Scheduling issues meant that I headed straight to a tour of the West Bank my first day in Jerusalem. Fortunately I was able to at least see the Old City briefly and step inside it’s gates. Jerusalem can seem like an ordinary Israeli city. It is much more conservative by far than Tel Aviv, in terms of how people dress and overall religiosity. But wandering it’s streets, everything can seem relatively ordinary, as you wonder whether the historic Jerusalem you have read about is really tucked away here somewhere.
Tomorrow is devoted to exploring the Old City. Today, I went on a tour led by Samer Kokaly. Being a Palestinian, he could not come to Jerusalem to meet us, and so a driver with Jerusalem residence brought us into the West Bank to meet him.
Hebron makes quite an impression. You don’t have to stay there long to see firsthand the hassle and oppression to which the Palestinian inhabitants of the city are subjected. There are people whose house’s entrance has been absorbed into Jewish settlement territory, and so rather than deal with the hassle of checkpoints, they climb in and out of their house through the back window. There are people who are Christians and thus who are technically allowed to enter certain areas, but are prevented from doing so because of Israeli military who doubt their status – in spite of wearing crosses, and having their religion written in their identity card, or even being an American citizen of more than two decades.
The site of the supposed burial sites of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca is contested territory, with the one building being split down the middle into a mosque and a synagogue. The irony is that both groups are facing opposite sides of the same wall to say their prayers and express their devotion. I wonder whether any of them notice the poignance of the symbolism.
In Bethlehem we visited the Church of the Nativity. We had a different guide show us around the church, and I refrained from making too many comments about the difficulties in the infancy narratives.
We also visited a refugee camp, where the residents have had the opportunity to replace their tents with brick houses, and have more access to the rest of the West Bank, but also have had to resign themselves to the fact that they will never receive their land back.
This has been an incredibly rewarding day, and I didn’t really feel tired except walking to the meeting point and returning from the drop-off point. A both were near the Old City, which I have discovered is annoyingly far from my hotel.