Today, we woke up extra early (6am) so we could visit the “Temple Mount” in the Old City in Jerusalem. The Temple Mount is where Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac to God, but before he could sacrifice his son, God told him that he could just sacrifice a ram because Abraham showed that he was loyal to God. The Temple Mount is also where Mohammed is said to have ascended into heaven. Those two stories make this one of the holiest sites in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It’s also really beautiful and special, particularly today because the sun was coming up and was bright on the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock.
We arrived at the site and waited for a few minutes for it to open. When it opened, they let tourists in (we were first!) and the soldiers checked passports and searched our bags. The guards pulled all of the Jewish people aside to be escorted around the Temple Mount by soldiers with machine guns. We crossed a small bridge that goes over the Western Wall and into the top area on the Temple Mount, and on the bridge we saw many riot shields lined up that the Israeli police stand behind if there is a riot. I was told that after the Muslims pray on Friday at the temple, there are sometimes riots so the cops and military need all the protection. Also, recently, the Israelis didn’t even let the Muslims go up to their temple to pray, and so the Palestinians protested. Crazy?
We stepped out onto a large pavilion on top of the mount and saw the entire massive space, the mosque and the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock that is right in the center of the area. Right now, the Muslims own the temple mount because there is a huge mosque named Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock on top of the mount built in the 7th century AD when Muslims ruled Jerusalem. It’s really complicated now because many religions want to own the same area, but only one really can and there was a settlement after a war in Israel that let the Muslims keep the Temple Mount and the Jews got access to the Western Wall and the Christians got the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and all religions can visit everywhere (which is why Dad and I got to visit today). It is really beautiful there.
Some of the Jews want to blow up the mosque and make another temple (we were told by our guide, Harley), because the first temple in Jerusalem built by King Solomon was built there, and the second temple by King Herod was there, and they believe that there will someday be a third temple, but because of religious tensions it would lead to WWIII. Crazy?
While we were up there, we saw some old men doing Koran studies. They were all very peacefully reading the Koran, but then when a group of Jewish high-school kids came out into the pavilion, the Muslim men start chanting obnoxiously loud just because of the Jewish kids coming out trying to incite them. The Jewish group were all escorted by armed guards, with riot gear and cameras filming everything and a blimp overhead with cameras filming the Palestinians just in case something happens. Crazy? In Israel, people love to instigate and annoy and antagonize each other, just like Brooke and I sometimes.
We walked past the Al Aqsa Mosque and then came to the Golden Dome. Inside of the Golden Dome is the spot where Abraham got Isaac ready to be sacrificed. Nobody except Muslims are allowed inside of the Golden Dome. The Jews won’t come close to the spot of the Dome of the Rock though, because it sits where the holiest place in the Jewish temple was and it would be disrespectful for them to walk where the “holy of holies” once was, so they just walk around the outside of the whole area.
We walked around the Golden Dome a few times, and on our way out we passed some olive trees that had many pieces of broken pottery and mosaic stones around the bottom. Before we walked away, I grabbed a “souvenir” from the bottom that was a small rock! SHHHHH! The experience was cool and a little weird to be somewhere that so many people fight over and also pray about. It was a large expansive space, bigger than I would have imagined, and the mosque and the Dome of the Rock were really beautiful. I’m glad we woke up early!
We drove home to our hotel in the east side of Jerusalem and relaxed before we had to leave again. We switched our shoes to our water shoes, and threw on shorts and got back into the car for an adventure.
We drove to the City of David and to King Hezekiah’s Tunnels and hopped out of the car. There are two tunnels there: the wet tunnel, and the dry tunnel. You can only guess which one we took. The wet one! When Jerusalem was under siege, people would go down into the tunnels to collect water without leaving the walled area of the city. Hundreds or even thousands of years ago, the people of Jerusalem hand carved a very, very long tunnel 300 feet under the ground through the bedrock below the city to let the water flow in. The tunnel goes 1,750 long, the average height is less than six feet (and some spots where it was about waist high), the average width is 23-26 inches. It was small and Mom was claustrophobic and freaking out. It was considered one of the greatest works of water engineering technology in the pre-classical period.
We climbed down many flights of stairs until we came to the spot where the openings for the two tunnels were. Our guide, Harley, went down the dry one because he wasn’t prepared to go in the wet one, and we climbed down into the wet one. We touched the water, and it was pretty cold, but we got used to it. At some points, the water was up to our waists and at some points it was only up to our knees. The tunnel was very narrow, so we could just squeeze through, and did I mention it was pitch black? At some points, we all had to bend down really low to get through the low roof that Dad hit his head on a few times.
We walked through the tunnel for a long while (it is supposed to take 45 minutes, but we went faster) until we came to the end. When we came out we all looked at our shorts and saw that we were soaked! We met Harley at the end of the water tunnel. We popped up above ground, but then climbed back down into another tunnel (that was dry!) that led us under the walls of the city and went all of the way into the old city until we popped out right by the walls of the temple. We dried off, and then got into the car and headed to Tel Aviv.
On the way to Tel Aviv, we drove to look at Bethlehem and also to see the Palestinian settlements in the “West Bank” (it is actually East Jerusalem, but it is called the West Bank of the Jordan Valley, ever since it was a part of Jordan). Now, all of the Palestinians live in settlements like this and they are not allowed to drive cars, they have to live behind huge walls and razor wire and they are regulated. It was sad to see how separate and how regulated the Palestinians are in Israel.
We also saw an Israeli’s car that had been slashed badly, and a van that drives Israelis down to their homes in the middle of a Palestinian settlement and the car gets rocks thrown at it and it gets abused by Palestinians protesting. Again, it was sad that there is so much hatred in such a beautiful and holy place.
We drove for a few hours until we came to a spot where we would meet another guide, Or, who would give us a walking tour of the Ajami neighborhood in Tel Aviv. We learned that at certain points, if you dig one foot down you might be in the Byzantine or Crusader periods and if you dig two feet down, you might be in the Greek or Roman periods. All of the civilizations literally built on top of each other. Tel means “man made hill”, from all the civilizations building on top of each other and Aviv means “spring”. We walked out onto a spot where we could see the port. The port in Tel Aviv is the oldest port that is still active in the world! The port had been used for over 5,000 years! Another interesting thing about Ajami and Tel Aviv is that this is where an angel told St. Peter that he could eat the food before him, even though it was not kosher (which Jews wouldn’t eat) so it is the place where Christianity first thought it was ok to split officially from Jewish traditions. There is a church right on the shores of the Mediterranean there to celebrate this event.
We learned that when Israel became a country in 1948, there were about 1,000,000 Palestinians and 500,000 Jews living in the area of Israel. Now Palestinians are less that 15% of the population. When Israel gained independence, about 1/3 of the Palestinians were killed in wars, and another 1/3 left as war refugees. When the Palestinians and Muslims fled Ajami and Tel Aviv after the war, new Jewish immigrants who came to Israel just took over their homes. So, they are called key carrying refugees, because they still carry the keys to their homes in the hope that someday they can come back to their homes.
We walked through the city, and on the shorelines of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean Sea.
As the sun was starting to make it’s slow migration down to the other side of the Earth, we said goodbye to Or and drove back to our hotel to have dinner and relax.
We had a great day visiting the Temple Mount, King Hezekiah’s Tunnels and Tel Aviv and meeting many interesting people all around Israel!