"If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!
But now they are hidden from your eyes." (Luke 19:42)
I was born and lived all my life in Ramallah, Palestine -one of the beautiful summer resorts in the Jerusalem mountain range. It is only fifteen kilometers north of Jerusalem. From the roof of my home, I can look south and see Jerusalem glittering like a ball of crystal in the night and agonize that I am not allowed to go there.
Jerusalem has always been for us the center, the heart that pumped life into all of Palestine. We travel to Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho and Gaza. Without Jerusalem, Palestine is disjointed.
All my children and seven grandchildren were born in Jerusalem. We have been treated in its hospitals. We [used to go] there for worship, cultural activities, visits to family members, for work and for getting visas to travel. Jerusalem is in the heart of every Palestinian.
You see it in pictures, carvings, paintings and posters in our homes, schools, public buildings, taxis and buses. You hear beautiful songs about it. Jerusalem is called the flower of all cities - the holy- the pure. As you walk in its Old City, you can smell the aroma of so many spices and incense. You see all kinds of candles and handicrafts. You are surrounded by a Christian heritage of artistic and architectural achievement, which provides a testimony to the power of faith embodied in the history of Christian art. You hear the bells of the churches joined by the muezzins, the call to prayer, from minarets within the city.
For me, Jerusalem [has always represented] freedom of mind, diversity and universality. No exclusiveness of God; rather God within the reach of every creature. Here I learned that the dignity of the individual is more important than all the protocols and rituals, and our actions should be motivated by love rather than by the law. Prophets, mystics and priests, may point the ways to faith and we may choose to follow whom we will.
Jerusalem is a microcosm of the current conflict. It can either stand as a barrier or a gateway to peace. If Israel continues to insist on its present discriminatory policies, the international community and Palestinians will insist even more boldly on an inclusive Jerusalem and a political configuration that honors the human and civil rights of all, in equal measure.
The three religions speak about peace and the peace of Jerusalem, but religions have taken us down the road to war. And this is not just a matter of history. In defense of creed or dogma, some people would rather kill than love their brothers and sisters of different faiths and nationalities. "Thou shall not kill" loses much of its meaning in our world where violence has become not only the last but also increasingly the first resort when faced with problems.
Looking at Jerusalem today as a microcosm of the problems that we and our religious traditions have created, I believe religious people can make clear contributions to the peace of Jerusalem if we focus on common values:
§ First, we must emphasize pluralism in a place where everyone has a stake in a multireligious and peaceful future;
§ Second, we must extend a hand across boundaries to those who are hungry, who are poor and who are victims of injustice. All people are equal before God. There are no second-class persons. And compassion is at the heart of all our religious traditions.
§ Third, we must stress the importance of caring for the earth and its limited resources, even and especially here in Jerusalem. Nature is not only here to be used at the convenience of the human being; the human being is also part of nature.
§ Fourth, we must try on all sides to inspire courage and hope. We will need courage to manage our fears and confront the complexity of our city. We will need hope, without which the difficulties will overwhelm us.
§ Finally, we must be advocates for the rule of international law and peace, based on justice.
Jews, Christians and Muslims and Christians should unite to preserve their presence and their rights in Jerusalem. This cannot be accomplished in a separate, chauvinistic way, but must aim to enrich the diversity of the city, and to serve with others the one God whom we all worship.
We all have a role to help build a future based on peaceful coexistence with our neighbors; one that upholds democracy, human rights, and equality for all, including women. Our faith should compel us to work for a comprehensive peace for all, without exceptions. Jerusalem should be a symbol of that work, a symbol of sisterhood and brotherhood, a holy place of reconciliation for humankind, and a promise of the presence of God. This is our agenda for Jerusalem. This should be our plan of action.
This article is adapted from "Jerusalem: Al Quds, The Holy" in Occupied with Nonviolence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks by Jean Zaru (Fortress Press, 2008).