Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Up to the Temple Mount

Visiting the Temple Mount is not for the faint of heart or faith. Religious Jews believe no one should walk on the Temple Mount lest they step on the spot where the "holy of holies" was located in the Second Temple. Religious Muslims believe non-believers have no business on the Temple Mount. Christians believe Christ will return through the Golden Gate on the east side of the Temple Mount. All three faiths have cemetaries outside the Golden Gate area.....possibly the most expensive burial plots on the planet it they were ever to be sold.....If the Palestinians ever get their state off the ground, this could provide their entire federal budget! Ok, back to the visit. Visitors from West Jerusalem enter the Temple Mount through the Mughrabi Gate just south of the Western Wall. Yes, directions matter here....a lot. We waited nearly 20 minutes to pass through the metal detectors. Personally, I think the Israelis set up the detectors just to be able to look tourists in the eye to decide if they are wacko or not. The detectors are only looking for metal. No, the shoes don't come off. A Japanese tour group was behind us in line. While there were probably Christians in their group, it was more fun theorizing that practitioners of Buddhism and Shintoism were going through a Jewish run checkpoint to visit a site holy to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Once through the checkpoint, we walked up an enclosed wooden ramp past gun-toting Israel soldiers, a raftload of plastic riot shields, and finally past two heavily armed (as in body armor in addition to their sidearms) Israeli policemen. Walking onto the Temple Mount was an unbelievably peaceful experience. OK, once past the gauntlet of Arab tour guides; "$5 each or $20 for all of you (there were 3 of us!)," it was peaceful. Muslims enter the Al-Aksa mosque, but tourists may not. Most folks head for the Dome of the Rock, we headed for the southeast corner, away from everything. Amazingly peaceful. I could have stayed all day. The smells and sounds of the market stalls seemed so far away. No sign of conflict anywhere. OK, after you realized there were heavily armed Israeli Police up on the buildings, there was no sign of conflict. We were walking along eastern wall, skirting a soccer game being played by young Arab boys (on damp, slippery, sloping stones) when a man who belonged to the same union that employs people on the Acropolis came running at us. "Hey, what are you doing? Don't go there," he screamed. At least the Greeks let these guys use whistles. And, so much for the peaceful part. There are piles of rubble on the Temple Mount. They cannot be removed since they might contain something of historical value. Right now, I suspect they serve only as rock piles for the Palestinians who throw stones on the Jews praying at the Western Wall. The Dome of the Rock was our final stop. Somehow it seemed much smaller and less glorious than I had imagined it. Yes, it is beautiful to observe in changing light conditions, but it still has a run-down feeling to it. Again, I imagined something glorious along the lines of the Duomo or St. Peters. Instead, the building looks in need of major renovation.....which is currently happening on the inside, judging from the noise coming from the mosque. 10:30 was approaching which meant it was time to leave (actually, it was only 10:00, but we weren't going to argue with people shouting at us that we needed to "please go NOW." We departed through the gate of the cotton merchants and were treated to the old city waking up. Men on hookahs, children hanging with their fathers, not a daughter or wife in sight. Shops opening up. Wares being displayed. It was quite a contrast to our Saturday afternoon visit just three days ago. We could actually walk through the narrow streets. We found our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre once again. Empty, this time, we walked down into chapels, up into chapels, came upon a service being conducted in a chapel, and were amazed at the contrast to the Temple Mount. Tourist groups moving through at breakneck speed mixed with religious folk who were trying to pray. The whole scene reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. There is no flash rule in this church so people were taking pictures of everything! They were posing together, talking loudly, etc. Compared to the tranquility of the Temple Mount and the sheer religious bent of the Western Wall, this place reminded us of Disneyland. We left shaking our heads and headed out for some lunch. Note on the pictures....The closeups and cemetaries were shot at full digital zoom with a Nikon Coolpix 630. The apple pic is meaningful to those studying Rosetta Stone Hebrew....Tapuah!

No comments:

Post a Comment