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Letter from Brian Stableford

Brian Stableford is back from a trip to Israel (12 December 1998):

I have now walked the Via Dolorosa, following a Franciscan procession full of hapless groups of Polish tourists (some equipped with their own crosses) all the way from the Arab primary school now on the site of Pilate's palace (which closes early so that the monks and the children don't get in one another's way) through a Z-maze of narrow alleyways filled with Arab shops selling plastic icons, posters and t-shirts bearing such legends as ISRAELI DEFENCE FORCES and DON'T WORRY AMERICA – ISRAEL IS BEHIND YOU to the church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is jointly administered by six rival Christian denominations (the Ethiopians got there last and had to put their priory on the roof but the protestants didn't get in at all and had to build their own church nearby), where you can see the alleged crest of Golgotha (the rest is buried, all Jerusalem being elevated at least thirty feet above its Roman level) a mere thirty yards away from the case containing the stone that allegedly blocked the entrance to the sepulchre before the caresses of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims reduced it to the size of a football.

It gives one a whole new perspective on religion, as do the Museum of the Diaspora and the Museum of the Holocaust (in a rather more dignified fashion). It's almost as surreal wandering through the Tel Aviv cinematheque when it's full of teenagers in Star Trek uniforms, all speaking Hebrew. I got to give my two talks in the Goldie Hawn Theatre; they were quite well attended considering that there was a 15 shekel admission charge. Emmanuel Lottem, the organiser of the now-annual Israeli con, intends to hold the 2000 event on 29-31 December; for the final party he has already booked Armageddon!