Tempers flared and fists flew for nearly an hour in the Holy Sepulchre this morning. Greek Orthodox versus Armenians. Israeli army and riot police were called in to break up the fight between the warring monks and priests. One from each side was arrested.
The full story and background can be found in Ha'aretz. A shorter version in the Jerusalem Post. Many readers' comments coming in, both funny and caustic. Both sites just now put up amazing videos of the brawl.
Some pictures will help you understand what is written in the newspapers.
Under the rotunda is the edicule, a small "house" protecting the tomb of Jesus.
A priest stands guard at the entrance. No one passes until he says so. Only two or three people fit into the little chamber inside.
So sometimes the faithful must wait in line for hours to enter.
A simple marble shelf covers the remains of the stone tomb.
Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics (here called the Latin Church), Armenians, Syrian Orthodox, Copts, and Ethiopians--all these Christians have separate chapels within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The troubles always start when it comes to the common areas, like the entrance courtyard, the Stone of Unction, the Rotunda, and the Edicule.
The Yad Ben-Zvi guidebook says
"The agreements reached by the various religious communities over ownership of different parts of the Church ... are called the Status Quo. These also include the timing of religious ceremonies within the commonly-owned areas .... These accords are very complex and reflect the tumultuous history of Jerusalem and the fortunes of each of the ... communities."
Because of the rivalries the key to the church has been entrusted for many generations to a Muslim family. "The Ceremony of the Key is a holdover from the expulsion of the Crusaders from Jerusalem, when Muslim rulers limited access to the church. Prior to 1831 and the rule of Ibrahim Pasha, Christian pilgrims could only enter on payment of a stiff fee and were locked in for the night. The owners of the key were the Joudeh family, while the Nusseibeh family, also Muslims, were actually in charge of opening the door."
(from guidebook by Sarah Kochav)
(from guidebook by Sarah Kochav)
The Ha'aretz article gives examples of problems caused by the status quo:
"The Israeli government has long wanted to build a fire exit in the church, which regularly fills with thousands of pilgrims and has only one main door, but the plan is on hold because the sects cannot agree where the exit will be built. In another example, a ladder placed on a ledge over the entrance sometime in the 19th century has remained there ever since because of a dispute over who has the authority to take it down. More recently, a spat between Ethiopian and Coptic Christians is delaying badly needed renovations to a rooftop monastery that engineers say could collapse."
Indeed I was trapped in the press of the crowd on Palm Sunday and it took me much time and patience and will power to reach the one and only door. The doors are high but not wide.
As mentioned in the paper, this is the Ethiopian compound on the roof of the church. The monks live in these tiny monastic cells in great poverty.
Location, location, location, status quo, status quo, status quo.
Welcome to the Middle East!