Published: January 6th 2010November 19th 2009
Jerusalem is Great
Jerusalem reads like a check-list of historically important and religiously significant sites for the three great monotheistic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Within a five minute walk of each other you have the holiest place in Christianity, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
, where Jesus died and was resurrected, the holiest place in Judaism, The Western Wall
, the sole remnant of the holy temple, and the third holiest place in Islam, The Dome of the Rock
, where the Foundation Stone is located, this is where Muslims believe Mohammed ascended to heaven. The Foundation Stone is also claimed as a holy place by the Jews.
Not to mention the various other churches (158), mosques (73), synagogues (1204), holy places and relics built, stored and worshipped next to, around, past, through, over, under and adjacent to each other.
Can you see why there is just a wee bit of tension in the region.
From my experiences Jerusalem is a great city, within the old walls it is a seething mass of 4 distinct quarters, the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian, ancient history, authentic lifestyles and shops selling everything from tourist junk to spices,
food and services. I loved it. I started out every morning with a felafel and a coffee as thick as mud, no better way to jump start the day. Bethlehem
I spent half a day on a little trip to the famous town of Bethlehem, only 30km from Jerusalem. My main reason for going was partly to see the Church of the Nativity
, where Jesus was born (these three religions really didn't spread out much did they), but much more partly to see the Israeli security wall and the plethora of graffiti on it. Since this was on the Palestinian side there is understandably a rather anti Israel slant to everything.
Politics aside this is one scary wall, about 8m tall and running for approximately 350km (with another 350km still to be built) through Israel and the West Bank. The bottom couple of metres are covered with large amounts of graffiti, much of it thought provoking and artistic and the rest crappy slogans and tags. There are a few famous Banksy pieces such as the soldier being patted down by a young girl and a dove wearing a flak jacket with a sight trained on it. "Segregation breeds nothing but ignorance and hatred" Anonymous
The longer I walked around the wall and saw the way it just cut across the landscape I couldn't help but think that the whole thing is head-shakingly unsustainable. Its no way to live either for the Israelis living behind it or for the Palestinians who suffer incredible hassle in their everyday life when trying to cross it.
It is a sad, difficult and complicated but hopefully solvable situation. Mount of Olives
Heading up the Mount of Olives outside the old city walls on the eastern side you are afforded wonderful views of the old city with the gold dome of the Dome of the Rock
shining brightly above the roof tops.
This view was only partly obscured by the low clouds, the burning of what I can only assume were dead olive trees and/or branches and the visual and noise pollution generated by the coach loads of elderly tourists taking up the best viewpoints and discussing how things were much better in their day. Eilat
I caught the bus down to the very south of Israel on the border with Jordan and Egypt, I was
only here to get an Egyptian visa and cross the border. I spent a rather pleasant evening sitting by myself at the end of a jetty drinking beers, looking at the stars and reminiscing a little about my year away. I fly home far too soon.
Next up Egypt, freediving, Cairo and the pyramids
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