There is much about this part of the Middle East that is important to three large world religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is also home to many secular Jews and others. In some parts of the country, people go about their lives as they do in many other places.
But in Jerusalem and the West Bank there is a ‘crossness’ – a deep unease that undergirds the political, cultural and social landscape. It is fed by the Zionist ideology of many (but not all) local Jews and many overseas Jews and Evangelical Christians, and by the jihadist response of some (but not all Muslims) in this region and the almost pathological hated of the state of Israel by Muslims in many countries of the world.
There is certainly plenty to fuel that hate and, for me, Zionism is deeply, deeply flawed. The separation wall, the isolation of Gaza and continued government sponsored development of Jewish settlements in the West Bank are simply incendiary. From a people who laid claim to this place as a result of the inhumanity of the holocaust and who themselves gained title by terrorism, their repression of the Muslim population is unfathomable and unconscionable. That inhumanity is bred in subsequent generations of Israelis and Muslims. Many of the Christian on both sides of the wall have already left. The Deputy a Defence Minister in the new Israeli government described Muslims – “To me they are like animals, they are not human” – this, from a rabbi.
One day as we walked to lunch at the Ecce Homo Convent in the Old City of Jerusalem, a group of young Palastinian boys coming in the opposite direction pointed sticks at us, made shooting noises and shouted “Allah Akhbar”. It was not frightening (compared to the automatic weaponry carried by Israeli youth, but the symbolism of the crossness of these lands was not lost on us.