Marathons, piety, culture – mixing it up in a holy city
March 1st 2013 is a special day in Jerusalem, which will host its annual marathon. Writing just 14 hours before the start, I can tell you that the city has been decked out with bunting and flags. As ever, the route will take the runners close to some of the most magnificent edifices in the world, specifically as they negotiate the hills around the walls of the Old City and sites holy to differing religions.
Last year, Kenyans dominated the winners podium. And that is the point I want to make here. When I open up Jerusalem’s cultural events calendar for 2013, this is a city that caters for the world. Picking some of the offerings at random: –
- Later in March, the Festival of “Sounds of the Old City” will feature diverse musical styles, ranging from gospel to Armenian to traditional Arab themes.
- Since 1961, The Israel Festival has promoted performing artists from numerous countries. Encorporating most forms of entertainment, from jazz to street theatre to puppetry, it will be held in May 2013.
- A few weeks later, Europe’s Under 21 football tournament will be co-hosted by Jerusalem. Norway, Spain, Italy are just some of the teams to have guaranteed their places in the competition.
- The rest of the summer will see the usual contingent of international poetry readings, arts’ fairs, chamber music renderings, as well as the annual Jerusalem Christian Pilgrimage during the Feast of Tabernacles. An ever-popular feature is the International Oud Festival, not an event normally associated with Israel.
The list is seemingly endless. I could go on at length, describing the wide cross ethnic variety and mix, which the events bring together. However, I want to contrast this openess and engagement with three sad occurrences in the United Kingdom from the past week.
First, George Galloway MP walked out of a university debate at Oxford, because he does not debate with Israelis and does not recognise Israel.
Second, at Essex University, a few students clubbed together to ensure that an Israeli diplomat would not be allowed to address a campus forum.
Similarly, Daniel Taub, Israeli ambassador in London, was unable to deliver his speech in Northern Ireland.
Two countries, both with an amazing history. Jerusalem continues to open its doors to visiting nations. Britain is looking to silence that same spirit of pluralism. How sad. How threatening.