A trip to Israel and Palestine: Jerusalem

After ten years, we happened to return to Israel and Palestine almost by accident, but once again we came back emotionally broken. Traveling to these lands means, every time, questioning your certainties, boundaries, knowledge, and being shaken by inner earthquakes that will not easily subside.
Also this time, after landing in Tel Aviv, we go directly to Jerusalem, the true heart of the Holy Land. Tel Aviv, the city famous for its restaurants, nightlife and beaches, doesn’t particularly appeal to us: we want to immerse ourselves in history, and immediately head east. It is late November, the weather is just perfect, mild and friendly.
The connections between the two cities have greatly improved in the last decade: in addition to the buses, today there is also a fast train that connects them.
We stay in Jerusalem for three days, days that we spend walking through the many quarters and souls of the city that is probably the most beautiful and contended of the Middle East.
We cross its many borders and barriers, we enter the "islands" that some nations have secured despite the Franciscan friars are the ultimate custodians of the Holy Land; we observe the portions in which the different religions have divided the sacred places in order to share them in peace. Sliced temples full of beauty.
We roam in the market area and in the old town, the throbbing and crowded heart of Jerusalem. We quench our thirst with litres of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice and hot mint tea when the evening falls. Here we begin to understand that we would be enjoying the best cuisine ever tried outside of Italy, eating street-food or grabbing a bite in a hidden courtyard, at the tables of the most secluded cafes.
We live the quietness of the Shabbat, the day of rest for the Jews, which begins on Friday evening. For a few hours almost everything stops: it’s like the city is holding its breath in a suspended, deep, contemplative time. At the end of the Shabbat life resumes, and Jerusalem comes back to life with the quick walks and the big hats, the children holding their fathers' hands and chatting along the honey-coloured cobbled street.
We meet a blond-haired and blue-eyed man in a jute dress, who walks barefoot among the tourists with the air of a humble landlord: we think he is a kind of actor, but we find out that he is probably a man suffering from “Jerusalem Syndrome”. For decades, psychiatrists have observed this phenomenon, apparently known since the Middle Ages, according to which some tourists or pilgrims, once arrived in the city, enter a mystical delusion and feel like the messiah, a prophet or a saint. Our prosaic idea that it was an attraction for tourists is swept away once again by the mystical power of Jerusalem.
We get a tendons inflammation on the many steps that lead to the heart of the Souk, and we enjoy the wonderful panoramic views offered by the Citadel of David and the terrace of the Austrian Hospice, along the Via Dolorosa.
The Citadel of David, located next to the Jaffa Gate, is a museum on the history of Jerusalem, on the premises of an archaeological site where the tormented vicissitudes of the city are very well represented. The entrance costs 40 Nis.
Every week, on some evenings, a light and music show (65 Nis) enlivens the ruins of the citadel and envelops the audience in a multisensory experience that unfortunately we missed!
The Austrian Hospice is a guest house created to host Austrian pilgrims: one of the many "islands" meant to welcome the faithful coming from all over the world to experience the spiritual power of this place. We recommend to visit its panoramic terrace at sunset, when the muezzin call the Muslims to prayer and the sky is full of birds that greet the evening. The access costs 5 Nis.
Remembering the extraordinary feelings of ten years ago, we decide to visit again the Holy Sepulchre, discovering that nowadays it is unfortunately affected by a chronic overcrowding that compromises the unimaginable charm of the place. People of all ages taking selfies on the tombstone of Jesus Christ are almost grotesque. Grannies who jostle, groups that obstruct the entrances, people getting impatient. This is not what we were expecting and we leave in great disappointment.
We live an opposite - and sublime - experience at the Esplanade of the Mosques.
You can access the Esplanade by passing next to the Western Wall, through a wooden walkway with controlled access: the non-Muslims are allowed in only for a few hours a day, and the absence of crowds makes the experience much more authentic. You can still see ladies coming to the gardens to have lunch with bread, olives and hummus, children playing soccer in the courtyards, elders chatting on the stone steps enjoying the sun, surrounded by cats.
In a few metres you pass from one of the most sacred places for the Jews to one of the most sacred places for the Muslims: history and traditions often overlap and sacred places are often shared between different religions. On the Esplanade of the Mosques (Temple Mountain) there are three incredible buildings full of history: the al-Aqsa mosque, the octagonal Dome of Rock and the Dome of the Chain. Access to the mosques is not allowed to the non-Muslims, but the site is one of the most powerful in the city regardless.
On the last evening, we participate with some friends to the inaugural light up of the Christmas tree in the Catholic quarter. It takes place in a school run by the Franciscans where Christian and Arab children sing all together "Bella Ciao" in Italian. Stunned by this incredible and surreal experience of peace and friendship, we walk back to the hotel. We bump into groups of youngsters in civilian clothes but with automatic firearms hanging from their shoulders. Boys and girls who are probably serving military service in the Israeli army, who must carry their weapons also during their free time: guns like pets, or handbags.
We come across a group of Jewish kids dancing on the terrace of the Jaffa Gate to collect money for their Bar Mitzvah: the beauty of life goals, those expected with trepidation, the incredible energy of youth.
We say goodbye to Jerusalem with these kids who dance and sing, regardless of the night that is swallowing the city.
Unfortunately this time we are not able to visit again the Mount of Olives: Palestine and Galilee are waiting for us and we look forward to diving into these other worlds, so different and so full of voices.

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