The Royal Geographical Society of Queensland Inc
Dr Peter Griggs
Recently, Tracey and I were fortunate enough to spend some time in Israel. We started our trip in Jerusalem, being present in the city over a Friday and Saturday. These two days coincided with Shabbat or the Sabbath which is Judaism’s day of rest. Businesses, government offices, museums, art galleries and libraries start to close soon after noon on Friday. By the time a siren rings out at dusk announcing the start of Shabbat, much of the city had shut down. It is an eerie feeling when a city falls very quiet, as the traffic dwindles and most of its citizens head indoors for festive meals.
We were staying in accommodation in West Jerusalem, so we decided to go for a walk to see what shops etc. had remained open. Other people who we presumed to be tourists must have had the same idea as we were not alone. We encountered a few open pizzerias and restaurants, and a Filipino grocery store and restaurant which was being well patronised by Filipinos. The presence of so many Filipinos was puzzling and the next day we asked our guide for an explanation. He explained that Israel has an ageing population* and difficulty attracting workers to the aged care sector. Filipinos can enter Israel on five-year work permits, and now make up a considerable portion of the aged care sector in the country.
Jerusalem has a population of approximately 800,000. The city sprawls across several hills which form part of the Judean Mountains, an elevated plateau which runs through the centre of Israel. The hills of Jerusalem are bisected by the Kidron Brook, a non-permanent watercourse that is prone to sudden flooding after rain.
Fig 1. Map showing the three parts of Jerusalem. Source: https://www.city-journal.org/html/between-green-line-and-blue-line-13397.html
Jerusalem has a complicated internal geography (Fig 1). East Jerusalem is quite hilly and populated by approximately 260,000 Palestinian Arabs. Many live in three to six storey apartments (see Figure 2). Until the Six-Day War or Third Arab-Israeli War (5-10 June 1967), this territory was part of Jordan. Jewish areas, however, have been established in East Jerusalem and it is estimated that approximately 200,000 Jews now live in East Jerusalem.
West Jerusalem is not as hilly and is that part of the city created mostly after Israel became a separate country in 1948. Israeli Government Ministries, the Israeli Parliament, and the Israeli National Museum and Art Gallery are located in this part of the city. The third section is the Old City, which was first established c. 1500 BCE, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE and then later rebuilt during the second and third century CE. Today, it is an area of narrow, winding streets (see Figure 3) and is still surrounded by walls (see Figure 4). The Old City is entered via various gates in the walls (e.g. Damascus; Jaffa; Zion), including one whose name conjures up past city functions (see Figure 5).
Fig 2. A view of East Jerusalem from the Old City, January 2019. Source: Peter Griggs
Fig 3. Some of the narrow streets in the Jewish Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem. Source: Peter Griggs
Most of our time was spent exploring the Old City, which is split into the Armenian, Jewish, Muslim and Christian Quarters. Access to the Muslim Quarter is regulated so we did not visit that part of the Old City where Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock are situated (can be seen from a distance, however). The other main sites that can be visited include the Western Wall, Herodian mansion ruins, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, King David’s Tomb (reputedly), Via Dolorosa and various Christian churches.
Fig 4. A view of the Old City of Jerusalem taken from Mount of Olives. The Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third holiest site, is featured in the centre of the image. Source: Peter Griggs
Fig 5. One of Jerusalem’s Old City’s gates. The Dung Gate allows entrance into the Jewish Quarter. Source: Peter Griggs.
We were reminded that Jerusalem has had a violent recent past (and ancient past) when our guide showed as two features. The first was the bullet holes made in the city’s walls by the fighting between the Israeli and Jordanian troops in 1967. The second was the site where archaeological excavations have revealed an almost metre thick layer of ash which the archaeologists have concluded was created after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE.
For a very readable account of Jerusalem’s complicated history, I would recommend Simon Montefiore’s Jerusalem. The Biography (London: Phoenix, 2011).
* In 2018, 11.6% of Israel’s population was aged over 65 years of age (Source: CIA World Factbook).
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