May 9, 2009

Old City Jerusalem is a Whore
Jerusalem, Israel and the Palestinian Territories

If I was to distill our impression of the Old City—the 0.35 square mile walled area within the modern city of Jerusalem that constituted the entire city up until the 1860s—down to a single word, it'd probably be repulsive.

"Going to Jerusalem in search of faith is like going to a prostitute in search of love; you only get it if you pay for it."
—Tatiana's thoughts on the Old City.

Home to some of the most sacred religious sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, preconceived notions of Jerusalem's Old City conjure up grand, historical mental imagery. Alas, the bubble breaks as soon as you pass through the large sand-colored gates, where you suddenly found yourself inside one of the largest, most laughably overpriced gift shops in the world.

The creativity and ridiculousness of the nonsense being hawked is truly staggering. So long as you're on the tourist trail within the Old City's walls, you're never more than a few steps away from needed keepsakes such as a certified crown of thorns, glow-in-the-dark statuette of the Virgin Mary, or a recreation of the Holy Grail.

Now this isn't to say that vendors limit themselves to the Christian tourists—because they certainly don't—it's just they're clearly aware that it's a lot easier to separate the cash from one than it is a Jew or a Muslim. Cheesy blessed crucifixes hang right next to brass menorahs, Bedouin-style headdresses, and countless pairs of knock-off designer shoes.

Throughout all of the Middle East (including Israel), belly dancers are considered to be prostitutes. But inside the Old City there's no shortage of belly dance outfits for sale, some just a handful of feet from the Stations of the Cross and the Western Wall. Another vendor just opposite the Damascus Gate pushed a line of crotchless panties/lingerie.

Go where to parts of the city where the tourists don't, and you'll discover just how sacred the city is to those using and abusing it for financial gain—full of trash. "I thought I came from a Third World country until I saw how these people treat this city," Tatiana remarked.

The Old City is simply saturated to the breaking point with filth, greed, animosity, tourists, religious fanatics, absurd souvenirs, and surveillance equipment. Whatever sense of mysticism that once existed here has long since left—replaced instead with metal detectors, overpriced foodstuff, heavily armed army patrols, and vendors seeking to squeeze that last bit of faith out of your dollar or euro.

Note: Comments are open to everyone. To reduce spam and reward regular contributors, only submissions from first-time commenters and/or those containing hyperlinks are moderated, and will appear after approval. Hateful or off-topic remarks are subject to pruning. Your e-mail address will never be publicly disclosed or abused.