Today started out early at 0600, I was determined to make it to Temple Mount today. I made it to the Moor’s Gate (the only one none Muslims are allowed through) at 0645 as the gates had opened at 0700 the other day, today there was a sign saying 0730. Not wanting to waste time I went to Church of the Holy Sepulchre as I hadn’t been able to see Jesus’ tomb as it was shut when I went before, I skirted round a barrier when I was there to see if I could sneak in and take a look but there was a dutiful priest stood there who shouted and questioned why I was there, I made a haste retreat back to the Moor’s Gate where I joined a very short queue of 8 people, within 10 minuets there was over two hundred people, nearly all from tour groups, behind me.
On Temple Mount itself the main focal point is the temple in the centre, seen from many parts of the city, the Dome of the Rock stood out brightly with the morning sun ref!acting off its go!den roof. As I was first too it (other than a few Muslims milling around) I was able to get a photo free of people and was able to walk around the whole Temple Mount unobstructed exploring the different areas.
I went back to the hostel for breakfast then made my way to the bus station to catch a bus to the Israeli/Palestinian border near Bethlehem. On the bus I chatted to pretty, american girl who he studying here and was visiting friends. At the border the bus turned round and we made our way through the imposing concrete walls which still separate the two countries. On the other side I asked 2 travellers if I could share a taxi to Bethlehem as there are no buses on the Palestinian side (apart form tour buses). They agreed and we settled on a price with the driver. After haggling for a while we decided on a slight tour to a couple of locations around Bethlehem and the price each was just more than a single journey to Bethlehem so worth the money.
Fernando, a Mexican teaching Spanish in Paris (who also spoke fluent English) was travelling with his mother (who spoke only Spanish) and they were my travel partners for 2 and a half hours in Palestine. Our first stop were the Shepard’s fields where the Shepard’s who visited Jesus are said to have tended their flocks. The three of us were then driven to Manger Square in Bethlehem and joined the queue inside the Church of the Nativity to see the spot where Jesus was supposedly born. After about half an hour we made it to the spot, which is indicated by a star, and fought our way to touch it whilst tour guides tried to jostle you out the way to get their group in first. We went into a shop owned by the uncle of our taxi driver and although I didn’t get anything the others did. Our last stop in the ‘tour’ was the Milk Grotto Chapel which us said to be where Mary fed Jesus on their way to Egypt, something I find hard to believe as it is just 200m away from the Church of Nativity.
Palestine to me was very obviously a separate country to Israel, aside from the massive concrete wall dividing the two it was also the cultural and economical differences which stood out to me. Israel is very much an affluent country, on the verge of becoming a first world country where as there is a lot of poverty in Palestine which to me is still stuck at the lower end of 2nd world countries, simple things like roads and cleanliness are big economical markers and the fact that they don’t have any public transport is also telling. For a Palestinian to pass through into Israel they have to pay 2000 shekels (£400) which is about a months wages. Personally I can’t see the situation ever settling because the Palestinians want Palestine to stretch from the river (Jordan) to the sea (Mediterranean) which would mean taking huge amounts of Israeli territory. I think the current situation where there are very rare attacks is possibly the most peaceful it will ever be.
The rest of my day was spent having a late lunch then exploring the City of David, just outside the Old City. There you could see the tomb of David and the room where the Last Supper was meant to be held. The tomb wasn’t erected until the crusades, over 2000 years after King David’s death so there is some doubt over its authenticity although it is still regarded as a Jewish holy place. For dinner I found a market which had restaurants and a couple of bars nestled amongst the food stalls which proved to be the perfect place to people watch.