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Sunday, 13 February 2011

Jerusalem - Peace to you

When I was 20 years old in 1973 I became interested in the Bible, and discovered the wealth of knowledge and wisdom found within its pages. Although back then I disliked religion, the more I read the Bible, the less I saw it as a missal - a Catholic book on how to conduct your religious life at home and at church. Gradually I became aware that the Old Testament was centered around the nation of Israel, its land and one particular location - Jerusalem.
This knowledge began to satisfy my academic hunger I felt after leaving school. In my schooldays I was taught the importance of the school shirt and tie, British stoicism, discipline and in the playground, tough masculinity. Along with all this, during one of our religious education lessons I was told by the master to draw the Temple on top of the mountain. Although I never heard of the word "Temple" let alone knowing what it was, I correctly assumed it was a building of some kind. I certainly knew what a mountain looked like, having seen pictures of them as a child. So I outlined on the page Mont Blanc, slightly levelled the summit and upon it stuck a crude rectangle. It received no comment from the master.

Part of Jerusalem Old City taken from the Citadel. I took this in the year 2000.

By reading the Old Testament, I began to find out that the city of Jerusalem stood out from all the other settlements in Israel. The original settlement, no larger than Trafalgar Square in London, wasn't even built by the Israelites, but by a clan of the Canaanites then known as the Jebusites. Long after the land of Canaan was conquered by the Israelites under the leadership of Joshua, and the land was re-named Israel, Jerusalem remained a Jebusite settlement for the next several hundred years.
It wasn't until roughly 1,000 BC when King David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites, did the city became the national capital. Since then, Jerusalem has always been the capital of Israel even to this day.

View of the city from Mount of Olives. I took this pic in 1993 when the Dome of the Rock was being refurbished.

The idea that Jerusalem was earmarked for speciality began much earlier than the takeover by King David. A thousand years earlier, around 2,000 BC Abraham, the founding patriarch of Israel, met Melchizedek, a mysterious King of Salem (meaning "King of Peace"), whose life history we know nothing about, and not even considered to be a Jebusite, despite it was they who built the city in the first place. Just north of the city rose Mt Ophel, the site Abraham was to offer his son Isaac before God himself intervened. King Solomon, the son of King David, later built the Jewish Temple on that site, and as with Abraham, that spot has always been the exact location of the sacrificial altar.

Jews praying at the Wailing Wall, June 1994.

Whenever the Israelites were in their homeland, since King David, Jerusalem had always been the capital of Israel. When the Babylonians razed Jerusalem to the ground in 586 BC, the land of Israel became Babylonian territory with the City of Babylon as capital. Then afterwards so many empires came and went, and Jerusalem remained a provincial town within each empire. No Gentile nation or empire had ever made Jerusalem its capital during the approximately 2,530 years of the non-existence of Israel as a nation. It was only in 1980 that the status of capital city switched to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, only 32 years after Israel became a sovereign nation once again in 1948, and oddly enough, against the wishes of the United Nations

The Mount of Olives provides a backdrop for the Kidron Valley, east of the Old City.

I visited Jerusalem for the first time in 1976 as a lone backpacker. After arriving from Lod Airport late in the night, I managed to book a room at Ron Hotel at Jaffa Road. The next day I walked down to the walled Old City and entered through Jaffa Gate. I quickly realised that Temple Mount, where King Solomon built his Temple in 950 BC, did not resemble Mont Blanc at all! Instead it was a hill with its summit levelled to form a wide rectangular platform, the Al-Haram Al-Sharif, now occupied by the shining Dome of the Rock, a magnificent Islam mosque covering the very rock where Abraham offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice some four thousand years earlier.
During that time I made friends with a itinerant trinket salesman, who lived in a district of Silwan, at the Kidron Valley, and he invited me to stay at his family home. Together we explored Jericho, Hebron and swam in the Dead Sea. But to cap it all, we were invited to a neighbour's wedding reception just across the road. Here a live sheep had its throat slashed at the front yard, in front of us all, and skinned while still alive. Food was served at a large central pan or dish, around we all sat in a circle and helped ourselves from the dish, buffet style. Coffee was so thick that one can almost stand a spoon in it. The monetary currency in 1976 was the Israeli Pound, a remnant of the British Mandate which ended in 1948.
When I returned in 1993, there was some modernisations, including a security barrier at the access to the Wailing Wall. The monetary currency had changed to the Shekel. I stayed at a tiny backpackers hostel right in the heart of the Old City.

Evening relaxation at a backpackers hostel in Jerusalem Old City, 1993.

In 1994 I found myself staying at the same hostel in Jerusalem when I realised that the Arab Old City was crowded with Jews, each identically dressed in white shirt and black trousers, heading for the Wailing Wall. I followed them and stationed myself at a parapet on the opposite side, giving me a magnificent view. Literally thousands of Jews crammed the Wall, all in prayer. It was a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, and I had to move out of the way when a TV cameraman right behind me was hit by a stone thrown at him by an Orthodox Jew, for breaking the Sabbath.
Later that evening, well after the Sabbath had ended, the whole of Jaffa Street was crammed with Israelis protesting  to the Government against their giving consent for the Palestinians setting up their headquarters in East Jerusalem, just north of the City wall.
The protest was centered at the Ron Hotel, which housed Labour Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his Cabinet who was having a conference there. As the Cabinet was negotiating the treaty, I stood directly outside the hotel, the very one I stayed in 18 years earlier. All around me were TV cameras, Palestinian flags were held up and set aflame for all to see. Within a couple of metres from where I was standing was a large placard held up high, showing Rabin and Yasser Arafat posing in an unnatural way. This too was also set ablaze, as I felt squeezed in by the crowd. After what could have been a couple of hours, I wended my way through the crowd to walk back into the deserted Old City street to the hostel.
Walking through Jerusalem on the Sabbath was an experience in itself. All the main roads were literally deserted of traffic - not a car, taxi, bus, truck or anything that moves could be seen anywhere. Every shop closed, not a pedestrian in sight, the whole city in still silence. Only after sundown would the city become alive again.
Jerusalem, the City of Peace. Even if there is unrest elsewhere, I'm always safe in Jerusalem, a holy city for all three monotheistic religions. Here no one dares attack anyone or anything, lest retaliation would mean damage to a holy building such as a church, mosque or synagogue.
Jerusalem, I place I love so much - yet many scholars believe that this will be the epicentre of the future Battle of Armageddon, the war which not only end all other wars, but bring the whole of mankind to extinction - unless there is divine intervention that will save Israel and the rest of mankind from total wipe-out.
And such intervention will come, as Jesus Christ returns to take up the throne of his father David in Jerusalem.


  1. We were interested in your article about Jerusalem. It brought back memories of the visit we made a few years ago. What an experience to be invited to a wedding reception, and to witness a demonstration on Jaffa Street. I was interested to read in a Bible commentary that when the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt in 1542, Mount Zion was left outside the walls, and it became a ploughed field, as prophesied in Micah 3:12 hundreds of years B.C.

  2. Good post Frank. Never been to Israel myself but it sounds interesting enough. Been all over North Italy though, that was exciting.