One of the most eye opening things that we did this whole trip was tonight,
on our last night. Abraham helped us set up a tour of the tunnels that run underneath the Muslim Quarter, along the Western Wall. The part of the Western Wall that we see in pictures and from above is actually only a tiny piece of what is actually an enormous side of the Temple Mount, the giant platform that the ancient temple used to sit on.
The reason the Western Wall is so important is that it was the closest wall to the part of the temple called the “Holy of Holies”, which is, clearly, the most holy place on earth. Thousands of years later, once the Temple was destroyed but the Temple Mount still existed, the Muslims who settled there built up to match the height of the Temple Mount and established the Muslim Quarter, leaving only a little part of the Wall that we see today. Our tour was exploring under the Muslim Quarter to see the part of the wall that his hidden from view.
Originally, it was supposed to be Abraham just guiding the two of us through the tunnels, but when we arrived we were informed, quite curtly, that this would not do. They said that we have to join a tour, and that it was completely forbidden for Abraham to guide such a small group through. We later saw many other small groups lead through by local guides, and Abraham explained that the real reason they wouldn’t let him guide us was because he was not Jewish, and therefore they could not trust the information he would give us.
So, instead, we joined a group made up mostly of Jewish visitors, with several self-identified Christians, and us. Our guide was a young, attractive, charismatic Jewish guy, who was clearly very good at his job. This whole trip, Dad and I have been very aware that a lot of the information we’ve been getting differs from the places it’s coming from. Obvious, a Jewish Israeli guide is going to have a pretty different explanation for things from a Christian Palestinian guide, and so on. Still, I was pretty thrown off by this tour, and found that the most interesting part of the whole thing was in getting a sense of the rhetoric found in Israel. At first it was very subtle, and completely predictable. Abraham started asking very deliberate questions, clearly designed to undermine the information and the perspective the guide was giving us. It was almost uncomfortable at times, but also very understandable considering their backgrounds.
It wasn’t until the guide referred to the annexation of East Jerusalem as the “Liberation of Jerusalem” that I really started to feel uncomfortable. I couldn’t believe, and still can’t for that matter, that he could so casually slip something like that in, and receive absolutely no visible reaction from the group, other than Dad and I exchanging glances and Abraham sort of rolling his eyes. There are obviously many disputes between the different people in this area, but the Annexation of East Jerusalem is something that the entire international community, including the United States, refuses to recognize. It completely defies international law, and it has absolutely no legitimacy outside of Israel. In a tour for people coming from all around the world, it blows my mind that he would say that. As dad pointed out later, it really sort of undermines the Israeli cause in a way, because even me, someone who has no real attachment to the area was made uncomfortable and was almost offended by such a statement. I can’t imagine what Abraham would have felt like at that moment. And the guide just kept relentlessly slipping things in like that. It was really, really crazy to experience it.
After the tour, Dad put on a Kippa and journeyed through the crowds ofpeople to go and touch the Western Wall. I wasn’t allowed, because I’m a woman, but I touched it during the tunnel tour anyways. Instead of dropping us off at the hotel, we had them drop us to Jaffa street, which was alive with people recently relieved from Sabbath. We wandered around for a bit, then went back to the hotel to pack for our very early flight!