Thursday December 14, 2017
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My yoghurt sticks are not offensive!

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By Rebecca McCourtie

Despite the title of this series, I have always considered myself to be a good girl. Sure I have done the odd naughty thing on occasion, like had one too many vinos or dropped the F-bomb when it hasn’t been appropriate to do so, BUT I pride myself on the fact that I am on the verge of 30 and I have never been ‘kicked-out’ of anything. I have never been kicked-out of a bar. I have never been kicked-out of a pub or a club. I have never been kicked-out of a cinema. Fact is, I have never been kicked out of anything because I am a good girl… well, until today! Today I was kicked out of a church!

rebecca 4Allow me to back-peddle if I may and explain to you where exactly I am. Contrary to my assertion above, I did a naughty thing. I came to Jerusalem. I came to Jerusalem even though I told my Mum I wouldn’t. You see, my Mum and I have a very close relationship. I tell my Mumma err-thing about err-thing. The one thing she didn’t want me to do was visit any place that might be dangerous. Given the media coverage we get in Australia, this included Jerusalem. OK, OK, I know what you’re thinking: ‘cut the cord already.’ It may seem odd for some that I have a metaphorical umbilical cord attached to my Mum that has lasted thirty odd years and crosses continents, but I wouldn’t have my relationship with her any other way. That ol’gal has had my back through everything. From my first steps as a baby to my giant leaps around the world, that woman has been, and continues to be my solid! I would never want to do anything that might cause her to fret over me. So you will understand when I say: I lied out of love. I couldn’t come to Israel and not see Jerusalem!

I didn’t plan to go initially, but once over here I saw that all the tourists were visiting and no one seemed to tell me that it was dangerous. In fact, quite the opposite. Given that Jerusalem is one of Israel’s biggest tourist revenue sources, it is the most highly guarded and security present area. So you see, I have never lied before and I never plan to lie again, but on this occasion I thought it best to save everyone the angst. So I am here in Jerusalem and I have just been kicked out of a church!

rebecca 3

Essentially I spent my day just wandering the streets. I didn’t really have a plan to tick every box on the tourist map, I just wanted to wander and absorb the atmosphere. I think that is always the best way to get a feel for a city. So, as I wandered I happened to wander upon the Coptic Patriarchate. From the outside, the old stone building with all its intricate carvings and awnings looked breathtakingly spectacular. Naturally I decided to wander inside for a closer look. As I walked through the stone arch entrance I stopped to watch the people mid-praise/prayer/worship or whatever you like to call it. I am not very religious. I like to think of myself more as a spiritual soul. I basically try and live a good life of kindness and love. I don’t feel the need to partake in organized faith. I do, however think it beautiful for those who do.

As I stood and watched people kneel at the base of a stone slab, I wondered what, or rather who it was. ‘Was it meant to be Jesus?’ I thought to myself, simultaneously walking around the site to try and catch glimpse of a plaque that might answer my query. I didn’t even get half way around the bloody thing when a scary looking priest ran up to me and said: ‘no, no, no- you OUT! You come back covered.’

‘WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED IN THIS HOLY HOUSE’ I thought to myself as I was being enthusiastically ushered back out of the stone arch I had walked through moments earlier. The dude had to be joking. There were men walking around in shorts the exact same length as mine, but apparently I was the only one causing offense. I mean, common! It was just my knee-caps and a little bit of thigh. Jesus came from a time when people didn’t even wear panties, and here I was being told that the modestly covered yoghurt sticks I call legs were offensive! It was outrageous! Anyone would have thought that I was wearing arse-munchers and sporting a mad camel-toe with the reaction the priest afforded me. Not to mention the fact that my legs were far more decent than the veiled woman who was practically dry humping the tomb at the very same moment I was being kicked-out! I just wanted a quick walk through and then out. Unlike her, I had no immediate intention of physically mounting and crotch-thrusting any part of the interior. Alas, I was still deemed the offensive one and escorted out of the presence of the Lord in my shorts that were ‘too short.’

