Israel in summer, part 4: A city divided

Our first stop in Jerusalem was at Rachel’s Tomb, which is down a long, unpromising street of high concrete walls built to protect the Jewish and Christian worshippers from attacks. I didn’t go inside. It looked like there was little to see and I was unclear on the garb required and made very uncomfortable by the whole thing. This felt like a genuine, still-in-use religious site, and my secular tourism felt unwelcome.

Even doves need bulletproof vests here?
Even doves need bulletproof vests here?

The first real stop of the day was Bethlehem, which is in territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority. It is in the West Bank. We had to get out of the bus, walk through a border, and meet a different guide on the other side–Adel. He was like Tomer light, but I presume he was a Palestinian Christian, because those are the things his guiding focused on.

He took us to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which supposedly covers the place where Jesus was born. It’s a large church, shared by various Christian sects, with predominantly Byzantine art. Talk about gaudy! There was a mass downstairs when we went, so we had to wait seemingly forever to go down to the spot where Jesus was born, and then it was so crowded that we could barely see anything. Supposedly the manger is down there too, but I didn’t see it. I was surprised a stable would have been around long enough for people to start venerating it, but Bethlehem was in Jesus’s lifetime a very small town, I guess. It is pretty much inside Jerusalem these days.

They never heard the phrase, "tone it down."
They never heard the phrase, “tone it down.”

Next we visited a gift shop, which I suspect was run by Adel’s family. This took a very long time.

We got lost both ways going through the border again. We had to show passports to get back to the “Israel” side, though the person looking really wasn’t enthusiastic about it.

The border.
The border.

Then Tomer handed us over to a new guide, Avshalom, who was a huge step down from Tomer. Where Tomer was confident, Avshalom was timid and uncertain. We started with a VERY overpriced lunch, then visited the Mount of Olives. There is a massive Jewish cemetery there; very hot and grim, with no vegetation to speak of. At the base of the hill we drove past the Garden of Gethsemanee, which seems quite far outside the city for a quick place to go pray. We only drove past the garden, unfortunately.

The cemetery. To me it seemed a grim place to
The cemetery. To me it seemed a grim place to be dead.

Finally we arrived at the Old City. We entered through the Zion gate, which is riddled with bullet holes. As it turns out, much of the “Old City” is only 50 years old, having been destroyed in 1948 and rebuilt after a few wars. As always, it’s strange to see how the country lives with history–and isn’t too precious about it. We are allowed to touch almost everything. The drag is the religious part, which wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so sexist. You really can’t tell me that god is offended by my shoulders. He made them!

Bullet holes in the Zion Gate. Just inside is a huge mezuzah made from an artillery shell.
Bullet holes in the Zion Gate. Just inside is a huge mezuzah made from an artillery shell.

At the old city, the first stop was David’s Tomb. Upstairs from the tomb is the room where the Last Supper supposedly took place–except that there’s absolutely no evidence to support that “tradition,” as Avshalom called it, and plenty to support the fact that the building dates only to the Crusader era. Oh well.

After that we walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus died. As the story goes, all the important places (location of crosses, tomb) were once outside the city, but since they are now holy places there’s a massive church and it’s all within the current walls of the “old” city. In that church are the last few stations of the cross, including the crucifixion spot and the empty tomb–the latter having been excavated around such that it’s hard to see it as the cave it must once have been. The church is large, maze-like, and again shared by several brands of Christian, some gaudier than others.

Jesus's three-day resting place, so the legend goes.
Jesus’s three-day resting place, so the legend goes.

Then we hit the other stations in reverse, zig-zagging through markets and rushing through them until we hit the first one, where Jesus was sentenced, if I’m not mistaken. Things were really blurring by then.

After that we hit the Wailing Wall. Again, we were separated into men and women. I always find it weird to be in the presence of people with real religion. I don’t like it. Especially to come and gawk at it like a tourist. But nonetheless I put a very inappropriate prayer in the wall. One that would take a real miracle.

Prayers in the wall.
Prayers in the wall.

At around this point in the afternoon we had an awkward amount of time left (which never would have happened with Tomer as our guide), and walked a lot needlessly, then had less than an hour free before dinner. Diner was good–Armenian, which is more of the same–and then we went to the “sound and light show” in the Tower of David. This was very, very cool. Gorgeous and impressive. The Tower itself is really a castle. It has a huge moat and crenellated top and all the works. During the show Husband and I saw two UFOs. I think they might have been birds on an updraft–or possibly flying pigs. 

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