Today, we left for Jerusalem and had a jam-packed day full of sightseeing with the Jewish tour guide. The first thing we did was go to the Mount of Olives, which gives you a great view of the Old City. First off, the view is beautiful, but it also allows you to see all the religious buildings of different denominations such as temples, mosques, and churches. You can also see how the Old City is walled off from the newer parts of the city. Our guide explained the significance of the Temple Mount for the Jews, but never said why it was significant for Arabs. It seems that the racism becomes apparent not through what he says, but often through what he doesn’t say and instead chooses to exclude. From the Mount of Olives, we went to the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount. According to Christians and Jews, this is the site of the creation of the world and where Abraham went to sacrifice his own son to God. According to Muslims, it is where the prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven. We were allowed to enter the grounds, but not the mosque itself. To enter, we had to wait in line and go through security. The building was incredibly beautiful and elaborately decorated. After awhile, it became hard to continue listening to the guide as he was only speaking about its significance to the Jewish faith and how it fell into an overarching narrative of Jewish history. He also didn’t want us to spend a lot of time looking around or taking photos. He kept rushing us, and didn’t really give us any time to take photos. Of course, this fits into the larger picture of the Jewish resentment of Arabs. We then walked through the market and bought bagels and other breads. We then ate them on top of a roof in the Armenian quarter. Again, we had a great view. Since we were closer, it was easier to see the distinction between each religious quarter of the city.
After lunch, we quickly went through some of the stations of the cross. The guide spent barely any time talking about them, especially in comparison to the amount of time he usually took to explain Jewish sites. We then went into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified, anointed, and buried. Although I am not extremely religious, I was raised Catholic. I recently lost my grandfather and this has been tough for my very religious side of my family, so I wanted to say a prayer for him and my grandmother as I know most of my family would never be able to go to Israel. While we were waiting in line to say a prayer at the place where the crucifix was, the guide came over and told us to hurry up and to make our prayers fast. Though I am not easily offended, this made me very upset. For Christians, this is a very important site, and I could not believe how rude and offensive someone could be to say that. I struggled to keep from saying something, but I know that such a place is not a good place for confrontation.
Next, we took a walk along the Ramparts, the walls of the Old City. From the top, you could see a portion of the Separation Barrier. When Helga pointed this out, the guide immediately called it the “Security Fence” and said that it was built “to protect Jerusalem.” Clearly, this is not true. It was built to keep the Arabs separate and away from Israelis. Immediately, everyone picked up on this. The racism of the guide was becoming more apparent as the day went on. At the end of the Ramparts was the Wailing Wall. This is one of the most important sites for the Jewish religion, as it is as close as they can get to the site of creation. Our guide gave us 30 minutes at the wall, which was an extremely long time, especially in comparison to the time we had at Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This made me even more upset, as I feel he wasn’t giving all the religions equal time, and I think he should, knowing that we are all tourists of different denominations who came very far to see these sites. There were many soldiers at the wall, and it became apparent just how young they were. It was strange seeing kids my age walking around with guns. Men and women are separated at the wall itself, and I found it strange that the women had a small section which was extremely crowded and the men had a much larger section with much fewer people. At the wall, you could tell how differently people prayed. Some people were dramatically mouthing prayers and rocking back and forth, while others sat in complete silence. It was interesting to step back and watch the differences.
After the Wailing Wall, we walked through the market to buy items. I bought myself a headscarf, a pipe, and a chain of decorated elephants (I have always loved elephants, as they are good luck). I got my very religious mother and grandmother crosses because I knew that this would make them very happy. They always talked about how luck I was to go to the “Holy Land,” so I wanted to bring them back something for prayer. I got my father olive oil because he isn’t very religious and has been to Israel and Jerusalem himself, so he does not need another souvenir item. After this, we went to dinner at an Armenian restaurant in the Armenian quarter. The food was very good; we had salads, dips, and pita with pasta and lamb for dinner. I would have loved to learn more about the Armenian culture, and how they fit into the city, but we didn’t have much time because the driver had to go somewhere.
When we got back to the hotel, we had a discussion as a class. It became very tense at times, but I think we said a lot of very important things. One of the things that came up was the Holocaust and how the Israelis actions against the Arabs were very similar to the beginning stages of the Holocaust. I have thought about this before, and I think the ghettoization can connect to the segregation of towns and roads. The lack of basic services in the German Jewish ghettos reminds me of the lack of basic services in Palestine. This frightens me because I have always been very interested in genocide (I did my senior thesis paper on genocides and come from ethnicities that have gone through genocide). This may sound a little extreme, though I’m sure it would also sound extreme pre-genocide in Germany, but I fear that this could lead to genocide of the Arabs. I fear that if things keep going along the same path and tensions continue to increase exponentially, that it is actually pretty likely. The stages are very similar, and its almost a haunting sense of deja vu. It seems to me that the Israelis are finally happy to have a safe place that they are so fearful they cannot recognize that they are doing the same things to the Arabs that drove the Jews to Israel in the first place. We also talked about the distinction between Israel and Judaism, which are two distinct things that have become so closely tied in this country. I think it is the Israeli government that is doing these horrible things, not the Jews. In fact, I don’t think many Jews or the Jewish religion itself would support any of these things. But in a country that has drawn these two identities together, it is so hard to tear them apart and be critical of only one. For example, my boss recently converted to Judaism, but I don’t think that she would ever be okay with the treatment of Arabs knowing her stance on human rights. I think that the Jews are just not given the full story (nor are Arabs, at that), and that this is what makes it difficult for them to see what is actually going on and how it contradicts the morals of their religion.
After such a long and powerful discussion, we ended the night with something a little more light-hearted and social, by getting drinks and hookah at a bar called the Borderline. I just got back and am exhausted, so I’m going to get to bed so I can be (somewhat) rested for tomorrow in Ramallah.