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Center Intern Update: Ryan Dobbs

The following is a personal summer intern update from Ryan Dobbs.  Ryan is interning at the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, an Israeli NGO dedicated to cultivating and defending the rule of law, human rights, freedom of conscience and democracy for all people in Israel and its adjacent territories.

At the Western Wall
There are few cities in the world that attract as much attention as does Jerusalem. Considered holy and unique by Christians, Jews and Muslims, the city has been the center of religious, political, cultural, and economic tension for centuries. Jerusalem, the focus of much of the Biblical narrative, could easily be described as the spiritual center of the world. It is where God’s presence dwelt, where the Prophets spoke on behalf of God, and where Jesus the Messiah sacrificed His life as a ransom for many. It is safe to say that Jerusalem has always been more than just another city. It is the city of cities, the epicenter of the world.

Set within the larger context of the Middle East, the city of Jerusalem—and control over it—is a focal point for much of the conflict the region has experienced. Extending back much further that the historically recent conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Arab people, who live near or within its borders, control over Jerusalem, and the nature of that control, has been at the heart of much of the violence and terrorism that has touched the global community. The rule of law in Jerusalem—or lack thereof—has touched the lives of countless millions around the world, through policy decisions, terrorism, and spiritual conflict.

For the past three weeks I have been working with the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, doing research for a book I am writing on JIJ’s behalf that will be used to combat the burgeoning BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement around the globe. The Jerusalem Institute of Justice, founded by Calev Myers, an Israeli lawyer and human rights activist, seeks to uphold and promote the rule of law in Israel and the disputed territories often referred to as the West Bank. JIJ deals with a variety of legal and policy issues related to human rights and religious liberty, as well as serving to promote a pro-Israel worldview. Having spent the past three weeks learning more and more about the issues of justice and how they relate to Israel and the Jewish people, I have to say that I have learned much, and have seen how important the rule of law really is, and the effects it has on real people.

The Dome of the Rock 
A few days ago I decided to take a break from my research and writing and do something I had never done before: walk upon the ramparts of the Old City walls. Having traveled to Israel and Jerusalem twice before, I have seen most of the historical sites. But, I had never seen Jerusalem from atop the iconic walls that were built in 1517 by Suleiman the Great (older versions of the city walls can be seen at excavation points through the city). Needing to clear my head and recalibrate my thinking on the BDS movement, and what its acceptance means for Israel, the Palestinians, and true justice, I decided to pay the sixteen shekels required, and see the Old City from a vantage point I had yet to experience.

Walking on top of the walls of the Old City is not a task for the lazy or easily fatigued. As I moved across the centuries-old rocks that formed the walls, moving north from the Jaffa Gate, then east, toward the Damascus Gate, I was barely able to keep my balance at times, and had to be careful not to sprain my ankle as I walked over the uneven surface. As I moved along, under the blazing sun, I was able to stop and peer over into a part of the Old City normally hidden from view. I was able to see into the “backyards” of the homes within the Old City, and as I did so, I wondered how many of the people living in those homes could have such a radically different view of the world than do I—and most in the Western world—about freedom and democracy, justice and the law. I suppose I should explain.

Walking upon the Old City walls headed north from Jaffa Gate, and then east toward the Damascus Gate, places one, after walking a few minutes, above the Muslim Quarter. Living within its confines are many Muslim families who identify with the Arab and Islamic cause, and who, honestly, do not subscribe the Western or Israeli worldview on how societies should be ordered. I knew, looking down upon the Muslim Quarter from atop the Old City walls, that if I were to descend into that Quarter, I would find many people who would not share my understanding of human rights, religious liberty, or the rule of law.

A Sign on the Road  to Jericho Warning of the
Dangers Ahead
Moving along further, with these thoughts heavy on my mind—and the Dome of the Rock glistening high atop the Temple Mount to my right—I encountered three Israeli security personnel (I am not sure if they were IDF, Shin-Bet or the police) just beyond the Damascus Gate, at a lesser-known entrance to the Old City, Herod’s Gate. They stood there, atop the walls, heavily armed and ever vigilant. As I approached their position, I nodded, and then made a wrong turn. I was immediately informed that the staircase I was hoping to descend was sealed off, and then pointed to another staircase leading in another direction.

The security personnel were all business, but also kind and helpful to me, an obvious visitor, an obviously American visitor to their city. Intending to return to the Jaffa Gate by making my way back through the labyrinth of the Old City streets, I asked one of the security personnel what would be the best way of doing that—how to get through the Muslim Quarter below, back to the Christian, Jewish or Armenian Quarters, on the other side of the city.

She promptly pointed the opposite way, outside the Old City walls and said, “You need to go that way.”

“Is it not safe for me to go that way?” I asked, gesturing toward the Muslim Quarter below, the streets teeming with people, mostly of Arab origin, living in the shadow of Islam’s third holiest site, where I knew that my faith and ideals were mostly rejected by the population. “I can’t go that way?”

“Let me put it this way,” she said back, in perfect English. “We don’t go down there.” 

I nodded and said, “Then I trust your judgment.”

I made my way down from atop Herod’s Gate and walked along the sidewalk on the outside of the Old City and thought about the encounter and conversation I’d just had. I had just witnessed, and experienced, in real life, the difference between a society where the rule of law stands absolute, and a society where often the rule of law is a foreign concept. That duly appointed security personnel would not go into a portion of the city they were employed to protect, for fear of violence or offending someone by their presence, brought into sharp focus for me my somewhat vague understanding that a respect for the law as a higher standard is not a reality in many places, including in Jerusalem.

On Top of the Old City Walls
My experiences in Israel, so far, and the research and writing that I have done for JIJ, have served to reinforce in my mind the desperate need that our world has for more and more people who understand the need for the rule of law throughout the world. We need more lawyers and advocates who are willing to go to places—like the Old City of Jerusalem—and fight for the rule of law and human rights. Until the day police officers, charged with the protection of all people within their jurisdictions, can safely walk into any place without fearing a riot ensuing, there will be a need for people to go and uphold, teach, and demonstrate the principles of justice.

The fact that my personal safety was considered to be at risk by simply walking into a portion of the city where my culture, faith and physical appearance could trump the rule of law reminded me, in no uncertain terms, that standing for justice is not a career, but a calling. And it is a calling that needs to be heard by more and more people, until justice reigns not only in the Western world, but in all sectors of society and around the globe, including in the shadow of the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel.

Read Ryan’s 2nd intern update >

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