Published: April 13th 2010April 12th 2010
I’m up early to catch up with my blogs and I’m on the internet before 7:30am. It’s time consuming but I’m out of the hotel by 9am. My Adidas T shirt has gone missing from the balcony. If I’m losing clothes at this rate ,I’ll only need a small rucksack to go home.
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I’ve posted a birthday card and then catch a taxi up to the North Bus Station to take a taxibus to King Hussein Bridge for the crossing to Israel. I grab a felafel wrap for less than 40p and then get into the taxi bus with four other people. No one speaks. No one speaks English. I’m sharing a taxibus with four Palestinians returning to the West Bank.
Jordan is thriving. You can see by the number of cranes that are working in the capital and the strength of the £JD . The Jordanian Royal
Family are highly regarded and can make a point for benevolent dictators everywhere. This country has benefited enormously from the reign of King Hussein and latterly his son King Abdullah.
The wait for our passports to be processed is excruciating and I talk to Karin a German studying Arabic in Syria. Onto the bus and we travel a short distance to Israel and through customs:
‘What are you here for?’
‘To see the sights’
‘All of them!’
‘You don’t know any sights in Jerusalem?’
Of all the tourist locations in Jerusalem, I can’t think of one!. My brain has vacated my skull. Then something comes back
‘Temple of the Mount’
I’m pleased with myself, then I realise what I’ve said. The Temple of the Mount is the 3rd most holiest site of the Muslim faith, where non Muslims are only given restricted access, but I’m let through and breathe a sigh of relief.
It’s not over , and onto the stamping of the passport. I know that I don’t want an Israeli stamp in my passport as it will restrict my travels in the Middle East and South East Asia, as having visited and recognised
Israel you are not welcome in some Muslim countries.
’Why are you in Israel?’
’ Are you going to visit any other part of Israel’
I’m ready for this question and I lie
‘ I’m going to Galilee……, the Dead Sea………, and I fly out of Tel Aviv’
Any mention of the Palestinian Territories and I‘m returned to Jordan
‘ Can I see your plane ticket?’
I rummage in my bag, but it’s not there
‘I’m sorry, I can’t find it. It’s on my computer’
Where are you staying?’
That’s one thing I have researched
‘The Citadel Hostel’
Do you have a reservation there?’
‘No’ (wrong answer again! Why didn’t I say yes!)
‘Do you know anyone in Israel?’
He’s running out of questions, and he’s not satisfied, then I remember Shimri from the Wadi hike
‘Yes, I have a friend in Israel’
‘What’s the person’s name?’
It sounds bad, even to me, as I don’t know his surname’
’Just Shimri. No surname?’
I remember he wrote something in the back of my Lonely Planet guide so I open it up and find his surname Negeb, his email address and his telephone number. I’m triumphant. I know
that this will appease the official. It does.
I’m relieved .I’m flustered and I’ve suppressed the urge to tell the official to stuff his country as far up his *** as possible. I’ve been under such a grilling I don’t even know if he’s stamped my passport . I open it up and there it is. A big blob of ink that tells me I’ve crossed a border, but stops me from crossing other borders.
Karin’s quite concerned
I explain to her, that it’s probably because I’m travelling alone, they think I’m here to support the Palestinians in some way. I’m also two weeks unshaven, which makes me look like a hippie activist
We travel by minibus into Jerusalem past Jericho and get dropped off at Damascus Gate.Through the entrance and I’m inside the old walled city of Jerusalem. It’s a throng of marketsellers and machineguns in gangs of four at every strategic point of the Old City. The smell of spices attacks your nostrils. The alleyways are narrow and the ancient paving stones are polished and slip with age. Even narrower alleyways branch off at right angles. I find my hostel. It’s delightful, situated amidst the hustle
and bustle of the old city. The inside of the hostel looks like a number of catacombs or caves and I have to stoop underneath the arches.
I’m out again and it’s a maze of streets and sidestreets. It’s easy to get lost. Within seconds I come across the alleyway heading for the Wailing Wall which branches off to open up in a plaza and I see the Jewish men with their black coats and hats and curled locks. I read the notices carefully as not to offend, and watch believers leaning and praying against the wall, some are pushing notes into the cracks of the wall. I look over to the other side and see the brighter colours of what I perceive to be European coats and dress and a place for foreigners to pray as not to disturb the devotees, so I venture to the right and push myself to the front and witness women walking backwards never turning their backs to the wall. Then I’m told sternly
‘This is not for you.This place is only for women’
I look around and I’m surrounded by women. How could I have been so blind! Other women have gained confidence
from the first to challenge me, and I retreat from the wailing wall as humbly as I can with chastisement ringing in my ears.
As I retreat from the wall I notice that the Israeli flag is flying at half mast and I’m curious to know why. The response from the soldiers is again sharp and incredulous to my ignorance
‘It’s Holocaust Remembrance Day!’
I return to the sanctuary of the narrow alleyways and see two machinegunners running down an alleyway. I follow and get stopped by another two policemen with machineguns
’You are not Muslim. You can’t come in here!. ’
I catch a glimpse of the gold ,Temple of the Dome’ through barndoors and know I’m not supposed to be in this area before the policemen open their mouth. Again I stoop low in deference and humility.
I’m lost in the warren of alleyways now and two children come up to me
’You go! You Go! You shouldn’t be here.! This is Muslim area .’
I’m getting a little uneasy now. I’ve made too many mistakes in such a small amount of time. My confidence is waning. I decide to head for Jaffa’s Gate to sit down and
read up on Jerusalem over a pint of Amstel beer.
I research ’The Temple Mount’ and learn that as a non Muslim I’m only allowed to enter through the Moors Gate, and then only on certain days and times and to make sure I’m without any Christian paraphernalia and not to make any attempt to pray .
Back at the hostel, I’m deciding whether I’ve got enough confidence left to walk up to the American Colony Hotel’s Cellar Bar where Jerusalem’s politicians and journalists hang out. Perhaps John Simpson or Ole Guerrin are there from the BBC. I finally decide to go and I head out of the hostel, down the eerily empty alleyways that a few hours ago were full and noisy. I make the mistake again and I’m at the entrance for the Temple Mount. The guards must think I’m either determined to gatecrash the ’Temple Mount’ or I’ve got the memory of a goldfish. I’m out of Damascus Gate and away from the security of the machinegunners. I head north up Nabulus road and into East Jerusalem the predominant Arab and Muslim residential area. I pass UN cars and then an UN compound and then I’m there.
It’s nearer than I thought.
The Cellar Bar is full of wealthy Israelis and Arabs, but unfortunately no Foreign Correspondents from the BBC. I stay for two pints because £6 a pint is way to dear for me. I head back for Damascus Gate ,but lose my way. It should be simple finding the walls. They’re huge, but I can’t, and I’m sensing that I’m too low in the valley. Finally I find the Old Wall and follow it around, until Damascus Gate. Inside the walls it again feels eerie as only the machinegunners are left in the alleyways. I also note that Big Brother is watching with security cameras above each alleyway.
Hopefully, tomorrow will be a better day
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