Day 86, Sat, July 29, 2000 – We had a little dispute with the hotel over the phone rates for uploading the website last night. They told us a rate for each minute, but the subsequent charges were much higher. They finally relented, which was very nice, and we headed for the airport. It was nice taking a plane for a change after riding rails all over Europe for three months. With the time difference and a two hour delay, it took most of the day to get to Cairo. We took our arranged ride to the Sheraton Royal Garden in Giza, another "points" hotel for us. Their policy of fleecing the assumed rich business traveler was evident when we were hit for $20 for two drinks at the hotel bar. Afterward, we didn’t realize how much we actually missed American entertainment until we watched the movie “Coma” from the 70s. Bad acting and cheesy music, but we couldn't stop watching nonetheless.
Day 87, Sun, July 30, 2000 –I visited Cairo about
nine years ago, but Naomi has never been to Egypt. We are both looking forward to this next phase of our
journey. Egypt has been a tourist
attraction from nearly the beginning of time, not only as the mouth of the
life-giving Nile and gateway to Africa for many, but also as the home of the
only remainder of the seven wonders of the ancient world –the mighty pyramids
at Giza. Tourism is second only to
petroleum industries in driving the economy.
Terrorists are aware of this importance as well, having killed 9 tourists
at the museum and 57 in Luxor in 1997. Security has since been heightened to protect this source of
income. Today, most visitors to
Egypt still concentrate on the Pharonic period, unique in all the world.
This culture, which worshipped kings (pharaohs) as gods, developed a
complex structure of gods and myths, codified magic spells in the Book of the
Dead, built the largest tombs ever designed and invented amazingly successful
embalming and mummification procedures sets Egypt apart from any other country.
What is amazing is that much of this elaborate culture was lost to
history and speculation until the ancient hieroglyphics were deciphered by a
Frenchman after 20 years of work with the famous Rosetta Stone found in 1798.
No other country has an entire science named after it, Egyptology, which
got its biggest boost with the discovery of the completely intact tomb of the
minor boy-king Tutankhamun in 1922. The
amazing works of art pulled from the tomb are the oldest intact masterpieces
ever discovered (notwithstanding cave paintings).
We plan to visit them in the next couple days.
Egyptian history since the time of the pharaohs is a
who’s who of world conquerors and travelers including Greeks under Alexander
the Great; Romans under Caesar and Marc Antony (both fell for the beautiful
Cleopatra, but the attraction was only fatal for Antony); the Christian holy
family’s arrival in Egypt after fleeing from Herod’s child murder decree;
the successive Muslim empires of Fatimids, Ayyubids, Mameluks and Ottomans; and
the rampaging Napolean whose troops used the enigmatic Sphynx for target
practice. The British
defeated the French at the battle of the Nile and their subsequent leasing of
the Suez canal led to the declaration of Egypt as a protectorate in World War I
(since the Turks/Ottomans sided with the Germans).
The British effectively controlled the area after defending it in WWII.
An independence drive led to the Suez Crisis of 1956 and eventual
independence from Britain and a 1971 constitution.
Egypt was one of the Arab losers in the six day 1967 war in which Israel
extended its territories, but won back the Sinai in 1973.
It was the first Arab country with a workable peace agreement with
Israel, brokered by US President Jimmy Carter at Camp David in 1978.
This perceived “concession” to Israel led to President Anwar
Sadat’s assassination by Islamic extremists in 1981. The country has since
been ruled by President Hosni Mubarak. The
democratic institutions are still somewhat limited by Western standards since
there is not really an organized opposition party (Mubarak won 94% of the votes
the last time around) and there have been recent restrictions on a professor
pushing for democratic reforms and charities and other NGOs receiving overseas
funding since their findings are often counter to official government reports.
The country is strictly Muslim, but more of a secular brand (as in
Turkey) rather than fundamentalist-leaning as in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.
We took a walk from our hotel to get the real feel of the
town. Cairo is massive, some 15-20
million people depending on who’s counting (but what’s a few million once a
city’s resources are spread that thin?).
It is by far the largest city in Africa and a sort of
“capital” of the Arab world. Many
adjectives spring to mind: crowded, hot, loud, dirty, dusty, exotic, mysterious.
Above all it is unique - no other large metropolis has the curious
combination of fertile Nile basin
and barren desert dust as well as a hundred Islamic minarets in the city with
one of the oldest Christian communities (baby Moses was found here after being
floated down the river). We wanted a break from seeing sights since we will be
in one place for a week (for a change), so we just walked around the Giza area
from our hotel (although this was frowned upon by the hotel staff since it is
not a typical visitor’s day). It
didn’t take long in the 104 degree heat to get the feel of the exotic city –
the honking and yelling on the busy streets, the desert dust that seems to layer
everything, the beautiful smiles and excited waves from the children, the exotic
shapes of domes, minarets and buildings, the friendly “where are you from?
welcome to Egypt” from the adults, and the brown buildings accented
with colorful highlights and flowing Arabic writing. We used to think Cyrillic
was difficult, but Arabic is a riot for us uneducated types.
The color brown is everywhere in Cairo – buildings, streets, pyramids,
mosques, people, the Nile, the desert. Even
the sky is brown on particularly smoggy days, which of course makes us homesick
for Los Angeles. We were amazed at the variety of dress.
The men in short sleeves and ties, jeans and t-shirts or long loose
galabeha and turban. Women were
more often in traditional Islamic
robes, with the amount of body covered varying with the different
interpretations of Islam. Some
women only covered their hair with a scarf and wore pants, others had loose
colored robes and covered their faces except for eyes, and some were covered in
black from head to toe including black gloves and facemask. The former we usually could not even tell if the person was a man,
woman or child. We read that the
objective is modesty, allowing only their husbands to see the way they look.
I would like to understand this better - on the one hand it could appear
their personal freedom of expression and communication is restricted, but on the
other hand the women are free of the vanities and shallowness of the west that
puts so much emphasis on appearances. Our
thirst for understanding makes us want to talk with them, but we are unsure of
protocol and we certainly do not want to show any disrespect to their religion
We came upon a Sainsbury’s, the English supermarket
chain, and stocked up on some fruit, snacks and drinks for a couple days.
Naomi hit the jackpot with the first People Magazine she’d seen in 87
days – her eyes lit up like a kid at Christmas after having been deprived of
entertainment and celebrity gossip for so long.
It was perfect timing because this week’s celebrity topic was a
memorial tribute to John Kennedy Jr., one of her favorites.
Jamie was happy with Time and Newsweek (of course there is no Playboy
available here so he could read the great articles they have). After much sweat
and dust, we returned to our oasis in the desert, took a soothing swim and I
tried to write some and download photos as we ate cheese and salami for dinner.
We purposely avoid the hotel restaurants as the prices are beyond
ridiculous. We usually don’t mind
hotel prices since this is what most business travelers are used to, but in a
country this poor we are really
uncomfortable spending the equivalent of someone’s monthly salary on one
Day 88, Mon, July 31, 2000 – We had prearranged an
8 am tour of the Pyramids, the number one attraction in Egypt and one of the top
attractions in the world. We
stopped first at the obligatory Papyrus factory, but we weren’t buying since
the Papyrus from my last visit here still hangs proudly in our living room back
home. Our driver, Mohamed, was very
cool about it as he is much more mellow than other drivers who are very
aggressive at pushing tourists to the papyrus/carpet/bazaar shops of their
“friends” so they can earn commission.
