Militarism on the Mount of Olives

By Hannah Brock
3 Dec 2012

The Israeli armed forces plan to build a military college on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. According to Peace Now, an Israeli peace group, posters were hung up in Mount of Olives announcing the depositing of Plan no. 51870, for the construction of an eight-storey Israeli Military College. The institution would train senior military and security force commanders.

These plans have been met with shock by diverse sections of the Christian community. Some UK campaigners have formed an informal network and will be blogging about developments at http://peaceonthemountofolives.wordpress.com.

As a Quaker, any place, time or day is as 'holy' to me as the next. As a friend put it – “It's not that we don't 'do' Christmas, it's that we do Christmas every day”. The whole of life is sacramental. So why was my reaction – shock, anger, deep sadness, and an "Oh no you don't" post on social media - so visceral?

Perhaps it's because my good Baptist upbringing runs deep. It also represents an empathy with others, for whom this place is hugely important. Moreover, it is because this college, should it be built, will be on occupied land.

This place has great religious significance. There has been a Jewish cemetery on the Mount for over 3,000 years, with approximately 150,000 graves. Many have chosen to be buried there because it is believed that this is where the resurrection of the dead will begin when the Messiah comes.

According to Islam, a thin bridge will connect the Haram A-Sharif (the Dome of the Rock mosque) and the Mount of Olives at the end of the days.

For Christians, it is powerful because the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was arrested, is at the base of the mountain. It is also written that this is where Jesus ascended to heaven.

For these traditions, to some extent it wouldn't matter if it was the Israeli government, a Palestinian state (should one exist), the Americans, Chinese, or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Llandudno. It's still a crying shame.

But it isn't the Americans, or the Chinese. It is a provocative move, from the government of Israel. The planned location is in East Jerusalem on land annexed to Israel after the 1968 war.

As Hagit Ofran – an Israeli campaigner who directs Peace Now's Settlement Watch project – puts it, “On top of all this holiness, the Mount of Olives is under dispute between us and the Palestinians, and we will have to solve this dispute only through an agreement. Bringing the military academy to this spot is quite insensitive and if I may add, not so smart, of our government.”

You might argue that this plan doesn't represent the worst excesses of the conflict – and you'd be right. I write just days after a ceasefire has come into effect after violence in Gaza and southern Israel. Almost 160 people were killed.

So this might not seem that important, really.

But it should be a stark wake-up call. Already from the Mount, the separation barrier is clearly visible. In this area, it's an eight-metre high wall (built partly on occupied land, not on the Green Line, and declared illegal for this reason by the International Court of Justice in 2004). A military college is yet another poignant and potent reminder of the militarisation and militarism of this 'holy land': the threats of violence, the visibility of machines that can hurt, maim and kill people, and the willingness to use them. The contrast in this place where Jesus was gathered up to heaven couldn't be more stark.

Whatever else, I'd rather the place held a big sign saying "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you" than a building to train people in warfare.

The Israeli public are granted sixty days to file any objections or reservations to the plan. That period will end around the 15 December. If you're not an Israeli citizen, you can find out how to oppose the plans at http://peaceonthemountofolives.wordpress.com/what-can-i-do.

I'll finish with a word from Mori Rothman, an Israeli conscientious objector, who on being released from an Israeli military prison for the second time, wrote that he hoped for a future in which we can “beat our rifles into stethoscopes, place our bombs in sealed glass cases as tragic memorials of times in which burning other human beings seemed normal, and we shall learn war no more, or at least a little less.” Amen to that.

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(c) Hannah Brock is a Quaker and campaigner. She has worked for a range of peace and anti-poverty charities, most recently living in Bethlehem as a human rights observer. She is involved in Young Friends General Meeting, the community of Quakers in Britain aged 18 - 30. She lives in London and misses the Isle of Wight, where she was brought up.

More information about the plans for a military base on the Mount of Olives can be found at http://peaceonthemountofolives.wordpress.com.

To sign the petition opposing the plan, please visit https://www.change.org/petitions/reject-plans-to-build-a-military-colleg....

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