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Holy Week, one of the most significant seasons in the Christian calendar, takes on even greater significance in Jerusalem, where it all first went down.

JOSTLED BY CROWDS of international pilgrims and local Palestinian Christians, I was struck by the rich breadth of cultural expression — and the occasional elbow. Navigating the layers of religious and political tensions wasn’t easy. Jerusalem’s Old City was annexed by the state of Israel but is still considered “occupied Palestinian territory” under international law.

At times the only way through an Israeli checkpoint was to let the surging crowds of the faithful force me forward and hope for the best. By week’s end, dodging forests of Catholic crucifixes or getting splashed with Orthodox candle wax didn’t bring me closer to Jesus, but the devotion in the face of a Palestinian child, Brazilian teen, or Russian mother was truly inspiring.

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About The Author

Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is a photojournalist and writer most interested in the intersection of human rights, armed conflict, social justice, and spirituality. Born and raised at a Mennonite retreat center in rural Pennsylvania with a passion for the outdoors, he spent 10 years in Washington, DC, working with several political advocacy organizations and publications, including 10 years as the Web Editor for Sojourners magazine. Over the years he's traveled in Central and South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and has extensive experience in Palestine and Israel. He currently lives in East Jerusalem, where all of his favorite issues collide on a perpetual basis.

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  • EHA

    Ryan, your pictures are beautiful and I think they really capture the fervor of the religious climate in the Holy City. I have to agree, I didn’t feel particularly inspired standing in a line of sweating, elbowing tourists at the Church of the Manger in Bethlehem. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever been LESS inspired.  But the teary eyed faces of Christian pilgrims in the Old City, the rocking and chanting of the Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall, and the call to prayer at the Temple Mount were what was truly humbling. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s hard not to be humbled by the joy these people find in expressing their faith. 

    Great job!

  • PowellByron

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  • tk

    Jerusalem’s Old City wasn’t just annexed, it was as a result of a 6-day war that wasn’t started by Israel. I would expect from a journalist to be a little more objective. If you decided to point out that ”
     is still considered “occupied Palestinian territory” under international law” , it only makes sense to point out the other fact as well.
    Just my HO.

    • EHA

      Ehhhh, that is not a fact, and your response to him wasn’t any more objective.

      The notion that  ”Israel didn’t start the war” is highly contested. True, there was buildup along the Sinai for many weeks leading up to the initiation of the conflict. So what it really comes down to is whether or not the Egyptian presence in the Sinai should be considered “the first strike” and whether or not that act of provocation was enough to warrant an Israeli airstrike. But it’s impossible to argue or prove that the first military strike across borders wasn’t Israel’s. Because it was.

       Eshkol was a bundle of nerves who couldn’t make a decision. The US voiced concern about the implications and refused to give diplomatic approval for for an Israeli preemptive action. The Russians were playing the Egyptians like pawns in their quest for Cold War power. It was a clusterf*ck.

      The only “fact” is that the real facts are never as cut and dry as each side would like them to be.  

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