Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Walking in Jerusalem

Independent city-states have rarely worked throughout history to preserve their own independence unless they are completely surrounded by a single country (Germany) and become a part of that country's political body (Bremen, Hamburg and Berlin). Or they might survive and even thrive if they are on an island to themselves (Singapore) and well connected to a former colonial power (Great Britain). Monaco, as essentially French as it can be, once maintained its independence from France only so long as a male heir is produced to continue the bloodline of the ruling Grimaldi family.

They changed that requirement in 2002 but some things never change. Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel while also claimed as the capital of Palestine. Leapfrogging claims go back to the first written tablets on who got there first and which of them captured the city from the other. It's like constantly adding "+1" or "times two" to the last and largest calculable number - the claims and counter-claims are not likely to end anytime soon.

My friends and I took the day to walk around this most ancient of western capitals, yearning to see the Jerusalem of the Old and New Testaments while faced with the urban sprawl and winding streets choked with traffic to be found anywhere else in the civilized world. The Old City does sit on a hill, thickly walled on all sides and crowned with the magnificent Islamic mosque of Dome of the Rock. Shorter than the Eiffel Tower but easily as iconic this is the instantly recognizable symbol of the city. Like most things associated with Jerusalem it is not free of irony or controversy.

It was deliberately built in the center of the the Temple Mount, sacred Jewish site of the Temple of David, the second of which had been destroyed by the Romans. Add to that the fact that the holiest Jewish site of the Western or "Wailing" Wall, though cited as the last surviving part of this second temple is in fact hardly more than a retaining wall that helps support the entire platform upon which the Dome of the Rock is built! Walking around the walls of the city we came across another stick in the eye: The "Golden Gate" through which the Messiah will return to Earth is bricked up, shut off, closed. Suleiman I ordered the gate sealed so the Saviour would never return. A Muslim cemetery was later built in front of the gate for good measure.

Uh, who fancies their chances in seeing a new temple built in place of the Dome of the Rock? Would they tear down the Dome or simply build over it? Methinks if they follow the original plans then the Dome is too high. It goes without saying, of course, that the Islamic community will not smile on either idea. The Dome of the Rock is considered the oldest Islamic house of worship in the world; security around it is Fort Knox tight. Taking out a few bricks at the Golden Gate is the easy part but notice that this hasn't been done yet either. Not even the Israeli government has dared to dig up the Muslim graves laid before it.

It all sounds like as solid a stalemate as any to the Middle East peace process. The foundation of the Temple Mount, including the Western Wall is supporting one of the holiest sites in all of Islam. The holy portal also known as the Gate of Mercy through which the Messiah is supposed to return is bricked up like any ordinary abandoned building.

Are either of these landmarks linchpins to the peace process? Probably not but seeing what was happening in the center of the city it became a little easier to understand why the Crusaders raised a basilica over the hill of Calvary.

Gotta go.

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