Jerusalem 1st March 2016

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I had just one day in Jerusalem on this visit. I always like to begin in Jerusalem and spend a couple of nights there to acclimatize.  It is always interesting to see the changes, sometimes subtle, as well as to visit my favourite places. One of the latter is the Mount of Olives and in particular the little church of Dominus Flevit, which is sadly rarely open to the public because of all the pilgrim services taking place in it.   I was fortunate on this occasion and got in between the Japanese and the Germans! The other thing to note is that other than the groups of pilgrims (it is Lent after all) the usual crowds are missing. Tourism has been greatly affected by recent troubles.

This blog will be developing as I go, so please accept mistakes and alterations to spelling and English as well as additions and alterations!

My first impressions on walking around the Old City were the very many groups of 5 or 6 Israeli soldiers, all very young, standing around just idle and chatting. Many more than I have seen previously. They are very much part of the scenery and, of course, too many would say that their presence keeps the peace.DSC02073

I went up to the area around the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, noting that I only had 15 mins before it closed and would need to hurry. The Israeli security was huge and once there I just wandered around taking photos. Around the Dome were some Muslim officials and one of them told me, 10 minutes early that I had to leave. I pointed out the time, but he became very unpleasant and basically drove me out.DSC02084

I was cross, but as I walked I tried to understand, and hindsight is always a wonderful thing.
The Arab citizens of Israel, especially in East Jerusalem, which, after all is Palestine, are in an uncomfortably privileged position. The Mosque is exceptionally precious to them and yet their control over their site is limited and precarious. All too often there are right wing Jewish incursions and worse. There were even groups of Israeli soldiers in the grounds of their mosque standing in their idle groups.

I am used to both unpleasant Israeli soldiers who like to wield petty power and the laid back relaxed and friendly kind who are with their mates and confident of their position. Why should Palestinians or Arab citizens always be expected to be better behaved? The man who refused to answer my questions and became aggressively unreasonable was protecting his small control.

So often, even among my ‘friends’ there are those who jump and say “there you are, the Palestinians are awful people, corrupt and violent” and I have to ask why Palestinians are always expected to behave better than their oppressors?

DSC02131 I decided to earn my lunch by walking to Sheik Jarrah ( I DSC02118ended up walking about 9 miles in all!) . It was an ordinary Tuesday there and not a Friday with the weekly demonstrations. Everything was quiet and unremarkable unless you looked closely. Apart from the area looking very squalid with houses that may or may not have been be abandoned, there were armchairs on the pavement which had been thrown out of Palestinian homes by israeli settlers who now inhabit a couple of them and, in one case, half a house. The chairs on the pavement are where meetings now take place. I remember one of the dispossessed families in a makeshift tent in that place, camping outside their home, now taken from them.DSC02125
As well as the furniture, there are Stars of David scrawled on houses and Hebrew writing. One home has Jewish settlers in the front half, with the Palestinian owners reduced to the back half. Not comfortable for anyone.DSC02126
So why, you might ask, would these Jews take these particular houses, apart from their desire to rid this area of East Jerusalem from the Palestinians? They claim that these houses once belonged to them and that they have the right of return to them.

What is interesting about that is that these Jews left them on the creation of Israel and these and many like them went to live in the seized homes of Palestinians in places like Haifa.

So we have a situation where Palestinian refugees were given these homes outside of Israel and have lived in them ever since. They have no right of return to their homes in Israel, yet it seems OK to Israel and those who support her that Jews who left these houses voluntarily, have the right to literally chuck the Palestinians onto the street with nothing.

I had lunch in the Educational Bookshop, which is always a relaxed and comfortable place for a well earned rest. The food is good too. Then after a brief rest at the Jerusalem Hotel, where I was staying, I ventured back into the Old City, visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which had a service going on and was quite relaxing and did a little shopping.

I set off for Nablus tomorrow.

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