BY NASRI AL GHAWALI
It all started in 1948, about 500 cities and towns were evacuated and depopulated. Over 700,000 individual took refuge in neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The Palestinian catastrophe of 1948 reshaped geography. Ever since then, it got worse. The conflict over the holy land heated. The capital of peace, Jerusalem, witnessed bloody battles between Israeli Jews on one side and Palestinian Muslims and Christians on the other. Unfortunately, in a sense it grew as a religious conflict. The rest of the world watched; they were nothing more than spectators with opinions the pour gasoline on fire. They were oblivious of the reality of the situation and the number of innocent people involved. Every region was blinded with what they were raised to believe. While in reality, they forgot that it is the land of the three Monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The years passed and it seemed that the idea of peace was made impossible from generation to another. But is it?
Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. It’s the home of the three Monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three religions believe in the single almighty God. The name itself means peace. The first part of the name “Jeru” comes from the Greek words “hieros” and “hierus” meaning sacred. The second part “salem” and the prevalent part comes from the words “shalem” and “shalom” which means wholeness, peace, and soundness. When the whole word interpreted together it means the sacred and peaceful place. Jerusalem is known as Yerushalayim in Hebrew and Al-Quds in Arabic. It has always been at the center of dispute. In addition, it was once believed to be at the center of the world. So much history can be dug up in the city. Every part of the city has a story to tell and a great amount of history can be found under this holy city. At the center of Jerusalem, the old city is found as one of the holiest sites on earth. It includes a great deal of historic architecture that is part of the holiest sites for the three monotheistic religions.
The city of Jerusalem has always been a special place for Jews. In Judaism, it’s considered the holiest city on earth. Jews that do not live in Jerusalem perform their prayer facing the city. The first Jewish temple is believed to have been built where the Temple Mount also known as “Al-Haram Al-Sahrif” is located in the old city. It is believed that it is where Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock stand there today. Jews living in Jerusalem and visitors of the city pray at the Western Wall or the Kotel which is located in Old Jerusalem. It is believed that the wall is the only standing part of the second Jewish temple built which is believed to include the Holy of Holiest for Jews.
On the other hand, it is just as important for Christians. During his time on earth, Jesus Christ spent a decent amount of his time in Jerusalem. He preached, healed, and died in Jerusalem. His last days were there where the last supper was held. After the last supper, Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem and crucified. Today, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands where it is believed that Jesus was crucified. Moreover, Christians believe it also has the place where Jesus was buried and he resurrected. Annually, Christian celebration of the Easter holiday starts from the Holy Sepulchre, where His tomb is located, in Jerusalem and spreads to the cities around it through the light on Holy Saturday before Easter Sunday. The church is one of the top destinations for Christian pilgrims. In fact, Arab Christians living in the West Bank get permits during the month of their holidays that allows them to visit the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Finally, Muslims value Jerusalem just as much as the two other monotheistic religions. It was the first direction of prayer, the first Qiblah, prior to Mecca. The significance is no surprise when one of three most holy mosques is located in Jerusalem. Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest mosque, is one of three mosques that the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, said to go on a journey to visit. Moreover, it is the city that the Prophet Mohammed made a trip to during the night to visit Al Aqsa and while he was in Jerusalem he was raised into heaven. This night time journey of the prophet from Mecca to Jerusalem is called Isra’ and Mi’raj, an annual holiday still celebrated today. The mosque is located on an elevated plane along with the shrine of the Dome of the Rock called the Haram Al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary. Al-Aqsa is one of the destinations that Muslims visit year round if they are able to get into Jerusalem. During the holy month of Ramadan, the greatest amount of Muslims tend to pray at Al-Aqsa every Friday. Similar to Arab Christians, Muslims living in the West Bank get permits during the months of their holidays to visit the mosque.
As it is evident, all three monotheistic religions share a spiritual attachment and admiration to the holy city of Jerusalem. Therefore, why not share more than a spiritual attachment? Jerusalem and its people have not been living their best days recently. The security situation is altering rapidly. It has been tense, unpredictable, and frustrating. There has been a series of violent incidents. This is what triggered my artwork idea of promoting peace and coexistence. The artwork represents an image that portrays a vision. It symbolizes the coexistence of all three monotheistic religions in one place. The interesting part about it is that it is not a new idea. At some point in time, this was actually real. In fact, in some parts of Palestine it still is. However, people are oblivious of it. People are oblivious that there are Palestinian Jews that actually have no problem in coexisting with Arab Muslims and Christians right now. Unfortunately, the world still views the conflict as one between Arabs against Jews. To make it worse, both sides are adding hate rather than love and peace to the equation and if this continues, results will not change.
The artwork is influenced by the violent incidents happening in Jerusalem. However, it is also influenced by Fairuz, Mahmoud Darwich, Nelson Mandela, and others. Fairuz, who describes Jerusalem as the flower of all cities, prays for the city of the prayer. Mahmoud Darwich, a Palestinian poet, who loved a Jewish girl named Rita, wrote “Between Rita and my eyes there is a rifle”. Mahmoud Darwich has been tenacious about Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. In a newspaper article in the 1960s, he shows it when he says, “Why shouldn't they understand?” referring to Jews, when their religion does not encourage what was happening back then. Furthermore, his article was interpreted by an Israeli scholar at the Tel Aviv University. The scholar explained that there is no evidence that this man hates us even though he’s an Arab. Finally, Nelson Mandela brought the apartheid to an end in South Africa. He focused on destroying the effects of the apartheid in South Africa through tackling the racism in the country through his government and sports. Personally, I am influenced by the ideas and actions of these people as much as my artwork is.
The message behind the work is to remind everyone that peace is pretty hard to accomplish, but yet it will never be impossible. Since it is hard to accomplish, it will happen by changing us then the others and as Fairuz sings “by our hands peace will return to Jerusalem”. The work is a reminder that there are places where these three religions coexisting in peace. Darwich describes Jerusalem as “the land that created the Peace and did not see a day of peace”. Therefore, if anywhere, peace should be found in Jerusalem which is the home of the three monotheistic religions.
My choice of the city of Jerusalem is not out of nowhere. I was born and raised in a neighboring city to Jerusalem named Bethlehem, located in the West Bank. Therefore, being a first row witness and victim of the violence currently happening in Jerusalem affects me more than a regular spectator outside of the country. I spent 18 years of my life in Palestine before moving to Dubai in September 2013 to major in Civil Engineering at the American University in Dubai. People are still surprised that Palestine is still my number one destination between semesters. They do not understand how beautiful and warm the place is regardless of any situation.
“Jerusalem Day: City of Peace.” The Jerusalem Post. Web. 19 Nov. 2015. http://www.jpost.com/Not-Just-News/Jerusalem-Day-City-of-peace-403116
“Palestine-Israel Journal: The Significance of Jerusalem: A Muslim Perspective.” Palestine-Israel Journal: The Significance of Jerusalem: A Muslim Perspective. Web. 19 Nov. 2015. http://www.pij.org/details.php?id=646
“The City of Peace - Jerusalem.” The City of Peace - Jerusalem. Web. 19 Nov. 2015. http://www.bibletopics.com/biblestudy/47.htm
“What Makes Jerusalem so Holy? - BBC News.” BBC News. Web. 19 Nov. 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26934435