My thoughts this month, after Passover and Easter, turn to the so-called “Holy Land” and its perpetual strife. Who could have dreamed that a region, not much larger than the Bay Area, might hold such ethnic and religious tension? Jerusalem should be the interfaith capital of the world. At least in my imagination, I see Jerusalem and its surrounding regions—West Bank, Israel, Gaza, and Southern Lebanon and Egypt as a central focal point not only to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but also to the Baha’i and Druze religions, but also to the ancient Phoenician, Egyptian and Israelite goddesses. Like the ancestral birth of humankind in East Africa, this area of the world furnishes us a sort of midwifery school for religious thought. But just as petulant sibs in an unruly household will often fight, compete and devalue each other, the religions of the “Holy Land” have fractured into mutual antagonism and distrust.
In contrast to the human conflicts that dominate the region, Israel, Gaza and the West Bank are one of the most diverse areas of the world in terms of its flora. Very much like a micro-California, the area hosts a multitude of flowers, herbs, grasses and shrubs, on account of diversity in climate—Mediterranean, desert, tropical and mountain. These plants form a stable eco-system sharing resources and adapting to the often-arid conditions. Sagebrush coexists with figs; lavender with barley. The scarcity of water propels diversity and adaptation.
But humans in general are less cooperative and adaptable and greedier. Early on hierarchical states formed in the region with many empires traversing the land and exiling or dominating the local people. Even today, lack of water for agriculture is a major force in the politics of Israel and Palestine with the river Jordan being diverted to support agribusiness.
So, as a mirror to springtime diversity, can we look toward human diversity through minimizing greed to satisfy basic needs? Maybe then, a cosmopolitan interfaith Jerusalem will truly be the “shining city upon the hill”.