Everything is a business transaction in Cairo, with little favors, tips
and “baksheesh” doled out left and right, even where you would never expect
it. We are learning the favored
Egyptian phrase, “as you wish” when they finally give in to tourists’
incessant “no thank-you’s”. Mohammed
did hook us up with a great camel stable to take a two-hour jaunt through the
pyramid area. Just as a gondola is
the best way to see the canals of Venice, a camel is the best (some say only)
way to see the pyramids of Giza. These
“ships of the desert” are amazing animals, much taller and apparently
crazier than horses, emitting a vast array of otherworldly grunts, snorts and
odors. The hardest part
about riding them is the beginning, when they lurch the rider forward than
as they stagger from their knobby knees to their great wide feet and cloved
camel-toes. I’m sure Naomi’s
mount could hardly feel her aboard, but mine didn’t seem too happy with me,
kicking a couple times and howling like Chewbacca in Star Wars.
I felt so much better when our amiable young guide said “don’t worry
– he likes you”. We started the
walk through the narrow alleys of the stable neighborhood, with all types of
people struggling to make a living or just hanging out.
Fruit sellers, construction workers, farmers, goat and cow herders,
postcard sellers, old men smoking “shisha” water pipes, tea vendors with
silver trays, street sweepers with homemade straw brooms, women with huge
baskets balanced gracefully on their heads and men and mule alike pulling
various types of carts. We passed a
neighborhood of mud-walled dwellings that seemed to be at least as old as the
pyramids. Unfortunately, the trash
may have been collecting there for some time as well.
The poverty and conditions are depressing, making you wish there was
something you could do for everyone. This
is why we don’t mind spending money down here – hopefully our guide and two
camel herders will spend their earnings in this neighborhood.
Of course only God (or fate) can help all of these people, which
has taught us another favorite saying of the Arab world – “en sha alah”
They say there are 2 million in the largest pyramid, some weighing 15
tons. They supposedly made these
with no wheels and no mortar, with anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 workers.
Contrary to popular belief (and movies) most experts now believe they
were not built by slaves. The
interior of Cheops was closed to tourists, so we rode up to the third largest,
Micerinus. We were not allowed to
take cameras inside, so I stayed outside as Naomi negotiated the steamy narrow
stairway into the guts of the beast. She
did not go all the way down as the heat was stifling and claustrophobic.
Afterward, we stopped at one of the minor tombs to view the hieroglyphs
and sarcophagus to get a feel of how all the famous mummies were interred for
only a very few survived to modern times to wind up in the Cairo museum since
they were usually looted in antiquity – most likely by thieves who had inside
information as to their location (although one wonders how they could keep such
a huge event as a pharaoh’s burial a secret in the first place).
We continued with the camels through a Muslim cemetery, through the Giza
village and out into the street to fight the traffic of cars, buses, taxis, and
donkey carts. We really felt like
“Arabian Knights”. By the time
we got back to the stable our asses (not to mention my lumbar) were killing us. The price we paid, over a hospitable cup of tea, was fair
although we had to “baksheesh” everyone in sight and take a look at his
“bazaar” before we left.
visitors are unaware there are many more pyramids than the famous three – they
are all over Egypt and just recently the 109th was discovered.
Mohammed then drove us an hour south to the original pyramid for Zoser at
Saqqara. This one, 200 years before Giza, was made in 6 successive steps.
It is considered as the initial step in pyramid building technology, but
some say it is the most beautiful as it is unique. The road back to Giza was along a brown canal full of garbage
where women were washing clothes, animals were drinking and children were
swimming and having a great time.
Back in Giza we wanted to get a closer look at the Sphynx.
We went inside the separate area to get a good look at
the damage thousands of years of erosion and artillery shots have taken on the
face. The head is now completely smooth in back, the eye sockets
hollowed out, nose broken off, and lips cut.
It now looks more like the loser of a nasty street fight.
The beard is now in the Louvre in Paris, a former trophy for Napolean. In
the museum we found the incredible stone cutting and masonry work our friend
Enzo told us about in Napoli. We
had to head out after that since our hire time was running low for Mohammed and
his car. When we got back to the
hotel we had a little tussle with another driver from his company because we had
requested Mohammed specifically since we knew him from the airport transfer and
the other driver kept trying to push us to a carpet shop.
For dinner we took the long walk to McDonald’s to satisfy an urge.
After such a long day of history we chilled out in the room and watched
“She’s So Lovely” on TV. The
acting (Sean Penn, Robin Wright, John Travolta, and Harry Dean Stanton) was
Day 89, Tues, Aug 1, 2000 – The Day of the Great
FedEx Tango. From the time we
arrived at the hotel we’ve been asking for a FedEx package that our friend
Susan sent from LA. It is very
important as it includes the new business cards and stickers for One Word
Foundation (we’ve been having to write
everything down for people while waiting for them to arrive).
In spite of FedEx telling us that it has been delivered here, the hotel
cannot locate it. FedEx agreed to
fax over the signature of the recipient at the hotel.
An hour later, we go down to reception to chase it.
They did not receive it. This,
other service issues and lack of electricity or phone line cause us to request a
meeting with the General Manager of the Hotel. He was very pleasant and agreed to transfer us to Sheraton Gezira
tomorrow. We took a taxi to the
third Sheraton to buy our bus tickets to Jerusalem, then went to the museum.
Unfortunately there were hundreds of people in line so we decided to tour
some other Cairo landmarks like the Citadel fortress with its alabaster mosque
Mohammed Ali; the Mosque of Sultan Hassan with bronze doors inlaid with gold and
silver, the tallest minarets in the city, and the tombs of the Egyptian royal
family (as well as the Shah of Iran – I guess the Ayatollah wouldn’t have it
in his home country); and the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, the oldest in Cairo. We hired a driver for all of this and in spite of determining
the price ahead of time, still had a fight with him when
we got home (he pulled the old “I don’t have change routine”).
As we rode with him we realized that white lines are not meant to
separate lanes of traffic, but merely to break up the monotony of the brown
roads. At the hotel, we rested for
a while, then took a taxi out to the pyramids for the sound and light show.
was better than we expected and we had a great dinner at Pizza Hut, which has
one of the best views of the pyramids in the whole town.
The hectic, crowded street scene at night is incredible. When we got back
to the hotel, the FedEx package had miraculously appeared on our bed – already
opened, with a note of apology from the General Manager.
Day 90, Wed, Aug 2, 2000 – In the morning we packed up and moved to Sheraton Gezira and carried on to go to the Egyptian Museum. As one of the most visited museums in the world, it is always crowded and makes a killing – especially from foreign tourists who are charged about 20 times more than locals to get in. One of our Egyptian friends joked that Mubarek’s summer house was financed entirely by video camera fees from the museum – we’re not surprised at $40 a pop. There are so many items in the collection, they have room for only 25% of them (even though many prized items have somehow found their way to museums in London, Paris and Berlin). The ground floor is stuffed with enough statues, obelisks, stone carvings and tablets, etc. to keep any Egyptologist busy for years. The main attraction of the museum is found on the second floor: the treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun.
