James Mercer – Bending the Tram Lines – Vulnerable Seeds of Hope in Israel/Palestine


Jerusalem tram line (source, here)

Tram L1 is busy. It glides smoothly from its mid-route stop at Damascus Gate, in the shadow of the Old City, west towards Mount Herzl – passing through the European suburbs of West Jerusalem. An armed soldier stands carelessly at the front of the bus, sub-machine gun suspended on his back, disconcertingly casually assertive. Plain clothes security officers, conspicuous in the concealed anti-stab vests, stroll seemingly indifferently between the carriages.

Mount Herzl is the end of the line. Alighting here, the path descends towards a concrete prism-like structure that penetrates the mountain from one side to the other. Entering the  structure, with its changing sequence of spaces and shaded and sloping floors, gives the illusion of a descent deep into the mountain. A dramatic sun-filled exit opens to thrilling views of the ever expanding white city of Jerusalem. This is Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and memorial.

It is a sobering and chilling place to be. The planned destruction of European Jews is presented with graphic and sensibility numbing clarity. Conversations are hushed. Newly conscripted members of the Israeli Defence Force are inducted into their story.

The precision of the Nazis’ intentions, plans and actions to eliminate the Jews are made all the more discomforting by the very ordinariness of their administrative procedures, exemplified by the functionally minuted proceedings of the Wanasee Conference on 20 January 1942. At 56–58 Am Großen Wannsee, fifteen men signed off finishing touches to the Final Solution. The meeting lasted ninety minutes.

The Nazis had a complementary policy – to reduce the ‘superfluous population’ of the conquered territories by 30 million people, through starvation, in an action called the Hunger Plan. Cities and their ancient heritage would be razed and the land allowed to return to forest or resettled by German colonists.

Yad Vashem tells a dark story of the barely comprehensible, casual brutality and soulless inhumanity of ethnic cleansing on an industrial scale. It marks the culmination of a millennia of persecution, mistrust and profound betrayal. It is the history that provides the raison d’être of Israel’s national state. It is the founding story determining a world view, a social psyche. How can it not be? The glimpsed expansive modern city sprawling over the hills of Jerusalem affirms an agenda of settlement, permanence and security – at all costs, for today and for tomorrow.

To ride tram L1 east beyond the Damascus Gate, to the still under-construction terminus at Heyl Ha-Avir, is a journey through invisible borders…

Read HERE the rest of this fascinating story of an almost hopeless situation.

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Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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