First Tuesday

Says A. that the whole of the Old City falls inside what the mass media calls “East Jerusalem”, as opposed to West Jerusalem, which, according to some international treaties, would correspond to Israel, while East Jerusalem would correspond to Palestine. “East Jerusalem” would be the part that the Palestinians would have as their capital if the Israeli State respected the treaties it has signed. It would be a situation of a divided Jerusalem between Israel and Palestine once Palestine is recognised as a Country, or State. So it looks like most tourists are staying in ‘East Jerusalem’, the ‘bad part’ of the city.

A. has left Jerusalem on his own and I stay doing some more tourism. I head for the Mount of Zion, to the South of Jerusalem, looking for David’s Tomb and the Cenacle. I get lost in a park and when I go round an “Institute of Holy Land Studies” I find a stone building in the middle of the forest, with an open door at its base. I wonder what such an open house is doing in the middle of nowhere and it turns out it is the back entrance (or one of them) of the complex of the Tomb of David.

What is supposed to be David’s tomb is divided in two parts by a panel, so that one half is visited by men only and the other half is visited by women only, making sure we do not mix up.

After walking through a few gardens, in a room upstairs, there is the Cenacle or “Room of the Last Supper”, where we are sold that it is also here that Jesus appeared in front of his disciples once resurrected, where Pentecost happened and where the first church was born and lived.

Personally, and given the history of this and other holy places, they seem too many events for just one only place. If only we were told that the room is, or looks like, how it was in that epoch, it would be useful to get an idea of how they were living, and a good enough reason to visit it. But it looks like a medieval reconstruction and is more than empty, naked and cold, all made of stone. I sit down on a stair case in the room in order to rest and read my tourist guide, which also has sections of history and archaeology.

While other tourists walk in, talk, listen to guides and walk out, I learn that, throughout history, there has been an almost continuous fighting between the three monotheist religions for the control of this place. On occasions, one sect would get control of it and would destroy the whole existing building with its relics inside, in order to build their own temple on the previous one’s ruins. I get the impression that in all these fightings they would make extensive use of argument lines like “Jesus appeared here” or “yes but King David’s tomb is here”, when they argued.

Nowadays, all these places, at least the ones I have visited, are not too much about religion but very much about tourism. They are not places where I feel invited to pray. There is too much traffic of tourists who, coming for just a few days, only have time to arrive, queue -depending on the site- taking loudly in social conversation, enter, take the picture, and leave; where is the next tourist attraction please.

Personally I find the park that surrounds this building and where I got lost a lot more inviting for praying, and, well, to find such a park it is not necessary to come this long way…

In any case, and now that I’m here, I continue with my ‘tour’. In the same complex of gardens and yards and buildings there is a memorial for the victims of the holocaust, which is just a little room all made of white stone (like everything else here), with an old man offering candles in exchange of a donation and with a kind of altar at the level of the eyes; just big enough to put candles inside without getting the stone black with the smoke. Just that. I light a candle for all victims of all holocausts and I leave – next attraction please.

I explore all the paths that I haven’t seen yet and I end up in a parking lot with huge coaches in it. So, here is the place, I think, where all those tourists came from. I take some pictures of the impressive view – all the mountains covered with tiny little white houses that look very poor; thousands of them – and I leave. This is East Jerusalem. Fig 4.

I follow the road that those coaches must have used to get here. The road bands down the hill and goes alongside the city wall. In some places the space between the road and the wall is so narrow I end up walking “on” the wall to make space for the cars. I find the name of the street I am following on my map and I realise that was Zion Gate.

At last I come up to the end of this road, into what seems like a kind of police control right before accessing the Esplanade of the Temple and the Wailing Wall.

Almost every one entering have their heads covered. Some are orthodox Jewish, with their black cloaks and hats. I slow down discreetly waiting to see some tourist. I do not want to risk being stopped because I am a woman with an uncovered head and trousers, or because it just shows that I have not come here to pray. When I see that they allow a group with their cameras hanging from their necks, and nothing on their heads, I go after them. Again, men use one entrance and women use another one; our bags are searched and we are scanned.

Once inside, there is a big sign as big as a road traffic sign, with the rules of behaviour for all to read the rules of behaviour. From that moment on and during the rest of the day I see armed people everywhere, some in military clothes with normal machine guns, others in plain clothes with strange weapons. But people disregard them, it seems they are conscious that those weapons are there to protect ‘them’ from any [Arab] potential attack, unlike at Damascus Gate, where the [Arab] crowd is the potential attacker that the weapons are prepared against.

