We were warned not to drive into Jerusalem between 8 am and 10 am as the traffic would be very heavy, so we left the ship a little after 10 in the morning for a drive into the most disputed city for the world’s religions.
Our first stop was in the Arab quarter of the old city, where we were constantly accosted and waylaid by vendors trying to sell their wares. The old city has probably not changed much since biblical times, but is also similar to other old Middle Eastern cities, such as the souk in Tunis or Lindos on Rhodes. After a little bit of shopping, the constant touting for business became rather tedious as the salesmen became ruder and we resorted to fighting fire with fire.
Our first tourist visit was to David’s Tower, from where we had the most amazing views across the old city, dominated by the Dome of the Rock with its golden roof. However the most important sight for me was the Wailing Wall, the site of the First Temple, which we first viewed from higher up. I thought I was clothed modestly in a maxi dress, but my sleeves (despite covering my shoulders) were too short and I had to borrow a scarf to cover my upper arms. Conservative Judaism is still misogynistic. The greater part of the area in front of the Wall is allocated to the men, whilst the women have to squeeze into a much smaller space and it was impossible to get close enough to the holy stones, or to leave a message between the bricks.
After visiting the surface area of the Temple, we joined a fascinating tour under the walls of the structure, and learned that the stones were quarried nearby and that the bottom ones weighed 570 tons each. They were dragged into place and then chiselled flat once in situ. Emerging into the evening light we caught the end of a girls’ choir singing Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem; an appropriate reminder of where we were and a warning that Jews must never be forced out of their homeland ever again.
A bus ride along the walls was like stepping back several hundred years. Most of the passengers in the vehicle were orthodox Jews, men sitting at the front and women in the back half. A rather unnerving experience for a twenty-first century Londoner.
Having actually visited Jerusalem, my appetite has been whetted and I will definitely return, perhaps not ‘next year in Jerusalem’ but before too long.