Published: April 5th 2010February 27th 2010
Oh my God, there's green in Israel!
We were lucky enough to get a three-day weekend this past week and pretty much all of us took the opportunity to get the heck out of Jordan. Fred and I woke up early to get a taxi out to the border -- the border between the East and West Banks.
It would be my first time going to Israel and I had specifically prepared well in advance. Last semester I applied for a second passport and was told to get it stamped by the border guards and just show my first passport as proof of legal entrance into Jordan. Well, the Jordanian side was pretty compliant. They asked for my first passport and assured me there would be no stamp. Instead they stamped a little piece of paper and took it back as we got on the big shuttle bus across the actual border. The Palestinian side was a bit of a mess. People just crowded around waiting for their luggage (we didn't have any) and passports and the guards there just handed a huge pile of them to the nearest Korean tourist. Well, everyone started grabbing and you can imagine how ridiculous it was... Sorry, but I don't
A random square
I can't get over how much Jerusalem is like a European city, West Jerusalem at least.
like anyone handling my passport!
Well, we went up to a small desk and stated our purpose of going to Israel. I was so distracted though because I was just staring at one of the girls behind the desk. She was tall and pale and blue-eyed and blond-haired. She was so different from the guards I saw just less than a mile behind us. The thing is she was probably younger than me, with Israel's compulsory military service and all. I felt a bit snowed as I went through security.
The next desk I realized too late was the stamping station, and, trustingly, I handed the girl behind the desk my first passport along with Fred's. I don't know what she stamped first exactly, but she made an exclamation when she saw that Fred had been here several times before. There was another stamping sound and my stomach sank. I didn't even have a chance to hand her my second passport. She handed us back our passports with little pieces of paper in them with immigration stamps, but I opened up my passport to find an identical one on one of the pages.
For people not wanting
A path around the Garden Tomb
Despite the rain, the garden was definitely a highlight of the weekend!
to go to Lebanon or Syria, this wouldn't have been a problem. And yes, I've already been to Lebanon and loved it. But Syria was a different story. There's no way I could get across the Syrian border with an Israeli stamp in my passport and they would never accept an empty second one, as it has no proof of my entry to Jordan. I had to sit down to let my heart stop beating so fast. It's a bit strange to think about. A little bit of ink can deny you entry into a whole country. But that's what it's like here, I guess.
Well, we coasted through the rest of the process and hopped onto a small shuttle that would take us to Jerusalem. Fred was feeling pretty bad about the stamp, but I was already accepting the fact that Syria was out of the picture for now. After all, I told him, I wanted to study in Lebanon, who wouldn't let me in with an Israeli stamp too. I'd have to apply for a new one, which would make it easy to head to Syria afterwards. He felt a little better, I think, although he was
still a bit disappointed for my sake.
But anyways, the land around us began to change more and more as we drove along the hour-long ride to Jerusalem. At first, it was the familiar semi-desert of Jordan, although it seemed cloudier than usual. And it sure was strange to see the Dead Sea from the opposite side! I was now in the expanse of land that I had first laid eyes on so, so long ago when they took us to the Dead Sea Panorama my second day in Jordan.
But shrubs started giving way to trees, whole patches of them! And among them were tin and cardboard shanties, camels tied to stakes at the side of the highway. The next moment we'd pass by huge walled cities with modern looking houses and buildings, all topped with big black water tanks. Yup, this was the West Bank for sure.
We started passing through cities that seemed identical to parts of Amman. The style of the buildings and the widing of the streets was exactly the same, but it somehow looked dingier. It might have been the darkness of the clouds. But soon we left those towns behind
Holy crap, Jesus died here
The proximity and actuality of all of these sites blew me away.
and were suddenly in Jerusalem.
The shuttle let us out in East Jerusalem, which again looked identical or equivalent to Amman. But Fred took my hand and pointed to a hill as we walked across a certain street. "Look," he said. "That's where Christ was crucified."
After that it was just overload. We crossed a street, an invisible border, and were somehow transported to Europe. Palestinians honked at us from beyond this invisible border, since we were holding hands, but we walked next to the walls of the Old City, through a park that was so green. I don't know how to describe it. Even the sidewalks were different. They were like home.