I was angry that the men who were wearing shorts the same length as mine were allowed to remain inside. Was I inappropriate because I was a woman? Surely the priests had more respect for men than that. To deem my legs a distraction was to undermine the intelligence and the perceived level of inherent self-restraint in men. It was a disgrace that even in today’s day and age my gender was an issue.

rebecca 1This little saga stands as a stark contrast to my time in Tiberias, where the man I was volunteering for took me and a few other volunteers to a hippie gathering/ kibbutz. That was a place where clothing wasn’t mandatory, but rather forbidden. I have never seen so many naked people in one concentrated area before. The smorgasbord of bodies was amazing. People come in all different shapes and sizes, literally (and I don’t mean just THAT part of the person)! Up and until that point, I had always thought of myself as slightly hippie/ alternative. I mean, I travelled to India for crying out loud! I was totally spiritual and alternative! Right? WRONG! I realized as all the hippies embraced each other and lay uninhibited in the water with their ‘privates’ not so private, that my ‘alternativeness’ stretched as far as buying organic fruit and veg from the market and occasionally rubbing coconut oil into my hair, not bosom bumping with a complete stranger on an elevated rock in the middle of the Jordan River. Needless to say I broke the rules and kept my clothes on. I need at least dinner and a few drinks before I take my clothes off for anyone!

I leave Israel in less than 48-hours. I am ready to leave. I have had some good and some bad experiences while roaming the ‘Holy Land.’ The Orthodox Jewish man who shoulder bumped me into the gutter in Tiberias and didn’t say sorry= BAD! The lovely Israeli ladies who I met in Poland and who invited me to stay at their house= AMAZING! Let me tell you, you know that you have met a quality pseudo-aunty in Israel when you leave her house hobbling from the weight of your over-stuffed belly.

So yes, Israel has been a mixed bag of adventures that I feel has definitely enriched my life. It is time to go though. Given that the Mediterranean weather has turned my hair into kindling and I now pose a fire danger every time I walk out into the sun, leaving for a cooler climate is in the best interest of my personal safety and that of those who are in my immediate surroundings.

Until we speak again…

  • Udi Avital

    Hi there
    My name is Udi, a tour guide form Jerusalem. Spent there most of my adult life and I find your post fasaniting
    Visiting the old city is the closet experience to time travel you can have. And when you visit the Coptic church dating back to the first centuries you should remember that you’re a time traveller from the 21st century and they’re… not.
    Visiting Jerusalem without an awareness of its history and importance to western culture is a big miss. Sure you can walk the streets and get the vibe like any other city, but you’ll miss Jerusalem.
    Coming from down under I guess it will be a long while until you’ll come back, but you’re staying around this hamosphire I invite you to redo Jerusalem, with my local advices and tips.

    And a word for your mum, TV and papers sell ads. Their job is to exaggerate and make money off disasters and violence, better talk to the locals

  • Udi Avital

    Hi there
    My name is Udi, a tour guide form Jerusalem. Spent there most of my adult life and I find your post fasaniting
    Visiting the old city is the closet experience to time travel you can have. And when you visit the Coptic church dating back to the first centuries you should remember that you’re a time traveller from the 21st century and they’re… not.
    Visiting Jerusalem without an awareness of its history and importance to western culture is a big miss. Sure you can walk the streets and get the vibe like any other city, but you’ll miss Jerusalem.
    Coming from down under I guess it will be a long while until you’ll come back, but you’re staying around this hamosphire I invite you to redo Jerusalem, with my local advices and tips.

    And a word for your mum, TV and papers sell ads. Their job is to exaggerate and make money off disasters and violence, better talk to the locals

Next Story

US to begin Jerusalem Embassy move preparations: Tillerson

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Photo: wikimedia commons

Washington, Dec 7. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stated that the State Department will “immediately” act on President Donald Trump’s order and start preparations to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump announced in a televised speech that he officially recognises Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and instructed the State Department to relocate the US embassy to the city, reports Xinhua news agency. (Read: Trump to Announce US Recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli Capital, Move Embassy)

Tillerson, who is on a Europe visit, said in a statement on Wednesday night that the US has consulted with “many friends, partners and allies” about the relocation ahead of Trump’s decision.

Though hailed by Israel, Trump’s announcement immediately drew strong opposition and widespread criticism from Arab and European countries that such a move would inflame tensions and fuel violence in the Middle East.

Tillerson said that the US had taken measures to protect Americans in the region.

