Contrary to my fun visit to Tel-Aviv and my informative visit to Hebron, my visit to Jerusalem was a bit of a disappointment, fully due to my lack of proper planning. So I will start with the best.
Catching-up with my friends Natalie and Avishai (on the left), with whom I climbed to the Annapurna Base Camp 6 months ago in Nepal. On the right, Erika, with whom I visited Hebron… 12 hours earlier! She taught me that many people in Finland don’t speak Finnish. On the island where she lives, everybody speaks Swedish. I did not know that.
I had deliberately come to Jerusalem on Shabbat, as I was curious to see the large numbers of people praying at the Western Wall.
Unfortunately, this is what I saw. While people do come in droves on Shabbat, they specifically come after sunset on Friday, and very early Saturday. When I arrived late in the morning on Saturday, there were only a few people. Mostly women, in there section about a third the size of the men’s. Furthermore, while I could take this picture from a distance, pictures close to the wall are allowed everyday, except on Shabbat!
That left the rest of the huge city of Jerusalem to visit.
But of course on Shabbat, the city was closed. I even had to take a shared taxi from Tel-Aviv, as public buses and almost all other forms of transportation shut down on Shabbat.
This left the Old City, where I did go on a guided walking tour. However, as much as I was fascinated by the visit to Hebron, I know that my interest in recent history is much greater than my interest in ancient history.
What did these guys do in the 12th century? I may spend some time figuring it out on Wikipedia on a rainy day when I am feeling curious, but most of the time, I don’t really care.
Even less so about this street of Biblical times, excavated under a residential complex and open for visitors (except on Shabbat).
So did I learn anything? Yes I did. First, while I knew of East and West Jerusalem (mostly Palestinian and Jewish, respectively), I did not know Old Jerusalem (within the walls) was divided in 4 quarters: Armenian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish.
In the Armenian sector, every single building is owned by the church itself. Since demand exceeds supply, the church will not rent apartments to members of other churches. Therefore, the quarter is all Armenian, as far I as understood. Our guide mentioned a bit about their history, from the conversion of the first Armenian Christian king to the modern days, including the massacre of Armenians by the Ottomans in 1915.
“Anywhere from X to Y Armenians died” he said.
“We prefer the second number” a woman passing by with grocery bags replied.
Yep, this was the Armenian quarter.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the most important buildings in the Christian quarter, where Jesus was apparently crucified, buried and did other things. Custody of the site is shared between various Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches as well as the Catholic Church. They manage the place jointly in a spirit of Christian brotherly love. OK, I’m kidding, they hate each other’s guts so much that the slightest minuscule incident has often led elderly monks and priests to fistfights! In 2002, a Coptic monk was getting really hot sitting in the sun, so he moved his chair a few feet, encroaching into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church space. After the monks were done bashing each other’s faces in with chairs and iron bars, 11 had to be hospitalized.
Reading this reminded me of a book I once read about the history of the Middle-East. It spoke of the divisions in the Arab world and about how Arabs, as much as they try to hate Israel, are never able to hate it as much as they hate each other! Because the slightest change or action in the church must be agreed by all, nothing ever happens and the place is actually falling apart.
This ladder serves no purpose and it has apparently been there since the 19th century, but they can’t agree on what to do with it, so it remains.
In the Muslim quarter I learned that house prices depend on who is buying it. The owner of an apartment can sell it to a Muslim for a few hundred thousand dollars, but if he sells it to a Jew, he can get millions. This is no discriminatory pricing, this is a danger premium. Dubbed a traitor, the seller is likely to be killed if he remains in town, and thus must exile himself and his family abroad, never to return.
When people perform the once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca, they are entitled to use a little post-nominal formula. I forgot what it is, but basically you go from being “Bob” to “Bob the Hadj guy”. Furthermore, so that everyone knows you’ve been, you put this poster on your house. I did not know that.
The Hurva synagogue is both new and old. This structure was actually completed in 2010, but the original one was built at the beginning of the 18th century, only to be destroyed by the Ottomans, then rebuilt again in 1864, to be blown up again by the Arabs in the 1948 war.
Across the street from the holy site, this BBQ joint. Hum…love of fast food?
So I found something Jews and Muslims have in common.
If you wanted to move to Old Jerusalem for some reason, the Jewish quarter is the only place where you could realistically rent an apartment (I’m assuming you are neither a member of the Armenian Apostolic Church or a Palestinian). However, prices are comparable to Manhattan rentals.
After the tour, I walked a bit outside the walls. Going through the Damascus Gate.
The walls themselves.
And the view of West Jerusalem from the walls.
You can even catch a glimpse of the controversial West Bank Barrier, aimed at keeping terrorists at bay.
The imposing Dormition Abbey, just outside the walls, built on land purchased by Kaiser Wilhelm II during his visit there in 1898.
Along with Vanessa, a French tourist I met in Tel-Aviv, I rented a car and went on a little road trip north. Since I have no great stories to tell, I will include everything in this post.
Caesarea was built about 2,000 years ago by King Herod, and named in honour of his Roman patron. Parts of the 5 km aqueduct remains in the vicinity of the ruined city.
The hippodrome, where upwards of 30,000 spectators could watch the deadly sport of chariot racing.
And the 4,000 seat theatre, the oldest in Israel.
Since this was a road trip, I needed coffee. Not knowing where to go around the coast, we stopped at a McCafe.
Remember when I said in my Tel-Aviv story that everything was expensive in Israel? The hamburger trio advertised (Mega Big America), with fries and a drink, is 58 Shekels. That’s almost US$17! By the way, no BigMac in sight. Cheese and meat are both OK, but eating them together is not Kosher.
The coffee was needed because of the bad traffic, not because of the great distances to be covered in this tiny country. In fact, if I traced the itinerary of my Southern Africa road trip to scale, starting in Tel-Aviv, it would probably take me up to Russia and back down into the middle of Iran!
So we arrived in Acre (Akko) much later than planned, and most attractions were closed. But we saw the town’s popular waterfront and all the restaurants that come with it.
This is the prison where the British would jail Jewish activist before 1947. Posters outside described how having to go through a moat really gave the prisoners the impression they were stepping back a few centuries in time.
I don’t know what issue this relates to, but Acre obviously has its own real estate controversies.
And while I drove Vanessa straight to the Haifa train station, I stayed the night and visited the next day, eating lunch in a lovely park overlooking Haifa’s busy port.
If you zoom in on the picture, you will see that nobody needs to buy a Stairmaster in Haifa.
The Bahá’í gardens, completed in 2001, on the site of the headquarter of the Bahá’í religion, a rather recent faith founded in Persia during the 19th century, which has today about 5 million followers worldwide.
The city from the first level of the gardens. You can’t go up higher on the terraces, although you can visit the upper ones and the temple if you access it from the top. I had no time for this.
And early the next morning, I drove to Ben Gurion Airport and following a relatively mild level of questioning, I flew back to Europe.