We walked up the street and through another little plaza and garden and I had to stop and sit on a bench to take it all in. I might as well been in Beirut. There were squares that looked exactly like this one. I couldn't believe the difference that occurred in less than a mile between East and West Jerusalem.
Fred and I walked down and wandered past the Municipality. We walked past grocery stores that lacked the tiny atmosphere that they had
You can't really tell in this picture, but this cave, one next to it and one below it (not pictured) resemble the eye sockets and mouth of a skull. This is the hill where Jesus died...
in Jordan. And every single one we passed was just FULL of alcohol. Yep, we weren't in Muslim Jordan anymore! We walked down Jaffa street, past religious men in black coats with shower caps over the top hats to keep them from getting wet in the drizzle. They had the soft little curls on the sides of their heads. I saw skin on women's legs. I saw cleavage despite the damp. I saw hair flowing down women's backs. And there was every color of hair, of skin, of eyes. We walked down Ben Yehuda street and past a stand selling flowers. A man with a guitar played a Plain White T's song. Finally I felt at ease. I didn't feel like I had to stare at the ground or put up an air of defiance as men would scrutinize my body. That wasn't happening here! They weren't staring at me like I was an object, a commodity. I felt... free.
Well, Fred and I checked into our hostel, the Jerusalem Hotel, which was right at the beginning of Ben Yehuda street. The weather wasn't too nice though and it was starting to get dark, so we decided to take
The tomb itself
The door to the tomb, which is just a room hewn out of stone. It's exactly how I imagined it.
a nap and catch a quick dinner later that night. We walked around until we found a Thai restaurant that caught our fancy, something that would probably not exist for sane prices in Jordan. Well, needless sto say the phad tai was delicious. After that, we turned in early to get a head start the next day.
For some reason I thought it was going to be warm in Jerusalem, but it was quite the opposite. And on top of that, it was POURING down rain and thundering and lightning like no other. It would seem to abate, but would change its mind and start dumping down rain again, like it did while we were getting breakfast. We of course had to try the bagels. They are all but non-existent in Jordan. The kid behind the counter was only a few years older than us and was from California. He came to Israel after he graduated from college. I tried to wrap my head around it. I guess no other place in the world was literally made for the every-day Jew. If I were in his shoes, it would hold an intangible appeal to me too, I guess.
Saying goodbye to our former fellow American, we walked back to East Jerusalem despite the rain and went to the Garden Tomb, one of the possible places of Christ's burial. And really, it was exactly how I imagined it. It was the most beautiful, gentle gardens I could ever have pictured. Even in the rain I'd never seen a place like it. The garden winds into a small look-out point that looks toward Calvary that Fred had pointed out to me the day before. Then the path backtracks a little and leads down to a simple hole in the stone cliff. It was just one little room with an adjoining room with a platform for the body. A plaque on the wooden door said "He is not here - for He is risen". It couldn't have been more perfect. I was pretty convinced that was where Jesus's body had once lain.
Next on our personal pilgramage, we walked back through East Jerusalem and through the Damascus Gate, the largest and most impressive of the gates into the Old City of Jerusalem. Fred tried to pull out his map to navigate the winding and confusing streets, even though the ink
was getting smudged by the rain. But eventually we found our way to the Via Dolorosa. It's separated into two parts that are somewhat perpendicular, so we had to walk down the first length of it to reach the beginning of it and start over where we were meant to.
I think Fred described it pretty well as "a religious theme park". Hawkers tried to pull tourists into their shops full of religious paraphernalia, want-to-be tour guides followed us for several lengths trying to earn a shekel. It was a shame. Here, in the actual road Jesus walked down with the cross, all people could think about was making money. I know it's how people in that area need to make a living, but it still cheapened it for me and made me angry. At the second station, a little boy followed us even into the chapel and waited while I prayed hoping that I would tip him for the random facts he spouted out.
But ignoring all that, we followed the Stations of the Cross all the way to where the road turned. The stations here were not as clear and it started inclining. Jesus must have
The Old City
Fred trying to read his Google map of the Old City as the rain smudges it.
had one hell of a time with the cross here, especially because the road narrowed to barely more than three shoulder-lengths across. Strangely, though, the road just stops and is suddenly named something else. It doesn't seem to make much sense for the road to stop there. The fact that it's a fair distance away from Calvary too is strange. Maybe the walls of the Old City were different, were bigger back then. I don't know all the archeological stuff. But anyways, close to where the Via Dolorosa stopped was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the alternate place where Christ was buried. I say alternate because I don't believe it.
