Thursday, March 20, 2014

Old Cities of the Middle East - Jerusalem

When travelling through the Middle East, Jerusalem is an interesting experience to say the least. The highlights of Israel include great food and pleasant climate. We ate the best humus ever in the old city, as well as enjoyed incredible vegetarian meals in Tel Aviv. The low-lights include all the armed men and women walking the streets with big guns and few years of experience to justify the responsible use of these guns. That's the price to pay for "coming back home," but the societal impact of having every young member of the society spend three years in the army (two years for women) might not be only positive I imagine.

Coming back to Jerusalem, this famously disputed piece of land is curious to say the least. We entered the old town through the Damascus gate, and ended up in a big souk. A city divided into four quarters, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian, is full of smells, merchants, tourists, and religious people. The old city has a very high concentration of religious buildings - churches intermingling with mosques and synagogues. Impressive how the co-habitation has been at all possible in such close proximity here for many years, sad on the other hand that the real peace has not been found by so many deeply religious people. Jerusalem is "too close to god" for its own good, as said our tour guide. 

Dome of the Rock

The most beautiful building in Jerusalem, also said to be one of the oldest buildings of the Muslim architecture still standing, is the Dome of the Rock, above. It was the king Herod (although of disputed Nabatean origin) who built the esplanade to improve Jewish Second Temple and make it worth the admiration of the whole region if not the entire Roman Empire. After the destruction of the Temple, all three religions (Jewish, Christian, Mulslim) kept calling their own different sacred places of the city, but especially the Temple Mount and the Olive Mount.

 Women in front of the Dome of the Rock

The Western Wall, the base of Herod's esplanade for the Second Temple, has emerged over time as a sacred place for the Jewish people, where one can get closer to god, leave him a wish to realize, complain about the past, or dream about the future. The present is special though, with the left side of the Wall only accessible to men, and the right side reserved to women, supposedly based on the distinctions made in a synagogue. Apparently, it is better to talk to god in company of the same sex...

 The Western Wall

Today, since the last Intifada, the entrance of the Dome of the Rock has been prohibited to non-Muslims, another sad sign of the times, although living side by side, no agreement has been reached in this saintly city.

Children playing ball

Still, children kick the ball - however they are already separated by the quarters, Muslims playing with their own, Jewish keeping to themselves. 

The worst impression of Jerusalem we got while driving Eastwards to the Dead Sea through the West Bank. In the distance, one could barely see the Palestinian territories, separated by a wall, a religion, by economic sanctions. Remembering my earlier visit to Osventsim, the question remains - have we learnt anything? Will we ever learn? 

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