Israeli Adventure: Jerusalem and the West Bank

Posted on July 30, 2012

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I have recently been on an Israeli adventure and am finding myself gushing with my new found knowledge of this hot spot. I was with friends and had the fortune to stay with a friend’s family at the British Consul (19 Regeb Nashashibi Street on Mount of Olives if you need it). This gave me an experience I hadn’t quite bargained for before I left and opened my eyes to an incredibly difficult situation. This is far from the full story and only a glimpse into the situation, potentially a little one sided, but here’s what I got from the trip (first political, then religious and then food if you want to skip ahead).

Jerusalem is pretty much split in half: East for the Palestinians and West for the Jewish. It sounds simple but there are a number of settlements popping up and being moved that just don’t sit right in a normal western way of thinking. It must be hard living there seeing two communities either completely ignore each other, or worse, fight.

A decade ago a separation wall was constructed, according to Israel it was in response to the many bombings in Jerusalem but Palestinians claim that they had agreed that bombings would stop anyway and it was unnecessary. Much of the separation wall was erected in three days, with huge concrete slabs being dropped into place by helicopter. They stopped building due to funds, and perhaps a lack of need to erect the full length of the wall.

The wall is meant to follow the 1949 Armistice or Green Line but it’s estimated that 12% of Palestine is actually on the Israeli side. Passing from the Palestinian side to the Israeli side can take hours each morning (a typical commute for those who live in the West bank but Work in Jerusalem can be 2hours for what would normally be a 20min drive). Palestinians must also have a special pass to allow them to pass through. There are many roads that Palestinians are not allowed to use even when they get through (mostly next to the separation wall).

I have to confess I was shocked by some of the basics that are made difficult for some. For example when the wall was built, some people had land they framed on the other side. Passes through one of the spread out access gates, aptly name the Agricultural Gate, are only given to one person in the family, who should be the owner. This means only one person is able to the farm the land, and if that person is ill or unable to make it through within the required hours each day, the crops go to waste.

There are many houses built illegally on land – known as settlements – which from time to time are ordered to be demolished by the government. People tend to demolish their own houses as it is cheaper that footing a bill from the government but I can’t possible imagine how heart wrenching it is to demolish a house you have built yourself (yes, I know there is an argument that it should have been built in the first place but that is a whole other story).

We also visited a few of the Israeli settlements which have been built on Palestinian land. Much of the land is fenced off with a wide perimeter around the houses. According to Ottoman law, land that has not been used for three years by the owner becomes the land of the state. By fencing it off, owners are unable to use the land…. You can see where this is going. Cheeky to say the least.

Not being particularly spiritual I was also very interested in the religious factions. It particularly fascinated me how one city is holy in so many ways for many different groups. Bar Buddhists, every other leading religion has some kind of link with Jerusalem – no wonder it’s such as hot and hard debate.

There is a recognized medical ailment known as the Jerusalem syndrome where people are so overwhelmed by all the holy places that they are literally intoxicated by the city and believe they have had some kind of supernatural experience. And the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem has a Muslim hold the keys, as the various Christian factions fight over the rights to the building.

One day, on the way back from Tel Aviv (more on that in another post), the taxi driver followed the GPS right into an ultra-orthodox area. Unfortunately it was Shabat, the holy day. There were no cars and every road we turned down was blocked. We had driven it but couldn’t get out. We felt uncomfortable clearly breaching the rules of the community and found our way out only by driving on the pavement around a block.

Finding a local taxi who gave us directions we then found ourselves channeled into a one way street with a manifestation: Orthodox Jews on one side, Palestinians on the other. It was an angry crowd but not violent. As we drove through the car was surrounded to shouts of Shabat! Shabat! berating us for not respecting their holy day rules.

An English friend told me that she and her husband were at a self-fuel petrol station trying to work out the Hebrew in order to use their credit card to get fuel. An orthodox Jew passed, who they asked for help. He replied ‘I am sure you understand but it is Shabat and therefor I am unable to help you’. To me it’s incredible the extreme that people live by. Can helping someone out with a simple problem really be that wrong, no matter what day of the week it is?

It’s sad that most people just can’t see a solution to the whole conflict: the one state clearly isn’t working and a two state looks near on impossible to agree on as it would be displacement of vast numbers of people. Some friends who have their day to day life in Tel Aviv and don’t become involved in the conflict told me that they had got used to pushing it to the back of their mind as they just don’t know what to fight for to help resolve the issue.

It’s an incredibly complex situation and not nearly something I can come close to doing justice on this blog but it touched me nonetheless.

So enough of my new found political and religious ramblings. Onto the good stuff….food.

I was uber excited about the food in Israel and it did not let me down. Mysteriously I never actually managed to find dolma (stuffed vine leaves) despite seeing many ladies selling the leaves. Perhaps it is something that is cooked more at home. Nevertheless I got my fix of fantastic humus, sometimes served with meat (usually lamb and very heavy) and aubergine based moutabal.

West Jerusalem:

Machneyehuda (pictured right) located in the Mahane Yehuda market in 10 Bet Yaakov St is said to be one of the best restaurants in Israel today. Getting a booking certainly makes it look that way; a call is needed a few weeks in advance for lunch or dinner. I am spoilt with food in Paris so whilst I thought it was excellent; I wouldn’t mark it down as a top restaurant. The atmosphere and the cocktails are what made it for me. Try the Mahane Yehuda in a jar. Delicious.

Jerusalem:

Lina or Abu Shuckri are both in the heart of the old city and serve great local food. It’s an ideal spot for lunch while touring the area.

The Austrian Hospice is a welcome retreat with a lovely quiet roof terrace and some good coffee. Food is, funnily enough, Austrian. Take the extra few stairs right to the top for some good rooftop views. They also have reasonable rooms.

Chakra is apparently a good restaurant with a great atmosphere.

The Ambassador Hotel (pictured left) had surprisingly good food and we filled up there for a reasonable price. As we were a large group we ordered one of everything. Brilliant! Moutabal and Humus remain my favourites though.

Ramallah, West Bank

If you make it here in summer I thoroughly recommend the Snow Bar  (pictured right) with its laid back sofas amidst the trees. It has standard humus/moutabal type dishes for 10s dishes and salads are around 30s. Bring your swimmers as they have

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