Vacationing in Israel during troubled times

20 Oct 2015 18:06 - 21 Oct 2015 03:28 #1 by Reverend Revelant
The Marble Intifada
Israel diary entry Oct. 5, 2015
Walter L. Newton (Reverend Revelant) - The Naked Journalist

Any walk through the Old City of Jerusalem, especially if it is your first time, can seem like you have stumbled into an M.C. Escher painting, only less symmetrical.

There is hardly a flat spot in the city. Most of the streets are composed of steps, one moment you are walking downhill, the next moment you are trudging uphill.

Every street looks the same, lined with shops selling baubles to the tourists and holy sites offering faith to the faithful.

That was the impressions I had when I first strolled the ancient streets. But hidden among the merchants chanting “I want to show you my shop,” there were the seeds of discord growing in the minds of some children not very much older than six or seven.

My girlfriend, her friend and I had entered the Old City through the Damascus Gate and headed down El Wad Ha-Gai Street toward the Western Wall.

I heard the plink, chink, plink of something hitting the paving stones of the street. I turned around and saw three young boys, wearing faded jeans and colorful t-shirts.

One child ran off down a side street while another headed up El Wad Ha-Gai Street. The third child stood firm, looked right at me, index fingers of both hands pointed toward me and he grinned at me as I snapped a picture.

The three of us turned back around and continued our search for the Western Wall. We had not taken 10 steps when I heard the plink, chink, plink sounds again. My girlfriend suddenly said “ouch.” Something had hit her on the back of her head.

We turned around again and noticed that the three children had appeared behind us once more and I discovered what they we throwing at us. They were chucking marbles, laughing like it was some youthful game or school yard activity.

I picked up one of the marbles and put it in my pocket as they ran off. It was evident what the children were doing. They were imitating their older peers, but instead of rocks and bottles, they were throwing marbles at the “infidels.”

Children on Al Wad Ha-Gai St. in the Old City of Jerusalem Oct. 5, 2015, throwing marbles at visitors to the city. (Photo by Walter L. Newton)

Later that day I sat down with some soldiers who were on a security detail in the Old City. I recounted my story about the children and the marbles. He smiled at me, put his hand in his pocket and produces a marble and said “A marble like this?”

I put my hand in my pocket and showed him my marble and said “souvenir.” The soldier laughed.

Tensions between the Arabs and Israelis had been rising during the summer of 2015. By the time we got to Israel in October, it was starting to reach a boiling point. Some of the media and residents were concerned that they were on the cusp of a third intifada.

I am sure that these three children felt totally vindicated by their actions. After all, they have seen their older brothers and friends throw rocks, they’ve seen the encounters between their families and Israeli security and border police. They’ve seen the deaths on both sides.

It was wrong for these children to be hurling marbles at a tourist or anyone else. But I blame the parents for their actions. What would happen if one parent would help one child to play “marbles,” get an education and come back to the Old City with a plan for peace?

It only took one marble to interrupt our day for a moment; it was inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things. Could one child bring peace to the Arab/Israeli problem? In the bigger scheme of things, that’s not very inconsequential.

(This is a first in a series of articles and photo essays that I will post on this thread)

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22 Oct 2015 06:09 - 22 Oct 2015 07:15 #2 by Reverend Revelant
Security (photo essay, various dates)

Security was high in downtown Jerusalem and in the Old City. Since there are many different kinds of security details in Israel (police, boarder police, IDF and reserves, I will just call them "security" for the sake of this essay)

Security on Yaffa Street ordering ice cream at a gelato shop. This was two doors down from my hotel. (Photo by Walter L. Newton)

This photo, taken from the garden rooftop of my hotel, shows the level of security in front of Zion Square. Just like Hyde Park in London, Zion Square is an open space where citizens can protest, demonstrate, sing, dance, play music and generally congregate. This area is considered the "Times Square" of Jerusalem. (Photo by Walter L. Newton)

Security inside the Old City was very high on Oct. 4, 2015, during the holiday of Simchat Torah. I arrived in Jerusalem at the end of the fall holiday season, right after seven day festival of The Feasts of Booths (Sukkot). (Photo by Walter L. Newton)

After an Israeli finishes their three year military service, they are in the reserves until they are 55-years old. And they can carry their weapons in public when needed. These reservists, Oct. 9, 2015, are on Yaffo Street near my hotel. (Photo by Walter L. Newton)

Security was high at the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City Oct. 10,2015. The were four knife attacks against Israeli security at the gate during my stay. (Photo by Walter L. Newton)

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22 Oct 2015 06:46 - 22 Oct 2015 07:19 #3 by Reverend Revelant
In regards to the numerous news reports that Israel is not showing any restraint during these heighten tensions around the county, I offer this first hand account.

