One dream of note (perhaps the romantic and erotic influence of Jerusalem): with a male friend he and I while nude explored a sand dune landscape. We ascended a high hill, noted land features, found we were near a large restaurant. I grew afraid someone would notice us and call the police. I also spotted a group of about 4 men up very high on a tower, throwing out devices with something resembling an ancient atatl (throwing stick), maybe to chart the weather.
A portion of the Cambridge-Bethlehem People to People delegation
The Cambridge to Bethlehem journey intending to foster connections between people in those two regions began with two tours in Jerusalem, the old city and what is inaccurately called East Jerusalem. In Arabic Jerusalem is known as Al-Quds, The Holy, Yerushalayim in Hebrew. The name Jerusalem itself might derive from shalom or salem, both indicating peace. Some even believe there is a connection to Shalim, the beneficent deity known from Ugaritic myths as the personification of dusk. Which might partially explain what to me is the overwhelming romantic quality of the city, especially as the sun sets and the city’s walls glow.
Evidence indicates that the city dates back to the Copper Period, approximately the 4th millennium BCE, 7,000 years ago. Slowly—and this for me is one of the most intriguing aspects of Al Quds— Israeli archeologists are excavating portions of the region, notably the City of David or Silwan south of the main city and a hot bed of both archeological activity and political activity. (Another story which I hope to delve into later on this trip, reports of my previous excursions are on my website.)
Both the old city and East Jerusalem are relatively small. In better times you’d be able to stroll peacefully within that entire region in one day. It is a mere 10 sq km (5 sq miles) in area, approximately. The old city, until the 1860s the entire city of Jerusalem, is only 1 sq km. I often catch myself imagining—fantasizing—walking the length and breadth of Palestine/Israel. This entire portion of the earth is about 50 miles east to west and 150 north to south, on average, smaller than all but one (Rhode island) of the new England states, 1/640th the land mass of the USA. Thanks to two local guides provided by Alternative Tours and Transportation (www.alternativetours.ps or 052-286-4205) we were introduced to the historical and political realities of this area.
The population of East Jerusalem as of 2006 was 428,304, comprising 59.5% of Jerusalem’s residents. Of these, 42% are Jews, (comprising 39% of the Jewish population of Jerusalem), 53% are Muslim (comprising 99% of the Muslim population of Jerusalem and 3%) are Christian (comprising 92% of the Christian population of Jerusalem).
My first impression about the region is how small it is, second is how old human habituation there is. For instance, as we walked outside the old city walls our guide pointed out how the “new” walls, built by Suleiman the Magnificent, an Ottoman ruler, in 1542 perch upon the older walls and the bedrock limestone. Near this point the guide asked us to turn away from the wall to a barren area on a hill with a small cave resembling a skull. As many times as I’ve walked by this place, I’ve never noticed until now. Some believe, he told us with a wink, Protestants mostly, that that is Golgotha, the place of the skull, the crucifixion site of Jesus. Others, Catholics among them and many Orthodox, feel he was executed inside the walls, at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. As we entered thru the Damascus gate on the north side of the old city (which is the entry between the Muslim quarter and the Palestinian section of Jerusalem, north Jerusalem not east, hence the inaccurate terminology) the guide told us that the descent into the gate from street level, about 20 feet, represents new layers added to the city. This is an active earthquake zone—buildings fall repeatedly from quakes and human made catastrophes (as was true when the Roman occupiers destroyed the second temple during the Jewish Revolt in 70 CE.
Dome of the Rock thru old city arches
A highlight of this old city tour—so telling of the divided character of Jerusalem—was walking past the massive apartment complex in the Muslim Quarter purchased by former prime minister Ariel Sharon in his better days (he languishes now in a coma, going on 2 years, some say as retribution for his abandoning the settlements in the Gaza strip).
Our second guide, Abu Hassan, impassioned and dedicated to showing the truth of occupation as he understands it, led us by foot and van to other sections of East Jerusalem, including the settlements or colonies (not neighborhoods as Israel’s supporters tend to term them), Pisgat Ze’ev, Neve Ya’aqov, French Hill, the huge and rapidly growing Ma’ale Adumim, and other regions built illegally on confiscated Palestinian lands, such as Beit Hanina and Shufat. Some of these were created or expanded as a result of the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, a subterfuge for illegal expansion of facts on the ground. The wall runs thru, here massive: 8 m or 23 ft high (twice the height of the Berlin wall, which we note, now no longer exists), about 6 inches thick, with ominous watch towers, warning signs, and occasional massive metal gates. One section of wall courses thru the main street of the Palestinian suburb of Ar Ram, dividing Palestinians from Palestinians. The justification, security, hardly seems credible in this case and others. At one site Abu Hassan explained that the Israelis can prohibit transit by closing the gate we saw, in which case, if the weather has been dry, Palestinians can crawl thru storm sewers to reach their homes, office, factories, businesses, and schools. Otherwise: sorry folks, prohibited.
Separation Wall in East Jerusalem
Some of us wondered aloud about this happening in Boston-Cambridge. Let us say the Canadians become militarily powerful and wish to expand. They occupy our region. They erect walls and checkpoints and install a permit system that, shall we imagine, separates Cambridge from Boston and perhaps the entire region. To exit or enter our homes in Cambridge we need permission. If our identify papers specify X and Y is required: sorry, we will not allow you to pass. Would we accept this? Would the international community sanction it? Would the world notice? If our case were brought before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) how do we expect it to be decided?
We need speculate no further. In 2004 Palestinians and others brought the case of the Separation or Annexation Wall to the ICJ in The Hague. Decision: when built on Palestinian land, the wall is illegal and must be dismantled, and those afflicted compensated. Result: nothing. You decide the morality, wisdom, legality of Divided Jerusalem.
Separation Wall in Ar Ram