Sep 14, 2009

Our Tour Continues

Jim FletcherBy Jim Fletcher

Where did I leave off last week on our Jerusalem tour? Oh yes, east Jerusalem.

The area that contains the Temple Mount, the most fascinating patch of ground on Earth, is also home to thousands of Palestinians today. As you walk the perimeter of the Old City, you see Arab vendors, taxi drivers, and…Israeli soldiers and police. The old walls of the Old City contain gates of entry, including Damascus Gate, Dung Gate, and Jaffa Gate.

As you stroll south, the slope becomes steeper. The southeast side in particular is worth lingering over, as I always do. Throughout Jerusalem, steep hills and valleys give the place a larger “feel” than one would normally feel. On the eastern side of the Old City is the famed Eastern Gate, sealed up until the Messiah appears (it really is; hundreds of years ago a Muslim ruler heard about the biblical prediction that the Jewish messiah would enter the gate in the end of days. He had it bricked-up!).

Also on the eastern side is the more obscure Lion’s Gate, through which the Israel Defense Forces entered just before capturing the Temple Mount in the Six Day War. A plaque just outside the gate commemorates the event, and it is strange to see it in a largely Muslim area now.

The walls seem to blend into the surrounding terrain as the landscape slides into the Kidron Valley. As one passes through a vast Jewish cemetery on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, one can see the pinnacle of the place. This is where Jesus will return and every time I’m in the city, I spend a good deal of time just looking at it. By the way, a century ago the area was a barren wasteland; it is now green and flowering!

Across from the southern edge of the Old City is the Mount Zion Hotel, a very nice place to stay. From my room one night, I peered into the valley below, the famed Valley of Gehenna, where trash burned and sacrifices burned in ancient times. I sat one evening in the hotel lobby, chatting with a journalist friend, and I found myself constantly looking behind her, at the valley and the actual walls of the city, flood-lit.

Nearby is the traditional place of Judas’s death.

North of the Old City is a teeming area of shops, the (William) Albright Institute for Archaeology, and, most serenely, the Garden Tomb and Golgotha.

Just north of this is the famous American Colony Hotel, a former pasha’s home that was renovated some years ago. It has all the look and feel of the film “Casablanca.” An inner courtyard routinely sees journalists, politicians, and World Bank execs sitting at intimate tables, sipping the thick black soup the Arabs call coffee.

One night I ventured into the downstairs bar, a cave-like setting in the bowels of the hotel. There, on any given night, one can chat with CNN reporters, newspaper editors and the aforementioned World Bank types. There are also flyers on the lobby counter that invite journalists to learn Arabic and take Palestinian-led tours around the country. This gives you some insight as to why the networks push Arab propaganda.

The American Colony is on Nablus Road, and the area was the ancient route to Damascus. Today, tree-lined streets carry thousands of Palestinians to and fro. The last time I was there I watched a young boy pick up a loaf of bread that had fallen below his cart; it had landed in the middle of the street, which, I will not go into further detail, is grossly dirty. He picked it up and put it back on the cart.

Let’s circle back to the western side. If you ever visit Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, you simply must eat at Darna, a restaurant owned and operated by Moroccan Jews. I don’t even remember what I ate, but it was sensational!

Back in the Old City itself (and here I am referencing the entrance at Jaffa Gate), one can see the Petra Hotel, where it is reputed that Mark Twain once stayed during his 1867 visit. Today, adventurous (mostly young) tourists can book rooms very cheaply.

And remember, when you enter through Jaffa Gate, you are taking the same route as that of the British General Allenby, when he entered as the conqueror of the Ottoman Turks in 1917, heralding the beginnings of the state of Israel. Once the Ottomans were no longer running the show, Bible prophecy students rightly surmised that the last days were indeed here!

Just a few feet away is the Christ Church Guest House. The first Protestant church in the area, the complex is home to a small staff that maintains a very nice bed-and-breakfast. Spartan-but-clean and comfortable rooms (don’t plan on watching a nice flat-screen if you stay here) are steps away from a very nice breakfast area. The whole place is a perfect launch into the Old City itself. As you pass several Arab shops (Alert! Be careful about buying in these shops; often the price agreed-upon changes when you get ready to pay), you’ll enter a narrow alleyway, which leads into the heart of the Old City.

On your way down toward the Western Wall, you’ll pass dozens and dozens of shops where trinkets and t-shirts are sold. In fact, I usually make a mistake by not loading-up on the cheap t-shirts. I find it amusing and ironic that Palestinian merchants sell IDF shirts.

Another tip: when they try to sell you a necklace made by Bedouin (ancient-looking coin necklaces) and ask $50, just know that by refusing three times and going on your way will yield a sale somewhere under $10. I am a ruthless negotiator in the Old City!

The stone walkways, enclosed on two sides by stone walls that contain wooden doors that look a thousand years old, are cool and blanketed in both shadow and sunlight streaming down. Another caution: the smell is sometimes overpowering: animals, sewage, food, etc. Herbs and spices of all sorts blend with livestock and raw meat that hangs from hooks. On my last trip, I took my wife and she screamed as we made our way through a narrow alleyway with bloody water running like a small stream. Cleanliness is not a priority in this city that the Psalmist said was closely compacted together.

Once you enter the large plaza where the Western Wall is located, you can spend hours watching people: an old Arab hobbling painfully along with a cane, his wool suit looking slightly out of place with his flowing headdress. Israeli soldiers are in abundance. Tourists look like, well, tourists. Just west of the wall is a fabulous archaeological park, where discoveries are constantly made. When the Israelis took the Old City in 1967, they removed tons and tons of soil that had accumulated around the Temple Mount, yielding vast artifact treasures. Even today, one can see shards of pottery sticking out of the ground.

The city deserves its reputation as a fabled center of human activity that just so happens to rest on consecrated ground. Look forward to it, because we will all live there one day!

NEXT WEEK: West Jerusalem!