One Eritrean man was mistaken as part of a terror attack in the Beersheba Central Bus station and beaten by four citizens.

One citizen (legally carrying) shot an Arab that rammed a rabbi at a bus stop and then left his car and proceeded to chop the rabbi with a meat cleaver. The Daily Mail said the Arab was shot by a police officer, but I have seen the CCTV footage and it appeared to be a citizen.

My count, as of last Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, (right before I left), was 10 knifing attacks by Arabs, 23 overall attacks by Arabs, eight Israeli's killed by the knife attacks and over 70 Israeli’s injured, 39 Arabs killed.

The number of Arabs killed is a little higher then incidents because some of the trouble was at the Gaza border, where as many as 200 Arabs tried to storm the boarder.

In all cases of Arabs killed or injured, it was by police, boarder police or military.

I far as I know (and I was keeping careful track of incidents), not once did any government security person strike first. Every death or injury of an Arab was due to the Arab(s) acting first.

The mayor of Jerusalem suggested that anyone with a legal gun permit and owned a weapon, to carry that weapon.

Security around Jerusalem consisted of police, boarder police, IDF and reservists (who can carry their weapons if needed).

There was a bomb threat outside of my hotel on Yaffa Street. It was professionally handled, over in about 30 minutes and I saw no indication of any over reactions by the authorities.

There were plenty of Arabs in the neighborhood that could have been made “example” of during my stay. Nothing like that ever happened. There was restraint everywhere.

Israel is not trying to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. The week before I arrived, twice, young Arab men brought weapons and firebombs into the Al-Aksa mosque. While I was there, Israel refused entry to the Mount by Muslim men under 50 years of age and then lowered the age to 40.

Israel was trying to maintain the status of the Mount, not usurp it. The status does not included visitors to the Mount being harassed or firebombed.

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22 Oct 2015 07:13 #4 by FredHayek
Always wanted to visit the Holy Land, it must have been very interesting, especially right now considering the current unrest. And a little bit scary. Thanks for your reports, hope to read more.

President Obama: Never underestimate Joe Biden's ability to f*** things up.

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22 Oct 2015 07:29 - 22 Oct 2015 17:16 #5 by Reverend Revelant
I wasn't afraid at all. Even though I wasn't in Israel on any sort of newspaper assignment, things were so volatile while I was there, I spent a lot of the time taking pictures, talking to people and making notes. I assigned myself to cover the unrest. I will be posting more vacation-like pictures. Not every story I have to tell deals with the unrest.

We took a three day car trip to Haifa, Sephoris, Tiberius, the West Bank and then a one day car trip to Masada. I'm saving the Masada photo's and will end this thread with them.

I spoke to soldiers, citizens and other tourists. We ended our stay on Friday night, Oct. 16, 2015, in the home of Yossie Friedman, an Orthodox Jewish family (who were total strangers) for a Sabbath meal. I even went to shul in some jeans and a flowery shirt. I didn't realize Yossie was going to invite me to the synagogue. Of course I'm not Orthodox nor Jewish, so I'm not sure what garb would have been appropriate. I didn't have black slacks, a white shirt, a black suit jacket and a black hat with me.

I also went places most tourists wouldn't go. I ended up in the home of an Arab in Silwan, one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

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22 Oct 2015 08:24 #6 by jf1acai
Very interesting. Thank you for this information!

Experience enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again - Jeanne Pincha-Tulley

Comprehensive is Latin for there is lots of bad stuff in it - Trey Gowdy

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23 Oct 2015 11:12 - 23 Oct 2015 11:23 #7 by Reverend Revelant

Young men and woman dancing (not together) on Zion Square, Jerusalem, Oct. 15, 2015. (Video by Walter L. Newton - The Naked Journalist)

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24 Oct 2015 18:22 #8 by Reverend Revelant
The House of Fawaz (Oct. 11, 2015 – The Naked Journalist)

There is really an older part of Jerusalem, older than the Old City. It has been dubbed the City of David by a nonprofit who maintains the archeological sites. Even though there is no current proof that King David resided there, it has been shown to be where the earlier city of Jerusalem took roots.

Right below the Gihon Spring structure, in the City of David, is the House of Fawaz.

