Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter in Jerusalem

Imagine the following scenario in Sydney this Easter: The government has blocked all entry points to Sydney's CBD and only those Catholics issued with permits to access St Mary's Cathedral are allowed through. Thousands of soldiers and police have been deployed in the area and have assaulted some of the worshipers seeking entry to the Cathedral.

Impossible to imagine? Substitute Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem for Sydney's CBD and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for St Mary's Cathedral and you've got Easter in Jerusalem this year.

Welcome to Jerusalem, the Eternal, United, Undivided Capital of Israel.

Typically, none of this was reported in the Australian corporate media.* Nor, I venture to add, in hope of contradiction, did any of our church leaders say a word about it. And our politicians? Forget it. But what of those who parade their 'Christian' credentials? Sorry, they appear to be all Christian Zionists these days.

Remember the dhimmi, beloved ideological weapon of Zionist propagandists and Islamophobes?

The dhimmi (an Arabic word meaning a free, non-Muslim subject living in a Muslim country) is the allegedly persecuted non-Muslim (Christian or Jewish) community living under the yoke of Muslim despotism. Dhimmis, so the story goes, having suffered the great misfortune to have once been conquered by Muslims, have been living ever since without any legal rights as second-class non-citizens in Muslim states.

How ironic then, in light of this construct, to hear Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem this Easter railing that "all of the people have the right to access their holy site without harassment, to practice their traditions that have been performed for hundreds of years without any obstacles. The Jerusalem Patriarchate announces its total rejection of all procedures that prevent followers and those of other denominations from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during Good Friday and Holy Fire Saturday." (Tensions high as Christians flock to Jerusalem, Ma'an News Agency, 3/4/10)

But what would the Greek Orthodox Patriarch really know? Surely Palestinian Christians are faring better under Jerusalem's current Jewish rulers than ever they were under the grinding heel of the Muslim Arab or his successor the Muslim Turk?

But what if those days under Arab and Turkish 'tyranny' were, in hindsight, The Good Old Days?

Here's the first British Governor of Jerusalem (1918-1926), Sir Ronald Storrs, writing about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the time of its passing into British hands:

"The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was for some time guarded by British, French and Italian sentries, and was Out of Bounds to the soldiers who had fought to free it from Ottoman rule. This rule, here at least not oppressive, had been represented within by an hereditary Moslem guardian, a dignified figure in turban and quftan, whose ancestor had been appointed to the place by Omar, the conqueror of Palestine in the 7th century. Strong suggestions were made to me by undenominational Christians that this Moslem ward over the holiest place in Christendom was an outrage, which no Christian Governor should tolerate. Few of these critics had ever entered the Holy Sepulchre (or indeed any other church): none had paused to consider what manner of Christian would have proved an acceptable candidate for the post. The Orthodox community would never have tolerated a Roman Catholic; nor a Roman an Orthodox or an Anglican - even if the Anglican Church had possessed, or aspired to 'rights' in the Sepulchre. Neither could have endured a Protestant - assuming that any Protestant would have consented to act. The Shaikh did his work well, maintaining the Status Quo and public order as long as he could, and on occasion calling on the police. I will go so far as to say that he was the one functionary, military, civil or religious, from High Commissioner to municipal scavenger, against whom throughout my 9 years in Jerusalem I never heard a complaint." (Orientations, 1939, p 308)

[*As usual, far from the action, Fairfax's Middle East correspondent, Jason Koutsoukis, was busy chronicling the ravings of a Romanian tourist cavorting in the polluted waters of the Jordan River: "'This is the water that Jesus was washed in', he said. 'This water belongs to God. Why would God want to make anyone sick with this holy water?' Watching a euphoric Mr Ferraro splash around the River Jordan as if it was his bathtub, few could doubt his sincerity. But when he started gargling the muddy concoction, some might reasonably have questioned his mental health." (There's nothing like a dunking in dirty water, Sydney Morning Herald, 2-4/4/10)]

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