According to Jewish tradition there are three important times to visit Jerusalem during the course of a year: Succot, Pessah and Shavuot. In keeping with this tradition, my wife and I, along with another couple, made a pilgrimage to the holy city over Succot, which included visits to a number of sites in and around the Old City. What made this trip particularly interesting was its occurrence during the Christian Feast of the Tabernacles as well as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Though I have been to Jerusalem on many occasions during the past few years, there are some places, especially in east Jerusalem, that I had not visited since the first Intifada. Despite the current political and security situation, we felt as if we had gone back in time and were visiting the city as it was during an earlier time when such visits were more possible. We began our tour with some Christian holy sites on the Mount of Olives, including the Church of Mary Magdalene and the Basilica of the Agony, also known as the Church of All Nations. Both of these sites have rich religious and historical meaning for the Christian world, including the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus and his disciples slept and where he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. Some of the olive trees both in this garden and on the grounds of the basilica are more than 2,000 years old. I was impressed by the size and appearance of the olives, which didn't appear to have any blemishes. The basilica itself was also very impressive and we happened to encounter a group of visiting pilgrims from Mexico who were engaged in a special prayer ceremony that included Baroque guitar music by one of the pilgrims. We also toured parts of the Jewish cemetery on the mount, some of which is still in disrepair following the period from 1948 to 1967 when this part of Jerusalem was occupied by Jordan. One small triangular-shaped section was so neglected that most of the graves were unreadable and only a few had been partially restored either by the hevra kadisha (burial society) or by descendants of the deceased. We also visited the lookout point in front of what was once the Intercontinental Hotel, offering one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the Old City. While walking around the Mount of Olives as well as encircling the Old City, we noticed scores of schoolchildren as well as people returning from midday prayers. We felt perfectly at ease, and noticed nothing out of the ordinary as far as security was concerned. Upon entering the Old City, we visited the Western Wall. Being there on Simhat Torah, I was able to participate in one of the many hakafot, or dancing with the Torah scrolls, in front of the Wall, which made our visit even more meaningful. We were impressed by the number of foreign groups present both at the Wall and in the Arab market. We noted groups from Russia, Germany, Italy, France and other countries as well. Finding businesses in the Jewish Quarter closed for the holiday, we ate a modest lunch in an Armenian restaurant near the Jaffa Gate, and afterward visited King David's Tomb and an interesting place known as the President's Room, located on the roof of the synagogue where the tomb is located on Mount Zion. The President's Room was used by president Zalman Shazar to view parts of the Old City, including the Temple Mount, when it was still under Jordanian control prior to the Six Day War. The building in which David's Tomb is located was formerly a mosque as indicated by the minaret. A synagogue is located near the tomb and archeological excavations carried out during the 1948 War of Independence revealed the floor of an ancient church or synagogue which had been in use during the Roman or Byzantium period. It is believed by some archeologists that this was actually an early Judeo-Christian synagogue, and includes a niche for the placing of Torah scrolls. Crusader construction, including the slab upon which the tomb is located, also testifies to the influence of the short Crusader occupation of Jerusalem. Also on Mount Zion, we visited the Benedictine Basilica of the Dormition, otherwise known as the Dormition Abbey and the grotto where the Virgin Mary is said to be "sleeping." Christian legend says that she will "awaken" when her son returns to rule over mankind again. There is also a lesser-known spot nearby where the Hagana tried to blow an opening in the Old City wall during the siege of Jerusalem in 1948. Despite using more than 200 kilograms of explosives, all they managed to do was to make a small dent in the more than six-foot-thick wall. We were all impressed by the seemingly peaceful atmosphere of the entire area, including the market, which was crowded with tourists and pilgrims and where virtually every shop was open - a far cry from previous years, especially after the beginning of the second intifada. With so many religious holidays and festivals overlapping, it was lovely to see the Old City in such splendor. The question we all had upon leaving was how long this seeming tranquility would last, especially considering the upcoming Middle East summit in the US. Will the Annapolis summit result in an agreeable arrangement for all peoples to be able to move freely about Jerusalem - especially the Old City? For those who live in Jerusalem, especially in and around the Old City, what we saw and experienced during our visit would be ideal on a daily basis. And why not - isn't it better to have peaceful coexistence rather than armed conflict? The writer is a political commentator and freelance journalist living in Netanya.

Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin

Think others should know about this? Please share