We made it to Jerusalem with no problems and started into the Old City where our hostel was located. The Old City of Jerusalem is the Jerusalem of antiquity, where many of the biblical stories occurred. Here is where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac; where David ruled and where his son Solomon built the first temple.
It's the birthplace of Mary and it's where Jesus preached, was arrested, crucified, and resurrected. For Muslims, Mohammed dreamed of his ascension to heaven here, marking Jerusalem
as a holy place for them as well. This is a place so steeped in religious history that it's hard to take it all in.
The Old City of Jerusalem is completely enclosed in a wall and divided into four quarters whose inhabitants seem to coexist fairly peacefully, although that may be due more to the hundreds of police and army people with M16s and riot gear than any benevolent feelings that may be harbored.
The four quarters include the Christian quarter, the Arab quarter, the Jewish quarter, and the Armenian quarter. Each of these quarters holds significant religious sites with the most important, the Temple Mount, lying mostly within the Arab quarter, with only the Western Wall resting in Jewish domain.
The Western (Wailing) Wall is the only remaining part of the original temple mount built by Solomon, and is named such because of the continuous lamentations of the Jews here over the destruction of the temple. Inside the Temple Mount
(which is heavily guarded and was off limits to non-Muslims all four times we tried to enter) is the famous, golden-topped Dome of the Rock. In here is the purported stone where Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac and where later the "Holy of Holies' of the First and Second Temples
It's also supposed to have a mark from the foot of Mohammed when he ascended to heaven. After nearly 1,400 years of battles and fighting, the Muslims still retain control over the site and therefore do not allow anyone into the Dome of the Rock that isn't a Muslim.
Mt. of Olives.
It's a real shame and a perfect example of the ludicrous religious fractions that have nearly decimated this city over the centuries.
While I learned about the significance of Jerusalem from an early age, in recent years I have always considered Jerusalem to be the epitome of religious duplicity and have never placed it high on the list of places I wanted to go. Here is what can be considered the holiest place in the world for three major world religions, and it has been completely shrouded in violence, hate, and bigotry for the last two millennia. The complete intolerance that surrounds this area (and spreads throughout the world) is startling and disturbing. Over a dozen Muslim nations do not recognize Israel as a country (and would seemingly love to have it wiped off the Earth) and therefore ban all Israelis from entering.
In addition, at least eight of these countries will not allow anyone
who has visited Israel
to enter their countries, meaning that I am now unable to travel to any of those countries with my current passport because it has an Israeli stamp.
Israeli security at the borders, airports, and bus and railway stations throughout the country is extremely strict (a knife I've carried with me through 14 countries and over a dozen airports was confiscated at a security checkpoint in the bus station in Jerusalem).. Every citizen is required to serve in the military for two years and I was told that during that military service they must carry a gun with them at all times. I saw M16s slung over the shoulders of nearly every young 20 something Israeli I encountered and I never got used to it.
So, am I glad to have witnessed everything first hand? Yeah, I guess so. The historical aspects alone make Jerusalem extremely interesting, and the political situation makes for an altogether different experience. Day to day life in the city walls is eclectic and at first I wondered how it can all work, but it somehow does. It was a unique experience, so one that I'm happy to have had. Up next, the Dead Sea and on to Egypt….