This flash of the exotic (to Western eyes at least) caught my eye today. An often forgotten thing in Israel/Palestine is the small but historically very important Christian community. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has been there the longest and is regarded by the Orthodox as the mother church of all Christendom.
It runs the main Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as well as many of the holy sites in Jerusalem such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, sometimes in partnership with the Roman Catholic, Coptic and Armenian Orthodox churches.
Picture from the NY Times article on George Bush in the Middle East
Of course, centuries of co-habitation do not prevent the occasional dust-up (pun sortof intended)
From this Christmas:
Members of rival Christian orders have traded blows at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, with four people reported wounded in the fray.
Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic priests were sweeping up at the church following the Christmas rites of the Western churches earlier in the week.
Reports say some Orthodox faithful encroached on the Armenian section, prompting pitched battles with brooms.
For more remarkable examples see the Wikipedia article on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: bolding is mine.
Establishment of the status quo did not halt the violence, which continues to break out every so often even in modern times. On a hot summer day in 2002, the Coptic monk who is stationed on the roof to express Coptic claims to the Ethiopian territory there moved his chair from its agreed spot into the shade. This was interpreted as a hostile move by the Ethiopians, and eleven were hospitalized after the resulting fracas.
In another incident in 2004 during Orthodox celebrations of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a door to the Franciscan chapel was left open. This was taken as a sign of disrespect by the Orthodox and a fistfight broke out. Some people were arrested, but no one was seriously injured.
Under the status quo, no part of what is designated as common territory may be so much as rearranged without consent from all communities. This often leads to the neglect of badly needed repairs when the communities cannot come to an agreement among themselves about the final shape of a project. Just such a disagreement has delayed the renovation of the edicule, where the need is now dire, but also where any change in the structure might result in a change to the status quo disagreeable to one or more of the communities.
A less grave sign of this state of affairs is located on a window ledge over the church's entrance. Someone placed a wooden ladder there sometime before 1852, when the status quo defined both the doors and the window ledges as common ground. The ladder remains there to this day, in almost exactly the same position. It can be seen to occupy the ledge in century-old photographs and engravings.
None of the communities control the main entrance. In 1192, Saladin assigned responsibility for it to two neighboring Muslim families. The Joudeh were entrusted with the key, and the Nusseibeh, who had been the custodians of the church since the days of Caliph Omar in 637, retained the position of keeping the door. This arrangement has persisted into modern times. Twice each day, a Joudeh family member brings the key to the door, which is locked and unlocked by a Nusseibeh.