The items left with the boy king to accompany him on his journey through the netherworld represent the most amazing find in Egypt’s history. Small portions of other treasures related to other pharaohs had been found before then, but only when Howard Carter located this tomb in 1922 did the whole scope of funerary tribute and ceremony come to light. When he stuck a candle into a small hole in the tomb wall, all he could see was gold. Statues, carvings, chairs, beds, chariots, vases, weapons, tools, utensils – all gold. Other items of ivory, jade, and lapis lazuli testify not only to the wealth and power of the pharaoh and his kingdom, but the amazing skill of the artists and craftsmen of the court.
these are just the regular household items in his tomb.
There are also the solid alabaster canopic jars for his insides and their
gold cases, as well as statues of all the animal gods he honored (bull, falcon,
jackal, lion, leopard, monkey, etc.). A
separate room houses the contents of his sarcophagus,
including the famous solid
gold mask placed over his mummy’s head and
the dozens of necklaces, belts, crowns, rings, bracelets, anklets, and amulets
amongst the cloth of his mummy. Two of the three coffins, including the solid gold innermost
are also on display. Throughout the
exhibits, what astounds most are the colors – the deep reds, blues, greens and
yellows, the solid lustrous blacks and the glowing whites; all shining through
the millennia where one expects to find just dust and decay – a sharp contrast
to the browns that surround you in the rest of Cairo. The effect is overwhelming – by the end of the exhibit you are
worn out – if not by the sights, then by the jostle of the crowds and guards.
What makes this even more amazing is that Tut was just a boy king of very
little fame – he died at just 18 without accomplishing much so they had
little time to plan his tomb. One
can only imagine if the tombs of more remarkable pharaohs like Ramses II had
been found intact. Unfortunately,
these were all raided thousands of years ago and their enormous treasures were
probably melted down or lost forever.
is the most important thing. The problem in the third world is not only
poverty, but also education. You can see the difference between ignorance
and education in this country. You cannot have a democracy when people
cannot even read and write. They only know what the government tells them
on TV and radio. I have hope this will change, because if I do not have
hope, I am not alive."
After lunch we took a taxi to the Al Azhar mosque and
related university, supposedly the oldest in the world.
There was this great little kid playing an old fashioned game of “kick
the can” across the interior courtyard of the mosque.
We couldn’t visit this neighborhood without wandering through the nearby
market area of Khan el Khalili. It
is not a covered bazaar like Istanbul’s, but like that other great Islamic
market city, noise is everywhere
all the time – people talking and screaming, kids crying, tinny music from
shops and cars, vendors yelling their wares and prices, bells and clip-clop of
donkeys and oxen (along with their snorts), trucks rumbling, and all vehicles
using horns instead of brakes when something is in their way.
This constant symphony is interrupted only 5 times a day by the
high-pitched wails of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer in the mosques.
The overall assault on the senses is fascinating and confusing – it is
very easy to get distracted, interested, and turned around (although Naomi never
gets lost while shopping).
We were completely worn out and took a long break back at
the hotel dealing with internet, website and banking issues before going for a
walk near the hotel for dinner. We
found this unbelievable little vegetarian place for falafel and beans for just a
dollar. There was no sign outside
and just a small counter with a big crock pot of stewed beans.
The guys at the curio shop next door led us to it, so we took a look at
their goods. They actually turned
out to be great guys and we bought a couple of pieces (for less than half of
what other shops ask for).
Day 91, Thur, Aug 3, 2000 – We slept in this
morning since the horrendous disco downstairs blared in the open air until after
3:00 AM. We went back to our
favorite falafel place and saw Sharif and Essam again at their shop.
They were entertaining two Scandinavian girls, Ellen from Norway and
Suzanne from Sweden. We took the opportunity to interview all of them.
most important thing in life is not to hurt anyone because if you do, then you
will get hurt. I believe no pain,
no gain. I believe in God and my
family, which is very important. Oh
yes: and love conquers all.”
Wahid: “To love life and make a good life and future for me and for my family”
Essam: “To stay alive and be well for my wife and my children.
To thank God for my health so I can provide for them and protect them”
Suzanne: “To live with passion. Develop yourself. Don’t do things mediocre – do them because you care”
most important thing is to be careful. Don’t
get ripped off or taken advantage of – especially in Egypt” (note: she
had just been cheated by a papyrus vendor)
After talking we arranged to meet for dinner later so Sharif could show us a “real” shish kebab restaurant – “the best in Cairo”. We had a lot of packing to do for our trip tomorrow since we planned to leave Wheely Beast here and only take the two backpacks. It took us most the afternoon to sort out, then we walked to the shop to meet. We got a wild-ass taxi from there and had the best meal we had in Egypt. We got back at 11:30, just 6 hours before we had to be on a 12-hour bus to Jerusalem and the disco was cranking as loud as ever.
Day 92, Fri, Aug 4, 2000 – Needless to say, we were incredibly crispy as we took a pre-dawn taxi to the other Sheraton for the bus. A life-saving tea man arrived just in time for me to order a double as we waited outside. Of course, we could have slept a lot more since the bus did not arrive for loading until 6:20. The roads in Cairo were eerily deserted as we left. It looked like a completely different city and reminded us of those old nuclear disaster movies where entire cities are wiped out and the hero is the only person left. The ride was too bumpy to nap or read so we jostled along for hours and hours of dry empty Sinai desert. We only wandered here for 10 hours on a bus, so I can’t imagine what 40 days and 40 nights on foot would feel like. When the road calmed a bit I read some Middle East history and travel guides which tweaked my memories of a short trip to Jerusalem in 1994 and many subsequent events, discussions and news items since then.
Jerusalem has some interesting history is like saying Bill Gates has a little
money. It is
the “Holy Land”, “Promised Land”, “Land of Ironic Tragedy”, and
“By far the most interesting half acre on the earth” (W.M Thomson) – with
the Bible itself as the travel guide. We have entered the place where there is
more history, political angst and religious fervor per square meter than
anywhere else on the planet. Unfortunately,
there has also been more pain and suffering then any other place as well, as
these fervors have led to thousands of years of invasion, conquest, repression
and war. It is one of the great
ironies of history that the “Holy Land” has been the site of some of the
most unholy of thoughts and deeds.
The three monotheistic religions of the world claim
Jerusalem as sacred ground: Jews as
their ancestral home, promised land and site of two great temples destroyed by
Christians as the sight of Jesus Christ’s last days, crucifixion and
resurrection; and Muslims as the sight of venerated mosques and
Mohammed’s ascent into heaven. Among
other Biblical events, this is said to be where God gathered the dust to create
Adam, Eve tempted Adam and got them expelled, Cain killed Abel, and Abraham
agreed to sacrifice Isaac. There is more than a little twisted irony in the fact
that all three religions acknowledge Abraham as a common ancestor, and share
some of the same holy scripture. Unfortunately,
this is where the similarities end, as each religion has developed different
interpretations of (or belief in) subsequent events/myths/legends/stories and
codified these into rigid belief systems that go far beyond “respect God”,
“love they neighbor” and “thou shall not kill”.
