Putting the Holy! in Holy Land

Yasser Arafat was laid to rest Friday at his former West Bank headquarters. As Reuters related the story, "A chaotic crush of mourners filling the air with gunfire forced a hasty burial." In response to this mob action, "only a small clutch of beleaguered senior officials and security officers in a tight circle saw his casket lowered into a black marble grave."

Now, amid accusations of poisoning and denials by the State of Israel that the government had anything to do with his death, as well as calls for an autopsy, people are taking stock of Arafat's legacy, and trying to figure out what comes next.

According to a recent piece in Christianity Today by Rob Moll, "Palestinian Christians view Israel, not Arafat, as the problem." A pastor of Peace Jerusalem Baptist Church told Moll, "The Christian community particularly will regret the departure of Arafat because he was very, very much at peace and also in solidarity with the Christian community in the Holy Land."

A rejoinder to this might be a Thursday Jerusalem Post story about the slow but steady disappearance of Christians from the Holy Land. The number of Palestinian Christians continues to drop as later generations either convert to Islam or leave the region. And the picture on the other side of the wall is far from a rosy one. According to Motti Levy, an adviser to the Jerusalem government, maybe 10,000 Christians now live in the town of 700,000 people. Strict laws against proselytizing make that number unlikely to increase dramatically.

Levy stressed that Christians in Israel enjoy the full complement of rights but he also blanched at the recent "Spitting Jews" incident -- in which a yeshiva student hocked a lugi at a cross that was being carried during a procession near the Holy Sepulcher -- which led to a minor brawl and international headlines.

It used to be that Christians -- evangelical and otherwise -- would flock to Israel by the planeload to get a better feel for the setting of much of the Bible. But Jesus tourism has taken a hit in the last few years, as Palestinian-to-Israeli suicide bombings and Israeli retaliations have blown most plans to walk on the Sea of Galilee right out of the water.

Bad news all around, I'm afraid, but the Post did carry this nice little feature (if it makes it any easier here are both pages) on the nuns of the Monastery of St. Claire, in Jerusalem's Abu Tor neighborhood.

The story does a good job of letting readers in on little details of the rules and ways of this cloister. The sisters are generally silent except for the hour or so a day of recreation time. One exception to this rule is when the nuns are "having a horrible day" and "need to vent in order to get on."

And "closed," in this case, is far from clueless. A nun is assigned to listen to radio broadcasts at least once a day in order to know how to advise the nuns how to pray for the wider community. At the peak of the intifada, "she would turn on the radio several times." Hopefully, the sister won't have to go back to frequent updates any time soon.

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