A visit to sacred sites, Holocaust museum

PM Lee (third from left) touring the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem with his wife Ho Ching (left) and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (fourth from left) on April 18.
PM Lee (third from left) touring the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem with his wife Ho Ching (left) and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (fourth from left) on April 18. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

TEL AVIV • The Middle East is the cradle of civilisation, with many sites of significance to mankind.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories this week, strode through several of these places which are holy to Judaism, which began around 3000BC, Christianity and Islam.

Mr Lee visited St George's Church in Jordan on Sunday and viewed a floor mosaic, the Madaba Map, which dates back to the sixth century AD. It is believed to be the oldest surviving map of the Holy Land.

On Monday, he went to Al Maghtas, considered the original site of Jesus' baptism on the Jordan River.

The Singapore delegation was then driven to Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem's Old City - a historic area just under 1 sq km - Mr Lee was taken to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which has two of the holiest spots for Christians: the place where Jesus was believed to have been crucified as well as his tomb. Different parts of the church are owned by different denominations, and the keys safeguarded by two Muslim families. Mr Lee also visited the Western Wall, part of the remains of the Second Jewish Temple destroyed by the Romans in AD70. It is also the holiest of Jewish sites where Jews are allowed to pray.

On Tuesday, Mr Lee visited Yad Vashem, a museum to remember the victims of the Holocaust.

And on Wednesday, he toured the Temple Mount complex, also in the Old City, where the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site for Muslims, are located. The complex is managed by an endowment the Jordanians oversee.

He was also shown the inside of the mosque, which is normally not open to non-Muslims.

 

Asked about the sites he visited, Mr Lee said the Yad Vashem memorial goes beyond just relating the experience of the six million Jews killed in World War II by the Nazis.

It also had a message to humankind in general of "how you must work very hard to avoid massacres, genocides and evil things happening". It is, he added, a "reminder that civilisation is fragile - you may think all is well and you can just take it casually, but actually, unless you work at it, civilisation is fragile and human lives are precious, and you can have very bad outcomes".

At the Dome of the Rock, Mr Lee was taken to see the Foundation Stone, believed by many to be the first part of the world to be created.

Muslims believe it was also where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven on a night journey.

Mr Lee said it was moving "to see a spot which is sacred to many faiths", and to see the faithful praying or just having a moment of contemplation and meditation.

"At the same time, it's a reminder of how complicated things are in the Middle East to solve," he added. "These are problems which will take a very long time to resolve. But while they are being resolved, all faiths can share, can have access to it, can consider it sacred and deeply meaningful - and can learn to live in peace and harmony with one another."

Zakir Hussain

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2016, with the headline 'A visit to sacred sites, Holocaust museum'. Print Edition | Subscribe