A Dickensian tale….

It is Christmas, so Norwegian priests are busy spreading their gospel. Live must be deliciously simple when all your problems are one dimensional. On his next trip to Jerusalem, I shall be happy to take the Vickar Vaaland along to the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva to meet the kids there.

Of how silly of me, they are not there any longer, they were all brutally murdered.

Life in the Valley of Death

A valley outside Jerusalem has given the name to  the biblical “hell”. But is was only after the poet Dante that hell became a place to be reckoned with.

Tor Øystein Vaaland (Ordained priest in the Church of Norway

From all sides, the mountains plunge into the gouge that has been known as Gehenna for millennia. Matthew writes about the place five times, thus being the disciple who with more frequency cites Jesus on the name of the place. Matthew describes how before the time of the Jews, this pit was used for ritual sacrifice of children, a dump and a place where the bodies of dead people were burned. Gehenna, or Hinnom Valley was the place where “the fire never goes out”, but devours the soul and body.

And then there is Dante Alighieri, the Florentine, who 700 years ago made his literary journey through hell. With his work The Divine Comedy, he changed human outlook on life after death. Dante was able to establish a notion of hell as the mother of all torments. This however,  fails to impress modern Man. But the imagery of flames, wild beasts and snakes is still alive. So when the Norwegian Bible Society in its new Bible translation once more chose to translate the place name Gehenna – Hinnom Valley – with the name “hell”, we  are reminded of a place we scarcely believe in, but also do not wish to visit.

Geographically and literally, we have still made the trip to hell on earth. What does it look like, down here in the Valley of Hinnom? Today?

A black furnace. Old and new history it etched into the rocks of the mountains, which has seen human misery for as as long as Man can remember. To the north – prominently – the wall around the old city , where three world religions could have shared the joy of their holy places.

To the south a concrete wall  has been erected to keep Palestinians without residence out of the city.

On a slope to the west  Palestinian workers erect a scaffolding to support the Crusader hall, a fortress from the 1100’s. The slope  is called Wadi Damm, the field of Blood. Olive trees grow where according to tradition, Judas hung himself, and where grave chambers are still visible.
At the bottom of  the valley and on the slopes to the east of the Mount of Olives lies the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. It is a part of East Jerusalem which was annexed by Israel after the Six Day War and incorporated, according to official rhetoric, into the united and eternally indivisible Jerusalem. Approximately 50 000 people live here, under tough circumstances, and with a few hundred Jewish settlers around.

A big black furnace stands near a big intersection. It burns brightly, and I ask the house next door, a local medical center, why pray, do they keep a furnace in hell. Dr. Emad Shabaneh, on a break enjoying a smoke, answers.

-It is just there because nobody has taken it yet, The owner will show up soon enough when it gets colder, he says.

Real or Barcelona. There was a time when the valley’s residents sacrificed their firstborn. The idea was to increase fertility. Today parents let their kids play in the streets, since there are no alternative locations. Six-year-old Zelek has come along with dad Ziad to work. Ziad runs a small supermarket and does as many Palestinians do: Ask me which of the two Spanish top teams I cheer for. I give the wrong answer, but still get a bunch bananas from Jericho as a token of thanks for visiting the valley. Zelek waves the Madrid banner  he always keeps by the door when he says good bye.

Dr. Emad Shabaneh describes the typical clinical picture of the clinic: Mothers bring their children who have been beaten by Israeli soldiers, or have runny eyes from tear gas or pepper spray. He thinks it is even more difficult to see how the children are struggling mentally .

– The Israelis say they need to defend themselves, but I do not know from what.When the soldiers come, they encounter the kids first, in alleys and streets.Therefore, children are always affected the most, he says.

– They throw stones.

– Yeah. It is their way of reacting to, and thus they tell the soldiers that the place is theirs. They take what they find, pebbles found on the street.

– We see them constantly on television.

– Have you also seen the troops when they march to the Bir Ayub mosque to throw out kids who are hiding? After eight years as a physician I know that kids here are scared, all the time. An expression of this is wetting themselves at night, which is common even for kids up to 12 years old. This show how fear is physically manifest in these children.