Monday, June 16, 2014

A Light Unto the Nations

It was extra busy in Jerusalem's Old City this evening. First thousands of Jews packed into the Western Wall plaza, filling it to capacity in a solemn prayer vigil for the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped last Thursday by Palestinian terrorists.

About an hour later thousands more people began streaming into the Old City for the annual Light Show spectacular, in which the historic walls become a canvas for dazzling light installations, a glorious melding of art, modern technology and this city's ancient beauty.

Many of the displays drew inspiration from Jerusalem's rich history, taking motifs from the cultures who've left their mark upon her: Jews, Byzantine, Crusader and Armenian Christians, Arab, Persian and Ottoman Muslims. A breathtaking projection on the Damascus Gate painted the walls with designs inspired by all of these, a great cheer going up from the Arab youth congregating by the steps when an image of the Dome of the Rock in all its glory illuminated the historic site.

As always the Light Festival brings together so many diverse populations purely for the pleasure of enjoying the sights: Muslim families in chic hijabs and jilbabs, Greek Orthodox clergy, Jews of every denomination, persuasion and dress code, Christian pilgrims pausing in the alleys for impromptu songs of praise, Breslev Hassidim breaking into ecstatic dance, local Armenian Christians and tourists from around the globe. Everywhere you are surrounded by a babble of languages, everyone marvelling in delight at the wonders created by the lights.

It's part of what I love about walking through the heart of Jerusalem, the optimism this casual co-existence provides, people who are ideological enemies, people who believe in opposite ideas, and yet on a day to day basis find a way to get along, not just in the hospitals and market places where common need unites them, but also for entertainment, to stroll shoulder to shoulder amongst the crowds enjoying an evening out. I don't kid myself that a beautiful Light Show will bring peace to the Middle East, but it feels like glimpse of what this region could be.

Tonight though I found myself looking around me and wondering whether the Arab families walking besides me were also thinking about the fate of those three Jewish teenagers kidnapped Thursday night. Earlier today we saw pictures of Palestinian women celebrating the kidnapping with sweets, were any of these elderly traditionally dressed Arab women also delighting in the kidnapping of three defenceless boys?

From my horribly rusty Arabic all I heard was mothers pointing out the colours and shapes of the displays to their children, grandmothers admonishing little ones to stay away from the road and watch out for cars, kids excitingly calling to their parents to show them some new delight.

So was I just being paranoid? And yet, and yet, time and time again we see people who are otherwise decent people and yet support terrorism against civilians. I hate the terrorists who believe that kidnapping teenagers is a just means of advancing their cause. I hate the terrorists too for making me look at my Arab neighbours and wonder what I was wondering tonight, and I suppose in part that is exactly what the terrorists want, to jab a knife through that hope of coexistence, to prevent ordinary people from just finding a way to get along, however imperfectly.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for the friendship and continued co-existence of her people. Pray for the safe return of our three kidnapped boys, and for the safety of all the decent people of every faith who pray for their safe return.

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