Monday, December 19, 2005

Pilgrimage to Bethlehem; A Trek Towards Peace?

This past week, Mahmoud Abbas called for a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, to Rachel's tomb, to Bilal's Mosque. While some considered this an insignificant plea, unlikely to be followed, this is actually a very important step for the Palestinian people.

Rachel's tomb is one of the holiest sites in the Muslim world. Some Palestinian friends say that while there are disparities between Mecca or the Dome of the Rock and Bilal's Mosque, those same people ask whether the Mosque would be in the same ilk if it had be more adorned and more revered. The Mosque is seen as a national treasure to the Palestinians, and a potentially similar treasure to the whole Muslim world.

I should preface this by saying that most of the Palestinians I knew were national Palestinians, Palestinians that had lived in Israel, the West Bank or Gaza Strip after the 1967 war. These people had lived through Israel's occupation, through their tyranny and through their oppression.

I mention this because the goals of the National Palestinians are often different from the goals of, for lack of a better term, Diaspora Palestinians, or the Palestinians that left the country after the war, heading to Egypt, Jordan, or Lebanon. According to my reading (i.e. not first hand), Diaspora Palestinians strive for the return to a Palestinian Jerusalem and the borders approved in UN Resolution 181, passed in November 1947.

But the national Palestinians I spoke to spoke of freedom from tyranny and a government that represented their needs. They spoke of the right to live their lives and support their families in peace and without the fears associated with day-to-day life in Palestine today. On the topic of Jerusalem, I commonly heard that Jerusalem is rightfully Palestinian, but I don't hear that Jerusalem has to be the capital of the Palestinian state. That seems to be of secondary priority.

To these Palestinians, who simply look to create a better life than the one they've been suffering through for the past 40 years, Jerusalem is more than the home of one of the holiest sites in the Muslim world; it is a destination for millions of Muslim people annually. Jerusalem becomes the dominant source of revenue for many of these people in a country with minimal natural resources.

Bethlehem could have the same draw. The city needs development, and either Bilal's Mosque needs to be built up in the type of splendor that will draw the Muslim world or a new Mosque of amazing splendor needs to be built in Bethlehem, but there is no question of the Muslim significance of the city, and, with new borders opening to the Palestinian territories, I believe the Muslim world, as well as the Christian world, will come to see the holy city.

What if Israel were willing to pay for this type of development, as a first step towards peace? To help in the type of development that would contribute not only to the existence of the Palestinian people, but to their livelihood, to their lifestyle and their happiness. Don't the Israelis owe this to the Palestinians? And isn't it a good first step towards real repayment for past actions?

Posted by Scottage at 2:22 PM / | |