Sunday Morning at St Andrew’s Church we experienced Christian worship with an inter-faith dimension, joined by holidaymakers and the regular congregation. Hymns, Bible readings and prayers were interspersed by readings from representatives of the other faiths. Finlay Macdonald's sermon, based on the Genesis 25 story of conflict among brothers, was wise and relevant.
After the service we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust History Museum. The architecture is simple, stark, concrete. A monumental mausoleum bearing the inscription, “I will put my breath in you, and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil” (Ezekiel 37:14). “Tell your children about it, and let your children tell theirs and their children the next generation” (Joel 1:3). That is exactly what it does.
A story of jealousy and mistrust, of hatred and violence, of ghettos and death camps. But also humanity alongside inhumanity; heroism in suffering; dignity amidst indignity. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust, a quarter of them children.
One display caught my eye. The Auschwitz Crematorium in sculpted plaster. Row upon row of Bosch-like figures, tormented, desperately realising their fate. Writhing, realising their hopeless despair, awaiting their inevitable hell.
Our reactions? For some numbed silence. Few felt like talking under such attrition of images, texts and witness testimony. For others obvious distress, struggling to assimilate what had been presented. For still others a sense of hope.
Yad Vashem seemed both a nation’s memory and its soul: a cathartic cataloguing and a deep sense of identity, invisible but present, living on through generations. It is a work intended to make a nation free, paradoxically tying it to its past. A nation that still recalls Egypt will never forget Germany.
In the afternoon we visited Ramallah, the capital city of the Palestinian West Bank. Its contrast with Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is stark, being neither a land of tourists nor thriving commerce.
Our first stop was The Rocky Hotel to meet representatives of One Voice (Palestine). One Voice is a social movement working on both sides of the divide to end conflict by seeking peaceful resolution. It believes both Palestinians and Israelis should have the right to their own state and security, but does not propose a specific solution.
Nisreen Shahin, the General Director, is bright, young, articulate, sharp-suited and focused, aided by enthusiastic young deputies. She believes grassroots involvement is important in pushing the negotiation process. The focus is on young people. One Voice works with all the schools in Gaza and the West Bank. Nisreen and her team believe people need to discuss the hard issues at the heart of the conflict and imagine a progressive and peaceful future. Developing, training and empowering youthful leaders is key, and every month over 60 youth are recruited.
Anthony, one of the Scottish pilgrims, is the President of One Voice in Glasgow.
We also met Dr Barghouti at the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. He is used to processions of political and religious tourists. Wasting no time on unnecessary preliminaries or token back-slapping he presented his analysis of the relationship between Israel and the West Bank, past, present and future. His thesis was of Israel’s expansionist intentions, consistently undermining the integrity of the Palestinian boundaries, and its interventionism emasculating the role of the Palestinian Authority, and he provided an antidote to any false sense of easy hope which a week of conversations with positive peacemakers may have encouraged. Some considered it a dose of realism and a necessary alternative view. Others struggled to accept both its content and tenor, rejecting the notion of Palestinians as ‘victims of the victims’. Following on closely from Yad Vashem it was difficult to be dispassionate.
At St Andrew’s (Anglican) Church we met the personable and engaging Rev. Nael Abu Rahmoun. He spoke about faith and religion in a traditionally Christian city where the minority Christian community have good relations with their Moslem neighbours. Faith leaders are on good terms, but there is still scope for further inter-faith dialogue. He believes spirituality can be found in all the religions, saying “God is lucky to have all of us.”
Back in Jerusalem in the evening we heard three speakers. the first was Dr Mustafa Abu Sway, Professor of Philosophy & Islamic Studies at Al-Quds University, Jerusalem, who believes that inter-faith dialogue has weaknesses, being elitist, eclectic and sporadic. In his opinion, we not only need to pursue peace, but also justice, which has the support of all three Abrahamic religions. He also saw future water supplies as an enormous issue, not addressed by Oslo or other agreements.
Elana Rozenman and Arnold Roth shared their stories of coping with the murder of a family member. In 1997 Elana’s 16 year-old son was injured in a suicide bombing suffering 50% burns, and it took two harrowing years to nurse him back to health. In 2001 Arnold’s 16 year-old daughter Malki was one of fifteen young people killed by a bombing in Jerusalem at a time when the family was already coping with providing constant care to a severely disabled 6 year-old daughter.
Both Elana and Arnold made conscious decisions to channel their grief and passion into making a positive difference, and, turning bloody--minded survival into a virtue, they provide compassion with a strong edge.
Elana founded TRUST– Emun, a women-led non-profit organisation which builds mutual trust and understanding through education, reconciliation, healing, non-violence and love. Although led by Israeli Jewish women its work is inter-faith.
Arnold founded Keren Malki, a trust inspired by Malki’s life, which supports families with disabled children who, without the provision of equipment, resources and various therapies would have to enter institutional care.
Martin Hill is the Salvation Army Divisional Commander responsible for the organisation's church and social service work in North Scotland.