Sep 8th 2015
It is no wonder the possession of the old city of Jerusalem changed hands so many times throughout its history. There is a certain aura that surrounds Jerusalem, real or imagined, it remains present. Part of it is undoubtedly related to the expectation set by countless mythologies and verbal traditions. Corrupted by years of political strife and religious dissension.
The Western Wall and its wailers, the Via Dolorosa and its pilgrims and then the Golden Dome of the “Qubbat Al-Sakhra.” They all add to the mystique of the place. The humanity of the place is not far behind. Shop-keepers made sure you knew they were open for business. Antique vendors had an array of products that covered more than the three co-conflicting religions. There were guards on the cotton merchants’ gate both from the Israeli army and from the Muslim volunteers.
I have read more books and listened to more poetry about Jerusalem in the past few years than any person should. Were it a barren desert, I still would have been amazed based on expectation and the need to reconcile my experience with that of others.
The narrative in the media, public perception and the political situation that surrounds Jerusalem is second to none.
My family hails from a village called Ras Abu Ammar which is a few kilometers from the old city. My Grandfather and uncles walked those same stony streets
Barren desert it wasn’t, Old City of Jerusalem never was
Jerusalem lived up to the hype, you would see rundown buildings that seemed to be purposely allowed to decay. Others maintained to a standard far exceeding any thousand year old building I have seen in Rome or Greece.
The difference would be what quarter the building is in, the Muslim Quarter looks as well maintained as Pripyat or as inhabitable as Oradour-sur-Glane, the Jewish quarter has that polished museum feel which lets you know who is actually issuing the building permits.
There was no demarcation lines in the old city of Jerusalem, no clear lines on who is who. A church might be a place to approach the divinity, but in Jerusalem, it clearly showed its history and anthology. It showed that it belonged to a sovereignty outside the walls. The tension was so think in the air, almost visible, soldiers walking down the streets in pairs or groups. Machine guns on shoulders, and a fake confidence in their strides.
Residents showed their pride in living within the walls of the old city, yet a solemn expression rode their face when you asked about the how long the “Status Quo” would last, everyone knows it is a fragile existence.
Less than a week later, the dynamics of the “Status Quo” changed yet again, with the many scenes of violence that surrounded and entered the Old City.
Al Aqsa Mosque
Islam’s 3rd holiest shrine, Al-Aqsa Mosque, originally built in 705 AD, is probably the most contentious site for a mosque in the world. Revered as the first praying direction for the fledgling community of Muslims in Medina before turning turning towards Mecca.
Jewish religious tradition maintain that the site in the Waqf area north of Al Aqsa is where the “Holy of Holies” is located. A belief shared by a number of christian denominations.
The mosque itself is beautifully adorned with stained glass, mosaic work and Quranic text that speaks of the merits and virtues of Jerusalem. Some as ancient as the date of the mosque, some renovated and re-built after the fires and tribulations of a city that is consumed by a three-thousand year tradition of changing hands.