Between politics and religion

View of the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem's Old City

View of the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem's Old City, © AA / C. Busch

26.03.2013 - Article

On a diplomatic mission in Ramallah work and everyday life are determined by highly political and religious issues – our colleague reports.

The everyday work of Germany’s Representative Office in Ramallah is shaped not only by highly political issues but also by religion. This is hardly surprising considering that the holy sites of Christianity, Judaism and Islam are in the immediate vicinity, situated in close proximity alongside each other. Politics and life in this district are coloured by inter‑faith issues. Claudia Busch, who has worked as the cultural affairs officer at Germany’s Representative Office for a good seven months now, talks about the kinds of challenges and opportunities that arise as a result.

“Good morning, I am the new cultural affairs officer.” – “Catholic or Protestant?” is the first question. “Protestant,” I reply with slight annoyance because after all I had applied for a position at the Representative Office in Ramallah and not a job in the Vatican. “Oh, Protestant is good – that makes for a good balance in the team.” Even though meant as a joke the question regarding my denomination runs like a thread through my everyday work here, which only rarely runs as you would expect.

An unusual district

The Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock© AA / C. Busch

The Representative Office in Ramallah has an unusual district of responsibility: the Palestinian territories including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as well as East Jerusalem beyond the pre‑1967 Six‑Day War border – a posting with multiple facets, especially for cultural work.

East Jerusalem has unique cultural potential with the holy sites for Christians, Jews and Muslims but also the historical German heritage of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, the Catholic Paulus‑Haus and the German Schmidt’s College in the Old City, as well as the Auguste Victoria Foundation’s Protestant centre for pilgrims on the Mount of Olives.

The diplomatic ground is slippery in this district where culture and religion are always highly politicized. Here intercultural competence becomes an inter‑faith challenge. It starts with the organization of a tour of the Old City for an official delegation in which all three world religions want to be given the same amount of attention, presented preferably by a neutral tour guide.

Maintaining diverse contacts

You are expected to maintain contact with lots of cultural institutions as well as imams, patriarchs, rabbis and religious and knightly orders; represent the interests of German institutions; implement Palestinian‑German projects; protect cultural heritage; and promote the German language.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulchre© AA / C. Busch

All this only works with a good team. With its three employees, the small cultural team can rely on support from all the 22 diplomats sent out from Germany and the 14 staff employed locally by the Representative Office in Ramallah.

The question “Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox?” is normal small talk here. It is only the Muslim caretaker of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre who never asks me that question. While six different denominations wrangle over influence in one of Christianity’s most sacred sites, he takes me by the hand and says: “Come on, let’s light a few candles for all our friends here. Everything will work out, insh’allah!”

More reports from our “On a diplomatic mission” series

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