27 August 2008

Juxtaposition in Jerusalem

Imagine a city that's the host nation considers its capital but lacks foreign embassies. A city that is almost completely segregated between its two primary demographic groups. The city was physically sepated a few decades ago of which half has since been officially annexed by the host country, but is still considered to be an occupied territory according to some accounts.

Make that city the home of the holiest sites of two major religions and home to very holy sites for a third. Between these religions, add some talk about a "war of civilizations" and "existential struggle" just to heat things up a bit. Don't only put these sites close to one another, but litterally layer them in some cases.

Visit these holy sites and you'll see devout pilgrims rubbing oil onto a slab of marble, tourist snapping pictures of the fragment of a rock, trash-strewn courtyards with middle-aged men sipping tea, barriers seperating the sexes and the religions, as well as metal detectors, cardboard yarmulkes, and guards with assault rifles to keep everything in order.

The atmosphere is tense but rarely boils over. Encroachment is the favorite passtime, inevitably a zero-sum game in a city hemmed in by walls and mountains.. The struggle is constant and often (though not always) subtle; it's rarely a punch in the face, more often an elbow to the ribs in a crowded elevator.

It's inextricably complicated and will presumably remain so for centuries to come. It's Jersusalem; the center of the world for some, the end of the world for others.

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