Embassy vs. consulate

20160303_130813If you are embarking on travel to Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank and you’re politics-averse…then maybe consider changing plans. Or buying earplugs or one of those sleep face-masks. It is a place where politics is life. The impact of policy decisions and international agreements has an often almost immediate impact.

Take the embassy vs. consulate debate that has long raged.

At a very basic level, there are good reasons for the debates. There is good reasons for all the uproar about the American embassy being moved from Tel Aviv, where almost every other embassy is located. A couple of less powerful nations followed suit when the current administration made the dramatic choice to relocate the embassy.

The basic facts you need to know on this debate so you don’t get the wool pulled over your eyes or sucked into a conversation in which you’re just getting brainwashed:

  1. A foreign embassy location is significant in that it demonstrates a recognition of a certain status of national political life vis-a-vis international norms and laws. For embassies of most nations to be located in Tel Aviv signals a tacit support for a future two-state (Jewish-Palestinian) solution. We can dream, right?
  2. A foreign embassy located in Jerusalem is a very intentional move meant to send a message: that Jerusalem is the capitol of Israel. Make no mistake – the message itself is rhetoric.
  3. Jerusalem’s history is long and winding and full of hidden corners and untold stories that lend context and relevance to modern debates like the American embassy location. But one thing is for certain: Jerusalem is a city (more like an entity) that belongs neither to Israel nor to the Palestinians and any future state they might form.
  4. As best I can tell after years of living and working in Jerusalem and writing about its people and dramas and history – my conclusion is that Jerusalem belongs to herself.

Jerusalem: Why Bother?

A gate in Jerusalem's Baka neighborhood. Photo by Genevieve Belmaker, republication with permission.
A gate in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood. Photo by Genevieve Belmaker, republication with permission.

People are always asking me what the big deal about Jerusalem is. I always ask them how long they have to talk about it. Jerusalem is one of those places that is like no other place, and the only way to begin to understand such a place is to experience it with your own eyes and ears.

Even after you see it, you won’t understand it, though. Nobody does. The best you can hope for is to understand part of this place which is more historic entity than city.

Check back here throughout the rest of 2018 as I work on the second edition of Moon Handbooks’ “Israel and the West Bank” for insights into Jerusalem (and way beyond) – the people, and clues for how to understand it.

Bring the Doughnuts

If you’re anywhere near Israel or West Jerusalem during December, you are going to come across at least one doughnut. These tasty, beautiful little monsters can be found everywhere – in coffee shops, at the mall, wherever your heart desires. It’s all part of a Jewish tradition of eating fried foods to commemorate a miracle at the Temple. The story goes that there was only a small amount of oil left to burn the wicks in the lamps, yet they kept burning for 8 nights – thus the roundabout connection to Hanukkah.

The rest of the year, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Jewish Israeli (or anybody else) who is in love with the idea of donuts. Certainly nothing approximating the general cultural reverence they enjoy in America. A doughnut shop that sells almost nothing but deep friend pieces of dough with a missing middle and mediocre coffee you can drink on the road? Not happening. In my neighborhood in West Jerusalem, which is chock full of Americans, the best I can find is some semi-stale specimens stuck in the back of one neighborhood grocery store next to the tortillas and loaves of bread.

Aside from the obvious issues with doughnuts and tortillas being sold side-by-side, the doughnuts aren’t covered and I often see store workers tossing them about with their bare hands. I’d love to introduce those dainty, thin plastic “self-serve” grabbers to Israel, but I don’t think it would catch on.

So in the meantime, here’s to avoiding the calorie binge that one doughnut represents until after Hanukkah has passed. Thankfully, I will be in Europe until after the New Year. I hope they enjoy treats that are less caloric for Christmas and New Year’s.

Sounds on the Wind

It’s 4:30 a.m. on a Monday morning and I’m up early to get in a couple hours of work before the family awakens. As I stand in front of the coffee machine in my kitchen to make a strong brew, I hear a faint sound drift in from the small, sliding window that’s been left open. It sounds like music. Or singing. Maybe someone talking. I’ve been away on vacation in the U.S. for a few weeks, so it takes a moment to register that I’m hearing the Muslim morning call to prayer. I strain to hear it, but the sound wafts away on the light Jerusalem breeze. Something about the sound is a comfort, or an intrigue. I go to the floor-to-ceiling sliding windows in the living room – the windows that face in the direction of the holy city of Bethlehem – and open them toward just enough to put my head outside. A lone stray cat sits docile next to the street. The three-quarters moon shines clear and bright over the mostly sleeping city. The only other sound are a few loud air conditioning units rattling away, but I quiet my mind and focus on the sound and this time I can hear it. The singing voices of men fades in and out, weaving its way mysteriously into the subconsciousness of the city. I breathe the cool night air that is coldest just before dawn, and let my heart swim in the beauty that is Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Old City Ramparts Walk

Scant information exists on the Ramparts Walk around the perimeter of the Old City of Jerusalem. One of the most popular tourist sites in Jerusalem, the Old City is filled with exotic smells, flavors, and history. The Ramparts Walk is a way to see the Old City and the new city from a high vantage point. You can start at multiple locations, though the easiest to find is at Jaffa Gate.

Entrance fee is NIS16 for and adult and NIS8 for a child (at least 8 years old is recommended) and the hours are 8am-4pm Sun.-Thurs., though you can enter right before 4pm and still get out at your leisure.

Just to the right of the entrance to Jaffa Gate is a small sign with an arrow:

The southern entrance to the Ramparts Walk at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. (Genevieve Belmaker/All Rights Reserved)

Follow that alongside the outer wall of the city until you reach a tiny metal gate and a staffer who will take your money.

The entrance gate to the southern section of the Ramparts Walk in Jerusalem’s Old City. (Genevieve Belmaker/All Rights Reserved)

If you come at the end of the day just before closing, your ticket is good for the following day. Taking the Ramparts Walk about 1 hour before sunset is an incredible way to see east and west Jerusalem. Really sturdy shoes are a must. There are railings, but take your time and don’t rush as the stones can be uneven and slippery at times.

A portion of the southern section of the Ramparts Walk in Jerusalem’s Old City. (Genevieve Belmaker/All Rights Reserved)

All along the way there are historical markers with explanations of the area. You can descend at several different points, though the closest from Jaffa Gate is about 25 minutes.

A portion of the southern section of the Ramparts Walk in Jerusalem’s Old City. (Genevieve Belmaker/All Rights Reserved)

Dancing in the Street in the Village of Ein Kerem, Israel

At the end of the Sukkot holiday while in the village of Ein Kerem (just outside Jerusalem), I came upon a large crowd of people dancing in the street. They were mostly men, and were holding a copy of the Torah (the Jewish holy bible). Ein Kerem is a very small village that is just a 15 minute drive from Jerusalem, but it is very typical of Jerusalem, where different religions exist peacefully side by side. Just up the street from where these men were dancing, monks were standing outside the gate of their monastery and talking with Christian pilgrims.

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