Saturday, May 21, 2016

Jerusalem's Melting Pot



Busy Old City market


At this point it's getting to be old hat...my writing about a hot, crowded, exotic locale that leaves me feeling entirely confused, physically bombarded, and emotionally overloaded. Jerusalem (thus far anyway...I've been here for four days), is nothing like I pictured it. Scratch that, it's somewhat like I pictured it. The Old City with its narrow passageways, ancient brick and stone entry and exit-ways one blending into the other so that even if you stuff the already torn and sweat-soaked map into your back pocket you'll need the benevolent blessings of Jesus, Allah, or Jehovah, or God knows what or who else in order to find your way back out. I've been to a bunch of these markets in countries like Egypt, Morocco, West Africa, Turkey, Nepal, India, China, and as fascinating as I find them, I also end up feeling like I'm being swallowed up by a gigantic, long, coiled snake (No, that's not meant to be Freudian...so mind out of the gutter please).

Yesterday it took me nearly a half hour to walk from the Western Wall portion of the Old City to the Damascus Gate on the east Arabic side of the city, simply because the narrow passageway was so (over)crowded with people, it was like being stage-rushed at a Springsteen concert taking place inside a long tube. And being that we live in some fairly dangerous times, all I could think about was something going boom and a whole lot of body parts flying around. I need my hands and fingers to make my living, thank you very much.

But the old city is as diverse a home to religion as it is food, jewelry, rugs, spice, fruits, and just general junk vendors. It's got its beggars as well, and a never ending cascade of worshipers walking the Via Dolorosa in the path Jesus walked and struggled bearing the burden of His cross on the way to his crucifixion at what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. As an aside, I feel the true site of his execution is outside the city walls, at a place that's now called the Garden Tomb. A place that contains a small hill that literally looks like a skull and a nearby tomb which was sealed with a big wheel-like stone, and a garden with a cistern. It also overlooks a bus garage. Go figure.
The site of the Crucifixion? Almost maybe definitely

But there's far more to Israel and although I was going to avoid talking about anything political, I did spend some time driving around the West Bank with a Palestinian guide who offered up some interesting perspective. As a writer and a journalist I'm of course not only open to all sides of the story, but obligated to listen to them.

The story in this case is walls. The country is being divided up literally by concrete walls topped with razor wire. It's bizarre because a wall might spring up in the middle of what was once a well-traveled bit of asphalt roadway just a few months ago. Picture the road you take to your home to and from work each day suddenly being blocked off. You might now be forced to find an alternate route that takes you five or six times as long to reach your desired destination, such as work or the supermarket or your aging parents. In some cases, people have to leave their home and neighborhood altogether and find another place to live. Ghost towns are being created, literally.

Life in the West bank
It's a sad scene to be sure, but the political situation being what it is (and has been since 1948), I don't see anything improving in Jerusalem, but instead, getting worse. On one hand, the walls are succeeding at preventing the terrorist attacks that have been haunting this country for ages. On another hand, the collateral damage of walling in the innocents who don't care much about politics and only wish to live a simple life, is incalculable.

I mentioned to my guide Hamas, the tunnels, the rockets, the recent rash of stabbings and he became visibly upset and/or avoided the subjects altogether. But he did offer up his opinion on the stabbings. "These are young boys who have nothing," he said. "No job, no money, no future. So they give up their lives as a protest." In other words, out of desperation, these jerks stab and in some cases kill innocent people just to make a point and/or protest their sad living situation. I have sympathy for the latter, but no sympathy for the former. But then, I managed to keep my sentiments to myself. After all, my guide was driving at the time.

I won't comment anymore on the political situation here, because I simply don't know enough about it. All I know is that the people I've met are kind and friendly, be they Jewish, Arabic, Christian, or just plain nothing at all. For better or worse, Jerusalem is a melting pot filled with rich flavors that just wouldn't be the same if one of more of them were to disappear. 
A road to nowhere...An abandoned neighborhood







1 comment:

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