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Dr. Catherine Chatterley

View of Jerusalem from Yad Vashem
Photo by C. Chatterley

The Western Wall
Photo by C. Chatterley


By Dr. Catherine Chatterley, Jan 27, 2014

Editor's note: Dr. Chatterley just returned from her first trip to Israel as part of the Canadian PM's delegation. In the article below she reflects on her experiences at some of the places she visited.

Click here for photographs of Jerusalem in a slideshow made for my students.

The Muristan

Most of the shops in the Muristan (streets and shops of the Christian quarter) are owned by Palestinian Muslims who cater to Christian pilgrims by selling all sorts of icons, sacred objects, and jewelry. I met a family with several stores very close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and spent an hour talking to two brothers in their 50s and their father, who as a young boy fled Jerusalem for Hebron in the midst of the 1948 war. I was shopping for (Christian) gifts for my parents and when they discovered that I was Canadian they were very curious to know why the Prime Minister was visiting the area. They served me fresh lemonade, gave me a bottle of Holy Water from the River Jordan (where Jesus was immersed by John the Baptist—think mikveh rather than baptismal font), and showed me all sorts of photographs of the father with the Jordanian King—he owned a travel company in his early years.

The Muezzin sang the afternoon call to prayer while I was in the store and it was really beautiful in that context. I asked the son if he had to go to the mosque now and he explained that people do their own thing in that area of the Old City. Some people pray in their stores or not at all, but it is best to pray at the mosque, he said.

The father was a very dignified man in a shirt and tie with impeccable English. He expressed his frustration with the politics of the region, with the Israeli government, with the Palestinian leadership and its corruption, and with the American peace process, which he did not seem to trust or value. I empathized with their frustration and exhaustion.

Then, the father told me in no uncertain terms: “there are ten million Jews in the United States and they run the world.”

I thought, oh boy, you have no idea who you have sitting in your shop.

I corrected him and said, “No, there are six million Jews in the US and six million Jews in Israel, with a total population of 14 million in the world. And Jews do not run the world—this is a fallacy.” I explained that all democracies have lobbies and that whether we like it or not this is how the political process operates, especially in the US. Israel has a lobby but so do many other nations and industries and causes. I tried to explain that the same WASP elites are in powerful positions in the Americas and Europe, just as they have been until recently in the Middle East. Overall, and despite centuries of persecution and exclusion, Jews have been a successful but tiny minority in the modern West, and while diaspora Jewry certainly supports Israel, they hardly control the world.

I am not sure whether my words had any impact on their thinking, but I hope they did. I gave them CISA’s website and told them to check it out. They continued to recognize me by name in the Muristan and welcome me in for tea in subsequent days on my way past their stores, clearly demonstrating an incredibly dignified hospitality and a willingness to have a civil discussion. 

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Old City is truly one of the most fascinating places on earth and its holy sites are mythological in their spiritual profundity and historical significance. I felt a deep sense of peace in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre despite the enormous crowds and somewhat chaotic atmosphere. People tell you that it will be impossible to pray or meditate in this gigantic structure for these reasons, but that was not my experience at all. There is today a broad consensus that the tomb of Jesus is actually located in the Aedicule, while debate continues on the actual location of Calvary (Golgotha), the site of Jesus’s crucifixion. Both the tomb and the site of execution were outside the city walls at the time (somewhere between 27 and 33 CE). The Church of the Holy Sepulchre houses the tomb, Calvary, the Anointing Stone (where Jesus’s body was washed and anointed before burial), the scourging pillar, and the area where Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, is believed to have found the True Cross.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has a very complex history having been destroyed by Muslim armies, several fires, renovated constantly, and eventually expanded to incorporate, under one roof, a number of individual chapels. Today’s structure is largely the product of renovations by the European Crusaders. The church is shared by several denominations: Eastern Orthodoxy (most adherents live in Eastern Europe, Greece, and the Middle East), Oriental Orthodoxy (including the Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Syriac, Malankara Syrian, and Armenian Apostolic churches), and Roman Catholicism. It is also the main office for the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Several Protestant sects recognize another site called the Garden Tomb (outside the Old City in East Jerusalem) as the location of the crucifixion and tomb, although there is very little scholarly support for this view.

Still today two Muslim families named Joudeh and Nusseibeh keep the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In the morning, a male member of the first clan opens the church and a male member of the second clan locks the church doors every evening. Very little changes here because of the deep divisions and battles for control between these Christian sects as symbolized by the “Immovable Ladder,” lying under the window at the front of the church since the 18th century, and the church’s system of Status Quo: an understanding that no cleric of the six ecumenical Christian orders may move, rearrange, or alter any property without the consent of all six orders (Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Coptic Christians, and Ethiopians).

The young Greek Orthodox monks who administer the visits to the tomb inside the church, letting ten or so people in at a time, are pretty crusty characters. The physical brawls that have happened between denominations over perceived slights and conflicts over territory are not so surprising once you meet the young men who maintain the place. However, I noticed one of these young men affected by a dark-haired young woman holding a

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