Saturday, June 22, 2013

In Jerusalem

For many years I’ve always stayed at the Hashimi Hotel, in the heart of the so-called “Muslim Quarter” of the Old City, on the Souq Khan az-Zeit, a busy shopping street. (The area with the walls of Old Jerusalem are traditionally divided into neighborhoods designated as the Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian “Quarters”)  The rooms are rather spare and the bathrooms cramped, but the location and the view from the rooftop patio are incomparable.  No vehicles are allowed in the narrow cobbled lanes in this part of the city, except the tractor-pulled trash collectors which pass in the early morning or evening. There is no place I’ve ever been that so vividly evokes the look and the sounds of an ancient city. 

Looking across low-lying al-Wad from the roof of the Hashimi is an awesome view of the Haram as-Sharif – the “Noble Sanctuary” to the Arabs, the “Temple Mount” to the Jews – with the golden Dome of the Rock directly opposite and the al-Aqsa Mosque to the right (with the gray, lead-covered roof dome).
Behind the Dome of the Rock, to the left, is The Mount of Olives
St. Anne Crusader-period Church, foreground, Mount of Olives in distance
Further to the right you can just make out the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, which most Christians regard as the Calvary and tomb of the crucified Jesus.
Dome of the Holy Sepulcre Church (center), with bell tower of the 19th centuryLutheran Church of the Redeemer, right
 Just below in the valley is a square building decked with Israeli flags; another one higher up to the left, said to be the house of Ariel Sharon (who has been kept alive in a coma after suffering a stroke several years ago)
One evening a Russian-American tourist commented that this was a good sign of “coexistence”.  Actually it is a form of aggression.  The Israeli state has recognized the seizure, fraudulent claim of purchase or “repatriation” of Jewish property in the Muslim Quarter supposedly owned before 1948.  Religious or settler families move in and raise the Israeli flag over their Muslim neighbors to assert ownership of the whole city.  Meanwhile, Palestinians who owned property elsewhere in the Old City or in West Jerusalem are forbidden by the Israeli government from reclaiming their old homes.

Non-Muslims are allowed to visit Al-Aqsa (the whole Sanctuary, outside and within the buildings is regarded as a Mosque by observant Muslims) only during certain times, and not at all on Friday, which is the weekly special day of prayer.  The entrance for non-Muslims is a ramp that ascends over the western retaining wall of the hill, which the Jews call "The Wailing Wall" Security is tight because of past incidents of vandalism against the Muslim holy site; tourists and non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the Mosques buildings,
"Wailing Wall" with segregated praying areas for men in the background, women foreground
In the the Haram as-Sharif, among the tourists are groups of Palestinian school children and small groups of people studying the Qur'an.
Al-Aqsa Mosque in the background

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