Buses, a holy city, and our moral responsibilities

Here is a story posted this week on Facebook by a friend of mine. He quotes a lady called Sarah B, who was riding a bus in Jerusalem.

On the number 13 bus this morning. An ultra-Orthodox lady entered the bus from the back door, because she had a stroller with her. She needed to get to the front of the bus to pay, and needed someone to hold her baby so she’d have the use of both hands. She asked the elderly Muslim woman across from me to please hold her baby. The baby continued sleeping, and the Muslim woman was extremely pleased. “I have 31 grandchildren!” she told all those of us around her, and we smiled. The Jewish woman came back and thanked the Muslim woman profusely, and brought the baby back to the middle of the bus where the stroller was, and the Muslim woman got off the bus a couple stops later.

In most other cities around the world, that incident would barely command a snort of interest. However, this is Jerusalem. This is a city where the only known issue that the leaders of the three great religions cooperated in recent years was when they protested of a gay rights’ march. This is a city where its unity is opposed by most world leaders. And it is the place that journalists flock to in order to learn how Jews, Christians and Muslims bicker with each other, while ignoring the often larger divisions within each individual community.

For all the simplicity of the above tale and the hope it raises, it is not a solitary incident. This spirit can be found elsewhere in Israel, daily. Consider the micro-algae educational project at Kibbutz Ein Shemer, where school children of different backgrounds learn together in order to protect the environment. There was the programme sponsored by the Prime Minister’s office in June 2012 to encourage employers to hire workers from minority groupings. And the Max Rayne  School in Jerusalem is one of three bilingual schools in the project, ensuring how kids of all religions can learn together in this challenging city.

Last night, President Mahmoud Abbas secured Palestine’s upgraded status at the United Nations.  Analysing the text of his speech in the Palestinian media, at no stage did the Palestinian accept the State of Israel, under any borders or circumstances. The Jewish state was referred to hate and loathing.

It is not just that Abbas has now effectively rejected these successful projects of cooperation. The UN exists to encourage mankind to welcome each other. The international body demands that all members actively embrace such a responsibility. Yet the means and  the language of Abbas reveal how and why he rejects the core raison-d’etre of the United Nations.

C’est la vie for the proponents of peace and for safe bus journeys in Jerusalem.

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