The most “conservative/fundamentalist/observant” of these religions
interpret their scriptures in ways that actually call for disrespect of others
and even war. Religion as a belief
system is just like any other environmental factor that shapes one’s
personality and behavior – it is very difficult (if not impossible) to
convince someone to respect other groups if they have been taught from childhood
that other groups are evil. For
example, Muslim clerics routinely call for armed struggle and violence against
Israel (a Jordanian attorney also recently argued in court that “Jihad (holy
war) is an obligation for all capable Muslims” in defense of clients standing
trial for terrorist acts against tourists).
Likewise, the Jewish spiritual leader of the Shas Party, Rabbi Ovadia
Yosef has said “no animal is worse than an Arab…(they) are all accursed
wicked people…can you make peace with a snake?”
These may sound like fringe lunatics, but these leaders have many
followers. Fortunately, this lack
of respect is the point at which many non-practicing/secular/pragmatic people on
both sides disagree with religious leaders.
It is these brave souls who struggle to find peace at the risk of being
branded “naïve” at best and “traitor” or worse by people of their own
The abbreviated (and somewhat disputed depending on what
you read and who you talk to) history of this area goes something like this:
between 1400 and 1000 BC the descendents of Abraham conquered most of the
area called Canaan. After the chiefs of the tribes of Israel elected David, they
finally conquered the city of Jebus (Jerusalem) and brought the Ark of the
Covenant there. The kingdom grew
under David’s son, Solomon, to stretch from the Nile to the Euphrates.
Solomon built the first temple, but it was destroyed in 567 BC by
Nebuchadnezzer, King of Babylon and Israelites were forced into exile.
Babylon was overthrown and Jews returned and built the second temple
under Persian rule in 515 BC. Alexander
the Great came more or less peaceably in 332 BC, followed by Egyptians and
Seleucids. Maccabean Jews revolted
against Seleucids and reconsecrated the Temple in 164 BC.
The Romans arrived under Pompey in 63 BC. Herod ruled from 40 BC to 4 AD and built up the city,
including the Temple Mount. Herod
did much for the city, but his fear and vanity led to his famous massacre of all
newborn babies in an attempt to do away with the heralded Messiah (he felt a bit
put out since “King of the Jews” was his job).
Joseph and Mary escaped to Egypt with the baby Jesus.
Some 30 years later the revolutionary Jesus was preaching an entirely
different religion that was so threatening to the reigning Jewish and Roman
leaders it got him crucified as a blasphemer.
Jews rebelled against corrupt Roman rule, but Titus came in 70 AD to put
down a rebellion and Jerusalem was destroyed again.
Hadrian rebuilt it in the second century, but it changed dramatically
when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 331 (see
Istanbul journal). All of the sites
important to the life of Jesus were identified and commemorated, most notably
the site of his crucifixion, where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built. Pilgrims flocked from throughout the Roman and subsequent
Byzantine Empires. In 614 Persians
again conquered Jerusalem and by 638 Islam had taken over, naming it a Holy
City. The Dome of the Rock was
built on the Temple Mount in 691 to commemorate Mohammed’s trip to heaven.
Muslims ruled for 400 years until Christian Crusaders captured the city
in 1099. The Kurd Saladin drove out
Christians a hundred years later, but the 6th crusade won it back in
1229. This would only last a few
decades until Egyptian Mamelukes gained control.
250 years later the Turkish Ottomans took over, most notably under
Suleiman The Magnificent.
By now, you’ve probably lost track of how many times
Jerusalem has been destroyed and changed hands. This history sets the back story and context, but it is
really the partition of territory in the 20th century that led to the
crisis situation we have today. After
Suleiman’s death, the Ottoman Empire and Jerusalem declined for the next 300
years until Christian pilgrims and a renewed Zionist movement focused more
attention on Palestine in general and Jerusalem specifically.
Britain won the territory from the Turks after WWI and issued the Balfour
Declaration in 1917 supporting the idea of a Jewish national home in Palestine.
Unfortunately, Britain had already promised the territory to its Arab
allies in the war (remember Lawrence of Arabia?). This gave the centuries-old seeds of discontent substantial
fertilization. In 1922 the League
of Nations created the “British Mandate” but they could not stop the Zionist
and Arab antagonists. In 1947 the
new entity The United Nations voted to partition Palestine into two nations –
one Jewish and one Arab, with Jerusalem neither.
Unfortunately, as it does today, the UN had weak enforcement abilities
and war broke out when Britain withdrew its forces in 1948.
The state of Israel was created and Jerusalem was divided.
Jordan was created and was
given administrative control of the remainder of Palestine until a Palestinian
state could be formed. Of course,
the state was never formed for reasons that are hotly disputed.
With the formation of Israel, Jewish refugees fled Arab nations and
Palestinian refugees fled the Jewish state, all leaving behind property and
histories. For twenty years Arab
countries refused to recognize the formation of Israel and actively condemned
it: sporadic battles, guerilla warfare and terrorist activities continued.
Animosities would boil over in the “Six Day War” of 1967 when Israel
captured the rest of Jerusalem (including the Old City) as well as other
Palestinian territories that it occupies until
today (e.g. the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights).
UN resolutions called for Israeli withdrawal, but this has not happened
due to Israeli “security concerns”. The
Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed to carry out guerilla
warfare and terrorist attacks on civilians including the infamous Olympic
murders in 1972 (the organization has since been “legitimized” and its
leader, Yassar Arafat, heads the Palestinian Authority).
In 1973 Arab countries attacked Israel on the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday,
but were defeated by the superior Israeli forces.
The Camp David peace accord was signed with Egypt in 1978 (see Egypt Journal), but in 1982 there was another war in neighboring
Lebanon to put down terrorist activity. A
popular uprising called “intifada”
started in 1987, mostly with kids throwing stones at rifle-bearing Israeli
soldiers. Apparently, the Palestinian leadership and people do not read much
M.K. Gandhi or M.L. King or they may have a little more success. There were inevitably more casualties on the lesser-armed
Palestinian side and TV images of this somewhat helped their cause internationally.
Throughout all of these conflicts claims of atrocities abound on both
sides ("an eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world
blind" - Gandhi). The US has earned the ire of
Arab countries for supporting Israel with defense and economic aid since it is
the so-called “island of democracy in a sea of turbulence and
dictatorships”. This is one of
the reasons the US is now known as “The Great Satan” by Muslim extremists
and has been the target of many terrorist actions (e.g. the 1993 World Trade
Center bombing, the 1996 truck bomb at military barracks in Saudi Arabia, and
1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania). Various peace accords were agreed
throughout the 90’s (including one with Jordan in 1994),
which led to mutual recognition of each side's right to exist (this is as
ridiculous as it sounds, but necessary nonetheless), limited self-rule for some
of the occupied territories, and timetables for various events.
