Friday, July 9, 2010

31. Visit Jerusalem

One of the many things I had not known before this trip is that something like 40 percent of the population of Jordan is actually Palestinian, and that, for most of them, although they or their families left what are now the Occupied Territories of Israel decades ago, most have never been able to cross the border again to even visit friends and family that are still there. In our talks with many new friends and during visits with people working at or living in the refugee camps, we were frequently urged to cross the border and assess for ourselves whether the representation by the American media is really offering an accurate portrayal of the West Bank, and the people who live there. So, although we didn't have much extra time in our agenda, we decided to do a quick trip through the West Bank to the much-disputed city of Jerusalem.

Although the things we saw deserve a much larger discussion than I can do here, I can categorically say that the images in the American media of the West Bank and its largely Palestinian population, as a hostile, anti-American place could not be more wrong, at least in our experience. Every encounter we had with anyone who identified as Palestinian was marked with the same level of courtesy, openness, and hospitable kindness that the three of us came to appreciate so much here in Jordan.

Our first impression of just how different this experience would be came with the crossing, which turned out to be a complicated affair. In order to get there from Amman, you need to take an array of taxis and buses. First, you take a taxi (or bus, which we missed) to the King Hussein Bridge where your stuff is searched and you are processed by Jordanian immigration. Then you take a bus a short distance that seems longer because it is subject to multiple stops and checkpoints, to the Israeli side where you again go through searching and processing, and may be detained, as we were for three hours. Our delay was because, although Siham is an American citizen, she apparently looked and sounded "Arab" enough to warrant repeated seperation from Connor and I, and multiple rounds of questioning and waiting. Ultimately, when you get through processing on the Israeli side, you take another bus or taxi (which is for tourists only -- Palestinians seeking to travel back into the West Bank are placed in a different bus) to your final destination, which in our case was Jerusalem.
Jerusalem has roughly three parts: the Old City (which is the major tourist destination, and which is divided again into four sections (Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian); the predominantly Arab (Muslim) East Jerusalem and the mainly Israeli (Jewish) New City. We stayed just outside the Old City (almost across from one of the major sites, the Gate of Damascus) in East Jerusalem at the Faisal Hostel where things are written in Arabic; ate dinner in the New City where everything is written in Hebrew; and spent most of our time as tourists within the walls of the Old City.

For me, anyway, it's hard to describe Jerusalem. There is a tension there that feels almost palpable, at the same time that it's an ultra-religious place, and the religion comes in many forms. Because there are so many religious pilgrims of all stripes, it also obviously caters to a brand of religious tourism that is a bit jarring, with souvenirs of objects important to Judaism, Christianity and Islam all elbowing each other for pride of place in the scores of tourist shops in the underground maze of shopping that threads itself through the Old City.

Here are a few photos. The picture with all the people in it is of the Western, or Wailing Wall, which got its second name during the Ottoman Empire when Jewish people would congregate there to mourn the destruction of the Temple that the wall had once supported. The picture of Siham and Connor was taken at a pub in the New City (an Israeli area) where you can see from the passers-by, people are much more Western in their dress and habits than in some other parts of Jerusalem. The tower Siham is inspecting is composed entirely of spices, and marks the front of each spice shop (and there are many) in the bowels of the Old City. And finally, there's a picture of Siham and I doing a typical tourist pose near the Damascus Gate as we were saying our farewells to Jerusalem. Our stay was not very long, and our exploration of the city and surrounding area could and probably should have been deeper. But just based on our brief experiences, I would encourage other travellers, and especially Americans, to visit Israel and the Occupied Territories themselves to experience both the hospitality of people of all ethnicities and religions in the region, as well as the complexities, not well-captured (in my opinion) by Western media, of the religion and politics there.

52 Ways to Say I love you...

in Hebrew, but I can't find all the info I collected, so this is my official plea to see if anyone can provide it for me. Here are the Hebrew characters, and if anyone can give me an English transliteration, I'll gratefully edit this one.

Hello שלום
Goodby טוב ביי
May I have two beers, please? במאי יש לי שתי בירות, בבקשה?
I love you.אני אוהבת אותך

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