Muslims and Jews in Israel and Palestine
The genetics conference that I
attended was held at a fancy hotel in Herzliya, on
the beach some 10 miles north of Tel Aviv. Herzliya
was named for Theodor Herzl, the Zionist visionary.
Here's the view from our room. Strong sun and humid
Mediterranean winds bake up fresh clouds every day.
The strip of coastline is booming with new
construction. If the view was to the north rather
than south, you would see the slender tower of a
shabby mosque, dating to the 13th century, meant to
guard the strand.
Following the conference, we
moved to Jerusalem and stayed six days. The light
was stronger inland. Our hotel was just outside the
Old City walls, which you see at right. That's Jaffa
Road to the left, which once marked the border, the
so-called Green Line, between Israel and Jordan.
After winning the 1967 War Israel annexed the Old
City and the rest of East Jerusalem.
Orthodox Jews, all in black,
stand out, as do…
…observant Muslim women, whose
heads and bodies are covered regardless of the heat.
Women's clothing can be tight and still pass muster.
Muslim men for the most part dress in Western style,
cells phones to their ears and their hair cropped
short. It took us a while to get used to the
divergently dressed Palestinian couples.
Jerusalem's walls have shifted
many times during its long history. The present line
of fortification was created by the Ottoman sultan
Suleyman the Magnificent in the 16th century. Below
the battlement at center left there was a gate into
the city. It was used by Jews during Jesus' time.
When the Muslims took over from the Byzantine
Christians in the 7th century, the Golden Gate was
walled off. A long ramp mounts toward the gate and
the Lion's Gate further up. On either side are
Muslim graves and headstones.
This man in traditional Arab
dress earned money by posing for tourists. He had a
donkey tethered nearby to embellish the effect, and
at one point he produced a camel. We didn't find out
what he charged for a picture — this was a grab
shot. We are at the top of the Mount of Olives,
across from the Old City.
Our first view of the interior
of the Old City. The guidebook recommended that we
orient ourselves by climbing to the rampart (for a
fee) and walking along the top of the walls. Here is
the view NW to SE, which also is the direction to
Mecca from Jerusalem. It should be emphasized that
the Old City is actively residential, with scurrying
children, laundry lines and satellite dishes.
A depiction of Jerusalem in
the Second Temple period, during the five centuries
before the Common Era. The Jewish Temple, the holy
of holies, is at the rear, dwarfing the city. The
Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 CE. Its single
surviving remnant is the Western Wall (or Wailing
Wall), which is part of the supporting masonry
between the two elevated entryways. If a clock face
were drawn within the square of this illustration,
the Western Wall would be roughly at 2 o'clock.
To approach the Western Wall,
you pass through a security screening, descend
steps, and cross the plaza. Two sections are
partitioned at the base of the wall, one for men (at
the upper center of the photo) and the other for
women (at upper right and smaller). The trees and
dome are on the Temple Mount.
Men praying at the Western Wall.
Scribbled petitions to God are jammed into the
cracks. The seated men are studying Torah.
When the Second Temple was
destroyed, a huge flat pad remained: the Temple
Mount. On this site the Muslims built their famous
Dome of the Rock in the 7th century. The guidebook
says the grand mosque was intended to demonstrate
the superiority of Islam over other creeds. The Dome
of the Rock is the third holiest site in Islam.
Non-Muslims may not go inside, and even getting up
onto the Mount takes some doing, as the religious
authorities constantly change the hours of access.
I believe the purpose of this
little shrine is to indicate the direction of Mecca.
Once or twice, observing a Muslim at prayer, I took
out my pocket compass to confirm that he was facing
Religious study in the shade
of the Temple Mount.
The freestanding arcade at the
top of the stairs, with original Roman elements, is
called a qanatir.
Here are young conscripts of
the Israel Defense Forces; both sexes carry arms.
This group is heading up onto the rooftops for a
meeting — not onto the Temple Mount as the photo
Compared with the other
sectors of the Old City (the Muslim, Christian, and
A narrow street in the Muslim
Quarter. The little sweeper wants to challenge me, I
think. Everyone in the throng of Jerusalem appears
to get along, although from the younger Palestinians
you occasionally feel a flash of hostility. It's
never anything sharp or specific, but like a cloud
skidding across the sun.
The expansion of Jewish
settlement east of Jerusalem is a sore point for
Palestinians. See that in the distance? What was
once a wooded ridge is now settler housing, one man
complained to me.
The skyline of modern
Jerusalem as seen from the Citadel in the Old City.
The city crawls up and down its ancient hills.
Reading the news each morning
in Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post, and The
International Herald Tribune, you sense a rising
anxiety over the political situation. Every nuance
from abroad involving Israel is picked over, while
internal disagreements are aired at high pitch.
Jerusalem will survive its latest crisis, in one
form or another.