The Temple Esplanade is divided and clearly delimited in areas. Half of it, furthest away from the Wall, is where every one is allowed, and is therefore the busiest with tourists. It has little interest for the Jewish who come here for religious reasons. Then there is the other half, closer to the wall, used for prayer and mourning. This part is itself divided in two; one huge one, on the left hand side facing the wall, is for men. The last bit, the tiniest area of all, is for women . It is just a small corner, on the right hand side, facing the wall. Fig 5.

It is said that this Wailing Wall is the only thing remaining from the “Second Temple”, which was built over the ruins of the one built by Salomon. “Officially” it is called the West Wall of that temple. But, if it is true that the Romans did not leave “stone on stone” the second time they destroyed this temple, then this wall is nothing more than an invention.

On the other site of the wall, where the original Temple stood, is now an esplanade with various buildings, among them the Great Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, from where it is believed that the prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven when he died. It is the third holiest site of Islam. Some Jewish think it is an aberration that this dome is here, because it is the site of their Holy Temple, their Holiest of Holiest places for them. So I guess this is one of the reasons they want to get rid of all Muslims, since they object the destruction of their third most holy places to make way to the reconstruction of the Jewish Temple in the place where the Dome stands now.

I get out of the esplanade into the Old City and I try to find and entrance to the mosque, but I end up again in Via Dolorosa, in front of St. Stephen’s Gate (or Lions Gate), which is the one for the Mount of Olives. As that was my next tourist visit in my itinerary today and I begin to be tired, I decide to head there instead of continuing wandering looking for an entrance to the mosque.

On this mountain there are various churches. My map is good enough to tell me that, but not good enough to tell me how to get to them. And there is not a soul in sight that I can ask my way. So I just follow various paths believing that they will take me at least one of those churches, and I end up in a Muslim cemetery first, then in a Jewish one.

I find a small shade and I sit down, rest, and contemplate the Old City of Jerusalem, or rather the wall that I can see from here, and the roofs – and the Dome – that stick out from behind the wall. From here, it does look like a city on the top of a mountain, as majestic as described in the sacred books. Fig 6.

Looking at Jerusalem from this quiet position, it seems that all this ‘Palestinian problem’ is summarised in that mosque built on soil that for the Jewish people is holy soil – it has been invaded by this other religion that has planted its mosque there and that is not right, they should simply dismantle that mosque and allow them to build a temple where there should be the “Holy of Holies”, in the same spot where one day the Covenant Ark was kept. This, in the view of the Jews. But for the Muslims this place is holy too because Mohammed ascended into Heaven from the Rock, which is also the Rock from which the rest of the world was made, therefore the Jews should build their temple elsewhere, if they want, or else continue lamenting at the other side of the invented West Wall.

So the Jewish lamentations are for their lost Temple, and the Wall is the only remains of a ‘Holy of Holies’ of all places, and the place where the Temple stood before is now occupied by buildings of another religion.

So as far as the Jews are concerned, the Muslims have taken, are taking now away from them, the possibility of rebuilding their Temple on the only site where it can be rebuilt.

In other epochs it was frequent to simply expel entire populations from whole territories, forbid their entrance and destroy their holy places. But it is not possible to do that now without some one, somewhere, complains publicly.

Maybe Israel (the Israeli Government, that is) is trying to clean the country of Muslim people to later say that the mosque was left unattended so there was no point in keeping it standing; maybe a hypothetical Muslim government would want to do just that with the Jews.

The fact is it seems that some Jews dream of a free Israel (free of other powers and other religions) and some Muslims dream of a free Palestine (free of other powers and other religions).

I have found a newspaper in English in the hostel living room, and there is an interview with some Moshe Amirav, who has written a book about how to change the administration of Jerusalem. He says that the solution for Palestine/Israel goes through the solution of the Temple Mount, and he puts the current administration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as an example. In that temple, each Christian confession has its own “territory” and processions hours designated, according to a “Statu Quo” imposed some centuries ago by the Ottoman Empire, the empire of the time. There are two keys needed to open the church and each key is kept by a different local family. It looks to this Moshe Amirav like the system is not working too bad. He says both sides will have to admit that they need to be pragmatic, talk and compromise so that every one can live in peace; because at the end of the day what matters is not so much the lawful right acquired four thousand years ago and lost two thousand years ago, as the current needs of the fidels. This guy is one of those people who dream of a free State. He admits there are people on “the other side”, who also want a Free State, and who have been here for hundreds of years, “but we were here first”.