January 10, 2009
Tough streets of the city
Lutheran bishops walked the crowded, littered and graffiti strewn streets of the West Bank city of Hebron Saturday, seeing first hand the impact of an Israeli settlement in the heart of a Palestinian city.
The modern, sleek mid-rise building in the heart of the old city of Hebron stands ringed by Israeli Defense Forces personnel and lookout posts.
In the ancient streets below, shops become sparse the closer they are to the settlement of some 500 people.
Camped in the middle of 170,000 Palestinians, the complex highlights one of the biggest problems confronting the two sides: the expanding presence of Israelis in the occupied territory of the West Bank.
The trip by bishops of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace. It runs through Jan. 13.
On Saturday, shoppers jammed the streets just a few blocks for the heart of the old city. In the older section, the few shopkeepers open for business leaped from their chairs to offer scarves, jewelry, Palestinian memorabilia and handicrafts to the conspicuous out-of-towners, some of the few pedestrians on the narrow streets.
The visit to Hebron was arranged by the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel. A unit of the World Council of Churches, the group keeps track of how Israel deals with Palestinians in territories it controls.
Just past the shops the bishops toured the Abraham Mosque, also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs. It houses the purported remains of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and other Old Testament figures.
On Sunday, the group was to split up to attend worship in the various churches of the ELCJHL and spend time with members afterward.