Raining in Jerusalem
Last week was my last free week before school starts. It was Eid so everyone would be busy and there would be nothing to do. One roommate was flying to Beirut for the week (not the one that recently moved there, a new one) and the other roommate was a week into touring Egypt after our trip to Syria and Lebanon. So I felt that I need to get out, and what better place than Jerusalem. The border is about 45 minutes from Amman, and I knew the borders on both sides would be closing early because of Eid and Rosha shana so I headed out early. Because of Passport issues in visiting other countries and issues with traveling to Jerusalem on a passport that had already been to Syria and Lebanon I went through the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge. The interesting thing about that border is that there is no official exit from Jordan, its a small formality that hasnt been changed since the ’67 war. The only issues are that if you enter through the King Hussein Bridge which is directly east of Jerusalem through the West Bank, you have to return through it, and you cant go through to Jordan if you dont have a visa, because technically there is no border and as such dont sell visas. And Israeli’s arent allowed to cross through their side, although everyone else can.
After arriving to the border and crossing into the West Bank, I was very surprised to hop off the bus and see a guy in kahkis and an M-16, I was assuming he was security but it looked more like a guy with a huge gun.
Then I get to the actual border people and they are all 18 or 19 year old girls, which seems strange for such a supposedly tense border crossing. On the other side I met 3 students who were also living in Amman and were Fulbright Scholars, they were really cool and I ended up hanging out with them most of the rest of my trip.
When we got to Jerusalem we stayed right outside of the Damascus Gate. It was a crazy bustle of people and items for sale and Kebab’s that reminded me a lot, not so ironically, of Damascus. As I stood on the balcony of our hostel overlooking the excitement and energy of the people below, the clouds behind me darkened and rain began to fall. It was a really strange feeling, rain is one of the things that I had really been missing. Although I dont see it that much at home, lots of desert and perfect blue skys somehow get to you, I needed the emotion of rain, or at least fog. It began to rain lightly and after I figured out what it was and that it wasnt the normal broken hose on an upper floor, I started to smile. It was impressionable feeling to have blue sky’s suddenly darken and empty down on me as I over look the most Holy city to a large portion of the world.
Seeing some of the holiest places to the Abrahamic religions was an eye opening experience. We walked the Via Dolorosa, we entered the church of the Holy Sepulcher, touched the stone where Jesus was lain, touched his tomb, put my hand where the cross once stood. Its a very interesting experience. Also to just see the amount and diversity of people that came, lots of groups of Italians singing as they walked, Russians and Spaniards carrying huge crosses, Monks and Brothers and Fathers of all denominations. To see the Wailing Wall with the golden dome of the Al Aqsa Mosque in the background, so much history, so much fighting over these inanimate yet because of an intense human faith, so spirit-filled objects.
I do have to mention that it is also a sad city. The separation, the complete lack of Arabs on the Jewish side and Israelis on the Arab side (except for power walking Hasidic Jews who wouldn’t look at anyone and just pushed their way through the crowded alleys). There was no integration, there was even a checkpoint (metal detector and X-ray) between the Arab and Jewish Quarters. Because we had been so use to using Arabic, a friend accidently said thank you in Arabic when receiving his Passport back at the checkpoint, which got him a good little interrogation. One of the saddest sights though by far may have to have been the groups of Palestinian and Israeli kids, we saw them come into contact with eachother once, and it resulted in stuff being thrown and names being called by each side.
It is a tense city, the question of who a person is and their identity is one of the most fascinating things. We met a Chadian, who was born in Jerusalem, and lived in the African Quarter of East Jerusalem, he didnt identify with either side, just the African Quarter. We met a guy from the Bronx who spoke perfect Arabic and who’s father was a Muslim-American convert. I met Americans who’s parents were Israeli, moved to the States and now they had come back to join the army. Palestinians who grew up in the 40’s in West Jerusalem and hadnt seen their homes since 67.
We had a chance to walk along the ramparts of the wall surrounding the old city, to see the views and the landscape that had inspired so many people to dedicate their lives to winning it back or keeping it. They’ve fought to the death over buildings and locations, over a section or a name. To see the area where the first Jewish residents moved outside of the city pre 48, to see where the Jordanians attacked in the Arab Revolution. To see Mt. Scopus where Jews stood for centuries admiring a Jerusalem they were not allowed to see. Behind that to see the separation wall, huge even from a few miles distance that was built for the sole purpose of keeping Palestinians out. This is a city that is of the imagination and the heart, passion was born in Jerusalem and I find it very hard to believe that it will simmer anytime soon.