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Out of the way, we come here to pray!

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 02.03.2015:

Column from Bethlehem

Toine van Teeffelen

March 1, 2015

Near Rachel’s Tomb the wide Hebron Rd narrows down to a small corridor separating the houses along the road from the Wall which splits the neighborhood. Then the road disappears for a hundred meter. My colleagues, together with visitors, are fixing 8 new Wall story posters there. We put a large street name sign. The little alley is now called Apartheid Avenue.

The road to the Tomb along which this Apartheid Avenue runs is hemmed in by the Wall and only accessible from Jerusalem, not from Bethlehem. Palestinians from the West Bank cannot visit the Tomb, except by Jerusalem permit. They also cannot visit other holy places in Jerusalem and Israel, except by permit.

Our street name action is not only a comment on the situation around Rachel’s Tomb. The present traffic and geographical name signing on the West Bank roads carries a hidden message. They suggest that the West Bank is a normal part of Israel in which Israeli roads and settlements have similar status as Palestinian cities and roads. Or actually have a higher status, as the street and town signs on the West Bank roads usually highlight settlements. The traffic signs suggest there is no occupation. Our new street sign undermines this normalization, a little.

Reading a couple of small reports in Ma’an, the Palestinian news agency, it is clear that even when there is no Wall around a holy place like Rachel’s Tomb, Israeli pilgrims have their special ways of accessing holy sites in the West Bank. Look at the story of an Israeli pilgrimage to the village of Kafr Haris near the West Bank city of Salfit, last week.

This village hosts a number of tombs including a sanctuary which Jewish Israelis associate with the Biblical figure of Joshua. In their turn, the village dwellers associate the tombs with Moslem welis, local saints. It is actually quite common in the West Bank and Israel to find holy places that carry different meanings in the different religions. This wasn’t a problem years ago but rather an expression of cultural richness.

The pilgrimage to Kafr Haris turns out to be a military operation. A few hundreds of Israelis come to visit the sanctuary. Some dozens of jeeps close all entry roads to the village, and the local shops are forced to close for three hours. Out of the way, we come here to pray!

Other brief Ma’an reports of last week tell about more unholy visits. Last week some settler youth, no doubt very religious, wrote graffiti in an Orthodox monastery in East-Jerusalem, including “Jesus is the son of a whore.” A West Bank mosque was put on fire (could be fortunately rescued in time), and was sprayed with “Death to the Arabs”. A school in a village near Nablus was similarly sprayed.

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