capturing the view from cameras. In one day, you can rave off Jaffa Street, visit the birthplace of Jesus (grottos!), have a lovely fish dinner in the shadow of the security wall (thankfully just mapped, else we would’ve missed it), be told “have a nice day!” by a teenage soldier at an eerily deserted checkpoint, share a taxi with two Ethiopian priests in town from Dublin, and night cap it with a bottle of Brooklyn Lager. And check which beer your drink, cause drinking Taybeh vs Goldstar might be partisan (or wearing your hair a certain way, or the length of your skirt). Weekends are so confusing in Jerusalem! With 3 religions and 3 different holy days, it depends what side of town you’re on. Not recommended to go back and forth more than once between East and West Jerusalem in the course of one day, your mind will not be able to take such different worlds living in one city. You can hear Rock the Casbah performed in Arabic, and have multiple two hour discussions on the name of Jerusalem in OpenStreetMap.

Through it all, there has been such a strong reaffirmation of the mission of GroundTruth. With layers apon layers of history, of too much subtlety of meaning, of confusion, of deadly conflict, seems like the only possible response is coming to some reckoning and witness to it all, to see the change over time, to let everyone speak up about the reality of their lives. Let’s map Jerusalem. Let’s let people expose their regular humaness, carefully pace ourselves through the bullshit and maybe just find some small piece of reason. On Micha’s tour around Jerusalem, we saw an ancient city transformed yet again at the founding of Israel in 1948, and after 1967, the Green Line is now the smoothest highway through town. The municipal boundary of Jerusalem slices through old villages, envelopes completely new ones, and the security wall takes yet another course, and pressing close is the Areas ABC of the Oslo Accords. It hardly makes sense even if you understand it, and by showing what it’s like right on a piece of ground you may never visit otherwise, perhaps finally some understanding will happen.

We have at least 3 more posts to talk about the experience with the amazing Grassroots Jerusalem, who cut their chops mapping the Salah ad Din shopping district, and passed it on to al Walaja a small and inspiring village, which has a piece of just about everything complicated in Israel and Palestine including a completely encircling section of the wall, and it’s all being wrapped up in a potent brew of technology and training inspired by a slum in East Africa.