I cannot believe we are already at Part 40 of this series! Weird. I'm honored that y'all have stuck around for this long!
Anyway, we are back in the Jewish quarter of the Old City. We walked to the Cardo of the Jewish Quarter--Cardo meaning "heart," as the Cardo was built when Jerusalem was under the rule of the Roman Empire. That was WAY back when… like, before 476 AD.
During this time, many Jewish people who lived in Jerusalem were not allowed to practice their faith. To solidify the Roman Empire's grasp on the region, Jerusalem saw the building of a Cardo, which was present in many Roman cities at the time (it was modeled off how "all roads lead to Rome," so the Cardo was supposed to be the heart of the city).
We walked through shop after shop of Israeli crafts and spices. There were beautiful colors, sounds, and smells at every corner. We then came to the Western Wall plaza--the place that replaced the old Moroccan Quarter.
Some people were washing their hands in the ritualistic fashion, and others were praying with their heads leaned against the wall. Little rolls of paper were written on, folded up, and inserted into the cracks between the bricks of the wall. People walked straight towards the wall to pray; when they were done, they backed up without turning their body away from the wall as a sign of respect for the wall.
I was confused until people explained that the Western Wall was one of the holiest sites for Jews to pray, since Jews are not allowed to pray at their holiest site: the Temple Mount. The Western Wall served as the closest place to the Temple Mount--it was the closest Jews could get, physically, to the Temple Mount and still be able to pray.
Historically, the Temple Mount was a place that only one rabbi could enter, and he could only do so one day out of the entire year. He would pray to his God for his entire people, and if God approved of his prayer--if he did a good job praying--then he would be still alive by the end of the day; if not, the rabbi would die.
Coincidentally, the Temple Mount is located exactly where a very holy site for Muslims exists--this being the Al-Aqsa Mosque, or the Dome of the Rock. Jewish people are allowed to physically enter this area, but they are escorted around by Israeli police--some police who are even religious Israelis--and will be asked to leave if caught praying; Jewish people are not allowed to pray here because it would disrupt the status quo of the monument, and if there is one thing no one in this land wants to do, it is disrupt the status quo.
Non-Muslims are only allowed to enter the Temple Mount area through one specific entrance, where they have to go through security checks. Muslims, on the other hand, are allowed to enter through any of the Old City's gates, as this is one of their holiest sites as well. The Dome of the Rock is the site where the Prophet Muhammad went to talk to God multiple times, and where the rule of Muslims praying five times a day was established.
Speaking of the security check, I noticed a plaque on the wall inside the security building. It was a picture of two Israeli guards, and it had the words "killed by Arab terrorists" on it. This is another point of Israeli rhetoric regarding non-Israelis--specifically Arabs. Though much of the Israeli people, when disconnected from the army and government, try to see non-Israelis as human, the propaganda that seeps into Israeli minds is still strong.
Anything associated with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) or government tends to use strong language that works against Arabs, especially Palestinians. While an Israeli layperson would just call a Palestinian their "Palestinian neighbor," the IDF, on a management level, would use the word "terrorist." This not only does not do anything to promote peace, it instills fear and hatred among those who read the word--on both sides.
An Israeli who reads that his neighbor is a terrorist would feel threatened, while a Palestinian who is misguidedly labeled a terrorist would offended.
For example, recent IDF tweets have said the following:
"Imagine that a terrorist who belongs to an organization whose mission was to kill you and your family, was minutes away from your home. Today, a Hamas terrorist broke through the Gaza border fence into Israel." (from January 18, 2019)
"On September 16th, 2018 a Palestinian terrorist murdered Ari Fuld, an American-Israeli civilian. Last night, we demolished the terrorist's residence." (from January 17, 2019)
This type of rhetoric is biased and does not help Israelis or Palestinians who are trying to make peace with each other. Much of the Western world perpetuates this rhetoric. The US and Israeli government likes to label Hamas as a terrorist organization, and calls all members of Hamas "terrorists."
I will later discuss our trip down to the Gazan border, but for now, I will say that calling anyone a terrorist does not do anything for negotiations or peace talks. I am not condoning the violent methods Hamas has used to further its agenda, but no one is innocent here; violence has come from every side, yet only certain sides are labeled as terrorists.
Because of this rhetoric, I would not be surprised if Hamas called Israelis terrorists as well; I would not be surprised if Hamas used propaganda, just like Israelis, to further instill fear and hatred among its people. This toxic cycle of distrust and fear is what has stopped peace negotiations in the past, and it will continue to hurt innocent civilians if all sides do not take a step back and have forgiveness in their hearts.
The true victims are the people who live under these governments that do nothing but promote hatred toward the other side; these are the people who live in fear of rocket attacks but who still hope for peace one day.
Back to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Again, we see the same thing being called different names by different groups of people. To Muslims, this place is a mosque and where Muhammad ascended to the heavens and talked to their God; to Jews, this place is where the rabbi talked to their God once a year.
Though many archaeologists said that Muhammad may not have ever even been in this area, this does not make the belief that he did any less true to those who believe in it. This would be a recurring theme throughout our travels within the Old City; later, we would walk where Jesus was said to have healed a blind man. Even if the records don't show that Jesus was ever there, it does not make it any less true to the people who believe that.
Back to the Western Wall. We saw the separation of the men's praying area and the women's praying area. Every Jew who was praying was dressed very modestly, and even non-Jewish people who were not praying were still expected to dress modestly out of respect--since mutual respect of each others' religions is a very important factor of coexistence.
After left the plaza, we went underground to the Western Wall tunnels, where we were able to see where, why, and how the Western Wall was constructed. Our tunnel guide provided a long history lesson for us, and I could tell by his rhetoric that he had a very Jewish Israeli narrative.
Throughout the trip, we noticed how each person's narrative differed ever so slightly because of their beliefs and upbringings; we saw how people perceived the same events differently. Even so, the Western Wall is, objectively, an architectural masterpiece and miracle.
By the time we were done there, everyone was starving. We made our way to Ben-Yehuda street again, and this time we saw the markets during the day. In the next section, I'll be talking about our Jerusalem Shabbat experience!