The Holy Land Israelis and Palestinians TodayDVD - 2014
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The land Israelis and Palestinians occupy is, for a third of humanity, literally holy land. And Jerusalem marks its sacred center. For Christians, this is where Jesus was crucified and resurrected. For Muslims, this is from where Muhammad journeyed to heaven. And for Jews, the Temple of Solomon stood right here. The crossroads of three great religions, the Holy Land has been coveted and fought over for centuries.
While Israelis and Palestinians have overlapping claims and struggle to share it peacefully, this land has a rich and fascinating heritage. We'll go beyond the sights, opening our minds to both narratives to better understand and empathize with the people. In Israel, we'll explore Jerusalem, and learn some of the religious customs and ideas that shape society here. And we'll walk the Golan Heights, where the importance of maintaining Israel's security is an enduring lesson.
Israel is the size of New Jersey, with 8 million people — twice the population of Palestine. While the state of Israel is young, the Jewish people have a history here going back 4,000 years. There's history everywhere, and within a two-hour drive of Jerusalem you can take a sweeping tour of sites illustrating its tumultuous past.
In 1947, after the Holocaust and the end of World War II, the United Nations helped found the modern state of Israel. And Jews, long dispersed across the world, returned to their ancient homeland. In the process, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced. And, to this day, both people struggle to find an equitable and peaceful way to share what each consider their rightful homeland.
Jerusalem is a sprawling and modern city of about 800,000 people. But its core, the Old City, is home to just 35,000. Its venerable walls corral a tangle of many of this planet's holiest sites. Within a 10-minute walk you can see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — so sacred to Christians, the Dome of the Rock — revered by Muslims, and the holiest place in Judaism: the Western Wall. For so many people, Jerusalem is the closest place on earth to heaven.
Much of Jerusalem's importance rests upon this holy site, which is both an inspiration and a flashpoint for the religions that share it. Muslims believe Muhammad journeyed to heaven from here, and they've worshipped on this spot for 1,300 years.
Jews teach that here, Abraham, as a test of his faith, was asked to sacrifice his son. God intervened and saved Isaac. They call this place Temple Mount, believe it to be the center of the earth, and have worshipped here for 3,000 years.
Exploring Jerusalem's Old City, with its tight quarters and religious passions, I was impressed by the diversity, the feeling of community, and how, all in all, things seem to work together.
The Jewish Quarter is more orderly and modern than the other quarters. Much of this area was destroyed during the 1948 fighting, or under the ensuing period of Jordanian occupation. After Israelis took control of Jerusalem in 1967, they rebuilt this quarter.
Bar mitzvahs and festivals enliven the scene. Holding the Torah high, joyous families celebrate at the most holy place in Judaism.
Radiating out from Temple Mount is Jerusalem's Old City. It's divided into four quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Armenian, and Christian.
Through the Christian Quarter winds the Via Dolorosa — the route it's believed Jesus walked as he carried the cross. Pilgrims come from around Christendom to retrace his steps.
Bethlehem, a leading Palestinian city, is the perfect first stop in the West Bank. For me, no Holy Land visit is complete or balanced without crossing the wall and learning from both narratives — Israeli and Palestinian. Suddenly, there's not a yarmulke in sight. Wandering Palestinian streets and markets, I kept thinking how easy it is to get here, how little I knew of it, and how rarely visited this land is.
While beloved among Christians as the place where Jesus was born, Bethlehem is now a mostly Muslim town. Its thriving market is a classic Arab souk. The main square bustles with commerce. And the main traffic circle comes with a memorial to locals doing time in Israeli prisons.
While all Palestinians are Arabs, not all Palestinians are Muslims. In fact, a small minority are Arab Christians.
Nativity Square marks the center of Bethlehem. Here, the Church of the Nativity is built upon the spot believed to be where Jesus was born.
What do you hope for? And what do you see in the future here in Palestine?
-I hope in whole of the world to be one family, one family. Mainly it is for life, no fightings, no killings, no explosions, no violence, to be good people. Every Friday I say this message for everybody. So I hope for everybody and I say to you I like to come to take you, your hand from here to go with each other to heavens, not alone. I'm not selfish man. I love you. I love him, I love everybody. I like this is my religion.
So there's churches but there's mosques, also, in Bethlehem?
-Bethlehem is a very holy city for the Muslims as well as the Christians. For the Muslims, Jesus is their second important prophet. They also believe in Mary; they worship her. She has a whole section in the Koran just named after her.
A whole book in the Koran, named after Mary?
-Yes, exactly, and that's why she's very important for them.
Heading back across the wall to Jerusalem, the contrasts between the West Bank and Israel are immediately obvious. Outside the Old City, we're immersed in modern Jerusalem. Joining locals in an afternoon stroll down Ben Yehuda Street, in Jerusalem's New City, we appreciate this culture's compelling mix of east and west, secular and sacred, modern and traditional.
About three-quarters of all Israelis are Jewish. But most of these are secular Jews — non-practicing. About 15 percent of Israeli Jews are Orthodox — very religious, and living conservative lifestyles that require them to be apart in many ways. Entire districts of Jerusalem are known as "ultra-Orthodox." About 20 percent of the population are Arab citizens of Israel — generally Palestinians who never left after the formation of Israel. Christians, who are mostly Arabs, make up a small and shrinking minority.
Walking down the street there are so many different fashions, different ways people dress.
-Well, that's because they express their belonging to a certain group and following a certain rabbi. Different rabbis set standards of how their followers should be dressed.
What does the block on the forehead indicate?
-Well, in the Scripture, it says you should always have the love of God on your mind. So in that capsule they have a parchment with that Scripture.
What's the significance of the yarmulke?
-Jews wear yarmulkes because they are constantly reminding themselves that God is above them.
Ah, so everybody who's wearing a yarmulke, it's a constant reminder the maker is up above.
Now you see a lot of Orthodox, even the little boys, with long ear locks.
-Regarding the ear locks, the Torah is very specific: "Thou shalt not shave the sides of your face." And these people take those words as it is written.
You notice women are dressed quite modestly.
-The Orthodox women are always dressed modestly. But when they get married they take it one step upwards, and they cover their hair in public. Regarding the hats, it's part of, actually, the uniform defining which movement you belong to. So, by looking at somebody, you can tell if he's Ashkenazi, and which movement amongst the Ashkenazi, or Sephardi, or Lithuanian, and so on and so forth.
So there are many different stripes of Orthodoxy in the Jewish faith.
-Definitely. In Jerusalem 19, amongst the ultra-Orthodox.
And it's like the rabbis are almost like pop stars — they have their own following. These are the great teachers.
-Uh, more than pop stars.
-More than pop stars, sure. Put it this way: They're spiritual stars, without the pop.
Today, just a couple generations later, the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv stand like exclamation points declaring, "we've come a long way."
The state of Israel was born, in part, out of the Holocaust, a defining event in the long history of the Jews. To appreciate the impact of the Holocaust, critical in understanding the psyche of today's Israel, visit Yad Vashem. This powerful museum and memorial chronicles the systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany.
Its Hall of Names is a project designed to give every victim the dignity of simply being named and recorded. This archive aspires to catalog and therefore remember each of the 6 million victims.
Yad Vashem also celebrates the creation of modern Israel. It shows the spirit of Zionism — that determination of those who came both as concentration-camp survivors and refugees from Europe to forge for themselves a state for the Jewish people.
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