A web of narrow winding backstreets connected the city, tumbling from one bar to another; outside one bar, we stopped for a beer (quite expensive) and chatted with locals, as a live music band played variations on Grease’s “Summer Lovin'” and The Jungle Book’s “I wanna be like you”. It was late, but the night was only just beginning. No – this wasn’t any Southern European country. In fact, this was Jerusalem, Israel; a city, torn between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, which, this summer, managed to subvert the way I previously understood this mythical place – more myth than fact, more reconstruction than reality.
The truth about Jerusalem is that nothing here is as it seems. Most of the physical sites themselves – the Tower of David as a notable example – have been built, knocked down, rebuilt, moved, reflattened, rebuilt, and moved back again. Beyond the transformability of the buildings themselves, the significance of each place is brought into question. Was Jesus /really/ crucified at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? Is the Garden of Gethsemane, on the hillside in Jerusalem (or at least one of at least four supposed sites), /really/ where Jesus was betrayed by Judas? From the amount of tourists that visited these Christian sites, it appears not to matter. The general consensus seems to be that it would be nice if these places are original, but not necessary. Yet what is interesting is that originality /does/ matter for the Jewish holy sites. The Wailing Wall, the most sacred Jewish site, is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple’s courtyard, and a place at which Jews mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple. Jerusalem is thus constructed of significant originals yet equally as protected unoriginals, that question the significance of historical authenticity and meaning.
Despite the obvious religious and political differences that fracture Jerusalem and its governing countries, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the impression I received from Jerusalem is one of positivity. As I walked through the Old City, I was surrounded by Christians, Muslims and Jews, many of whom were tourists, but all on similar pilgrimages. Because, despite the divisions and conflicts that daily tear this region apart, there is one unwavering, albeit precarious, principle that unites this city: faith. Faith, with all the power to destroy, yet unite – and the repercussions of both are clear to see. As the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks continue, it is unclear yet whether Jerusalem and the region will become the two-state compromise that everyone debates over. But, whilst I was in Jerusalem – historical yet inauthentic, constructed and deconstructed time and time again – I felt for a sliver of time that anything might be possible. That, one day, there might just be something that could unite all.
by Dannee McGuire, Razz Travel Correspondent