Yet another fun border crossing from Jordan to Israel. It was pretty straight forward (nothing to do with ethnic profiling of course) and the bus service I used made things a lot simpler. From Amman you jump on the bus to the Jordanian side of the border, get out, get checked, sit around for a while waiting for the bus. When the bus is ready you head to the Israeli side where you get asked questions about your visit, where your going, do you have any friends etc. which countries were you in. It’s all pretty bland and boring but obviously being a tourist I didn’t have much hassle.
I heard a few stories about people getting held for 4 hours in a room without any information as to why they were being held or any follow-up but I think it depends how arabic you look…
Moving swiftly on from politics (which I’ll probably touch on later as you can’t avoid it) I arrived in Jerusalem, just like the wise men, in an air-conditioned mini-bus. Made a few friends on the shuttle bus, one of whom was going to my hostel so we ended up hanging out for all my time within Jerusalem. It’s a pretty hectic place with lots of hustle and bustle but all the shops with random tat were a lot less pressing when asking you to buy their wares so I appreciated that.
My hostel was in-between the christian and muslim quarters which was reflected in the religious goods and food available within the area. The first thing I noticed about all of this was how expensive food is here. I mean, I didn’t expect it to be cheap, but the prices are pretty steep. Unless you’re happy living on shawarma and falafel you’re looking to spend a minimum of about $10 a meal, even a bottle of water was about $2.
Obviously being in the centre of the monotheistic world I went around and visited some of the churches and all that jazz. Plenty of pretty places but due to my lack of faith I feel they didn’t resonate with me as much as they may have for others. Especially when in certain places (including the Dome of the Rock) you felt very unwelcome which I think goes against some of the foundations of religion. This is especially important when your religion is subject to daily persecution. Not engaging people and allowing them to understand a little more about your religion does not help with the clouded judgement that has been perpetuated by negative press.
After being a little churched out I figured I’d head to Bethlehem and see what’s going on there. It’s rough. It’s definitely not the most poverty stricken place I’ve been but the stark contrast between two sides of a wall is pretty heavy. I don’t know enough about the whole Israel-Palestine deal to make a properly educated statement of my opinions on the matter but purely based off of what I seen there is clearly a disparity between wealth and treatment. You can sense a lot of tension when speaking to arabic people on either side of the wall (there were a lot of guests in my hostel that were arabic) not only this but when you have a bunch of people walking around with automatic weapons it’s quite intimidating, not only the military and police but also people in shorts and flip-flops. As I said, I’m not educated enough on the matter to have an opinion on the rights and wrongs of if all but I will definitely look into it.
Moving away from politics again and back to religion we headed over to the ‘wailing’ wall to watch people dance and shout to signal the beginning of Shabbat. Regardless of all the religious aspects it was just nice seeing a whole community come together and enjoy themselves. These gatherings always tend to be religious in my experience and it would be nice to see other celebrations of culture, weekly or monthly, for various different places. I think it would also help a lot with the distance people are creating from one another and improve relationships between members from different parts of a wider community.
Being Shabbat everything was closed (well everything owned by a Jewish person) so we set off to find this Ethiopian restaurant we had been to before for our very own Friday night dinner. Our multi-cultural table broke bread and had a beer on one of the main streets in Jerusalem that was currently void of noise and traffic. It was a really nice little dinner with America, New Zealand, Russia, Spain, Italy and Britain being represented at the table. All of this out of the way I spent my last day in Jerusalem doing nothing, I figured I might as well embrace Shabbat and not do any work!