“The safety of Americans is the State Department’s highest priority, and in concert with other federal agencies, we’ve implemented robust security plans to protect the safety of Americans in affected regions.”

Trump’s announcement marked a dramatic departure from his predecessors’ foreign policy.

Although the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 which required the relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, former Presidents, including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, consistently renewed a presidential waiver to delay the relocation out of consideration for national security interests.

The status of Jerusalem, revered by Muslims as the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest site by Jews, lies at the core of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

The international community does not recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and no foreign countries have their embassies in the city.(IANS)

Next Story

Trump to Announce US Recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli Capital, Move Embassy

President Trump in a historic move can soon announce U.S recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli capital

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Jerusalem to be named Israeli capital
Palestinian protesters burn pictures of U.S. President Donald Trump at the manger square in Bethlehem, Dec. 5, 2017. Trump told Mideast leaders in phone calls that he would announce U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital (VOA)

President Donald Trump plans to announce Wednesday that the United States is recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

The decision is likely to cause an uproar throughout the Arab world. But the White House says Trump is merely recognizing what it calls a historic and modern reality.

To soften what could be a hard blow, Trump telephoned five Middle East leaders Tuesday to brief them on his decision — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Jordanian King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

A White House statement gave few details of the conversations except to say, “The leaders also discussed potential decisions regarding Jerusalem.” It added that Trump reaffirmed his commitment to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

White House officials said late Tuesday that Trump recognized Jerusalem is not only the historic capital of the Jewish people, it has been the seat of the Israeli government since the founding of modern Israel in 1948.

The officials said the president would order the State Department to start making plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv. They said it would take years to find a site, secure funding and construct a new building. Until then, Trump will sign the usual waiver postponing the relocation.

Under a law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995, the embassy must be relocated to Jerusalem unless the president signs a waiver every six months stating that moving the embassy would threaten U.S. national security. Every president since Clinton has signed the waiver, including Trump.

Dennis Ross was U.S. point man on the Middle East peace process under three presidents and worked with Israelis and Palestinians to reach the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1995. He said Tuesday that Trump appeared to be leaving a lot of room for both Israelis and Arabs to maneuver in the new environment.

“It’s very important for the president to create a lot of ‘handles’ or ‘hooks’ for our friends to say, fundamentally, this does not change the ability of Palestinians, the Arabs who tend to see Jerusalem not just (as) a Palestinian issue but a regional issue, that their position, their concern, their claim still has to be part of the negotiation process and that hasn’t been pre-empted,” Ross said in a briefing for reporters. “That seems to me to be the key to this.”

Some officials in Washington expressed concern about the potential for a violent backlash against Israel and American interests in the region as a result of Trump’s announcement.

Input from Tillerson

When asked whether Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “on board” with a decision that could put U.S. citizens and troops in the Middle East at risk, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the secretary “has made his positions clear to the White House. I think the Department of Defense has as well. But it is ultimately the president’s decision to make. He is in charge.”

In a security message released Tuesday, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, noting widespread calls for demonstrations this week, barred personal travel by American government workers and their families in Jerusalem’s Old City and West Bank, including Bethlehem and Jericho, until further notice.

U.S. embassies worldwide also were ordered to increase security.

White House officials said that in recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, Trump would be fulfilling a major campaign promise. They said the physical location of the U.S. Embassy was no impediment toward negotiating a final peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

Jerusalem Old city
A framed photo of Jerusalem’s Old City hangs in a juice stand, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Dec. 5, 2017. The U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem on Dec. 5 barred personal travel by American government workers and their families in Jerusalem’s Old City and West Bank, including Bethlehem and Jericho, until further notice.(VOA)

The officials said by moving the embassy, the president is not making a decision on any boundaries or sovereignty in Jerusalem. Those are matters to be negotiated as part of a two-state solution — something the officials say Trump believes is within reach.

The officials said Trump was encouraged by the progress made my his Middle East peace team, even if whatever progress has been made may not be apparent.

Seized in 1967

Israel seized control over Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. It later annexed East Jerusalem. Israel has always said an undivided Jerusalem is its eternal capital. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Jerusalem is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest place in Islam. For Jews, it is the Temple Mount, the holiest site of all.

Arab and Muslim states have warned that any decision to move the U.S. Embassy could inflame tensions in the region and destroy U.S. efforts to reach an Arab-Israeli peace agreement.

