As I went to bed on Saturday night, after a day packing blankets in a warehouse in Bethlehem to be sent to Gaza where people are sleeping on the floors of classrooms three to a blanket, the big three of Israeli politics were giving a press conference in Tel Aviv.
The Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. The ex-Prime Minister and now Defence Minister, Ehud Barrak. And Tzipi Livney, the Foreign Affairs Minister and Prime Ministerial candidate in next month’s elections. Good news for once! The formidable trio were declaring a ceasefire in Gaza.
Even though nothing is that straightforward in this part of the world, and even though they asserted that they had no actual plans to to withdraw troops, my sleep was vaguely optimistic.
And the next morning: Hamas had fired six rockets into Israel, apparently refusing to declare a ceasefire of their own. Here we go again. But! Mere hours later, there it was. An announcement from the Palestinian militants: a seven-day cessation of violence in which they demand Israel withdraws all troops.
What this week will bring is anyone’s guess. Some Israeli newspapers were declaring victory and Olmert claimed that he had met all objectives; although what they actually were, with Hamas still firing, were unclear.
On my lunch break that day, tracing around the walls of the Old City, I turn east and climb a steep road that takes me higher onto the slope. There is no-one to be seen and I wonder where the tourists are. Maybe I am lost? But since I don’t know what I’m looking for, that is unlikely.
Above me and stretching out into the distances, wrapping the curves of the hillside I can see the ancient Jewish cemetery. I recognise it because it is clearly the inspiration for Berlin’s controversial Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, an astonishing piece of art in the centre of Berlin.
And astonishing this is too. Like I often do when in holy places of other faiths, I wonder if it is appropriate for me to be here. But in the spirit of my work (‘we’re all in this together!’) I walk down the clay path and into the graveyard. Immediately, whether because of the lack of traffic noise, or other people, or perhaps because of the decaying, sober sadness of the place, I am in history.
Thousands upon thousands of graves are here, raised in small tombs from the earth and many with pebbles on top where relatives or pilgrims had marked their own ascent. A cloud parted, sweeping the old city in midday light, and the Dome of the Rock, the giant gold-leafed mosque in the Old City, winked – for one second – at me on the hillside.
And then I heard the loudspeakers. First, from over the old walls in the city. A call to prayer. That haunting song, in a scale alien to my western ears, reminding Jerusalem’s muslims of their duties. And only a moment later, another; this one from above on the mount. Together, their sound came billowing down like smoke and tumbling over the rocks where they met with me in the middle.
I stood and listened. Watched. Tried to pack this moment in so that I would never forget it. I was in ancient Jerusalem, a christian in a jewish cemetery being swallowed by the cries of the muezzin.
Later, inside the Old City itself, I walk down the Via Dolorosa which marks the path on which Jesus carried the cross. I have some lunch and speak to the traders. One, a Palestinian named Jacob, seems to feel the same way as many here about the ceasefire: relief, not jubilance.
He told me he didn’t believe the ceasefire would hold and, if it did, that Israel would soon seek a new war elsewhere. “Now I am worried for Jerusalem”, he said.
Sadly, that level of distrust on both sides here is extremely common. Each side sees the other as a monolith of hatred with little understanding of the cultural and political nuances of ‘the enemy’.
The Palestinian people are aggrieved. If anything, they hate more than they did a month ago, and possibly a little more fear.
Hopefully more and more aid will reach the Gazans who so desperately need it in the coming days. The Israeli army (who controls all entries and exists to Gaza) must ensure that it facilitates what is so desperately needed.
But will it happen again? I know in my heart that more violence is on its way. And while it is overly simplistic to suggest that this conflict is all about religion, I can’t help thinking that my moment on the hillside illustrated that this land can be shared. That the history of the ages, not of the last 60 years, must become the truth of this hallowed place. That it is not about control and possession and power, but peace and security and happiness.