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City of Peace?

March 7, 2013

I arrived today in Jerusalem. The city is overwhelming in it’s beauty. The hills roll starkly into the skyline whichIMG_0638 produce a deft beauty that makes you take immediate notice. I’ve done a lot of reading and some history teaching on the City of Peace, but seeing the Old Walls is something else. Once you get into the old city, it is another world.

The streets are packed with people and the city divided into “quarters” (i think I’ve been through 5 so far) each with their own distinct feel. After much walking around and slightly lost (but trust me, as long as you are not weighed down with too much gear, getting lost in Jerusalem is a fascinating experience), I found my hotel and Father Bob was waiting for me in the hostel. He takes me on a brief walking tour of, on our way to lunch- and IMG_0582shows me a few of the schools. “This is a good place for food” he points to a pizza house “but we need to find a Christian place” “Oh” I go to ask “Do you support the Palestinian Christians” he shakes his head “No, it’s because they serve beer.”
After a great lunch and consuming a beautiful Palestinian dark ale (tabeh beer I think) Father Bob returns to the hotel and I decide to go on a self guided tour of Jerusalem. I head to the Jewish Quarter and find my way near the Western Wall. These are the remains of the old Jewish Temple, destroyed by the Romans around 75 CE. A half a dozen centuries later, the Muslims built the Al-Aqsa Mosque (literally means “the far away mosque”) on the remains. The site is one of the most contentious pieces of land in the world. Some Christians believe the Anti-Christ will rebuild the temple here and hence support Israeli occupation. Yep. That’s not made up.
On the way to the Western Wall a man named Amit stops me, an Orthodox Jew, “Where are you from? Australia? I spent four months in Australia.” He is a beggar. He is dressed up, he is intelligent, he is friendly, but he is from a Jewish settlement and spruiks money from tourists claiming his people have no food or nappies. I avoid the money issue and keep talking to him. He is a nice guy, has three kids, works on the farm in his settlement and he would love me to give him 100 shekels for his family. I explain I am on a tight budget and don’t want to give him money and he says “thank you, have a nice day” and immediately says to a couple behind me “Where are you from?” they reply in German and with a cheer Amit speaks German to them (I assume it’s German).
On our walking tour Bob shows me the light rail (tram) that connects Jerusalem. At first I am impressed, innovative, cheap public transport helps everyone. Bob goes on to explain though, “This doesn’t even stop on the West Bank. It goes through a lot of Settlements and goes past Palestinian communities- this is a tool of oppression.” I am flabbergasted. At university when we learn about trams they are spruiked as awesome, little environmental damage, cheap so good for poor people and a great alternative to cars. in most Western cities, trams are under attack and likely to be dismantled- here, Jerusalem builds a big one- and use it as a way to further oppress the Palestinians. You can use it, so long as you are going to a Jewish Settlement. The “Aparthi-Tram” I call it.
I’ll finish  with one more thing. After a SENSATIONAL cup of tea in the Muslim Quarter I went to walk up to the Temple Mount, an Israeli Guard says “It’s closed,” then he giggled “Welcome to Israel” the other guard smiled nicely “Welcome to Israel”. My idea is that this is a line they are supposed to say to tourists “Welcome to Israel” to you know, sound nice and stuff. But the guard, and I, saw the humour- “Closed to you- Welcome to Israel”.

After a great early afternoon wandering Jerusalem, I decided to try and head for the Mount of Olives which overlooks the city and some fella is IMG_0635[1]recorded as hanging out there when the cops were after Him for being a trouble maker. I decide to take a short stroll (insert your own sarcastic tone) north through the city then around the wall (ok, I got lost in Jerusalem, 3 times in one little day). But the walk around the wall offered great views of New Jerusalem and some history of the Old City. When I finally got to the south side of the Old City I realised I was too tired to go up a mountain, just for some sight seeing. A Palestinan cabbie starts hassling me to drive me up the road of Mount of Olives and return me. I say no thanks, but his English is good, so I start asking about the other wall, not the one behind me of the old city, but the one in the distance, past the Mount of Olives. The salesman drops away and the man starts talking about the “crazy Israelis”). “They think it’s their land, they build a wall, keep people from work, is crazy.” I apologise for not wanting to give him business and he says no problems, peace be upon me. He then tells me about the Israelis on top of the Mount of Olives. “It’s Palestine, on every map of the place it’s Palestine, but they fly this big flag up there to tell everyone ‘We don’t care about the law, we are here, it’s Israel!’ They are crazy, they hate us”.

I get a similar story from a man in the Muslim Quaretre of the Old Jerusalem. In my first (of three) wanderings of Jerusalem, he had given me excellent directions to my hotel. This time I told him I had found my way ok and asked him about his business. He shrugged “Is very hard, none of the big groups stop. The police or soldiers, they wave the big groups on if they mull too long, in case they might buy something. I just want to sell some fruit, a drink, but is hard. They squeeze all the big groups over to the Jewish sector and leave us the scraps”. I suddenly didn’t feel so grand that I had just bought a two shekel drink off of him. IMG_0663

You scratch the surface of the City of Peace and you see there is a slow ebbing away of the rights of the people who inherited the place. They want to stay, they want to have good living, Israel wants them gone. This photo below (called Deep in the Muslim Quarter) is deep in the Muslim Quarter. On the bottom left are two, heavily armed Israeli soldiers and the top right, if you squint hard enough is a young Jewish settler. I’ve been told that a lot of the settlers are buying out whatever property they can get their hands on and some have made roof top paths from place to place, all over the city. The police, have absolutely no legal basis for being there. By every treaty and agreement ever signed, this is Palestine, prime Palestinian Land.

The City of Peace is far from it.


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  1. Claire Dinakara permalink

    Thankyou for writing this Greg, its great writing and I quite like it.

  2. it’s a lot to take in isn’t it Greg

I would be honored if you espoused your narrative here.....

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