>> Wednesday, August 13, 2014
I had the astounding privilege of visiting Israel this summer. My sister and brother-in-law had planned a trip, and they allowed my mother and me to tag along because they had extra beds in the apartment they rented in Jerusalem. I've wanted to go to Israel for as long as I can remember, and leaped at the chance.
Before I post all the photos though, I thought they needed a little context in light of the ugliness of the last few months for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Thankfully, we timed our trip just right. Before we left, I anxiously listened to the NPR piece announcing that Fatah and Hamas had reconciled, and a unity Palestinian government had been formed. Then, the three Israeli teens, Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frankel and Gilad Shaar, were captured in the West Bank. They had already been killed, but most of Israel and the rest of the world did not yet know that. Israel is a small country, and at the time I arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, many, many people were gathering all over Israel and fervently praying for their safe return. Their bodies were found while we were there. It was also while we were there, toward the end of our stay, that Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir was captured and brutally murdered, and rioting began in East Jerusalem. We left just a few days before huge volumes of rockets started to be exchanged between Israel and Hamas.
Though all this upheaval was ramping up during our stay, life inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem just carried on. There was only one day that was tense inside the walls while I was there, and it was the day when Mohammed Abu Khdeir had been so brutally murdered, but no one had yet been arrested. Everyone seemed tense, and certain parts of the Old City of Jerusalem did not feel safe for me that day, despite the many, many armed police and military flooding inside the walls and standing guard. Aside from that one day, though, I felt warmly welcomed in Israel, by people of all faiths.
The trip was spectacular, despite the political background. It was once I returned and watched the region I had fallen in love with erupt (again) in devastating bloodshed, that the real meaning of the conflict hit me. I was stuck relying on news reports that, at least on U.S. web sites, was woefully inadequate and delayed. After significant effort, I finally found some more reliable sources of information from mid-east media web sites, Twitter feeds from people who were actively trying to negotiate a cease fire, or who live in various places (including both Jerusalem and Gaza), and some good Facebook pages to follow. But until I found those sources of real-time unfiltered information, I experienced this ongoing writhing horror that the places I had just been and loved could have been damaged or even obliterated by rockets, and I wouldn't yet know it. Of course, much of Gaza WAS obliterated, but at least the ancient sites I so loved in Jerusalem remained largely unscathed. Not that that is any comfort for any of the people of Gaza.
As things (temporarily? for how long?) are a little quieter in Israel and Gaza*, I have a tremendous number of thoughts about the region, the politics, the people, and how bleak the future looks for any kind of real and lasting peace. It doesn't help that Syria and Iraq are being gobbled up by the extremist Islamic State (formerly ISIS), with people in all the surrounding countries fearing its continued expansion. The Middle East has been volatile essentially for all of recorded history, and looks to remain so for the foreseeable future. It's heart breaking, for so many reasons.
But the Old City of Jerusalem? Oh, how I love it! I'll post photos in several different posts, because there are too many to absorb at once. Most will be of Jerusalem, but we did take one day trip to Qumran, Masada, and the Dead Sea as well. (And yes, I am aware merely visiting those sites is political, given that they are in the West Bank. *sigh*)
And now, with no further political reflection, Jerusalem, as I saw it in June and July 2014. First? The people:
This was the view from my bedroom balcony in our apartment. It's in the Jewish Quarter, very close to the Western Wall. I love this square, that had cafes and birds, scrounging stray cats and buskers, and so very many people always walking through on their way to or from praying at the Western Wall.
Scenes from walking the streets and markets:
There were many Pilgrims, of course. This is at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The stone around which people have gathered is the Stone of the Unction, or Stone of the Anointing, on which Christ's body is said to have been laid and anointed after his crucifixion. However, whether it was really used for that is questionable, since this stone was allegedly first mentioned by the pilgrim Riccoldo da Monte Croce in 1288. Many people rub objects on the stone, seen here, believing it makes them holy.
The Western Wall. My favorite spot in all of Israel. A place of peace, comfort, beauty, community, and of course, prayer.
Though sadly it must always be guarded.
A scribe working at Masada:
Bedouins in the Judean Desert, making a living by giving tourists rides on a camel.
My niece and I were some of those tourists. I love that the camel is smiling in this picture:
And my family, walking the ramparts:
More posts to follow.
* Not an hour after I posted this, I'm starting to see information that there have been some new red alerts in southern Israel, as the current cease fire window draws to a close. Hoping it's not Hamas rockets, hoping this is not starting all over again, hoping the cease fire will miraculously be extended by both sides. Hoping sometimes seems so darn futile.