The modern perils of bearing a cross in Jerusalem

Parade crasher detained because his burden 'may have concealed weapons.'

October 11, 2007 19:21
The modern perils of bearing a cross in Jerusalem

cross man . (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )


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Joseph Matthew Dolan never imagined he would be pounced on and arrested by heavily-armed anti-terror policemen for carrying a large cross around Jerusalem. Dolan crafted the 50-kilogram, two-meter-long cross himself after gathering the wooden planks in a remote forest in New York state five years ago. Last week, while attending the Jerusalem March - the annual Feast of Tabernacles event that hosts thousands of evangelical pilgrims - Dolan, two of his friends, his 21-year-old fiancé and their puppy were detained for questioning after they joined the march with the cross. Pictures of Dolan surrounded by the Yasam (elite anti-terror policemen) while clinging to his cross were spread on the front pages of several Israeli newspapers and opened the local TV news broadcasts. Despite the fact that no law forbids people to carry crosses in public, Dolan is convinced that his Christian symbol caused the fuss. "I have carried that cross to other countries, as well, by plane and by buses, and I never had problems or overweight fines," he said, stressing that this was his first bad experience with the police. Jerusalem Police accused the four detainees of provocative behavior, interruption of a march they were not a part of, refusal to cooperate with police investigators and yelling, 'This is our march,' while carrying a large wooden cross that, police said, "could have been used for hiding weapons, as far as we know." "Many Christians from around the world take part in this parade to show their support [for] Israel," Dolan told The Jerusalem Post. "It's not a Christian parade, but many Christians participate, and this year there were 7,000 of them. We were excited that we could see it, and we were thinking, should we watch it or join it? We weren't shouting, 'This is our march.' Unless they say that I was provoking them by carrying the cross, I didn't do anything to anybody there." Cmdr. Bruno Stein, who heads Jerusalem's Zion precinct, supervised the event. "The person detained is familiar to the police as someone who wanders around Jerusalem - especially east Jerusalem and the Old City - creating provocations and shouting. Usually, if it wasn't disturbing anyone, we would remove him from the road, but at the march he really started to cause a commotion among the Orthodox people who arrived there. ... We had no choice but to ask him and his friends to join us for questioning," Stein told the Post. "Anyone who wanted to take part in the march could have done that. As I see it, he was looking for this [opportunity for] provocation and tried to draw the media's attention, and he succeeded," Stein said. He added that "usually, police would have pressed charges against this sort of disturbance." In Jerusalem, it is not uncommon to encounter people preaching at Jerusalem's Zion Square or praying and speaking to themselves along the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall. "Jerusalem Syndrome," as experts have classified this phenomenon, refers to a psychosis involving obsessive, religiously-themed ideas, delusions or experiences triggered by or leading to a visit to the Israeli capital. Prof. Eliezer Witztum, a psychiatrist who studied this phenomenon with his colleague Prof. Moshe Klein and researched the behavior of 82 sufferers, said the syndrome was not unique to one religion or denomination, but has affected Jews and Christians of many different backgrounds. "Most of the people who suffer from this ancient syndrome have previous mental problems. When these people come to Jerusalem - which constitutes the trigger, not the reason, for their outbursts - they have certain expectations and religious visions, and when they don't come true, some of them fall apart, some are hospitalized and others create provocations," said Witztum. Dolan does not believe he suffers from Jerusalem Syndrome. All he did, as he sees it, was carry his cross and rejoice in the general festivities, as he has for five years all over the city and across the country. "I look at Jerusalem as a high altitude, spiritually - it's a very intense place," Dolan said. "However, I am aware of this intensity and I know it's good to take breaks ... to leave the city and go to Tiberias or Europe, to keep things real and to be realistic, because otherwise you can come down with altitude sickness." Dolan was born to a Christian family with Jewish roots. He was a project manager for a construction company in the US until nine years ago, when he says he had a vision about Jesus and God, who called on him to stop erecting buildings and go out and encourage people to rebuild their lives. He has been traveling to and from Israel for the past five years - always on a tourist visa - volunteering at several non-profit organizations and helping the poor and the homeless get their lives back on track. He makes a living by selling pictures of religious images that come to him through visions, but mainly wanders around Jerusalem and the rest of the country with his cross on his shoulder. "I have carried my cross all over the country, by the Damascus gate and through east Jerusalem on different Jewish and Muslim holidays. I have spoken with hundreds of Orthodox [people] - every day, they would see me go by, and I would speak to them. [The arrest was] not a reaction of the Orthodox community - they have never attacked me. This was the police. The police are supposed to protect and to be unbiased, to be neutral and to keep the peace," he said. "Jesus told me to take up my cross symbolically, but I take it literally, to deny myself and follow him, meaning to live in love for other people first and to put myself last," he said. He added that he has tried to make aliya, but his faith has stood in his way: In spite of his claims of Jewish heritage, Israeli authorities have refused to give him citizenship because he is a practicing Christian. Dolan said he has been harassed, sometimes physically, by people who did not appreciate his ubiquitous baggage: "Usually I don't respond, and then people approach me and want to hear what I have to say." As he understands it, joining the march with his cross was not provocative behavior at all. "Going through Mea She'arim on Shabbat with my cross, that would be provocative, wrong and disrespectful, and that I don't do," he said. David Parsons, media director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ) - the organization in charge of coordinating the Christian groups - asked to clarify that "the protester detained at the march was not a Christian pilgrim attending our Feast of Tabernacles and had no permission to be in the march. We understand he has been living locally for some time and appears to have staged an incident in the media area in order to provoke and draw attention to himself. We regret that it has distracted from the thousands of Christians who came to Israel with love and goodwill."

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