We spent several days here exploring as there is something significant to see around seemingly every step; today was entirely spent in the confines of the walled old city. Tensions felt high at times as there were some recent isolated incidents of violence – enough to plummet tourism 70% in the last few weeks according to one shop owner we talked with. As a corollary to this, lines that would normally form around major attractions were completely non existent.
Plenty of fully armed (probably military) guards walked around patrolling the streets. We became used to their presence after the initial shock of seeing the large guns slung across their shoulders.
Jerusalem is built upon layers of history and religions What is fascinating about this small old city is that it is one of the epicenters of faith for three major religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam – and there are historically significant buildings and locations in the old city that are prominent destinations for practitioners of each of these religions.
We arrived at 12pm to wait in line to enter the Temple Mount which is one of Islam’s most holiest places. The open hours for non Muslims are very limited and we made sure to get here early. We were first in line and first to enter the complex.
After wandering around for a few minutes we heard an eruption of angry voices – a number of Jewish people had entered and the Muslim women were yelling angry words at them. We saw that the Jewish visitors were being escorted by heavily armed guards – who were filming them as like animals in a zoo as were a number of the locals already here. Painful to watch this display, we soon moved to another side of the courtyard.
Another religious highlight is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – with devout Christian worshipers visiting here from around the world to lay eyes on prominent historical items relating to Jesus Christ’s hanging on the cross including where his body was supposedly anointed before burial and the rock where his cross was raised.
Equally significant but to those of Jewish faith is the Western or Wailing Wall. We heard stories of people 20 deep trying to touch the wall and drop off written prayer notes. We visited a number of times but each time we found only a few people praying. Non Jews put on a small covering for the head, the Kipa or Yarmulke – the main section of this wall where people come to pray is segregated by another wall – by sex.
Nowhere are the “layers of history” more evident than a tour underneath the old city – through tunnels archeologists have excavated and along the base of the massive Western Wall. You can literally see layers upon layers based on the centuries that people have lived here. Parts of the wall date back 2,000 years. Some of the stones in the wall are huge – it was certainly a feat of engineering to carve stone of this size and then put them into place using ropes, logs, chains, pulley’s and people. A water supply on the tour is 1,800 years old and was the personal cistern of King Herod.
And the last words for the evening came from our Taxi driver, a quiet elderly gentleman who told us, “all we want is peace”.
It is a good country , Blessed country .And I know that this country people of this country are blessed, and they are not choosing or neglecting others . I trust and I believe that this country have full of love i like I can be their .
Michael Zullo says
Excellent article, Dave. We enjoyed it very much. The taxi driver’s comment “all we want is peace,” is right on the mark. World-wide peace in our lifetime – hopefully. Jerusalem has always been on our travel list. We were close to being there – Egypt too – on a cruise from Istanbul to Rome in August 2013 but Holland American canceled all Israel and Egypt port calls because of the troubles in Syria. Someday it may happen for us.
M and G, Bangkok, Thailand
Such a powerful piece. The last line brought tears to my eyes, very powerful and poignant. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks Michael – I had another opportunity to return to Israel this April but one of our writers will be going on our behalf. Next time I visit, it will be for the wine!
Mike | VagabondingMike says
WOW 70% drop in tourism. I was in Cairo not too long ago and a tour guide there told me that tourism was down some 80%.
Its amazing how a little ‘bad press’ can really effect tourism in countries which rely relatively heavily on the money it brings.
Great piece on a great city. As an Israeli I invite all of you to come and enjoy the old and the new of this country. Despite what you see on CNN, life is quiet and safe.
Dave, you are right, the wine here is excellent! With boutique wineries everywhere.
I think you will be surprised at how much everyone on the street (from both sides) agrees with your taxi driver.
Mike – yes, the plus side for tourists who see past the media/bad press which often focuses on specific incidents, is usually lower prices across the board for accommodation etc. I’ve been to a number of countries over the years where this has been the case. Its sad but true.
Yoni – yes, I look forward to visiting some of these boutique wineries – this recent trip was just a “scouting” trip for my next one! And thank you for your invitation.