Scenes from Jerusalem

Jerusalem has a vibe and an atmosphere than cannot be put into words… So, I’m not going to try.  Here are some very random and very spontaneous snaps from my walks around this incredible city.

Scenes from around the Damascus Gate in the Old City:

The souvenir and gift shop that is the Via Dolorosa:


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

The Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City:

Scenes from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City:

Leaving the Old City …


Jaffa Road and the Mahane Yehuda market in West Jerusalem

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre:

Being Latvian, we always get a bit excited when Latvia pops up somewhere, or gets a mention… Umm, maybe not this time…

The Mount of Olives:

…And the view from the top:


That’s Ramallah, baby!

If it’s Thursday, it must be Ramallah.  Another day, another Arab city… Not that there’s anything wrong with Arab cities.

So, I went to Ramallah, the de facto capital, political, economic, and cultural heart of Palestine; religiously relaxed, bars with beer flowing freely and… the epicentre of Palestinian feminist activity.  Of course you wouldn’t know all of this popping in quickly for the day as I did.  Arriving in downtown, the first impression of Ramallah is that it’s a dirty, congested dump with wall-to-wall hijabs and no scent of any alcohol anywhere. Quick disclaimer:  Obviously there are huge extenuating circumstances.  Ramallah is a city that you need to spend either a couple of hours or a couple of months in.  It’s the kind of place where you need spend time and really get under the skin of the city and you would be rewarded.  Otherwise, it’s not a pretty place so just do your business and get out.

The trip to Ramallah, like the other West Bank cities, starts at the bus station at the Damascus Gate; Bus 218 or 219.  Again, as with going anywhere in the West Bank, it requires going through military checkpoints.  For Ramallah, you go through checkpoint Qalandia, just on the border of the two cities.  While the other checkpoints obviously, are not great, they didn’t seem too bad.  Qalandia, on the other hand, is a bleak and depressing place with a very cold war-like feel to it.  Although the distance between the two city centres is only 16 kms, with all the traffic and checkpoints, it ends up taking a very long time.

Once you pass through the checkpoint, you’re on Ramallah Road, a long road that snakes all the way to the centre.  Think Parramatta Road in peak hour, but in Ramallah it’s peak hour all the time.  Then eventually you arrive at the centre of Ramallah, which is just a traffic roundabout with six rubbish-strewn roads feeding into it!  And yes… It’s as bad as it sounds!

Just in case you’re not sure which is the main street of Ramallah…


Some random street scenes…

My reason for visiting Ramallah was to visit the Yasser Arafat Museum.  Unlike my impression of downtown, the museum didn’t disappoint.  It was amazing!  The museum is on three floors and gives and incredibly comprehensive account of Yasser’s life, the Fatah movement and the whole Arab-Israeli conflict.  In other part of the museum, are the rooms where he spent the last years of his life while under siege.  Next to the museum is his tomb, made of Jerusalem stone.

Once I was finished at the museum, I wasn’t keen to stick around, so it was back on the 218 bound for the Damascus Gate.

Going back to Jerusalem required going through Qalandia again. On the way in, the military don’t check anything but on the way back, it’s a very thorough check.  I don’t understand how the system works.  At the checkpoint on the way back Jerusalem from Bethlehem, the Palestinians had to get off bus whereas the tourists could stay on.  To my surprise, the opposite was the case at Qalandia.  I was beginning to feel like a special little butterfly everywhere I went, but this time the two soldiers got on the bus, checked all the Palestinians and told me to get off and walk through the metal detector to the other side.  And the bus didn’t even wait for me!!  The guy who checked me at the gate was a vile Nazi pig.  The metal detector was going off but I was just waiting for him to wish me well and wave me through.  This one was gesturing and calling out to me… Of course I couldn’t hear him through all the bullet-proof glass, plus I’m a bit slow on the uptake… He wanted me to take off my belt, my shoes etc… Meanwhile, I’m just jumping backwards and forwards through the metal detector, still waiting for the smile and “Have a nice day”.  Finally I removed my shoes and belt and emptied my pockets, and got through the metal detector without it buzzing.  He studied my visa for about ten minutes.  I think he was new on the job. Then I waited for another bus and made my way back to Jerusalem.  It was bad enough going through it one time, but for many people, this is their daily life.

Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs

Today, I went to visit Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Abraham and several generations of his family are thought to have lived and are now buried.  Hebron is a divided city, under both Palestinian and Israeli control.  It’s divided into areas H1 and H2.  Area H1 is entirely Palestinian, contains 80 % of the population and is under Palestinian control.  Area H2 is contains the Jews and the remainder of the Arabs and is under full Israeli control.  The border between the two sectors runs right down the middle of the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  It’s a weird situation and unique in the West Bank in that the Jewish settlers have settled right smack dab in the centre of the old town, quite literally on top of the Palestinians.  In other parts of the West Bank, they build settlements next to and around the Palestinian towns but not actually in them.  The people moving to other settlements in the West Bank are motivated mainly by economics.  It’s cheap.  You can get a big comfortable house for a fraction of the cost of Jerusalem and it’s an easy commute.  The Jewish settlers in Hebron on the other hand, are a different breed. They are hardcore Zionists.  As a result there is a lot of tension between them and the Palestinians. The settlers are under protection of the Israeli Defence Forces with apparently four soldiers to every settler.

To get to Hebron, you have the choice of taking an Arab bus or an Israeli bus.  I opted for the Israeli bus simply because it’s easier.  There’s free Wi-Fi at the bus station, the bus is direct, you don’t need to deal with checkpoints; you get waved through… And… the bus is bullet proof!  When I got to the bus station though, the bullet proof bus wasn’t coming for another hour, so I thought I could save time by taking a different bus which stopped at Kiryat Arba, the Jewish settlement just on the edge of Hebron and then taking another bus from there.  I don’t know what I was thinking… It was like getting off the train at somewhere like Woy Woy and expecting it to be a major transport hub.  Imagine the smallest, quietest ‘burb you can think of, divide it by ten and populate it with grumpy Jewish people… Well, then you’ve got Kiryat Arba! The only busses passing through there were the same bullet proof ones coming from Jerusalem, so I still had to wait the hour.

While I was waiting I approached a man on the street to enquire exactly where I should wait for the bullet proof bus. It turns out he is a Jew from the north-east of India, somewhere close to the border of Bangladesh.  I honestly didn’t know there was such a thing: North-east Indian Jews.  You learn something new every day! … Anyway, I think he took pity on me and offered to drive me to the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  We get in his car and drive off.  We start he chatting… He tells me he is from north-east India and I tell him I’m from Australia.  He starts laughing and says, “My gun is from Australia” and points to the gun on the dash.  “That’s nice” I replied, smiling on the outside but quietly freaking out on the inside.  “Ha ha, no, not really” he says… “I work in security for the Parliament” … “Oh, you jokester, you!”  And then, we arrived at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  I thanked him, shook his hand and off I went to explore Hebron.

Arrival at the tomb on the Jewish side…

It was Muslim prayer time when I arrived, so the tomb was closed to tourists for about thirty minutes.  While I was waiting, I went through the checkpoint to explore the old city of Hebron.  For me, as an obvious non-Jew and non-Muslim, it wasn’t an issue passing in either direction through the checkpoint.  You could see the Palestinian guys get a really hard time when they pass back.  The Palestinian guy in front of me had to take off his shirt, shoes, belt, roll up his pants and even then they made him walk through the metal detector multiple times.  When I walked through and the alarm sounded, they just asked me, “Do you have a knife or a gun?” Of course I replied “No”  They took my word for it, waved me through and wished me a nice time in Hebron.

The old city of Hebron is very attractive and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


As you walk through the old city and you look up, you notice that the alley ways are caged in with wire and bars covered in rubbish.  Above the bars and wires live the settlers who through the rubbish and stones onto the Palestinians below.

Beyond the old town is the modern town.  It’s quite a bustling city.  It seems that the dodgier the city, the cheaper the felafel.  In Tel Aviv it’s 20 shekels, Jerusalem it’s 15, Bethlehem 5 and in Hebron it’s only 3!

Then it was time to enter the tomb from the Muslim side…

They wanted me to go in drag, as a sign of respect.  Standing in front of Rebecca’s tomb…


Inside …

Time to go home, so it’s back on the bullet-proof bus bound for Jerusalem.

“I’m bullet proof, nothing to loose… Fire away, Fire away.  Ricochet, you take your aim… Fire away, fire away.  You shoot me down, but I won’t fall… I am titanium.”

Ethiopia Street, Jerusalem

I rented a room through Airbnb at Number 11 Ethiopia Street, Jerusalem.  This video gives you a little tour of the house.  For the last 20 years of his life, this was the home of Ben Yehuda, father of the modern Hebrew language.

Here are some photos of the house from the outside:

And a few shots of the Ethiopian Church at Number 10, Ethiopia Street: