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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 SE.

 

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 might suggest.

 

Compared with the other sectors of the Old City (the Muslim, Christian, and Armenian
Quarters), the Jewish Quarter is small and tidy.

 

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.
 

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