Jerusalem: one city, three religions. In the hills of the Judean desert, earth and sky have always been separated by a thin line. There are many lines in this city. The western part is mainly inhabited by Israelis, the eastern side Palestinians. The Old City is divided into four quarters: Muslim, Christian, Armenian Orthodox and Jewish. It’s believed here Jesus was crucified, Muhammad went to heaven on a winged horse and the Ark of the Covenant was laid on Temple Mount. The Old City’s been fought over for 4,000 years. Its status has repeatedly derailed modern peace talks. We asked an expert why.
Sociologist and anthropologist Gideon Aran said: “Actually, the divide, the tension, the conflict is not just a religious one. Please remember that there’s a national, political divide and conflict, one atop the other. The political or religious conflict is imposed upon the national one. And the two of them together obviously are harder to solve and are much more bitter.”
The latest manifestation of religion-based strife in Israel developed around four years ago: so-called ‘price tag attacks’, mostly anti-Arab hate crimes by Jewish radicals: Palestinian olive trees torn up, their cars burnt, their tombs desecrated and houses or mosques vandalised with offensive inscriptions. Yet, particularly in the weeks leading up to the Pope’s visit, the attacks have also increasingly targeted Christian temples.
According to Aran: “Please remember, this is basically a group of hooligans, juvenile delinquents who choose their targets randomly, and they switch from Muslims to Christians — and especially Jews; that is actually their main objective: to embarrass the Jewish government and the Jewish leadership in the settlements in the occupied territories. So actually they are randomly choosing their targets.”
The Israeli security services have created a special anti-price-tag task force, yet the attacks have multiplied. Most Israelis express a disgust in the acts.
Our man in Jerusalem, Luis Carballo, said: “The Israeli poet Yehuda Amihai once wrote that the religious charge is so intense in Jerusalem that ‘everything can be the beginning of a new religion’. And yet its holiness to the three major religions and sacredness for half of humanity does not translate into peace.”