Jerusalem as Israel Capital
Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, Jerusalem (VOA)

Senior Palestinian leader Nabil Shaath said Trump would no longer be seen as a credible mediator. “The Palestinian Authority does not condone violence, but it may not be able to control the street and prevent a third Palestinian uprising,” he said, speaking in Arabic.

Gerald Feierstein, director for Gulf affairs and government relations at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said the level of anger the announcement might provoke depends greatly on how Trump presents the issue.

“If the president just says, ‘We recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,’ without trying to define it further and without actually beginning the process of moving the embassy, then it’s a big nothingburger,” he told VOA.

Donald Trump
FILE – President Donald Trump speaks on the phone in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Jan. 28, 2017.(VOA)

Feierstein, who served as U.S. ambassador to Yemen, and later as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs under former President Barack Obama, said if Trump went any further, it could trigger a backlash and deal a crushing blow to peace efforts.

“If what he says is perceived as, or is in fact, a recognition of all of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and he is no longer maintaining the international position that Jerusalem is to be divided and that East Jerusalem is to become the capital of the Palestinian state once there is an agreement, then that is going to have a very negative effect on the peace process,” Feierstein said.

“So the devil is in the details about how significant this is going to be,” he said.

VOA’s Cindy Saine at the State Department contributed to this report.(VOA)

Next Story

Iraqi Parliament puts a Ban on Display of Israeli Flag and ‘Zionist’ Symbols Across the Country

Speaker of the Iraqi parliament announced the raising of Israeli flag in the country as a punishable offence that would be dealt with criminal prosecution

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Israeli Flag
An Israeli Flag Flies on a hill near Bethlehem. VOA.

Erbil, November 1: Following the display of Israeli flag in pro-independence Kurdish rallies, the Iraqi parliament, known as the Council of Representatives, voted Tuesday to ban the Israeli flag, describing it as a Zionist symbol.

“A dangerous phenomenon, representing the hoisting of the Zionist entity flag during public rallies in front of the media, has recently appeared that breaks the basic constitutional principles of Iraq,” Salim al-Jabouri, Speaker of the Iraqi parliament, said while announcing the law that vows criminal prosecution against those who raise the Israeli flag in the country.

“This is an exercise that damages the reputation of Iraq and its nation and the law punishes it by the maximum penalties,” the speaker added.

The law was introduced by the parliamentary bloc of the Shiite Supreme Islamic Council and was unanimously approved by other members of the Iraqi parliament. It ordered law enforcement to pursue criminal charges against “those who promote Zionist symbols in public rallies in any form, including the hoisting of the Zionist flag.”

Israeli flags were appearing frequently during Kurdish rallies in the run up to the Kurdish referendum vote that was held Sept. 25, with 92 percent voting in favor of secession from the central government in Baghdad.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has said their hoisting at the gatherings was “spontaneous” and did not reflect the position of the government, which cannot formally establish relations with Israel due to the policy of the government in Baghdad that does not recognize Israel as a state.

Israeli Flag
Salim al-Jabouri, Speaker of the Iraqi parliament announced the display of Israeli flag as a criminal offence. VOA.

‘A second Israel’

Some officials of the central government in Baghdad and elements in the neighboring Turkey and Iran have accused Kurdish leaders of secret ties with what they termed “Zionists” and have described the Kurdish bid for independence an orchestrated plan to establish “the second Israel in Middle East.”

Israel is denying any involvement in the controversial referendum, but it is the only country that has openly supported the Kurdish aspirations for independence.

“The Kurds demonstrate national maturity and international maturity,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this month. “We have very great sympathy for their desires and the world needs to concern itself with their safety and with their future.”

Other countries — including the United States and EU members which consider the Kurdistan Regional Government a reliable ally, particularly in the current fight against IS — have publicly opposed the Kurdish referendum, arguing that the move diverts attention from the more crucial fight against the Islamic State in the region.

U.S. officials say the cooperation between the Kurdish forces known as Peshmerga and the Iraqi army played a critical role in removing the Islamic State fighters from Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul. They say the Kurdish vote for independence has disrupted that cooperation and resulted in clashes between the region and the central government, particularly on the fate of territories disputed between both sides. (VOA)