After celebrating the 100th anniversary of Augusta Victoria Hospital on Sunday, we returned Tuesday for a tour of the facility. The hospital located on the Mount of Olives is a project of Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and primarily serves Palestinians. It is one of the few cancer hospitals and the only place for children from the West Bank to receive kidney dialysis. Because of the challenges of getting from the West Bank and Gaza to Jerusalem, hospital staff spend much time getting permits so patients can receive needed treatment.
We are finding Jerusalem to be a very international city with people of 3 faiths—Jewish, Muslim, and Christian. Yet it is extremely segregated with Palestinians (Muslim and Christian) in East Jerusalem speaking Arabic and the Jewish population in the very modern West Jerusalem speaking Hebrew. Highlights of the day included:
- Learning about LWF’s planned Mount of Olives Housing Project. The Christian population has been cut in half since 1948 and the building would provide affordable housing for Christians. Much of the money has been raised. Now they must prove title to the land, going back to the Ottoman Empire, and get all the necessary building permits. A lengthy, complicated process.
- Receiving a tour from Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolition (ICAHD). In this area, when a family grows, they add another story to a home so the extended family can live together. If someone builds without a permit, the government may demolish the house. For Palestinians, maybe 10 of every 300 permits applied for is actually granted. We saw demolished houses and spoke with a family whose 37 family members have been evicted and are camping out in the street while Jewish settlers live in their home.
- Eating dinner in Ramallah. While things for Palestinians seemed hopeless on the ICAHD tour, Ramallah proved to be a thriving Muslim city in the West Bank.
- Walking through the checkpoint on the way back to Jerusalem after a few hours in Ramallah. We took the bus, and all passengers (mostly Palestinians) had to get off the bus and prove they have the proper papers to go into Jerusalem. The driver told us we could sit down (because of our skin color and our passports) but we wanted the experience, which can take hours and be very humiliating. Because it was quiet, we got right through.
We finished our day with closing worship on the rooftop of Ecce Homo, the convent where we are staying. We had communion overlooking several mosques, churches, and the distant Wailing Wall where Jewish songs rose up. As I heard the words, “This is my body; this is my blood,” I realized that Jesus’ words were originally spoken in a city and time of tension between different peoples. The ongoing tensions over this place are challenging but seem to make more sense to me.