After a slow new years day (as expected after a 6 am finish) that never got much past cafÃ© grazing the next stop on our itinerary was the holy city. My day started with an early rise and a pleasant paddle on the Yarkon River (about as much of a river as the Torrens in Adelaide) before we set off.
We took a slightly more political route to Jerusalem in lieu of the main freeway that connects Israelâ€™s two biggest cities. Our diversion took us through yet more stunning rocky scenery before cutting through the West Bank close to the dividing wall erected by Israel. For much of the journey both sides of the road were fenced, Palestinian territory bisected by the road we were travelling on. It gave physical reinforcement to the impression of Israelâ€™s divide and conquer strategy in the West Bank that is highlighted by this map.
Our first stop in Jerusalem was Yad Vashem the Holocaust Museum, a combination architectural/historical visit for us packed full of disturbing reminders â€“ almost too much information to absorb. The building itself is much less powerful than the Holocaust museum in Berlin, however the exhibits integrate much better and come to the fore, although they are more about the human face of the tradgedy rather than giving a more political background.
The two most striking elements for me were the comparison of numbers of Jews in the countries of Europe pre and post holocaust, and particular the way in which many German Jews managed to escape, as they had a gradual escalation, but those in countries invaded like Poland were completely decimated. The other element was a quote which escapes me now, but with words to the effect that those who allow atrocities in their midst are as guilty as the perpetrators themselves, for which the appropriateness to contemporary Israel and indeed for participants in the War of Terror, seemed so evident if not acknowledged.
Before we left the site we walked through the childrenâ€™s memorial â€“ easily the most powerful element of the whole site. In a vast dim room full of mirrors and candles that seem to reflect forever the names of children killed in the holocaust are read out â€“ an incredibly moving space.
The old city of Jerusalem was next on the itinerary (after a close examination of Jerusalemâ€™s slightly hairy traffic system). Entering into the Armenian Quarter through the Jaffa Gate, we soon lost ourselves amongst the maze of alleyways in an attempt to escape the tourists and associated souvenir shops. The most interesting part of our wanderings were when we were deep in the Muslim quarter surrounded by Arabic graffiti and hordes of kids running past wielding toys guns. We stopped for a falafel and shoama (or yiros or kebab depending on the country of origin of your local takeaway proprietor) and some coffee deep in the Muslim quarter to gather an authentic taste of Jerusalem (and tourist prices apparently).
Wending our way back into the Christian quarter past a series of Churches and monasteries, we visited the ornate Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and then with a tip off from a travelling companion discovered a fantastic hidden well with amazing acoustic properties deep inside a Coptic monastery.
Heading into the Jewish quarter past the watchful eyes of the Border Patrol we took in the views over the Western Wall to the Dome of the Rock.
Past yet more security and with paper yarmulka somewhat precariously fixed to our heads we ventured up to the wall (separately please â€“ Chhay squeezed into the packed quarter that the women use while I luxuriated in the other three quarters reserved for the blokes – see the photo below). Aside from a blessing from a particularly devout orthodox chap (who was more interested in extracting my money than saving my soul I think) I escaped unscathed.
We were lucky enough to squeeze into a tour of the tunnels of the Western Wall. Despite an overly enthusiastic Zionist tour guide it was quite interesting to pass along the base of the Western Wall from many centuries ago; several meters below the current street level that has built up over time. Emerging in the middle of the Muslim quarter after dark security guards were apparently required to escort us back to the safety of the Jewish Quarter!
We finished our time in Jerusalem with a vist to the German Colony for a light meal before heading wearily back to Tel Aviv to ready ourselves for a road trip to the north of Israel.