Friday, January 30, 2004

After a hearty breakfast of hot tea, fresh pita bread and yogurt and honey, I am writing today from the Internet cafe at the New Imperial Hotel near Jaffa Gate in Old Jerusalem, Israel. What a mix of impressions since we landed yesterday. Imagine moving from Egypt to Greece to Israel within 4 days! We were greatly saddened by the headlines yesterday as we walked to the busstop in Athens that would take us to the airport: 10 killed in bus bombing in Jerusalem. The bombing quite effectively stopped the current discussions between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and may block the peace process which is so badly needed.

Security seemed just about average at the airport, though, and driving in the sherut (an inexpensive van that takes 10 passengers at once) to Jerusalem led us past orderly irrigated green, green fields and barren hills with lots of trees, new and old plantings. We came upon Jerusalem, all built up on the hills, as a shining white city just as the sun was setting. Our driver, pretending not to understand much English except, for some reason, when talking with us, took us right to Jaffa Gate, one of 4 or 5 entrances to the old part of the city. Our hotel was built in 1882 or 1886 on the outskirts of the old city then. Emperor Wilhem the Kaiser visited in 1889, I think, and the ruling caliph bulldozed much of the Arabian section, so his entourage could enter freely.

The hotel is an amazing warren of rooms. Our room is rather large, incredibly high ceilings, with 3 beds, tons of blankets (thank God for the space heater), and a very European shower (handheld with a stool). My little thermometer showed 58 last night in our room -- and this morning too. We have a stunning view of King David's Tower and the street below, all cobblestones, so many different kinds of people passing below, traditional Jews on their way to Sabbath services, families in tow, wearing all black with crown like hats and very long beards and hair, Arabs, Armenians, and yes, another souk (market) that I thought we left behind us in Egypt!

Last night we ate dinner in an Armenian restaurant, a taverna underground with artifacts from Islamic, Arabic, Jewish, and Christian cultures. What a mix! Today, the Wailing Wall and the Via Dolorosa (where Christ carried the cross). It's certainly one thing to read about these places and another to walk in these narrow old streets. Yet without some kind of resolution, more violence will occur.

One of the men killed in yesterday's bombing worked with street children and had written of his feelings about this kind of violence. He said to sigh with relief that we were not hurt in any such violence is to give in to terrorism, that we must actively combat it. Another article summarized the reaction of a Palestinian family who within the space of a week lost four people to various acts of violence -- proactive and reactive. It makes me wonder how such suffering can lead to peace. Tourism is also down here as well, creating an economic impact that can only add to the general feeling of malaise about the future. I feel as if this part of the journey will have a tremendous influence spiritually, but I'm not sure how. Just to be here is very moving.

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