This is one of those posts that is likely to be unpopular. Oh well, seems to be a trend these days.
My impression of Jerusalem from the brief time I spent there in 2008 is that it is really three cities:
- The ancient walled city, a living museum, important site for many religions and an auto-free warren of twisty passages. A place where you can easily imagine several millennia of people living, doing business and praying.
- A modern Western capital, complete with museums, lovely shaded lanes of homes and buildings, and at least one high-tech semiconductor factory.
- A cross between a war zone and a prison. Think Mad Max meets Escape from New York.
I read today in the New York Times that the Israeli Army may have started changing that last one. We shall see.
(I have a few photos below, more are on my Flickr set at this link).
The current wall dates from the middle ages, but you can still imagine what this place looked like when it was home to kings, saints and prophets.
Inside the wall, the city is a maze of twisty little passages with little shops and churches scattered around. I got lost more than a few times, and I was only there a couple of hours.
So in an odd way, it reminds me of Venice, with its total lack of auto traffic, romantic little shops and grand palaces, and the odd mix of people from around the world visiting. This is definitely the kind of place I would love to spend a lot more time wandering around and absorbing more of the flavor of the place.
Prosperous Western Capital
This is a very nice city, and it surprised me.
Here’s my measure of how nice this city is. I have been privileged to visit many of the capitals of the world, both in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Generally speaking, I might be fine to drive in US/Canada and Western Europe. I would never attempt to drive myself anywhere else in the world.
But I am extremely comfortable driving in Jerusalem. True, I depended heavily on the GPS in my Hertz rental car. But I never felt unusually nervous driving.
Visible here is the legislative hall for the country and part of a museum which displays the Dead Sea Scrolls. The museum is terrific with a great bookstore / gift shop and an amazing scale model of the ancient city of Jerusalem.
I had heard about "the wall" but I never figured it went straight through the heart of the city.
I was driving along following my GPS directions and ran smack blam into this concrete wall, complete with prison watchtowers.
And it’s an international border crossing, complete with burley guys with automatic weapons checking the door panels of your rental car for who knows what. (I don’t have a picture of that, for obvious reasons).
I tried to imagine how this would affect me personally. I live in a little suburban enclave I call South Beaverton. About a half mile to the west of me is Murray Road and the city of Tigard is about a mile south.
What would it be like if a wall came up across these boundaries?
- I would have to cross a difficult international boundary multiple times per day just to go to and from work, my grocery store, shopping, the movies, or whatever. I and my family would need to build in a ton of time waiting in line at border crossings and be willing to abort our plans if the border is closed.
- Major roads would become totally impassible because, hey, there is a prison wall there!
- Some businesses next to the wall like a Safeway, Starbucks and McDonalds would be demolished because they are way too close to the "no man’s land".
- If I had friends on the other side of the wall, how could we get together? It would require plenty of advance planning. When I go running with friends, I would need to take my passport with me, if they let me across the border at all.
- What if some of my neighbors got their rifles out and started taking shots at people in Tigard? I suppose people in Tigard might want to have some kind of security protection. Building a wall is a pretty drastic solution, but if your kid is at risk, wouldn’t you be tempted?
Of course all of this is more complex and thorny than I have made it out to be. Things like this always are.
But if there is some part of the wall can come down, it sounds good to me.
The holy writings of the Jewish people command them to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem." I think we could all help out on that one.