On a few of the evenings during the time I’ve been here in Jerusalem, as I’ve returned back to the place where I am staying, there have been billows of black smoke rising over the hills. It caused me quite a bit of concern the first time I saw it but, as no-one else seemed to be bothered by it and as there was no sound of sirens to indicate the attendance of emergency services, I just took it to be a bonfire or some such. (I did also check each time to see if there was anything the news, of course).
This afternoon the smoke was a lot closer – as it seemed to come from the midst of the Old City itself. I have been checking the news all afternoon, but one of the Sisters here has suggested that, as there were no sirens, it was probably the burning of rubbish. My anxiety on each occurrence of the smoke has indicated to me not just my (well hidden) anxiety for myself at coming to a place which has not fared so well in recent months but, more importantly, my anxiety for this city, this land, and the peoples who live here.
Smoke rising over Jerusalem has been part of the history of this place – from the bringing down of the Temple (both First and Second Temple), to the attacks of both the Crusaders and Muslims. Smoke that indicates destruction by fire will have risen over this city across many generations. Nowadays it is not just the smoke of fire, but also the smoke of tear gas or incendiary devices set to cause fear and panic.
Witness too the ‘smoke’ caused by the bitter recrimination and harsh words in the Middle-East Peace Process which appears to stall at any minor stumbling block. As one resident of the city said to me earlier in the week, ‘If they really wanted peace, we would have it by now.’ The intervention by other nations (which some view as interference rather than intervention) can hardly be said to help matters when some of those appointed as UN Peace Envoys are seen as having hands that are dirtied by unlawful acts of aggression on neighbouring nation states of this region. In addition, the monies which flood in from across the world into this land [State] of Israel indicates that finding a solution could well be impossible all the time that it is not free from financial, political, religious and racial 'interference' from outside.
Those who live in the West are seen by many who live here as imperialists who will do anything they can to maintain enmity amongst the people of this land as it eases their way to the oil fields. This ‘anything’ includes the setting up and bringing down of leaders [dictators] at will, as well as the arming of one side and then the other – also at will.
Alas, because of the history of this land, the label of imperialist is attached to Christianity, and so pilgrims here are viewed by many as being cynical and hypocritical. Some who live here hear the cry of anti-Semitism whenever there is a call to the Israeli authorities to show restraint in their ongoing building of settlements on land that was not granted to them in the agreements of 1967 (and because of the risk of the accusation of anti-Semitism no-one really dare comment). It is worth noting that there are Jews living in Israel who do not agree with the settlement programme.
Some Palestinians do not believe the Palestinian authorities are acting on behalf of the Palestinian people, and they most certainly don’t seem to be seen to be agreeing with what many of the people of Palestine want anyway. Because it is so difficult to live here, you will find many have moved abroad as they are unable to work, to afford housing, or even to travel to see family in different part of the Palestinian Territories due to the restrictions placed on them by the Israeli authorities.
Smoke rising over Jerusalem may well be ‘part of the scenery’ here but it doesn’t mean it is any less worrying or concerning for those who wish the people well – all the people.