Written March 5, 2017
Posted March 27, 2017
After arriving yesterday evening at the Tel Aviv airport and having dinner with T. Melissa’s friends Orna and Rami, we checked into the Azzahra Hotel in East Jerusalem.
For some background, Israel captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and now occupies it, although even using the word “occupies” would be controversial to some. Jerusalem has so much religious significance that its future is key for any peace plan. President Trump’s recent proposal to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was explosive, as this move would have signaled farther reaching U.S. intentions. Even after studying the Jerusalem situation in several different classes and in the pre-trip meetings, I still hardly understand it. Someone on the trip reminded the group of a saying that if you are here for a day, you can write a novel, if you are here for a week, you can write an article, if you are here any longer, you can write a sentence. The whole situation is too complicated for me to understand, let alone explain it to anyone else. The main problem in understanding it is that every word you use has some sort of political significance. Before this trip, I hadn’t realized that even calling the city East Jerusalem means something (many Palestinians call it Arab Jerusalem). In fact, it’s difficult to avoid making a political statement when talking about Israel and Palestine, which some would call the Palestinian Territories. The nuances in language can totally change the meaning.
Probably the only thing I can tell you for certain is that the Azzahra Hotel has really good hummus. Breakfast was at 7 a.m., earlier than I get up for school, but not a problem because most of us jet lagged travelers were up at 5 a.m. After a delicious breakfast, we headed off to the Old City.
It was only a short distance, and as we walked I saw more hijabs than I had ever seen in one place. I estimate about 75% of the women I saw wore them. I also saw more people smoking than I had ever seen in the United States. All along the streets, men would be leaning against shop doors smoking and chatting in Arabic.
Soon we reached the Old City. It’s hard to miss, given its high walls with crenellations on top and large towers. As soon as we walked in through one of its many gates, we immediately turned left. Our guide told us this turn was designed to make it more difficult for invading armies, a good counter measure considering that Old City has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice.
The first thing I think of when I see Old City is those drawing paradoxes, where you try to trace some stairs going up but somehow end up at the beginning. The Old City is a maze, full of confusion and optical illusions. There are stairs down and then back up, arches at every corner so you can’t differentiate among streets, and a million different winding paths. Even with a map, I would have been hopelessly lost. Thank goodness for our guide, who easily navigated through the city.
Shops spill onto the streets. As we turn from one street to another, it’s sometimes difficult to tell if we are inside or outside. In between the places of enormous religious significance, which are everywhere in Jerusalem, there are tables piled high with fruit, little coffee carts, and shops filled with souvenir magnets and Jerusalem postcards. Dodging the shopkeepers, tourists, and residents, we manage to make our way to some of the Stations of the Cross, including where Jesus was condemned to death, flogged, crucified and anointed. After passing through security (metal detector and bag check), we reached the Western Wall. All along the wall, little prayer notes are stuffed into cracks and corners. I was moved by the obvious demonstration of faith and devotion. From the Western Wall, we can see the Dome of the Rock, but we won’t get to visit that until later in the week. It’s too crowded now.
Now onto lunch, which is very welcome. Information overload and culture shock have made us hungry.