Things were somewhat moving along when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak
Rabin was assassinated by hard-line Jews (just as Egypt’s Anwar Sadat was
assassinated for making peace with Israel) and the agreements always found a way
to not getting implemented, resulting in the finger-pointing and name-calling
stalemate we have today. The latest
failing is the recent Camp David meetings hosted by Bill Clinton in his
desperate attempt to maintain stability in the oil-rich region (and forge a non-Monica
legacy for himself). The manufactured TV photo ops were unfortunately more
laugh-inducing than hope-inspiring - all men trying to act jovial with Arafat in
the same anachronistic uniform he has been wearing for decades (like Fidel
Castro’s Army fatigues and Kim Jong Il’s goofy Mao jacket), Barak with his
perpetual crooked smile that makes you wonder what in the world he could be
thinking, and Clinton a good foot taller than either of them trying to maintain
an air of respect for each when what he’d really like to be able to do is
knock their heads together like an old-fashioned Arkansas father and make them
get along with each other. After
the talks collapsed, Clinton publicly blamed Arafat, causing him to bounce all
over the world trying to drum up support for a unilateral declaration of
statehood on September 13.
Whether he gets it is anyone’s guess, but the US has been trying to
beat him to the lobbying punch with world leaders.
What is certain is that all bets are off if he does declare unilaterally
without a signed deal in place. The biggest stumbling blocks to peace (apart
from fiery rhetoric from extremists on both sides) are the separation of
Jerusalem, the exact boundaries of a Palestinian state, and the rights of
refugees to return to their property and/or be adequately compensated.
All this history weighs heavily on the city like a wet wool blanket – preventing fresh air and new perspectives from reaching the lungs and minds of peacemakers on both sides. Residents and visitors alike feel it, emanating from the very stones of the ancient city. After being dropped off near Damascus gate, we immediately got the rush of the city as Arabs, Jews, Christians, and tourists of every language surrounded us and taxi/van/bus drivers jostled us for business. We got a taxi to the Mount Of Olives Hotel in an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. We had reserved it on the internet. It’s a great little family-run outfit and we got a nice room looking past the Jewish cemetery and over the Kidron Valley to the imposing old town walls and Temple Mount. We just dropped our bags and walked across the valley to the Dung Gate. All along the 45-minute walk, there seemed to be more trash than I remember from 1994. Stone rubble is everywhere and you can’t tell if it’s recent building or some ancient monument/temple/church. You are struck by the history of the place and wonder of Jesus or David himself may have stumbled over the same rocks (although they probably missed the same plastic and Styrofoam). Awesome history flows over you as you walk weathered stones worn smooth by more footsteps than most any other city. One of the charms is the almost complete lack of cars. It was Friday, start of the Jewish Sabbath, so there were plenty of people praying and congregating at the Western Wall. This is the most sacred place in all of Judaism because it is the most visible remainder of the second temple. Men in black and white (the more conservative ones with beards, side curls and hats) crowded the left side of the wall and women in more colorful clothes were segregated to the right. Most of the men faced the wall to pray, some rhythmically bending toward it while others milled around and some danced and shouted more energetically. The women generally seemed less somber about the visit, with some in joyous dancing circles. From the plaza in front of the wall you can see the golden Dome of the Rock rising above on the Temple Mount – the view is the perfect symbol of the proximity and hostility of these two faiths. During some of the past skirmishes, Arabs would throw stones down on praying Jews.
From the wall, we walked through the crowded maze of alleys and narrow streets that make up the biggest portion of the Old City, the Arab quarter. Many parts of this neighborhood (those without Coke signs and the inevitable cell phone beep) are much as they were. Exotic spices filled our noses and there’s activity everywhere – souvenirs, restaurants, tea, sweets, fruit, hardware, carpets, house wares, butchers, flowers. If the Jewish quarter is about piety and religious observance, the Arab quarter is about all facets of life, especially commerce (including many Christian crosses and Jewish menorahs). All the market sounds and exotic spice aromas forced us to stop for excellent kebabs and falafel. We checked out some other hotels near the Old City to make sure we had a good deal at Mount of Olives. We could not find a better one.
Day 93, Sat. Aug 5, 2000 – Well, after wandering
around taking in the atmosphere of the city for a couple days, we’ve really
got a sense of the tension in the air – in the heated arguments between
shopkeepers and police, the seriousness of the machine-gun wielding Israeli
Defense Forces, the rhetoric in both the Israeli and Arab newspapers, the
hurried steps of Orthodox men as they practically run through the Arab quarter of
town on the way to the Western Wall. As
indicated in our Mission Statement, we promote no religion over any other, so we
sit as outsiders looking in trying to maintain neutrality, independence and
objectivity in the most partisan and subjective place in the world.
Of course it is very difficult to discuss both sides of the issue at the
same time since the level of emotion and passion runs very high in everyone.
This is understandable as virtually everyone you meet has been touched by
conflict – harassed or imprisoned, a loved one killed or maimed, property
taken or destroyed, hopes crushed. Every
negative emotion humans have is felt on both sides – mistrust, fear, animosity,
retaliation, revenge, antagonism, retribution and hatred. The hatred
is impossible for someone from the outside to understand
- one would have to have suffered in the ways these people have.
Centuries of very real torment and persecution have created a collective
Jewish conscience of mistrust and defensiveness.
They have earned their reputation of toughness because they have had to. However, critics claim that this has also created an
arrogance in some Jews - a sort of collective cultural “chip on the
shoulder” that they dare anyone to take a swipe at so they can retaliate with
charges of “anti-Semitism”. By
the same token, some Arabs dare anyone to mention the incredible number of
hijackings, kidnappings, terrorist acts, and "ecstasy via martyrdom" carried out by Muslims so they can
claim stereotyping and anti-Arab bias. We
contend, as we always have, that there are good and bad people included in any
group, regardless of what is used to define the group and the qualities that
make up a good person have nothing to do with race, gender, size, color,
nationality, religion, ethnicity, etc.
Of course, our opinions are not the only ones in Jerusalem.
: merchants, taxi drivers, professors, tour guides, students and
strangers are all anxious to share theirs.
Most opinions follow ethnic and religious lines, sounding more like
political slogans than real conversations, but there are a surprising number of
anti-occupation Israelis as well as Palestinians who don’t necessarily support
a Jerusalem capital. We would love
to get a Jewish settler and a Palestinian refugee in a room together and listen
to both sides debate rationally, but such a thing could never happen. We therefore bounce back and forth from one side’s
propaganda to the others trying to separate fact and history from legend and
dogma. The two sides can’t even
agree on simple things like whether 1967 should be called a “war” or an
“invasion” - much less who started it.
Even the definition of a Palestinian is debated.
In an environment with so much mutual distrust and antagonism, I cannot
imagine being at the table in Camp David trying to bridge the differences.
The problem is, every argument has an element of legitimacy, so an
objective observer gets into the delicate, imprecise science of guessing which
argument is “more” legitimate, if there is such a concept.
