I’m sitting in on my bed at the King David’s hotel, looking out my window at the Old City of Jerusalem. It is so incredible to be here, I can’t explain it. We had a day packed with more history than I can even grasp, and I’m still just staring at it, a city so rich with culture and history.
We left Tiberias this morning at 8, and headed out on the two our journey to Jerusalem. Abraham explained to us the differences in the zones of the West Bank, and how all that works. Zone A is controlled by the Palestinian Security, zone B is considered Palestinian territory, but is controlled by both Palestinian and Israeli security, and zone C is Palestinian territory by the 1967 UN agreement, but has been taken over by Israeli control. Even in zone A, Palestinians have the right to live on the land, but don’t have access to what is above or below it. That means that they can’t dig down and create wells for water, and that a cell phone or telecommunications company couldn’t access the frequencies in the air; all that is under Israeli control.
When we crossed the border from Israel to the West Bank, you could see an immediate shift. Where it had been green and arable in Israel, the West Bank was dry and poor. Where there had been buildings and infrastructure, there was now mostly tents and a few poorly constructed buildings. Even the roads were in better shape in Israel. Abraham said that there are almost no businesses in the West Bank, because there is no financing or investment. He said that there are a number of rich Palestinians abroad waiting to invest, but none of them are willing to risk investing in such an unstable environment right now.
The West Bank was full of Israeli Check Points. Abraham said that the Israeli army sets up checks wherever they like, and can request all sorts of information from those passing through. It’s incredibly unnerving driving past soldiers with giant machine guns; it’s a feeling I don’t think I’ll ever get used to. I hope I don’t. Today there were a lot of check points because a small Palestinian town had been protesting building rights earlier, and so the Israelis were checking to make sure no Palestinians were going to join the protests.
As we approached Jerusalem, we saw more and more Israeli settlements. Abraham explained that Palestinians do not have the right to set foot in those settlements, even though the land is rightfully theirs according to the 1967 accords. In fact, without a permit or residency card, Palestinians are not even allowed into Jerusalem. Abraham is let through with his guiding permit, and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem can reapply for a residency status every year, but these permits and statuses are always subject to change.
Jerusalem is amazing, and once again I don’t think I can put any of it into words. I can’t even wrap my mind around most of the things we saw today, so I don’t know how I’m going to explain it here. We entered the Old City through the Lions Gate, which is where Jesus entered Jerusalem for the first time, and is also the start to Via Delarosa. Our first real stop was to a church where Jesus healed a man on Sabbath. To commemorate the spot, they built the most beautiful church. Because of its acoustics, when the Muslims took over, the converted into a Qu’ran school. When we entered there was a man singing, and the sound echoed all over the place. It was beautiful. Our guide sang a christian prayer after that, and when we was done he asked if I would like to sing. I sang “I Wonder as I Wander” which is the only Sacred solo piece I could come up with on the spot. I’ve never sung in such incredible acoustics. I’ve sung in some incredible churches, but nothing even compares to the sound in that church. The church was mostly empty, so I walked up to the front and closed my eyes and sang, and it was such a special experience. I had to slow myself down to accommodate the incredible echo, and it was really, really cool – definitely something I’ll never forget.
Trying to write down all the different sites we saw today will not only be impossible, but would take much more than I’m willing to write, so I’m goingto focus on the highlights. We continued down Via Delarosa, towards the Church of the Sepulchre, which is considered to be the resurrection sight of Jesus. I’ve never quite seen anything like that church. It was so elaborate, but what I found most interesting was the fact that the church was separated into all different denominations. Each denomination had a little part of the church, and it just seemed to go on and on and on. Considering most denominations usually don’t get along that well, it was pretty amazing to see them all under one roof. Also in the church was the Tomb of Christ, where they had the stone that is believed (according to tradition) to be the actual stone that Jesus was buried on. We waited in line and got to actually so inside the tomb and touch the stone, which was really really cool.
Next we got lunch! Dad and I requested Shawarma, so he took us to this little place in the Christian quarter that had a roof terrace, so we ate our delicious shawarma overlooking the Church of Sepulchre and the Dome of Rock. I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten lunch in such a cool place.
After lunch we continued on through the Christian quarter and into the Jewish Quarter. There was a drastic difference between the Jewish Quarter and the Muslim and Christian Quarters. The first two had been busy and crowded and full of life, but the Jewish quarter was entirely different. You could sense a change the minute you entered it. The Jewish Quarter was spotless, and very new in almost every sense. The Christian and Muslim Quarters had been extremely crowded, but the Jewish Quarter was almost eerily empty. The feeling was completely different.
We made our way through the Jewish Quarter, past a famous Synagogue. Abraham didn’t seem to hold back his criticisms for the Jewish religion, poking all sorts of holes in it. It was hard to take him seriously, though, when I could just as easily poke similar holes in his religion. Still though, it was a weird feeling going through the Jewish quarter. Unlike the other quarters where people would call out and approach you, people almost seemed to look through us here. That is, except when the Orthodox Jews were asking for donations. Anyways, we made our way through and turned a corner to reveal the most amazing view of the Dome of Rock and the Western Wall.
Abraham was sort of ready to go and keep touring, but I definitely needed a minute there to register what we were seeing! It was the Western Wall!!! Dad and I wandered down the stairs a bit and took some pictures closer up. It was so incredible to be standing there. We knew we’d be coming back, so reluctantly we headed back into the Jewish Quarter, and up towards the Armenian Quarter. No one is allowed to enter the Armenian Quarter unless they are residents, so we sort of walked past it. We did manage to find our way into an Armenian Orthodox church, which is only open to the pubic several times a day for prayer. We went in and sit against the wall, and watched as cloaked Armenian priests sang prayers and banged on drums. Our tour ended by leaving the Old City through Jaffa gate, where our driver met us and took us to King David Hotel.
The hotel is beautiful and historical and amazing! We have the most incredible view of the old city, and I can’t stop staring at it! When we got here, we rested for about an hour, and then headed back down to the Western Wall after the sun went down.
When the sun goes down on Friday night, Shabbat begins until Saturday night. We wandered down the outside of the wall of the Old City towards the Dung Gate which leads to the Western Wall. We got through security, and then went down towards the Western Wall. Since it’s Shabbat, the area in front of the wall was completely packed with people praying. The prayer area is segregated into the men part and the women part, because they’re not allowed to pray together. The women’s side was pretty calm, but the men’s side was absolutely alive! The men were moving around and dancing and singing and shouting – it was completely mesmerizing. We stood and watched for a long time, just sort of trying to understand everything that was going on. People were so focused and intense, it was really cool to watch.
After that we wandered back up through the Old City and back to our hotel, stopping only to pick up some Baklava on the way!