From November 11 until November 16 I visited Jerusalem for the first Ex Libris Developers Meeting. For someone who is interested in art, history, culture and politics a very interesting city. But visiting this city is so different from any other historically interesting place that I have seen before.
It already started right after our arrival at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport. While waiting for the taxi shuttle to Jerusalem to depart, there was a man with a gun hanging casually from his shoulder walking around. All over Jerusalem you see armed guards in the streets, civilians, police, military, men and women. This is quite unusual for people like me, from a quiet western European country like The Netherlands.
Another striking phenomenon of the Holy City (holy for three world religions): the apparently strict territorial division between “cultural” groups (as I prefer to call them). The historical old city inside the old walls consists of a Muslim, a Christian, a Jewish and an Armenian area. The new city around it has two parts, the western Jewish city and the eastern Arab city. The Jewish city also has different areas for orthodox and “modern” Jews. Apart from the new wall that separates Israeli territory from the Westbank, there are no physical borders between these city areas, but hardly anyone will voluntarily go to the “other side”, and this is especially true for Jews and Arabs, as far as I have been able to see.
It is a fascinating situation, one minute you feel like walking around in a rather cosmopolitan Arab city, go some ten meters further down the road and you are in an eastern Europe orthodox Jewish “stetl”. In the early morning being awakened by the muezzin’s call, in the evening drinking a Belgian draught beer in an Irish pub in a modern city center. Having meetings during the day in an office building in the new business area, walking on old Roman stones in the evening.
And then of course the magnificent and impressive sanctuaries of Muslims, Jews and Arabs within a stone’s throw of each other. Food for thought.