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“You Can’t Get There from Here”

   
 


Glenn Edward Witmer, with Dr. Maureena Fritz, President of the Bat Kol Institute, at the ‘security’ wall extending past the Bethlehem checkpoint near MennoJerusalem office at Tantur. Bat Kol Institute is a school for Christians desiring to study the Bible from a Jewish perspective in a Jewish context.

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April 19, 2004
-by Glenn E. Witmer

Jerusalem — The story goes that a lost driver stopped to ask directions from a farmer by the roadside. He enquired about the town “around here somewhere. Do you know where it is?” The old man looked intently at the traveler, “Oh I know where it is, but you can’t get there from here.”

So it was on Palm Sunday when a group of more than a hundred Palestinian and international demonstrators set out on a walk from Bethlehem toward Jerusalem. For the first part of the trip, some of the group—including about 50 children—rode on donkeys. Jerusalem is just eight kilometers away but they knew the likely outcome of their efforts: they knew that as they left Bethlehem going north on the road to Jerusalem, they would soon be stopped at a military checkpoint. Internationals would likely be allowed through, but locals—those whose land this had been for centuries and generations—would probably be stopped again, forbidden to go to the Holy City for worship. The world media needed to know the truth, but how?

An idea originated from a chat between Palestinian George Rishmawi of the Holyland Trust in Bethlehem, and Pennsylvanian John Stoner of the Every Church a Peace Church movement. A demonstration! “The checkpoint is heavily militarized,” explained Rishmawi. “There is a military base with patrols going back and forth. Rooftops in the area are camouflaged, and Israeli snipers are all over the place.”

Then yes, right on cue, as we approached the checkpoint a bevy of army jeeps raced up to block the road, two dozen soldiers locked arms to block the demonstrators now seated on the roadway. A statement of ‘peaceful intent and vivid description of the injustice’ was read, then everyone peacefully rose and left. The world media had its photos and journalists their interviews. Most will never be seen in the West.

An eight-meter concrete wall keeps people apart, even people in neighboring towns; 2000 years ago Jews under Roman occupation could walk or ride donkeys to Jerusalem from Bethlehem. But if Jesus tried it now, he probably couldn’t get there from here.

Glenn E. Witmer is a Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker in Israel and publishes MennoLetter from Jerusalem. See http://www.mennonitechurch.ca/news/jerusalemletter/ for details.