[I wrote this long read travel essay in 2018 after a vacation trip to Israel-Palestine.]
The streets of Jerusalem lay empty the day we landed there. It was 10 am. The winter sun peeked from in between the puffy, white clouds, but not a single person could be seen walking down the streets. The shutters of shops were shut.
“Is a curfew on here?” a co-passenger wondered aloud, as we stepped out of the sherut, a local shared taxi, hired from Tel Aviv.
“No. It’s Shabbat today. A weekly holiday for Israelis,” the driver replied.
I soon began explaining to my co-passenger how God created the world in six days and on the seventh day he decided to take rest, which is observed as Shabbat, the day of prayer and rest, by believers. The driver nodded in agreement.
“God made the world, alright, so he needed a break. But what did the people do to deserve this break?” my partner chuckled.
The driver nodded with a sheepish grin, “All we do is eat and sleep!”
With only places of worship open that Saturday morning, we decided to start our visit with the Sandemans Holy City Tour, offering an introduction to the three major faiths — Judaism, Islam, and Christianity — that emerged here. The tour group assembled at the Jaffa Gate, part of an uneven wall encircling the Old City. Made of Palestinian limestone, also known as the ‘Jerusalem stone’, the wall shone like marble under the noon sun. It was the last week of December, just before Christmas, and as expected, a good number of tourists from all over the world had descended upon the city for a vacation.
We noticed how the number of armed police stationed at the Gate was disproportionately high, for, except the tour group, comprising mostly outsiders like us, there were few people around. Only a lone street vendor stood peddling baguettes and steamed corn in one corner.
“The Old City is where a large number of ‘P’s live, I think,” my partner whispered into my ear, glancing warily at the 50-odd security men wielding large sniper rifles. We had decided to use only code words for sensitive subjects (‘P’ for Palestine, for instance).
As part of the tour, we walked ‘from one epoch to another’, as Mahmoud Darwish describes the experience in the poem In Jerusalem. The tour guide, a young Jewish woman in her late 20s, started by narrating the story of how Israel came to be.Continue reading “Jerusalem, Ayodhya and the God question”