Welcoming in 2012 in Israel and Palestine

After our devastatingly exciting New Year’s Eve (note the sarcasm) we woke up very early on New Year’s Day to start 2012 with a refreshing dip in the Dead Sea. Even though I have been living in Israel, only two hours from the Dead Sea, for 7 months, I hadn’t yet visited so my first dip into the salty water was as exciting as it was for my brother and father.

It was wonderful. I didn’t want to leave and only got out of the water when my parents insisted we do so. My brother and I spent the entire time giggling and trying different ways to turn in the water, executing complicated yoga poses and trying to swim despite the current. I was so tempted to go out a long way. However, it seems the water can be quite lethal and no one wanted to accompany me, so I did not. Continue reading

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Ir David and Me’a She’arim

On our final day in Jerusalem, my family and I finally visited the City of David, which I had been wanting to go to for a very long time. I was excited and slightly apprehensive as the organization that runs the City of David, Elad, has a very political agenda and I didn’t feel entirely comfortable giving them my money.

Elad is an organisation whose stated mission is to “Judaize East Jerusalem” and has been behind the controversial eviction of Palestinian families within the City of David, which is in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan. In recent months, a Palestinian community center in Silwan has been slated for demolishment to make room for a parking lot and tourist center near the City of David. This Palestinian community center was the only one of its kind in this neighbourhood. Elad has also backed the settlements in Silwan. Continue reading

Christmas, Yad Vashem and Haram al-Sharif

Christmas morning we woke up and it was raining. It was also a Sunday and thus, most museums were closed (though Sunday isn’t a weekend here, this is similar to how museums in the West often close on Mondays).  After much deliberation, we chose the most cheerful place we could possibly go on a rainy Christmas Day, Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum), as it was one of the only places open.

We took the newly installed Jerusalem light rail, a 10 year construction project that runs from East to West and from West to East. Unsurprisingly, the construction of the rail, like much in Israel, was plagued by controversy as it passes through settlements in East Jerusalem as well as through Arab East Jerusalem. I also read an interesting Haaretz article about how the light rail served, in a way, as a connecting bridge between East and West, with the author observing Palestinian families who evidently didn’t often come into West Jerusalem take the train to the end of the line and then get straight back on a return train taking them back to the East, as if they were on a sort of sight-seeing venture.  Continue reading

Glorious Jerusalem, Holy Bethlehem

Jerusalem, glorious Jerusalem. By the time we got to Jerusalem, on the 23rd of December, it had been two weeks since I’d been in the city and boy, did I miss it! I had been driving my family nuts talking about all the wonderful things we could do there during our nine days in Jordan. Getting back to Jerusalem was like returning home.

We arrived late in the evening on Friday night and missed the welcoming of Shabbat at the Western Wall. Instead, we grabbed 7-shekel falafel at a stand across from the Damascus Gate and wandered through the Old City at night. My mother was amazed by the cleaning job that had been recently done on the walls and buildings, and my brother and father were astounded by the beauty of this living and breathing Old City. Continue reading

Getting to Madaba, Jordan

My blog is finally going to live up to its name (a little bit), Across the Middle East, as my family and I journey through Jordan together for the next nine days. The adventure began Thursday evening, with my little brother’s arrival in Israel. My friend picked him up from the airport and we headed directly to Jerusalem, where we stayed with other friends in Katamon (Gonen) and woke up early to catch a taxi to the Sheikh Hussein border crossing.

There are three land borders between Israel and Jordan. One in the north, Sheikh Hussein; one in the south, Arava; and one in Palestine, King Hussein/Allenby. As my brother and I were meeting my parents in Amman, the quickest way would have been to go through Allenby. However, the King Hussein/Allenby crossing is the only crossing that does not provide tourists with visas on arrival and, as we didn’t have the time to prepare our visas in advance, we had to go with the next-best option – Sheikh Hussein. Continue reading

Feeling VIP: Legacy at the home of the American Consul in Jerusalem

Wednesday evening I got a message from a good friend of mine in Jerusalem telling me about some sort of event at the home of the American Consul in Jerusalem that had to do with the an American, a Palestinian and an Israeli band. “Come, my brother is performing and I asked him to make sure we could come too. It’s the kind of thing you’d like,” he insisted, so I dutifully cancelled my evening plans and caught the first sherut to Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, I met with the members of the Palestinian band Eurasica (who I had seen perform in Taybeh and are surprisingly good) and we headed over to the home of the American Consul. It was lovely inside, spacious with an interesting group of people. I’m still unsure of how to go about networking and striking up conversation with people I don’t know, but I did get to have two interesting conversations with people there. Continue reading

Jerusalem by night, Bethlehem by day.

Jerusalem by night is a magical place if you know where to go. On Thursday nights, Jaffa street is full of drunk revellers including – and this is the most fascinating for me as, until I came here, my experience with religious folk had been limited to the Muslim community – orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jewish youth. However, it isn’t Jaffa street that is magical but the surrounding small, quiet streets housing small bars and where you might stumble upon the occasional fountain. Even more magical, however, and a place I didn’t get to experience by night until recently, is the Old City.

This past Thursday, four friends and I attended the Jerusalem Knights in the Old City festival. What a trip! We arrived to people in costume above the Mamilla and, upon entering Jaffa Gate, two acrobats dressed in medieval armor staging a mock climb up the city walls. We weren’t allowed, for five minutes, to get into the Old City because an area in front of the performance had been cordoned off while police held people at bay and thoroughly checked a bag that had been left alone there. First time I’d ever seen anything like that!  Continue reading