The Gihon Spring is the entrance for tourists who are visiting Hezekiah’s Tunnel. To prepare for a possible siege by the Assyrians, King Hezekiah built the tunnel in the 8th century B.C. to block the source of the waters of the Gihon and lead them straight down on the west into the City of David.

The Gihon Spring was located outside of the city walls and by building the 1750 foot tunnel, cut into solid bedrock; he brought the water into the city, protecting the city’s water supply from impending battles.

Visitors can walk the length of the two foot wide tunnel which still has a healthy supply of water running through it.

The City of David sits in the predominantly Arab neighborhood of Silwan. Some have described Silwan as the poorest Arab enclave in East Jerusalem. The archeologists who work there consider the area to be dangerous and do not stray outside of their archeological digs.

Everyone in Jerusalem knows how to get to the City of David. I knew how to get there. Evidently I found the only cab driver in town that didn’t know how to get there. I showed him the location and connecting streets on a map.

As he drove on, I could tell he was driving below the Gihon Spring area, into the eastern slope of the Kidron Valley, smack into Silwan. Angry with the driver, who seemed reluctant to be in this area and knowing that I was somewhere below the spring, I told him to let me out of the cab and I would walk the rest of the way up the side of the valley.

So there I stood, with my girlfriend and her friend and I had no clue how to get up to the spring. Enter Fawaz.

Fawaz, below the Gihon Spring House, Silwan, East Jerusalem, Oct. 11, 2015 (Photo by Walter L. Newton)

He was suddenly standing there as if a tourist alert tweet went out to the neighborhood. His English was good (my Arabic was non-existent after “Salaam).”

He informed us “you are at the spring.”

Well, there was probably a little context missing in our conversation. We were somewhere “below” the spring and his statement left me suspicious.

He offered to show us the spring. There were some old, wide stairs going down to a chain-locked gate and Fawaz wanted us to go down the stairs to see what was at the bottom.

At that point I overreacted, although I had reason to. I knew the reputation of this neighborhood; I knew that the spring had a proper entrance, with a ticket booth, guides and interpretive signage. I wasn’t going down those stairs.

I warned my girlfriend and her girlfriend not to go down those stairs. Call it woman’s intuition or something, they did.

They came back up the stairs, said there was water down there and there was signage inside to indicate we were at the spring.

Fawaz chimed in “I will send my brother to get your tickets; you come to my house for tea.”

I’m thinking to myself “tickets for a locked gate?”

We walked up some stairs, in the general direction where I knew the actual tourist entrance of the spring should be and about half way up, we turned up another set of stairs that lead to his house.

We sat down in a comfortable living room and listened to the story of the House of Fawaz.

In the House of Fawaz, Silwan, East Jerusalem, Oct. 11, 2015 (Photo by Walter L. Newton)

Fawaz spent eight years in Minnesota and went to high school there. He came back home to fix up his house and help take care of his family. He is a carpenter and part-time cab driver.

He was proud of the work he had done on his kitchen, pointing out that it looked like an American kitchen.

He sent his brother, with a 100 shekel banknote from us, up to the ticket office of the spring. The confusion I had earlier about the locked gate became clearer. Fawaz was just trying to let us know we were at the spring house, but below the official entrance.

After a little haggling over the price of some ancient coins he had for sale (I collect ancient coins), his brother returned with the tickets. We let the brother keep the remainder of the shekels.

I apologized to Fawaz and his family for my unfounded fear. I rarely have preconceived notions about people.

The heightened tensions in East and West Jerusalem had made me sensitive to the fact that I should be careful. I didn’t apologize for being careful, only for misunderstanding Fawaz and his motivations.

We left the House of Fawaz, his brother walking with us further up the stairs and there was the entrance to Hezekiah’s Tunnel.

Sure, the House of Fawaz made a few shekels from us. But the general commercial culture of Jerusalem (and most of the Middle East) is frequently based on bargaining. The money was not an issue for me.

It was a small adventure that I hadn’t planned on having, but I didn’t come to Israel to just experience comfortable tourist sites. I wanted to meet people, talk to them, and ask questions. Little did I know the House of Fawaz was on the agenda.

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25 Oct 2015 08:55 #9 by Photo-fish
Great thread here Walter. Thanks so much.

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26 Oct 2015 08:49 #10 by You Know Who
:lol: This is a little like a German American going to Germany in 1938 and reporting back that Hitler is a great guy and that despite what we've all heard... the Jews are being treated well

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