I haven’t been keeping up lately but the highlights have been my mom coming to visit, a trip to the holy land over Christmas, and visiting India. I’ll save India for my next entry.
In December my mom took the 7,000 mile trip to Amman. Her visit coincided with my 30th birthday and it was great having her around for a little over a week. She experienced her fair share of cabs ripping her off and taking her to places “that she would like more” (ugly shopping malls), than the destinations she requested but in general I think she had a good time. We visited sites nearby Amman including Jerash, the Dead Sea, Madaba, Mount Nebo, and Ajloun. Victoria and Katrina organized a great birthday party at a rooftop restaurant with a great view overlooking the city. I had a great time and appreciated everyone coming out, especially my ama.
Two weeks later we took a trip over the border into Jerusalem. I won’t go into details about crossing but it ate up an entire day, primarily because of the surname of my travel companion. We stayed right outside the Old city in the Christian Quarter and ambled throughout for several days hitting the major attractions. I can’t say enough about Jerusalem, it’s a lovely walkable city, with amazing sites to satisfy all tastes, great food, and stark differences of all kinds within the various quarters.
In the span of a day you can rack up some serious religious stats including the Church of the Holy Selpulchre (Christianity’s most holy site), the Wailing Wall (Judaism’s most Holy site), and the Al Aqsa Mosque (Islam’s third most holy site). We fell just short of the Abrahamic trivector because we attempted it on a Friday, Christmas Eve actually, and were denied entrance to the Mosque on this holy day. Actually, Jamil got in when he successfully answered the Islamic trivia questions posed by the guy with a gun at the gate, thereby proving he was actually Muslim. He told us later that he only remembers about three verses from the Qur’an and lucky for him those were the three the guy asked him.
Though we did not make it to the Mosque on this day we got a nice view of it nonetheless. We walked up the Mount of Olives which like many things in Jerusalem has considerable testament cred. From old to new, King David to Jesus, and plenty of unholy acts since, the hillside has 150,000 graves and Jews believe that this site is where the resurrection will begin and the Messiah will come. Location, location- a lot of people want to be first in line when the judging begins. The sprawling grave-site is beautiful and dramatic but it is the view of the city above that’s worth the walk.
West Jerusalem looking down towards Ein Karem
When were planning our trip to Israel, Victoria expressed interest in visiting Hebron and telling me about this city in the West Bank that is frequently in the news because of violent flare ups, which revolve primarily around a Jewish Settlement established several decades ago in the center of the city. On Christmas day we took a bus out of the Muslim quarter to Hebron.
We heard estimates that there are 2000 Israeli soldiers protecting around 500 settlers. The city is divided into two sectors: H1 and H2. H1 is home to approximately 120,000 Palestinians, while H2 houses the Israeli settlers and around 30,000 Palestinians. The settlers remain within the H2 sector and only leave the area by military escort. There are lots of restrictions on who can go where, even within the settlement with Palestinians only being able to access certain areas within the H2 sector and Israelis unable to enter the H1 sector. The amazing part is that an American passport provides access to most anywhere within Israel, including Palestinian areas, Israeli ones, and settlements alike – although sometimes you have to answer some questions. During our half day in Hebron we only saw a handful of tourists including a small group that had participated in protest and were waiting outside the settlement for a friend who had been arrested.
Just outside the settlement
Placard inside settlement
Through the gate Inside the Settlement, H2 Sector
Although you see lots of armed military personnel in Israel, I was amazed to see young settlers (not soldiers), that could not have been more than 16, leaving school in plain clothes carrying assault rifles. It was a chilling experience to walk inside the settlement and to see the intense interplay of Israeli soldiers, settlers, and Palestinian residents. There is a Palestinian school within the settlement where we watched young boys play on a basketball court at dusk. As I watched them, they looked like boys playing anywhere else, seemingly oblivious to all the intensity and ill will alive around them. I considered what sort of education, formal and otherwise, they were getting regarding the history of their home and how different the story must be for children attending school a few hundred feet below.
Palestinian School inside settlement
I am fortunate that Victoria encouraged the trip to Hebron because honestly I know I would not have made it there without her. Prior to this memorable day I had only the most amorphous view of a settlement in Israel. When we returned to Jerusalem that evening and walked to our hotel I saw hordes of western tourists ambling through the beautiful city and thought how these folks come to Israel and see Jerusalem and maybe a few other spots but in all likelihood they do not see Hebron.