March 2005: As part of a larger 10-day trip that I did with a friend that included Jordan, Syria and even Amsterdam, I spent 3 days in Jerusalem, Israel.  I knew going into Israel that the conflict there between Muslims and Jews was one of the oldest conflicts in the world. One that stood little chance to be resolved any time soon. It doesn’t help that some of the holy places for 3 of the largest religions in the world Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are all located in Jerusalem. I too as a Christian had a religious motivation for visiting Jerusalem. I wanted to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, although no one knows with certainty where the location of the crispification, tomb or even where Jesus walked exactly, it is a magical feeling to be in the presence of the places where Jesus was once present.

 

Location of Jerusalem

Crossing the Palestinian Territory

We started our day in Amman, hired a Palestinian taxi driver who took us to the King Hussein/Allenby bridge. I chose this location to cross into Israel because I knew it was the only border crossing where Israel did not place an entrance stamp into passport, which I wanted to avoid getting because it would effectively bar me from entering several Muslim countries and force me to get a new passport.

The checkpoint for Israeli immigration and security was an absolute nightmare and easily the most difficult I have crossed in all of my travels. It didn’t help that my friend and I also had a Syrian visa stamp in pour passports that was only a few days old. Syria is a country, Israel is still technically at war with, and it was not easy to convince immigration officials because we visited for the beautiful scenery and nice people. We were sent through several layers of security that involved a strict body check and questioning from Israeli intelligence. In the end we were allowed into the Israel but the whole process took approx. 4 hours.

Once in Israel, we were in a kind of Noman’s land in the Palestinian Territories and we had to find a taxi to take us to another location deeper into Palestine in Jericho, one of the oldest cities of the world, where we could find a shared bus. Once in Jericho, we found a shared bus with other Palestinians, and we traveled across the dry and arid region of the Palestinian Territories until we reached the checkpoints that marked the end of Palestinian Territories and beginning of Israel. There were extensive barbed wire fences, barricades, construction of a new giant concrete wall that resembles the Berlin Wall and numerous heavily armed soldiers. Once again, we were patted down, screened for weapons and after a 30-minute process, we crossed into Israel and continued on to Jerusalem where the bus dropped us off at the gates of the old city.

 

 

Jerusalem 

 

My first impressions of Jerusalem were a lot of things. It was busy, chaotic, modern in some places but also old and well preserved in the old city. It was also touristy, and it was clear that a lot of people were making money off of religious tourism. There were endless rows of trinkets for sale and no shortage of people looking to swiftly remove money from the wallets of vulnerable tourists. Jerusalem was also a city with a diverse mix of religions and cultures all blending together whether they liked it or not. There were orthodox jews in their robes, beards and other religious garbs, Muslims and Christians of all different orthodoxies and denominations. Some Christians trying to emulate Jesus’s suffering by walking in his path with a crucify on their shoulders or by whipping themselves. Everybody seemed to claim part of Jerusalem, wars have been fought for the city and there still are plenty of fanatics from every faith willing to die for Jerusalem. For this reason, there was an palpable tension that always felt present in the city.

 

Old city gates

Trinkets for sale at souvenir stalls 

Jewish Holy Sites

 One of the holiest sites in Judaism is one of the only remaining original walls of the old temple of the biblical Jewish king Solomon, now called the western wall or also wailing wall because of the many pilgrims weeping in prayer there. The wall is where not only Jewish people, but people of all faiths come to leave handwritten prayers and pray against the wall.

 

 

Orthodox Jews at the Wailing Wall

Orthodox Jews at the Wailing Wall

Orthodox Jews at the Wailing Wall

Catholic Holy Sites

There are two locations where Christians believe Jesus was crucified. One is in the Church of Holy Sepulcher for Roman and Eastern orthodox Catholics. Even these factions fight over control of the church, and they are located in separate parts of the church and share control under an agreement that breaks down occasionally resulting in broom fights between priests. For Protestants there is an outdoor garden adjacent to the bus station, which kind of but doesn’t entirely take away from the serenity of the beautiful gardens and rock tombs located in a cliff, one of them believed to be that of Jesus and adjacent to the tomb the location where Jesus was believed to be crucified by protestants. I visited both of these locations and found both to be amazing and whether or not either one is the actual place, they both certainly are fascinating and historical in their own ways.

 

The slab of stone believed to be where the body of Jesus lay. 

Entering into the tomb of Jesus

Protestant Holy Sites

 The protestant place where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and buried seems to be the most plausible according to biblical references and it also just feels right. The nature, trees, birds and calmness of the gardens just left me overwhelmed with a sense of peace. Here I was able to sit in the tomb of Jesus by myself and close the door and just meditate in darkness for a while.

 

Me in front of Tomb of Jesus

inside tomb of Jesus

Islamic Holy Sites

Then there are the sites holy to Muslims like the Temple Mount with its golden dome that is located on top of the wailing wall on the Temple of Solomon. This is the 3rd most holy site in Islam and believed to be the location where Muhamad ascended into heaven. This place is heavily regulated by Israeli police and no foreigners were allowed to visit during the time of my stay in Jerusalem.

 

 

Temple Mount

Old City with Temple Mount and ancient cemetery as scene from Mount of Olives

I visited the Mount of Olives, partly located in the Palestinian territories, where Jesus gave a famous sermon and where he is believed to have ascended to heaven. There is also a Palestinian village near the top and 3000-year-old Jewish tombs. Instead of taking a taxi, my friend and I walked from the Mount of Olives back into the old city. There were just too many fascinating things to see on foot along the way and the walk was incredible.

 

Me at the Mount of Olives

Ancient cemetary

Night Time

Nighttime is my favorite in Jerusalem. Even know the city becomes quiet and the living settle in for the night, the history and shadows of the cities past spring to life and walking the street, alleys and corridors brings you back to the past. I loved walking aimlessly and exploring. I also chose a small guesthouse in the old city, where mark twain once stayed. The best part of this guesthouse was the roof top terrace with chairs where guests could sit and just stare out towards the old city. This was something I loved to do at night and in the early morning especially as the church bells competed with the call to prayer ringing out from the mosques across the old city. Jerusalem was a magical place and while many do not like it, I found it amazing and wonderful.

 

Walls of the old city at night

Church of Sepulcher where Jesus is believed to have been crucified by Catholics

The pit is all that is left of a once great and beautiful villa of King Herod and a luxurious pool that is now a garbage dump where people from the nearby apartment building toss their trash openly from their windows. 

from Jerusalem, we traveled back through King Allenby/Hussein Bridge and back into Jordan to continue our trip in Jordan.

 

9 + 15 =

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