Jews have an argument because they were here first, but this logic opens
a huge can of worms around the world: is the occupation of white farms in
Zimbabwe by blacks justified? Would
Americans be willing to give back productive land rather than dessert to Native
Americans? What if the descendents
of the original residents of Jerusalem who were defeated by David showed up with
land claims in hand? Jews certainly
deserve a homeland (as any nation does) after
centuries of repression and antagonism, topped off by the horrible Nazi attempt
at annihilation, but what becomes of the people who settled there in the
intervening centuries? Palestinians have also been promised a nation.
Arabs have an argument because their mosques are holy places, but they
are admittedly the third holiest site in Islam (after Mecca and Medina).
Arabs have a right to be upset if, in fact, UN resolutions and other
agreements have not been honored by Israel, but does that give them the right to
wage terror campaigns and dedicate themselves to the destruction of Israel?
We could go on and on (and I’m sure this journal will be picked apart
by both sides for “factual inaccuracies”, “interpretations” and
“slanted opinions”). As a
matter of fact, saying anything at all risks alienating one side or the other.
One is better off as a tourist, and sometimes better off as a politician,
not to say anything at all except “there will probably never be peace in
Jerusalem, but if there is it will be because the Arabs and Israelis want it,
not because I want it”. One is reminded of the ancient parable of the children
who could not agree to share a toy, so their father cut it in half, giving a
useless half to each child (or was that Solomon cutting a baby in half?)
Unfortunately, there is no father figure here except God, and he has left
it to humans for the time being to sort out – humans on opposite sides who
each swear that they are abiding by God’s will (and are willing to die to
prove it). So what does one do? Sit
on the sidelines and hope and pray for the best? This is the dominant Christian approach since they are a tiny
minority in Jerusalem, despite the importance of the city to their beliefs and
they maintain no sovereignty claims over it.
One of the proposals on the table is to make the old city an
“international” city administered by a neutral body like the United Nations
(similar to the 1947 United Nations vote).
Unfortunately, given the UN’s history of peacekeeping in other disputed
areas, most politicians are not anxious to throw the hottest potato of all into
the UN’s lap.
On a happier note, we were pleasantly surprised by two
items from the Jerusalem Post today: 1) a 24 year old Palestinian man who could
not swim jumped into Lake Kinnert to save a drowning Jewish boy - the boy
survived, but the man is in critical condition; and 2) the Middle East
Children’s Association, which promotes cross-cultural education programs to
foster understanding is run by an Israeli whose own son was kidnapped and killed
by terrorists – he was quoted: “haven’t we all suffered enough?
Haven’t enough people died on both sides?
Will blaming each other for the past make a better future?”
Sometimes hope is found in the most unexpected places.
Day 94, Sun Aug 6, 2000 – We walked across Kidron after breakfast and went through the metal detectors, searches and security checks before entering the Temple Mount area (El-Haram es-Sharif to Muslims). As a concession to Arabs, the entire area is administered by the “Wakf” Muslim religious authority. They are a little more strict about tourist visits, so we could enter only a few hours per day to avoid the 5 daily prayers. They also have these great baby-blue skirts we could step into in order to appear modest (Naomi lucked out and had her orange Indonesian sarong with her to wrap around her legs). We also could not take photos inside Al Aksa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock. The mosque is huge inside and beautiful, but we preferred the mosques in Istanbul. The Dome, on the other had, is one of the most beautiful structures in the world. Its 176 pounds of 24-karat gold shines from miles around and the intricate marble work both inside and out is incredible. Inside are incredible mosaics, tiles, inlaid wood, and the rock itself, with the vague footprint of Mohammed. You can stick your hand through a special curtain to touch the perfumed rock. There were several Islamic teachers inside explaining the significance of the Rock and other lessons to their pupils. I tried to sit down so I could take in the atmosphere like some Arabs were doing, but I was hurried along by a guard. The entire area (aka “Noble Sanctuary”) seemed to be a community center, with family picnics, business meetings, and some old guys sleeping under the trees. In contrast, some Jews revere this place (aka “Holy of Holies”) so much, they dare not visit here as they are not deserving. Other Jews have caused skirmishes by trying to openly pray here in defiance of Muslim administrative rules. Christians visit to commemorate Abraham’s altar and view the surrounding area as Jesus may have. We had to leave before prayer time, so we did not have the opportunity to view it as a place of worship, as we did the Western Wall and will do at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
After returning our skirts and exiting the mount, we tried to go in the recently-unearthed tunnel under the mount. Unfortunately, you need reservations, which we did not have. We continued along the Via Dolorosa (the “Way of the Cross”) which Jesus walked on his way to his crucifixion. Along the route are 14 “stations” which represent scenes from the bible or subsequent dogma (e.g. receiving the cross, falling, dying, laying in his tomb, etc.). Now the stations are walked by pilgrims carrying wooden crosses and tourists snapping photos, and the route is lined with shops selling t-shirts, icons, and other memorabilia. At the end of the line is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher itself. It is a study in architectural anarchy, having been rebuilt, renovated, expanded, and repaired by various rival factions throughout the centuries. It is now maintained by six different Christian denominations (Latin, Greek, Armenian, Syrian, Coptic, Ethiopian). They could not even decide who should have custody of the keys to the front door, so these are ironically held by a local Muslim family. There are wonderful mosaics throughout the inside and numerous chapels and monuments, with each nook and cranny taking on some significance. The differing faiths create a veritable United Nations of priestly dress and differing scents of incense and candles. The most important spots are the Cavalry rock which held the cross of crucifixion – the rock is covered by a silver collar you can stick your hand through to feel the cold stone; the Stone of Unction where Jesus was anointed with spices and myrrh – pilgrims now sprinkle water there and collect it with sponges; and the tomb of Jesus – a tiny room full of candles, incense burners and icons holding only six people at a time. There is also a beautiful statue of Mary with eyes made of pure ruby that appear to glisten with tears as the light hits them. After traveling all over Europe, it is amazing to be in the very place referred to by the hundreds of images of crucifixion we have seen in paintings, statues, mosaics, and stained glass. We must say that the jumble of styles is a bit disappointing after the coherent grandeur of St. Peter's, the beauty of Leon and the splendor of St. Mark's; but perhaps the hodge-podge is a more fitting symbol of how the spread of Christianity has reached many different people and places of the world.
After accumulating the historical and spiritual weight of
the city, we could understand how some people have actually been diagnosed with
a malady called “Jerusalem Syndrome” in which they imagine themselves to be
characters from the bible or history.
We maintained our sanity with the perfect lunch
of salad, falafel and hummus at Abu Shukry, which was recommended in an article
by Tom Brokaw (he was quite right). Afterward
we went above the city for some fresh air by walking the ramparts at the top of
its stone walls. The views were
much wider from up there, taking in panoramas of the Old City, showing how
amazingly small this enormous bone of contention is – just 215 acres (one
percent of Jerusalem) and as Mark Twain quipped in 1890, "it is possible to walk
around the entire city in one hour." Watching the hectic market in front of
Damascus gate, we noticed Israeli soldiers doing the same from the opposite
wall. After the long day, we took a
“sherut” shared taxi service from the gate up the Mt. of Olives.
