Conventional wisdom holds that we develop our understanding of faith, spirituality and religion through our key five senses. Walking through the Old City, we notice how people of diverse backgrounds experience a deeper level of connection to the holy land through their senses, whether it be in the Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Armenian quarter. Jewish women on the gendered half of the Western Wall feel the many crevices in the sandstone, gracing the imperfections with the tips of their fingers. Outside churches, Spanish families sing prayers, line by line as the bell ding resonates in the air. Inside churches, the sweet smell of incense color the halls with an ashy grey. In the Arab quarter, the taste of fresh Middle Eastern delicacies lifts the energy beyond Al-Buraq. And the golden Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount blesses the eyes of billions around the globe.
Yet there is one sense missing, which far surpasses the five senses we hold to heart. That is, the sense of time. Time in a historical context, and time in a present-day context. Tiles on the streets of the Old City many times date back over a thousand years. Many buildings have stood for over a hundred years. What was a carpet store fifty years ago could have also been a falafel stand, a cozy bookstore or even a comfortable house over the decades. More prominently, the ownership of the holy land has changed over time. The Babylonians, Persians, Romans, the Ottoman Empire, the British and many others have previously ruled land in Jerusalem. Though the old city is home to Israel now, its historical context shapes various perceptions around this land. It is possible that a changing ownership over this land could affect the individual sense of religious freedom for holy places. It is also possible that bias may exist in the experience of visiting one of the holiest places on the globe for Christians, Muslims, Jews, Druze and Baha’is. Could this sense of time be the ultimate root for conflict in Israel today? Could a sense of time, in the context of historical ownership, be the ultimate root for conflict worldwide?
Ever since the genesis of Israel in the mid 20th century, the Israeli Declaration of Independence prioritized the respect for all religions through the protection of multiple holy sites like the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Cave of the Patriarchs. However, at that time in the summer of 1948, these sites were ruled by Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It was not until the end of 1948 that the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 94 defined the holy places as accessible by all, in line with prior rights. With this UN Resolution and the Protection of Holy Places Law from 1967, Israel has gone back and forth in fighting for and against the regulation of diverse prayers at holy sites. In the dispute to regulate prayers on the Temple Mount, the Minister of Religious Affairs had to sort out a solution with not only Chief Rabbis, but also global leaders of Islam. The present-day political and religious leaders, the history of land ownership in Israel as well as the ever-changing laws and resolutions regarding holy property access altogether influence religious freedom globally. The relations of land in a time-context as well as the decisions made by those in global roles of present-day power have been shaping religious practice for years, decades and centuries to come.
When conclusions are drawn regarding the freedom and access to holy land for such drastic periods of time, strong international conflict arises. While this is the case, we must be aware that there is more to be heard of the story of conflict beyond present-day borders. From the religious conflict within the Old City to the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is essential to do our very best in gaining a balanced perception by respectfully listening to the many stories on all geographic, religious and historical sides. Given that it is virtually impossible to obtain an objective perception, it is a human duty in the role of any conflict to not only gather in as much subjective data as possible, but to also understand that bias in and of itself is one of the most fundamental data points.
- Old City in Jerusalem: Momachi