But first, before we got there, we passed by a Lutheran church with a bell tower. I can't remember if Fred said he went up there before, but we paid a little for a ticket and hurried up the tower, since we only had about twenty minutes before noon when the bells would eradicate our sense of hearing and after that the tower would be closed. So we basically ran up the narrow winding staircase until we got to the most spectacular view I could imagine. I didn't
care if it was rainy! The Dome of the Rock rose above the other buildings, rising out of the Temple Mount, against the backdrop of the Mount of Olives. So many things sacred to the three major religions were scrunched up in that bird-eye view. It was mind-boggling.
We got to the bottom just as the bells started ringing and from there we went to the Holy Sepulcher. The first thing that hit me was that it was so dark! The ceiling was so far away and the concrete was cold. The door wasn't even what I expected for the burial place of Christ! It seemed like someone had just cut a rectangle out of the side of the wall. I read later that there were parts built and rebuilt by the different Christian sects - Greek Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Roman Catholic. It seemed like a mess! There was a slab of stone on the ground that people crowded around to kiss and touch, a stone that commemorated the stone over Christ's tomb. The actual Sepulchar was a wooden building built over Christ's supposed tomb. We waited in line for close to an hour and were jostled around until
One of the chapels along the way
Some of the chapels' significances were not really explained very well, although this one was really perfect-looking.
we finally got the chance to step inside. The process was overseen by a Greek Orthodox monk with something up his a**. He let a few people in at a time for about a minute. I understand that I can't stay there forever and I have to let other people see it too, but that doesn't mean the monk has to insult my intelligence and that of the people around me: "Hello-o. I said get out already!" "I said three people only! Don't you understand the number THREE?" Well, Mr. A****** of a monk, half the people around me were speaking RUSSIAN so maybe no, they don't understand the word THREE. Jerk.
Needless to say, I didn't really like it. I don't think Jesus would like the Holy Sephulcher as his burial place. The Garden Tomb was a much better bet.
Next, we braved the rain again to walk to the Western Wall, the last remaining part of the Temple of the Jews from Roman times. It was sparcely populated because of the wet, which was nice. Men and women also had separate areas, so there was plenty of space to go straight up to it. People had
O vos omnes
"All you people who are passing through the street, look and see if the pain is truly my pain."
stuck little pieces of paper, now damp like spit-wads, into the cracks of the stones in the hope that their prayers would be answered. I felt a little shy, as this was not a holy site to me particularly, but it did feel holy and worthy of respect, so I treated it as such. It felt ominous too, though, in the shadow of the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Fred and I worked our way out of the security points and out of the Old City, walking around the walls on our way to the Mount of Olives. It was a bit of a hike and we had to stop a few times, but we made it to the garden eventually. It was just like I had pictured it to, minus the church built over it, of course. It was quiet and solemn, a place of prayer. Even if it wasn't the exact place Jesus was, it didn't matter too much to me. I could imagine Him being there just fine.
It was definitely a long haul the way back to the Old City and we were on our way to find the Coenaculum, the place where Jesus is said to
The view form the Church of the Redeemer!
The temple mount, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque all in one picture...
have had his Last Supper, but we took a wrong turn and decided to make our way back to the hostel as best we could. There'd be a second time, I assured Fred. It was getting dark as we were returning though and I got to see the streets of Jerusalem shut down as people went home to celebrate the Sabbath. It's nice that people were free to honor their religious traditions, but it's very difficult when they aren't around to work in their restaurants and supermarkets, at least for tourists! We were lucky enough to find an Italian restaurant that was open to get some dinner before turning in.
The next day was spent just getting back and there was a lot of waiting on buses and grinding of teeth. But eventually we made it back into the numb monotany of Amman. To think that Jerusalem was barely an hour and a half away. It was like going back to prison, where every day is so painfully the same.
Catching up slowly. Bear with me!
There are more photos below