Sadly, we read in today’s Post that the Palestinian man
who saved the Israeli boy from drowning died in the hospital from his efforts.
Day 95, Mon Aug 7, 2000 – We spent the morning
touring the Christian holy places on our side of town – the Mount of Olives,
including the Gethsemane garden, church and grotto, where Jesus often meditated
and prayed for guidance. He was
also betrayed by Judas and arrested here. The
garden is very peaceful, with bougainvillea, cacti and ancient olive trees.
We carried on to Mary’s tomb in a gloomy subterranean rock-hewn church,
the Basilica of Agony, and the golden onion-domed Russian Orthodox Church.
All the history and devotion made us hungry, so we continued down the
hill to the Lion’s Gate of the Old City for a great shwarma lunch
and then to the Garden Tomb, a more modern, alternative location for the
crucifixion and tomb of Jesus. The
location is controversial, but as the operators of the site admitted, what
happened is more important than where it happened. On the way out, a begging woman sitting in the street with her
baby stopped playing her Nintendo long enough to ask us for some change for her
In the afternoon, we went to the Jerusalem Hotel to meet
our guide for a tour of a Palestinian refugee camp. We wanted to do this to see for ourselves what all the
rhetoric was about and hear the other side of the story. We had attempted to locate some Servas hosts on the
Palestinian side, but there are none – something we hope to address in the
future. Our guide for the tour,
Abu, gave the history lesson on the suffering of the refugees at the hands of
their “oppressors” as we sat in the living room of a house in the Amari
camp. This camp is one of the
oldest, so it resembles a run-down Middle Eastern suburb more than the tents one
envisions from watching CNN coverage of other refugee problems. Abu spoke of the significant economic and social problems
related to their lack of freedom and rights.
If everything he said is true, then the Palestinians have certainly been
treated unjustly for the past 50 years. We
asked plenty of questions (as did the Norwegians on the tour) to try to get at facts instead of propaganda, but it
was difficult. It was definitely
worth the visit since (as Dad always said) there are at least three sides to
every story – my side, your side and the truth.
The truth is hard to come by in the gray universe of Middle East
politics. As we left the house, we
saw plenty of little kids running and playing in the streets following us as if
they had never seen a foreigner before. We
also saw a fair number of unemployed men standing around (much like Eastern
Europe and Africa).
After we took a sherut back home, we met a host we
contacted through Servas, Tamar, for a walk around the neighborhood and dinner
at the Seven Arches restaurant. She
said the restaurant was built by Palestinians over a Jewish cemetery, but
fortunately her buried relatives were left intact.
She was genuinely surprised that we went into the refugee camp today.
That trip could never be done by an Israeli for fear of being “caught
behind enemy lines”. It suddenly struck us that we have done many things that
most residents would fear to do. The restaurant’s Middle Eastern cuisine was
excellent and Tamar filled in some of the blanks we had regarding the Jewish
faith (clothing, prayers, kosher food, Sabbath observances, politics, marriage,
etc.). We understood things much better, although we are still
having trouble with the prohibition of cheeseburgers on religious grounds.
Tamar explained that not mixing milk and meat was one of the hundreds
(not 10) commandments that the more devout Jews try to follow.
This topic will be in the news much more in the future if Al Gore wins
the presidential election and the US has its first Orthodox Jewish Vice
President, Joseph Lieberman. Needless
to say, Gore’s selection of running mate has caused severe consternation in
the Arab world, since they have historically perceived a pro-Israeli stance from
On a non-Jerusalem note, George Speight was finally
arrested for his part in the coup in Fiji.
Day 96, Tues Aug 8, 2000 – Took the bus to
Damascus Gate, then walked through the city to the Jewish quarter.
This is an island of calm compared to the beehive of activity in the Arab
quarter because it is primarily dedicated to schools, synagogues, and
administrative offices. At times we had whole streets to ourselves.
Many of them are very clean, as if they were just built yesterday.
The area did have a major reconstruction after being
“captured/liberated” in 1967. We
went into the large, orderly souvenir shop (the only one in the quarter) and
bought a small gift for our good friend, Susan.
We continued on to the neighboring Armenian quarter, which
had its own distinct character, then the Tower of David and Jaffa Gate area,
with views of Mt. Zion, where the tomb of David and the room of the Last Supper
are located. We met another Servas
member, Amitai, who gave us the tour of West Jerusalem by car.
We went to a panorama spot overlooking the entire city and Amitai
explained the layout of the territories before and after 1967, including
the “no man’s land” around the Old City.
We continued to the YMCA building, the most stately we have ever seen,
the King David Hotel, home of many famous events and guests, then to the modern
Supreme Court building where Amitai does some work, and the Knesset building
where the parliament meets. He took us for a small snack at his house where we met his
wife, Nurit , who showed us
pictures of them in the army in the 60's when they met.
They told us of the mandatory conscription and subsequent reserve service
required of all Israelis (except some ultra-orthodox Jews).
Amitai then dropped us at the home of two other Servas members, Ilana
We had a wonderful vegetarian dinner and went to the Israel
Museum and the Shrine of the Book. This
houses the famous Dead Sea Scrolls found by shepherd boys in 1947, which
apparently provide evidence that modern translations of ancient texts have not
varied greatly in the intervening centuries. The museum also has fascinating
exhibits of Jewish clothing, crafts, and religious items from all over the
world. After visiting, you can’t
help but be amazed at the stamina, perseverance and resilience of Jews
throughout centuries of persecution.
97, Wed Aug 9, 2000 – In the morning, we walked again past the solemn
Jewish cemetery, with rocks left on tombstones by visitors (Tamar told us that
Jewish tradition considers it a waste to bring something living (e.g. flowers)
to the dead). We went for a very
interesting free tour of the Tower of David Museum.
It documents the history of the city through the ages – it was very
informative, but it had a fairly obvious Jewish slant to each of the major
events throughout time. Of course, if there was a museum here in
1966, it would have had an Arab slant.
Of course, if there was a museum here in 1966, it would have had an Arab slant.
Afterward, we decided to join the millions of other
pilgrims that have come to Jerusalem this year and add our prayers and
meditations for peace. However,
unlike the other pilgrims, we visited the primary place of worship for each of
the three religions in the same afternoon.
We closed our eyes in silence in the Dome of the Rock, added our note on
paper to the thousands stuffed into the cracks in the Western Wall, and knelt at
the rock of Calvary in the hope that somehow, somewhere someone is listening
(and responding). In Jerusalem, it
is sadly easy to have doubts.
After such heavy duties in the Old City, we wanted to get a feel for the other parts of Jerusalem, particularly the modern Jewish areas of West Jerusalem. We took a bus to Damascus Gate, had our standard falafel lunch, then walked up to the Ben Yehuda neighborhood and Zion Square, center of “secular” Jerusalem. Here are the cinemas, music shops, cappuccino bars, bagels, and inevitable McDonalds of Europe and America. It is a young person’s area, with cell phones, tattoos, hip hop and the latest European fashions and trends prominently displayed. This area is also the first place in Israel we’ve seen a skirt shorter than ankle length – some substantially so. The neighborhood has been the target of terrorist activity in the past, so it is heavily patrolled by Israeli Defense Forces. As expected, we heard that manpower had been increased since the failed peace talks. It was fairly intimidating when they were questioning some Arab kids in the area. We must admit it seems odd to see such young kids (including females) wielding machine guns in public squares, but that’s probably just our age showing.
