Hello friends and supporters,
On Monday May 21st close to 2000 people gathered to surround the walls of the Old City for the 'The Big Hug' of Jerusalem event. A group of us, Jews, Arabs and internationals, led by visionary Devorah Pearlman gathered bi-weekly for months to prepare for the event. From our mission statement:
Love for Jerusalem as the center of the world unites people of all walks of life. The love we share for Jerusalem can facilitate new ways to enjoy these differences and live in harmony. We, lovers of Jerusalem , call everyone, lovers of Jerusalem around the world, to gather together around the heart of the world. This is a call from the center, from Jerusalem, to come and express our love in one big circle that connects us all.
On May 20th about 500 people from all over the world came to a pre-Hug conference in the St. Savior's monastery in the Christian quarter to share their visions for peace in Jerusalem and the world. Groups in cities in the US, Europe and around the world formed to join us with events and prayer at the same time as the Big Hug on May 21st.
On Monday May 21st groups of us gathered at 2:00 PM at main points around the Old City, with main events taking place from 4:00-6:00 PM.
Here is a brief summary of the events that made up the Big Hug of Jerusalem:
- At Hutzot Hayotzer, an open grassy space below Jaffa Gate, 500-600 Israelis, internationals and Palestinians gathered for workshops, celebration and a large prayer circle. At 4:00 PM this circle streamed up towards Jaffa Gate.
At Jaffa Gate about 100 people formed a line, some later joining a line of at least 120 at New Gate.
- Between Jaffa Gate and Zion Gate over 50 people, led by James Twyman formed a line of prayer.
- At Zion's Gate Eyal Davidov led a drum circle of 50 people.
- At Dung Gate, below the Western Wall about 100 people joined the line for the Hug, with soldiers giving their blessings.
- At Yad Avshalom, opposite and below Lion's Gate, 20 people held a vigil of prayer.
- Around 30 people walked around the whole Old City, stopping near the Muslim cemetery on the Eastern Walls and doing a trash pickup.
- A small group held a vigil at Flowers Gate/Herod's Gate.
- On the rooftops in the Center of the Old City, 50 people gathered.
- Fatih from Turkey led a mixed Muslim and non-Muslim group into the Dome of the Rock.
- At Damascus Gate, Ibrahim Abuelhawa and I were the localizers.
At 3:00 PM we organized a listening circle up from Damascus Gate under the palms trees of the outdoor market 'Shuk il Falahin'. Joining our circle were religious Jews, Palestinian friends from the West Bank towns of Jericho and Sawahri and international supporters. Dafna and Maureen led the circle with some of the Dances of Universal Peace.
Our circle grew until we formed a large circle of several hundred. Sheikh Bukhari and I led the circle in a large spiral, chanting "shalom, salaam, hu hu". We then stretched out the line of about 500 people in a long line facing the walls and reaching up towards New Gate. In front of the line, African American Sikh Siri Om Singh led the song 'I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield...ain't gonna study war no more'.
We then led the line down to Damascus Gate and formed a long line on the middle steps, forming a semi-circle facing the large Damascus Gate and plaza below. Spontaneously, hundreds of Palestinians in the area gathered and joined our event, until we were over 1000 people, filling the steps of Damascus Gate like an amphitheater. News media from all over the world were there to document the next moments as they unfolded.
Some Israelis started a drum circle and sang peace songs. Gaby Meyer led a chant of 'Ein K'eloheinu' and 'La'ilah ill'allah'. Local Palestinian youth danced and sang aloud. We held silent prayer for 5 minutes at 5:00PM with the rest of the Hug holding silence at that moment. Ibtisam Mahamid, religious Muslim woman peacemaker, came and sang an Islamic prayer and offered blessings in Hebrew and Arabic.
Sheikh Bukahri and I gave explanations and prayers in Arabic, Hebrew and English. Some of what we said: "this is not just Israel or Palestine, it is the Land of G-d and Jerusalem is the city of God. We are here for peace, justice, equality and unity between the family of Abraham, Let us remember we are ONE FAMILY!!". Hundreds applauded and joined hands, swaying together and chanting again "shalom, salaam, hu hu".
A huge drum circle formed with soldiers, Palestinian youth, bearded religious settlers, and Israeli hippies dancing together. One Arab youth started shouting in Hebrew 'Moshiach!' (messiah). When the police informed us at 6:00 PM that it was time to disperse, I had everyone wave to towards Ofer the police captain at the top of the stairs and he nodded his approval, we could stay. No one wanted to leave. We asked everyone to hold their hands up and open towards the Old City, in a final focused prayer for peace and healing for Jerusalem and we chanted together Shaloooom, Salaaaaam. Many mingled long afterwards there, establishing new friendships.
Though we didn't manage to completely surround the whole Old City, for many the seeds for a more hopeful future in Jerusalem were planted that day. A number of Palestinians have approached us, asking us to plan monthly gatherings at Damascus Gate. Other projects for building bridges in Jerusalem emerged from the Big Hug. We will soon have a website with photos, videos and how to buy Big Hug T-shirts and hats.
Special thanks to Yuval, Maya, Meir, Hanalisa and all the Big Hug team who worked tirelessly to put on this event.
Sunaa Il Salaam-Al-Quds,