Monday, July 19, 2010

The Muslim Quarter

The Old City is mostly Muslim with the great Arab souk traversing all the quarters. Groups of Christian pilgrims break into religious songs on its streets, thinking that they are actually treading on holy land, despite the fact that the Old City is not a dead ancient relic but a bustling marketplace where people actually work and live. I saw a selfrighteous pilgrim lady ask some Arab boys to pipe down because her group was singing a psalm in the middle of the street. The boys totally and rightly ignored her. It's their neighborhood. What the hell?

These are not the boys in question. But these smart and charming Palestinian boys offered to take us to Jaffa gate for money. Hilarious negotiations ensued. They spoke very good English but couldn't understand why we insisted on going to the Armenian quarter instead of Jaffa Gate, where it is possible they wanted to point us to some store on another. If Jews and Arabs got along, they would be an awesome mercantile force, to judge from their astounding adeptness at business. Maybe if they both think about it in those terms, we can all live in peace?

While the Via Dolorosa basically traverses the Arab Souk (inspiring me to call it the Via Deliciosa); the Dome of the Rock, the 3rd holiest place in Islam after Mecca and Medina, sits actually on top of what the Jews consider the Temple Mount, the place where the ark of the Second Temple was supposed to be, and where Abraham took his son Isaac to be sacrificed, and according to the guide who took us through the impressive recent excavations below the wall, it is also considered the foundational stone of the world by both Jews and Muslims (or something like that. It's hard to remember so much lore).
The wall that abuts the Temple Mount is the Wailing Wall, the outer wall which is all that remains from the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple. Today, there are limited hours to visit the beautiful, graceful, quiet, magnificent Temple Mount and access to the mosques is forbidden to non-Muslims, which is heartbreaking. The acrimony from all sides is millenary and now, if you choose to enter from the Western Wall, you pass a military checkpoint that looks like a trench that is a total eyesore in the name of security (because of nefarious Jewish extremist attacks sometime in the recent past), but that is thankfully shaded. 

The Wailing Wall and The Temple Mount. To the right, the ugly passageway to the Mount.

                                  The entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque.

                       Foreigners leaving before the start of Muslim prayers.

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