Its one of the oldest cities in the world.
It’s one of the most contested cities in the world
Its a fatal conjunction between the world’s three monotheistic religions.
It’s an ancient battleground still living its wounds today, no end in sight.
I flew to Israel with El Al from Athens.
Spent some time in Tel Aviv
I saw the blackened remains of a gay bar which had been blown up by a suicide bomber years previous and still hadn’t been rebuilt; a lighter, more amusing scene was of wall murals featuring famous Jews:
Anya and I went the bus station to buy tickets for a bus to Jerusalem. It underscored the incredible diversity of Israel and the deeper quandary of what the definition of a ‘Jew’ really is.
Strange to think that for over a thousand years, generations of Christians travelled all the way from Europe and came to Jerusalem on a holy pilgrimage. Made the perilous journey overland or sailed in wooden ships. For 2000 years, the Jews – dispersed all over the world, worshipped Jerusalem and sang about it; Moslems worshipped it as one of the holiest cities, alongside Mecca.
How many millions of people, in the course of the ages, felt awed and humbled as this sight appeared before them?:
A Jewish cemetery on the heights outside of the sacred city – and for those buried here, a sacred resting place – near the Holy City.
Entering Jerusalem on a quiet day, an Israeli soldier patrolling the portal of this ancient battleground…
Israeli archaeologists dug a tunnel dug 20 metres under the area surrounding the so- called wailing wall and discovered the remains of the first two temples built by Jewish kings long before the birth of Christ. There are regular tours into the tunnel, one of which we joined after passing through a security check. Down deep are the original blocks, huge slabs of stone from Solomon’s temple, and above them, the story told in layers of rubble of the sacking of the first temple by the Babylonians and the enslavement and abduction of the Jews. Then, the building of the second temple, and its sacking by the Romans in 70 AD – and the dispersion of the Jewish people until the establishment of Israel in 1947.
Even by the standards of Islamic architecture, the Al Asqua mosque (also revered by Jews and called ‘The Temple Mount’), is an impressive and beautiful building. Passing through the Israeli security check to reach it, our small rucksacks were checked for bibles or any other religious book – which are forbidden to be taken into the grounds.
Here an amusing shot of a woman photographing the mosque with a mobile; the modern and the ancient in a strange juxtaposition ….
Late in the afternoon, tired and overwhelmed by all the impressions, we depart the old city, cross a busy road and make our way to the tram stop.
There’s no one there; no trams.
What ‘s going on?
Ask the owner of a nearby falafel shop and here’s the story: at 1.30 pm, a rabbi by the name of Ovadi Josef died. He was 93 and had been in poor health. Josef was one of the most important rabbis in Israel. In accordance with Jewish custom he’s going to be buried tonight. It’s expected that hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews from all over Israel will descend on Jerusalem.
Outside, the sound of helicopters. Lots of police. Contingents of the IDF have been mobilised.
Walk back to our hotel following the tram line. The sun is setting.
At intersections which have been closed off, we encounter hundreds of Orthodox Jews walking towards the city centre. It’s an amazing sight.
That night back in our room watch the televised scenes of the funeral. The van carrying the body of Josef creeps through an engulfing sea of black hats. Many of the Orthodox Jews are rocking back and forth and repeating prayers. It’s mayhem. Everyone is trying to touch the van. A team of IDF surround the van and try to keep the mass at bay.
Get a bit sick of the funeral. The van has hardly moved an inch. Try another channel and get some Israeli rock group calling themselves ‘Guns and Moses’.
Back to the funeral: 800, 000 people – have turned up.
That’s a lot of people for a population of around 7 million.
Most of those people are Orthodox. I don’t get a good feeling from that. Too much religion for me. As far as I can see, democracy thrives where religion is kept at arm’s length and where the number of fundamentalists constitutes a relatively small percentage of the population.
My own rule of thumb: the more religion there is, the less freedom there is.
Leave the TV on and start reading the two English language Israeli newspapers I’ve bought today, The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz. In the economic pages of both newspapers I read something about the Chinese, South Koreans and Singaporeans visiting Israel in the hope of forming partnerships with Israeli high-tech companies, especially those involved in cyber space research. I am reminded of an article I read the Guardian, where someone was discussing a recently published book about Israel which cited a remarkable statistic: that there were more Israeli companies listed on the Nasdaq that either Germany or France.
Which is why the Asians are so interested in tiny Israel.
In our modern world, the most disparate bytes of information hit you from every angle and it’s hard to form definite conclusions. Israel: a cyber-super power, one of most fertile grounds for research and intellectual endeavour in the world.
And there right in front of me, scenes of hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews, black hats, beards, black suits – in the grips of a mass religious trance, rocking back and forth.
Categories: Israel and the West Bank