By Stan Friedman
SEATTLE, WA (November 19, 2014) — The killings of four rabbis and a police officer at a synagogue in Jerusalem on Tuesday as well as subsequent reprisals, “represent a horrific chapter in the cycle of violence between the extreme factions in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” said Covenant minister Andy Larsen, who was caught in the middle of the conflagration earlier this month while filming a documentary, ironically, about peacemakers in the region.
The killings were the latest in a series of deadly attacks and retaliations by both sides across the West Bank in recent months that led to an emergency summit in Jordan last week in an attempt to bring a halt to the violence.
The epicenter of the most recent violence is the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest shrine in the world for Muslims. There had been conflict between Jews and Muslims in days prior to the incident witnessed by Larsen.
Larsen and fellow filmmaker John Yeager were sitting outside a restaurant next to the mosque when they got caught in a melee that developed after military police erected a barricade to limit access for Muslims who were seeking to do their traditional Friday prayers at the site.
“It resulted in a bottleneck of humanity seeking access to the mosque,” Larsen said. “A pushing match ensued and temporarily broke the barricade as a rush of people flooded through a narrow corridor where we were watching, drinking our Arabic coffee. Tables were upturned as we sought refuge in a local restaurant and then smelled pepper spray as we choked and tried to keep our cameras rolling.
Andy Larsen and friend John Yeager filmed a confrontation between Israeli Defense Forces and Muslims seeking to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
“As we began to see our table upended I realized I needed to exit quickly,” Larsen said. “I reached for my camera bag just as the sugar bowl on my table went flying, making a quick backward movement. The owner of the restaurant, a Palestinian young man we had begun to patronize, ushered us into his restaurant for protection. He said, ‘Be careful, be careful!’ We were random people, who could have been on the opposite side of the issues that divide this city, but he was our refuge right at the critical point of our need.”
It was one instance amid the confrontation that gave him hope for a larger peace as did another. “At one point of great tension during a pushing match from both sides I heard a woman screaming,” Larsen said. Everyone was pressed against each other.
“Within a few seconds I saw a soldier respond to the screaming mother, and pulled the Israeli Defense Forces back to allow for safe passage for the Palestinian family,” Larsen said. “I saw a little kid crying and a soldier comforting the young Palestinian boy and his mother.”
Larsen added, “There’s a lot of decent humanity on the street in Jerusalem. We hope to show this in our documentary. I was sobered by many of the stories but simultaneously heartened as I watched people struggle to pursue peace despite the violence and horrible injustices.”