Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem and inhabitant. Picture from the Mount of Olives.

Jerusalem, final destination of this overland trip, and one of the most contentious places in the whole world. Nowhere else do you find as many ancient relics important to the major religions, in many cases to two or three of them. The largest city in Israel, it is squished between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. I stayed there for about a week, much of it in East Jerusalem, which until the 1967 Six-Day War was a part of Jordan, not so much Israel.

People living in this part of the city have Israeli permanent residency, but mostly identify themselves with the Palestinians. East Jerusalem is also home to the majority of tourist sights, which makes for a lot of religious tourists visiting.

Most of the sights are located in the Old City, the walls of which you can see in the picture above. Much of the inside of the old city consists of small souqs, or shopping streets, which tend to get very busy during the day.

Jews consider Jerusalem a sacred site as it housed the original Solomon’s Temple. Today still, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall play a large role in Jewish cultural society.

Jewish comparative study of biblical texts (so-called Midrash) claims the Temple Mount to be the initial spot from where the world expanded to  its present form. It was the spot where God gathered the dust to create the first man.

The Western Wall, or Kotel, has a dual role, both in Islam and Judaism. Jews consider it the sole remnant of the Holy Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. It is strongly believed the wall will never be destroyed by promise of god, and it is frequently visit to pray and mourn the destruction of the holy temple.

At the same time, it’s the closest place Jews can go to the Even ha-shetiya or Foundation Stone, as Jews are not permitted to go onto temple mount.

In Islam, the Western Wall appears to have gained importance only relatively recently. As Christians did, they used to refer to the wall as a “wailing wall” due to the Jewish conduct regarding the site. However, it is now considered as the place where Muhammad tethered Buraq, a creature from the heavens that carried him from Mecca to Medina. In the recent past, a war of words has erupted denouncing the validity of either Jewish or Islamic claims to religious importance of the wall.

Jerusalem, Western Wall. The Western or “wailing” wall

Jerusalem, Old Town. Temple Mount.

Jerusalem, Old Town. Shopping streets.

West Jerusalem. City center.

While West Jerusalem is only a five minute walk away from the Eastern suburbs, it feels like a different country. The East feels like most of the Muslim countries I visited on the trip, while the East feels like back in Europe. There are some distinctions though, that show an uneasy combination of life: even entering a coffee shop is a bit more tense. You’re requested to open up your bags and show their content before being allowed entry. In addition, it’s quite obvious that most East Jerusalem inhabitants routinely get their passports checked while moving around.

Both parts of the city have historically been split, and only since 1967, when East Jerusalem was annexed, has the city been joined together. Palestinians have always viewed East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, whilst a lot of different players have very different views on its future: the United Nations, in resolution 478 called the Israeli law which annexed Jerusalem as the “complete and united” capital of Israel to be void. However, in 1990, the US Senate adopted a resolution stating Jerusalem was Israel’s capital and should remain an “undivided city”.

Many of the parties with an interest to the conflict, or whom often portray themselves as mediators clearly do have some strong statements indeed.

Har’Homa. Neighborhood/settlement in East Jerusalem.

During the 2001 Taba summit in Sinai, Israel did show itself to be inclined to a solution in which Jerusalem would really be the capital of two states – Israel and Palestine, with sovereignty of each states over neighborhoods with dominance of its respective peoples. Unfortunately, as so many before, a peace agreement was never reached.

In the meanwhile, solving the territorial issue has become more complicated. In the picture above, you can see Har’Homa, by Israel considered to be an integral neighborhood of East Jerusalem, populated by Jews. However, the settlement is built upon a hill and is not directly connected to East Jerusalem with the exception of public transport. While people living their do not consider themselves to be settlers in the same way as the people in Hebron, Har’Homa is conveniently located between East Jerusalem and Betlehem on the West Bank. Future territorial resolutions in which East Jerusalem can be latched onto the West Bank as the Palestinian capital become significantly more difficult as time passes.

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