Our Trip to Israel, Part 3: Farewell to Jerusalem

Day three of our Israel adventure: We informed our guide that we would like to visit the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. First he said that he could not take the group over there and then asked us if we were Muslims. After knowing that, he suggested that we should leave the group after the completion of the planned tours of the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall Tunnel  and then go to the Dome of the Rock on our own.

We started walking towards the Jewish Quarter and reached the famous Western Wall or Wailing Wall or Buraq Wall. It is situated at the foot of the western side of the area called Harem Al-Sharif by the Muslims and the Temple Mount by the Jews. It is the holiest site for the Jews to which they turn during the prayer. Since the 4th century, it has been a site for Jewish pilgrimage and prayer.  This is the wall against which the Jews mourn the destruction of their Second Temple built by King Herod. It was destroyed by the Romans. The First Temple here was built by Solomon (Prophet Sulaiman) and was destroyed by the Babylonians. The Muslims claim this site as Haram Al-Sharif where Prophet Muhammad went to Jerusalem from Mecca on a Buraq for his night journey (Shab-e-Mairaj). Farzana,my wife, went to the women section of the Wall and I had to wear a kippah (Jewish skullcap) to visit the men's section. I saw many rabbis reading and writing Torah. People were crying and praying against the wall. It was, indeed, a spiritual scene.

After that we visited the Western Wall Tunnel exposing the full length of the Western Wall. It is a remarkable archeological site. After the tunnel tour, Ilan, our guide, brought the group to one of the gates of the Dome of the Rock and showed us the way to the entrance. From there we left the group. Now we were getting into the Muslim territory. So far, the trip had gone smoothly without any unpleasant incidence. We passed through a narrow alley with shops and cafes on both sides where people were sipping tea, playing chess and smoking hookahs. There were armed guards and many Palestinians at the gate. They asked us to recite Shahada  to confirm our identity as Muslims. The Israeli soldiers then turned a blind eye and left us at the control of the Palestinians. The Palestinian guards (not sure if they were guards) immediately objected to my wife’s trousers and dragged us into an adjacent shop to buy a burqa.

We were overwhelmed by the presence of so many young people inside the shop and the shopkeeper asked $50.00 for a cheap fabric, which we ended up paying $15.00 for. After seeing my wife covered from head to toe, these self appointed custodians of Islam were satisfied and let us enter the harem. By then, we thought we would be left alone but it did not turn out to be that way. Three young men still accompanied us. Inside the Dome, they drew our attention to a slab in the basement, the point from where the Prophet Muhammad went to the Seventh Heaven (TheMai’raaj). We requested our young companions to leave us alone but they kept bothering us. One of them wanted $60.00 for his "services" as a guide, the other brought a copy of the Qur’an for us to write the names of our deceased parents and leave it with some donations. According to him, this would help our parents’ salvation when people would recite that Qur’an. By that time we had enough and angrily gave them some money and asked them to get lost, and they did.
What enslavement, subjugation and displacement do to the character of a nation! That was quite apparent in the behavior of those young men who had no future, no work and no hope.  We then circled around the beautiful Dome of the Rock, enjoyed the serenity of its surrounding and walked towards the Al-Aqsa mosque.

While we were inside the beautiful mosque, we heard loud female voices chanting “Allah-u-Akbar” becoming louder and louder. We came outside and witnessed that some Orthodox Jews were passing by on a passage between the Dome and the Mosque with the Israeli soldiers, with heavy machine guns, protecting them. Those Muslim women were protesting their presence near the mosque by chanting “Allah-u-Akbar”. Within few minutes, the Jews and the Israeli soldiers disappeared and the place returned to normal.

We took the taxi to our hotel and then joined our group for a visit to the city of Bethlehem, the birth place of the Jesus. It was only about 10 km away from Jerusalem. The city is under Palestinians control and we had to go through a check post to enter. We saw a wall segregating the two communities. Our Jewish guide had to transfer us to an Arab Christian guide since he was not allowed to act as a guide there.  We visited the Church of Nativity and saw the place where Jesus was born. In 637, Umar Ibne Al-Khattab, the second Caliph of Islam conquered Jerusalem and promised that the Church of Nativity would be preserved for Christian use. Here again, a mosque dedicated to Umar was built just outside the church that still exists in its full glory. We heard the loud sound of Ad’aan when we were coming out of the church.

Back in Jerusalem the next day, we embarked on a morning tour of the "new" city of Jerusalem, starting from the Israel Museum. Here, we visited the Shrine of the Book where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls are kept. Not far away was an enormous replica of Jerusalem, built in a 50:1 scale. This model depicts the city as it was nearly 2,000 years ago, in 66 AD. At the end of the day we visited Yad Vahsem - Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, located on the western slope of Mount Herzl. We also saw the campus of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel second oldest university.

On our last day in Jerusalem, we drove to the top of Mount Scopus from where the views of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives were spectacular. The Mount of Olives has been used as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years. The Jews believe that the messiah will appear on the mountain and begin the resurrection of his people. The Christians claim that Jesus preached his gospel from that mountain and that he will reappear there one day. According to Shia Islam, this is the place where prophesied redeemer of Islam, Imam Mahdi, will appear. Here again, all three religions make their own claims to the place.

Tune in next week for the fourth out of five installments about our recent trip to Israel.