From modern, secular Israel, we walked two blocks to the
middle of 19th-century ulta-conservative Judaism. In the
Mea She’arim area, men are in long black overcoats and hats, children have
crisp white shirts and tight side-curls, and women are covered from head to toe
(except their faces). It is
recommended by all guides to wear long pants and head coverings and there are
signs on the streets asking tourists to respect the residents’ privacy and way
of life by staying quite, refraining from photography and not traveling through
in groups. I zipped on my
convertible pants and Naomi wrapped her legs in the batik sarong we got in
Spain. Unfortunately, this actually reduced our level of modesty, as it was the
most colorful thing we saw all afternoon. The area is very interesting, like
seeing the Warsaw ghetto in 1860, plus cars.
We are now old hands with the local transportation system,
so we found the sherut ride back to the hotel and crashed. Throughout our stay
here, we have been able to link to the internet, so we uploaded some things, and
continued our fight with Mindspring about our website problems.
By now we have lost not only time and money, but opportunities to promote
our site properly and drive traffic. We
are still hoping for the best.
Day 98, Thursday, Aug 10, 2000 – Well, maybe we’re not such old hands at the transportation system. We got to the central bus station OK, and we think we got on the right bus, but after hours of dry desert we drove right past our intended destinations of Ein Gedi nature reserve and Masada. By the time we got off, we were at the far end of the Dead Sea and it was too late to try to fix our mistake. We were really disappointed because we had heard great things about the nature reserve and the fortress of the famous Jewish rebels who jumped off a cliff rather than submit to a Roman siege. We just settled for lunch (which was great) and had a float in the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. In the scorching desert heat, we would have loved to take a refreshing swim, but “refreshing” is not an adjective to be used with the Dead Sea. The extremely high mineral content of the water (25%) not only kills everything and makes it literally impossible for you to sink, it also feels like acid to your eyes, nose, lips and anywhere on your body that may be chapped, cut or scraped. Of course nobody told us this, so I was temporarily blinded when I dove in (one of those mistakes I will only be making once in my life). Nevertheless, it really is one of the most incredible feelings on the planet to have your legs lifted up from under you by the water as if you had a buoy on each ankle. Some people were kicking back like they were in a lazy-boy lounge chair reading books and newspapers – I just devoured a stick of ice cream. The mud from the Dead Sea (which ambitious public relations and marketing geniuses are trying to get people to start calling “The Living Sea”) is also said to have therapeutic effects, so we saw plenty of people with black mud smeared all over themselves like they had just been mud wrestling. Once we left the water we had to sit under a normal-water shower for 20 minutes to get the scummy layer of mineral film to come off. All in all, it was an experience not to be missed.
Back on the bus, we all had a little jump when one of the
soldiers dropped his machine gun in the isle of the bus – he picked it up with
a sheepish grin as we all looked at each other wide-eyed.
On the way back to Jerusalem, you really get a feel for the barrenness of
the country outside the cultivated areas. There
seems to be boulders and rubble everywhere – you would not know that this land
is so desperately fought over by driving through it.
From the bus station we walked to the Western Wall since
today is Tisha Be’Av, the Jewish day of mourning and remembrance of the
destruction of their temples. We
had heard that there may be disturbances as there have been on prior Holy days,
but luckily there was none and the crowd seemed calm in their observances, a
little more solemn than they were last Friday.
We hiked up Mount of Olives again, then took a taxi to meet another
Servas friend, Eldad, for dinner at the Jerusalem Hotel.
We had a huge spread of Lebanese specialties and we traded travel stories
with him. He is our age and quite secular, so we had a lot of things in common.
We relived our favorite Seinfeld episodes, which are quite popular in
Israel. It really made us homesick
realizing how much we miss our favorite comedies like Simpsons, South Park,
Friends and Saturday Night Live. We
also miss other stuff like Discovery Channel, A&E Biography and the Travel
Channel (although we’re living our own travel channel every day).
We even miss taping and watching Jeopardy together, especially now that
we can ace the “World Geography” and “World Politics” categories.
Unfortunately we’ve fallen behind on the “American Pop Culture”
category although it’s tough to miss Tom Cruise, Britney Spears and Gangsta
Rap everywhere we go – pushing the best of American “culture” to the world
Back at the hotel, we had a great chat with the night
manager, Marwan . He’s a young guy who has traveled quite a bit in the US and
has a refreshing view on the conflict. It
is easier to have hope when you speak to level-headed young people who have
little interest in the past and only care for a bright, fair, peaceful and
prosperous future. Unfortunately, he did concede that there is a large group of
people in East Jerusalem (and the rest of the occupied territories) who feel
they have lost so much that they have nothing to lose by armed conflict.
These types of people are very dangerous because as Abu told us in the
refugee camp, the arms will be much more equal this time compared to rocks vs.
guns last time.
Day 99, Fri, Aug 11, 2000 – In the morning we
walked to the Temple of Assumption next door to the hotel from where Jesus
ascended to heaven (it has since been converted to a mosque) and the nearby
Pater Noster Church, with “The Lord’s Prayer” in dozens of languages in
tile on the walls to show the breadth of Christianity.
How many people, Christian and otherwise, succeed at "forgiving those who
trespass against us"?
How many people, Christian and otherwise, succeed at "forgiving those who trespass against us"?
As this is our last day, we walked to the Intercontinental for a last view of the Old City. With the accumulated weight of all we had seen and everyone we had talked to, we feared this would be the last time we could sit here with this view for a long time, as there may be many changes in the near future. In Jerusalem, you are always a moment away from man-made tragedy. Out of respect for the city’s many holy places, this is as close as we wanted to get for a photo with our banner. We long ago abandoned our dream of having the banner held aloft by an Israeli and a Palestinian as beyond impossible at this time. We hope it will be possible some day, but an environment of goodwill and peace will only come with the dedicated and courageous efforts of the people of Jerusalem. You may wonder why we did not record any interviews in the midst of this storm. We did talk to a number of people, but each toed the party line and few wanted to be taped. Everyone says they want peace – but peace on their own terms, which happens to be the opposite of the other guy’s terms. How does one negotiate when the absolute minimum you will accept is more than the absolute maximum the other guy is willing to give? Maybe it will take a miracle to keep the powder keg from exploding - the children of Jerusalem deserve one, for all they have been through.
When we were touring the Old City, we saw many t-shirts and posters for sale urging peace in Jerusalem – “Shalom” sounding ironically close to “Salaam” like a horrendous historical joke. I bought an innocuous-looking touristy shirt. As we crossed Allenby Bridge on the way out of Israel we noticed the dove was holding a leaf that spelled “piece”.
To Follow us to Jordan, please click here: Photojournal August 11 - 24.
If you have any comments, suggestions, or other feedback, please see our contact information and send us a note.
Thanks for your support!