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Preemptively, please take note of the intended specific use of “attempted” in the title, and know that my respect for the IDF, Israeli police, and “security” guards just dropped another 5 or maybe 6 notches.

After a grueling week of working on papers, the Vietnam trip application, and a million things in between, I had a bright spot scheduled into my week. As Pope Benedict’s visit to Israel was only the third time in history that a Pope would visit this land, I desperately wanted to see and ideally hear him speak. I was in luck; my neighbor in Reznik is an Israeli-Arab Christian (that is one heck of a mix, right?), named George. He is a native of Nazareth, where the Pope was to speak on Thursday of his time here, and George’s family was nice enough to secure a ticket for me as well (we had been planning on this trip for over a month). As a matter of fact, my Class B1 (don’t know what that refers to) ticket is number 11901. I was all set and ready to go, and George assured me that leaving very early the morning of the event would leave me plenty of time. A mistake, as it turned out.

From the moment I walked out of my dorm at 7:05 AM, I was already accosted by IDF units lining the streets on Mount Scopus. As a short background, the only helipad in Jerusalem is adjacent to the Kfar haStudentim, the Student Village; given that the Pope was staying on the Mount of Olives, his route took him across the campus every day twice, which meant they absolutely closed down the place like a military prison. Therefore, instead of being able to simply walk down the hill to a bus (no traffic on the hill meant NO traffic), I had to waste 30 minutes explaining in Hebrew that yes, I had a ticket to go see the Pope, and yes, I realize that he was going to be driving this way soon, and yes I realize that the buses aren’t running on the hill, and yes I know I have to walk to a bus… as was my original intention. A lovely start to the day. It got worse; I was told to get on the wrong bus for the Israeli Central Bus Station, and thus eventually asked, found out I was misinformed, and jumped off the bus and took a cab over to the right place. I ran upstairs to the upper level and found… that the last bus towards Nazareth had recently departed, and although it was 8:12 AM, I had to wait until 9:30 AM for the next bus. Lovely.

One of the few high points of the day was the fact that the Jerusalem-Afula (the nearest drop point to Nazareth) was running on time, and quickly to boot. We got there a bit faster than the given transit time, and then I ran over and caught the connecting bus to Nazareth. As we approached, I saw massive impromptu parking lots on farmer’s fields, and police restricting traffic very much so, only allowing vehicles to approach Nazareth South. Fair enough, as the Mount of the Precipice (where the crowds gathered to hear the Pope) is on the northern part of the city. The driver let me off, and I could already see the massive 70,000 person crowd about 2 kilometers away. What was insane is that I could also hear them singing hymns from that distance… I have trouble imagining the noise to be within that crowd. I asked a policeman (in Hebrew mind you) how to get to the Pope, and he disinterestedly told me that he wasn’t from there, and didn’t know. Lovely. I started wandering towards the general direction of the hill, and picked one side of the street to wander down. That ended up being a mistake.

I arrive at the bottom of the hill, having noticed along the way that the street was gradually becoming more fortified, with police officers lining temporary metal barricades and preventing me or anyone else from crossing. I politely explain that I a Christian pilgrim, with both a Bible on me AND an authentic ticket to see the Pope, and they respond gruffly that I can “go through in a couple of moments.” Israelis and Arabs are less polite; they attempt to cross. They are made to back up and get behind the barricades by police threats of force, at which point the scum that had police uniforms on resumed asking how each other’s families were doing and other small talk. So it was a “dangerous” situation for Christian pilgrims, dehydrated tourists, and natives of the town to try and cross, but not so dangerous that those bastard police would need to be on the look-out for much of anything.

To make a long, deeply- and intensely-frustrating story short, I was trapped behind that barrier for 3 hours. I did not get to walk the last kilometer and see the Pope, even though I had a ticket and could see the area of the crowds and his stage from where I was trapped by the unnecessary, highly offensive use of oppressive police force. For 2 hours and 45 minutes, no one used the road. In the last 15 minutes, the Papal limousines drove by to pick up Benedict and his entourage. Apparently, seeing the Pope was not on the list of allowed actions by those so-called “police,” who seemed to derive pleasure from blindly but unwisely enforcing orders and thus creating visible distress amongst the dozens of people who just wanted to cross.

That tale of woe, finished, I also have to report that beyond the predominantly-Jewish police forces and soldiers preventing me from seeing the Pope all day long, George and I met up and walked around for a little while and had some “balancing out” by Muslim people around Nazareth. To be more clear: George was raised speaking Arabic, so he always knows what other Arabs are saying. I am clearly not Arabic, and he had a white-and-yellow Papal cap on, so we were clearly Christians in the eyes of the Muslims in the town. George explained to me that at the minimum, 80% of Muslim men and women we passed by called us either “pigs,” or “monkies,” or both in Arabic, due to our being Christian. This was just what I needed – after being treated like a criminal all day and thus losing the opportunity to see the Pope in the land of Israel for the third time in all of history, I really desired and required to be labeled a “pig and a monkey,” based on my religious beliefs. This wasn’t all; the Muslims who lived closest to the Greek Orthodox church said to house the original well from Mary and Joseph’s house decided to more clearly and openly signal their dislike for the Christian presence. They set up 2 subwoofers taller than I am, and blasted Latin American dance music pointing at the church, at an unthinkable level for even a party. The entire town square was rattling, and the message was clear: Christians aren’t welcome in the town of Jesus, according to the local Muslim population.

Days like that one make it harder and harder for me to fight what is right in this world. Having done nothing wrong, I was mistreated all day due to my lack of having a certain religion… I can only begin to fathom just how terrible life must be on average for George. To give more specific evidence, we met up after he got out of the Papal speeches and he had tears in his eyes: he explained to me that it was the most wonderful feeling in the entire world to feel like part of the majority and not a despised minority, if only for a few hours. I can almost tell you that hearing him say that and truly mean it almost made the rest of the day’s injustices easier bear, in a way. His family has invited me to stay at their house and tour the town when it ISN’T locked down tighter than the Guantanamo Prison… an offer I will take them up on, and hopefully blog about in the future.

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