- Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world and holy to the three major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam
- Walk the Old City, one of the most beautiful attractions in Jerusalem, separated into the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian quarters
- Visit the Temple Mount: one of the most contentious areas in the city
- Touch the Kotel: the most significant site in the world for Jews
1. View over the Old City, 2. Dome of the Rock
Ah, Jerusalem- the most contentious area on earth. While I don’t normally explore politics in my posts, it seemed impossible to avoid while exploring Jerusalem. The process of understanding the holy land starts with understanding the holiest city.
Jerusalem is a city located in the Middle East. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and is holy to the three major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Why is there contention? Jews want the entire city to be the eternal capital of Israel, and Palestinians wish to make East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestine.
(Brief update into what has just happened politically in the last week as of 17 May 2018- Israel celebrated Jerusalem Day which began the evening of 12 May and ended the evening of 13 May, and is the holiday marking the victory of the 1967 Six-Day War in which Israel gained territory including the Old City of Jerusalem and the rest of East Jerusalem.
From Sunday evening, Jerusalem Day transitioned into the celebration of the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump’s decision in December 2017 to move the embassy drew sharp criticism from the Arab world and U.S. allies mostly from the EU, who warned that the step could spark violence and damage peace prospects. The Palestinian Authority responded by rejecting the U.S. role as peace broker for conflict going forward.
On Tuesday 15 May, Palestinians mourned on Nakba Day. Nakba is the Arabic word for catastrophe. The Palestinians participate in Nakba Day protests every year on May 15, the day after Israel declared independence. For the Palestinians, this day is a day of mourning and anger, a reminder that more than 700,000 Arabs were forced to flee or were expelled from their homes during the war. Nakba Day commemorations often call for a full return of the refugees, and in some cases, Israel’s destruction.
Israel celebrates its Independence according to the Hebrew calendar, so Israel celebrated on April 18, leaving May 14 free for the embassy opening.
Protests at the Gaza border saw Gazans trying to break down the barrier and march into Israel, resulting in the death of at least 60 people).
Now, that was just one week of tension. While this country, with a focus on this city, has seen so much chaos, anger, terrorism and pain, it holds so much history, beauty and religious magic. It has a special feel in the air, even if you have no affiliation to any religion.
3. Religious men praying at the Kotel, 4. View over houses in Old City, 5. Hurva Synagogue
Israel and Palestine’s claim to Jerusalem:
It is not possible for me to summarise or explain the past 5,000 years of history regarding this piece of land. But a large basis of the fighting stems from periods of Jewish sovereignty over the land which is very important to Israeli/Jewish nationalists (known today as Zionists), who claim that their right to the city is based on Jewish descent from the Israelite Kingdom of Judah, when Jerusalem was the capital. The Palestinians hold an opposing view: Palestinian nationalists believe their right to the city is based on modern Palestinians descent from many different peoples who have lived in the region over the centuries.
Jerusalem’s importance to Muslims and Christians:
In Sunni Islam, Jerusalem is the third-holiest city, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. All sects of Islam regard the Temple Mount as the third holiest site.
The holiness of Christianity in Jerusalem is that Jesus’s crucifixion happened there.
6. Temple Mount, 7. Artist Solomon Souza painted doors in Machane Yehuda, 8. Machane Yehuda, 9. Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Temple Mount:
According to the bible, King David conquered the city from the Jebusites and established it as the capital of the ‘United Kingdom of Israel’. His son, King Solomon commissioned the building of the First Temple, which was destroyed by the Babylonians. The second temple was constructed and then destroyed by the Roman Empire. The Temple Mount now currently stands where the temples once were, and the Jewish tradition believes that a third and final temple will also be built on this land. The location is the holiest site in Judaism and is the place Jews turn towards during prayer.
The Temple Mount has been controlled by Israel since The Six-Day War in 1967, but handed the administration of the site to be ruled by the Waqf, a Jordanian-appointed Islamic trust, in an attempt to keep the status quo. This area remains one of the main reason for the stalemate in a solution to the conflict.
10. Dome of the Rock, 11. Old City
Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.
12. Dome of the Rock, 13. Old City
What to do in Jerusalem:
The Old City is divided into four quarters- Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim. Despite not being religious, I can feel the spirituality in the air here; you can feel the history of all the people who walked here before you. Spend a few hours wandering the old cobblestones, exploring the little art galleries and boutique stores.
- Jewish Quarter: Kotel (Western Wall), Hurva Synagogue, Kotel tunnel tour
- Muslim Quarter: Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque: open 8:30-11:30, and 1:30-2:30
- Armenian Quarter: Tower of David, Armenian Museum and St. James Cathedral
- Christian Quarter: Church of the Holy Sepulchre
There is a lot to explore outside the Old City as well.
- Yad Vashem: Memorial to Holocaust Victims
- Mount Herzl: The site of Israel’s national cemetery for fallen soldiers
- Israel Museum
- Mount of Olives
- Mahane Yehuda: A bustling market filled with fresh produce. Check out ‘Marzipan’ bakery for the best rugelach in the country!
There are popular day trips from Jerusalem.
- Masada and the Dead Sea
- Bethlehem and Jericho
- Nazareth, Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee
- West Bank tour