Due to logistical and political difficulties, I had to travel to Israel after my stay in Syria. As most of you know, anyone with any evidence of a visit to Israel won't be allowed to enter most all Arab countries. After four weeks in Damascus, I was excited to visit not only another country, but a very unique one. I took a service taxi to Amman and from there a taxi to the King Hussein border crossing. I left around 8am and arrived in Jerusalem at 4pm, which was an astonishing feat of time. Coming from a very undeveloped Syria, it wasn't just a financial shock to be back in the first world.
Israel is a modern country, similar to Lebanon insofar as it also is a strange mix of the American, European and Mediterranean, somehow familiar, yet not. You can't open a read the news without hearing at least one mention of it nor can you get into a political discussion without hearing about Israel, the Palestinians and the United States. My goal, as a good traveler, was to keep my thoughts to myself and spend all of my time asking people I met as many questions as they'd answer.
One of Israel's most fabulous national parks is Caesarea north of Tel Aviv. During biblical times, Pontius Pilate was the prefect there.
One of the most interesting, if not amusing, activities is to walk through the ultra orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem. This was only one of many signs. Walking through the streets there, I no longer felt as if I was visiting another western culture, but rather a very foreign one.
The Temple Mount was open only from 8 to 9:30 a.m. while I was there and entering Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock was't allowed. Security was extremely extremely tight with soldiers even opening my water bottle to smell for chemicals. That was a first. Nevertheless, I was struck with awe as I first layed eyes on the Dome of the Rock. It's far and away the most truly stunning thing I've seen anywhere in the world.
It was here that onn September 28, Ariel Sharon visited in the Temple Mount. The pretext for his visit was to check complaints by archeologists that Muslim religious authorities had vandalized archeological remains beneath the surface of the mount during the conversion of Solomon's Stables into a mosque. By the evening, mass riots had broken out in the Arab areas of Jerusalem and the next day rioting erupted all over Gaza and the West Bank. The second Intifada had started.
Distinctly different from the other three quarters of Jerusalem (Jewish, Christian, Armenian), the Muslim quarter shows you just how divided Arab Israelis are from Jews. A few minutes walk puts you back into "The Middle East" so to say. They may as well stamp your passport. Prices go down, harassment goes up, signs in Hebrew drop off and almost Jews are present. It could have been Damascus or Amman. The other thing which made it distinctly Arab, or which could tell one which neighborhood he's in, was the trash. For a culture which makes people wash before prayer thus stressing cleanliness, they sure seem to enjoy living in filth.
Part of the British legacy in what was then Palestine remains. I stayed with a friend in central Jerusalem near the Agripos market which was a 15 minute walk to the old city. About halfway between, is a small area of government buildings all built by the British each with a plaque with the dates, functions and so forth. Naturally, they are still in use. Also, as you see below, not only the buildings remain in use but the mailboxes. There are a number of them throughout the city.
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