Editor’s note • The Salt Lake Tribune’s senior religion writer, Peggy Fletcher Stack, is on assignment in the Middle East. Besides her deeper reporting, she is sharing shorter daily dispatches. This one is from Jerusalem on Good Friday, Passover and the continuation of Ramadan.
Jerusalem • As we walked out of our hotel in the Palestinian sector Friday morning, the streets were eerily empty.
Barricades blocked the path of pedestrians, stores were closed, and Israeli soldiers with automatic weapons guarded every corner.
Welcome to Good Friday, Passover and Ramadan — a rare confluence of holidays — near the Old City, which is sacred to all three Abrahamic faiths.
We began in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, where men tossed their remaining bread products into a fire before the eight-day Passover celebration began Friday night.
By tradition, all Jews clean out their homes of any leavened bread — even crumbs — as part of the holiday, which commemorates the Hebrews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. They left in such haste, the story says, that they didn’t have time to let their bread rise, which is why adherents eat only unleavened bread during the festivities.
After that, we made our way to the Damascus Gate, where Muslims, many of whom had bought new clothes for Ramadan, walked toward the Dome of the Rock mosque for prayers under the ever-present watchful eyes of soldiers and police.
Tensions that had been brewing between Palestinians and Israelis in the previous days erupted during morning prayers at what the former call the al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the later call the Temple Mount.
A fringe Jewish group had offered to pay handsomely any Jew who made it onto the compound and sacrificed a lamb or goat as part of Passover, according to news reports. Israeli officials forbid such actions, but at least three men in disguise were arrested Thursday after their attempts.
In response, Palestinians issued a kind of call to arms on social media and came ready to defend their holy sites, some throwing rocks at the people praying at the Western Wall.
By the time we entered the gate, the conflicts were the talk of the crowd.
A 19-year-old Muslim man, who said he was not involved in the melee but was on the square, became emotional as he told us of being grabbed in the face by an Israeli guard and thrown to the ground.
Christians from all over the world, meanwhile, gathered for Good Friday in another section of the ancient city to retrace the steps they believe Jesus took to his crucifixion on the road known as the Via Dolorosa. They stopped at each of the Stations of the Cross to pray and read part of the story.
At precisely 10:30 a.m., a Muslim gatekeeper turned the key to open the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a traditional site of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Christian leaders emerged after two hours of praying to lead a procession of believers.
Due to the persistent pandemic, there were fewer pilgrims this year than traditionally, said tour guide Yoni Abramowitz. “A year ago, everything was closed. So this is not so bad.”
I couldn’t help but wonder what Jesus, called the Prince of Peace by believers, might think of the conflicts and pageantry.