• Jerusalem - Travel writing

Jerusalem –Travel WritingLink title

With an array of irate, raucous voices piercing the uncomfortably humid atmosphere; an arrhythmic, yet constant symphony of deafening horns, thuds and shatters; the overwhelming fusion of various aromatic fruits and flora, entangled with penetrative spices pervading throughout the morning air – the crowded market areas of central Jerusalem provided an overall invigoration of my senses. With the early morning sun, soon to be intolerable, glaring mockingly down on me, I glanced around hurriedly, in awe of the eclectic surroundings. Suffocated by the noise of car horns, excited voices and heated arguments all around, I became aware that the city of Jerusalem rose quickly from its tranquil nights. I was compelled by the unfamiliar spectacle. The crowds were disconcertingly dense and the clouds of dust; rising effortlessly from the desiccated earth coerced my eyes into a squint as I sought after the scarf in my rucksack, known locally as a ‘semagh’, to conceal my mouth and nostrils. I entered the historic old city through Jaffa Gate, a reconstructed stone archway, following the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1948, it acted as an immoveable defence for the Arabs back then and even now, despite a replaced superficial layer, its ominous nature felt condemning.

Jerusalem, for billions of people globally, is the home of their religion. It is here where the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam intersect, the encompassing eye of the three great Abrahamic faiths. The holy centre itself was surprisingly uncongested; the golden semi-spherical Dome of the Rock easily in view stood ominously over the landscape. Yet, I decided to move higher, to walk the walls of the old city. From my elevated position I could view, but not comprehend the maze of stone alleys that ran under and intersected with grand archways, that merged simultaneously into roofs and bridges, church steeples and walls. The walls were often aligned with staircases of dusty stone steps worn into irregularity that descended back into the enigmatic city. I observed men carrying their children on their shoulders, women grasping tightly to their religious papers. I was pleased by the experience, in truth I expected worse – what I encountered was a humbling feeling, one I was enthralled by despite having no religious attachment. The proximate stone walls had an imperial effect on the place; having witnessed some of history’s greatest events. The sporadic stone blocks, appear golden, baked under two millennia of unremitting Middle Eastern heat were scolding to the touch, I quickly retracted my hand, and noticed a dark silhouette that flitted throughout the pastel blue sky. A beautiful bird, with extensive but powerful wings swooped down; I wondered whether it understood the significance of its hunting ground, perhaps not but in a setting as unique as Jerusalem you can be convinced of any supernatural thought.

Yet, for all the sacred temples, churches and relics of this city, for all the devout pilgrims, worshippers and believers who strive to reach here, Jerusalem remains a poor, divided city. In many ways for all the good and meaning religion has bought here, you get the sense it is, in fact, the problem; twice destroyed, twenty-three times besieged, fifty-two times attacked and recaptured forty-four times, Jerusalem is a place in constant turmoil. The juxtaposition of the old city, and all it entails, mixed with the intimate location of military action and reaction, evokes a feeling of sacrifice and foreboding portent. As I left the holy area I immediately witnessed the aforementioned deprivation and anxiety, woman cried out for help as their young child has to endure inadequate sanitation, he suffers from hunger, thirst, and is weak. The woman lack sleep; she is jobless, homeless and helpless. Young men crouch in alleyways worthlessly, whilst young boys ran around playfully, shoeless on the glass and stone ridden dust road; they still believe they can salvage something from their lives; their optimism has not yet disappeared.

Conversely, through squinted eyes I saw an organized grid of white villas up on the sloped hill, the modern suburbs are terraced tessellation, and oppose the un-orderly old city. All have gardens, front and back; for the more extravagant, a glistening pool, the water vapour drifted upwards imperceptibly from the surface; roofless cars regularly parked adorned the clean pavements. That affluence polarized the obvious and discouraging poverty evidenced down in the streets of that neighbourhood. A shoe seller, remarked that those homes are only for the rich and noble; I returned a sympathetic, interested smile: That man’s belief in fixed social position rings discouragingly in my ear, yet it is an attitude echoed throughout the city.

I moved further through roads lined with striking, curved palm trees and an alternation of poorly lain concrete pavement and with dry, dusted soil. My thirst was no longer palpable. I settled in a clean café, in a docile part of town that overlooked avenues hazily lit by the early evening sunset. I was as unsure then, as I am now as to my opinion of the place, beautiful but plagued by so many problems – and with the prospect of war forever prominent; the city will, for the foreseeable future, remain divided and damaged. Nonetheless Jerusalem stands for one unmoveable thing, something that cannot be destroyed by war, hatred or atheism – hope. --- As the wars over this beautiful, rugged city continue to rage, the mantle of ill feeling has now been taken up by the Palestinians and the Israelis; it is indeed a tragedy that Jerusalem could once more be flooded by the blood innocent civilians. I believe it is in the interest of the world that in the future peace can be found here.

Tom Woodburn

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