Tuesday 5 January 2010

Blog-log Day 7 - history, current affairs, future hopes all in one

Readers of this blog will know I have always tried to illustrate a story with a picture - but it can be quite hard t use just one picture - sometimes the local history find is such that I have a bonanza of pictures. Today, my excuse is that I am in Jerusalem...

[A reminder that where it's a small picture the reader should be able to double click on the photo and it open up at full size so you can see the detail].

Here you are quite literally walking on history and walking on layer upon layer of the stuff. But this isn't history as some cool, detatched even academic perspective - this is the stuff of current affairs, international diplomacy and religious passion.

But of course the other thing about Jerusalem and the history is that it is SO important to those today that it is still living and breathing and all around.

So this picture of the Dome of the Rock - one of the most venerated of Muslim sites - photographed here from the roof terrace. This is in fact a few hundred yards away and the modern satellites betray that there are people living amidst, what in the rest of the world would be historical sites and just historical sites. In this charged environment they are residential, precisely because they are so so important.

So you walk away from the Western Wall plaza, take a staircase, wander on aimlessly a bit - gazing at your guidebook trying to work out what appears next and you find you are literally on a roof and there are three layers of shops and residency and worship beneath you and due to the landcape of the mountain up to four storeys of archaeology under that!

In fact I was so high up that this massive spire of the Lutheran Church was almost at eyesight level - and this is one of the highest points in the city! It's amazing.

And it was that point that got me thinking - the issue here is what has gone before. It's not what happens today, it's not yesterday - it's who has been here before. On one level it is the pilgrims, the residents, the soldiers (too many soldiers) and the generations of events and activity - but most of them were/are here for the religious devotions that are undertaken in memory of the historical figures who were themselves here.

So this graffiti - devotional, dated, carved into the wood and the marble and the stone of the door frames of many and most of the churches gives you a powerful realisation that your steps are but two steps amongst literally millions of others.

But the challenge is making those traditions of the past work today shoulder to shoulder, cheek by jowel. And it would seem to the tourist eye that there is an equilibrium.

But that in itself risks being a deception. The Israeli governance over Jerusalem only really dates from 1967 in modern terms and that led to the clearing of the old housing that clustered in front of the Western Wall [aka the Wailing Wall]. So what is now a great visitors plaza is in fact a highly political space - for all Jews - perhaps it is now the most precious religious space. In fact in that context one of the great outstanding issues in the peace talks of the future is the Temple Mount.

But right now you have the Western Wall and nest to that a convoluted wooded construct walkway that leads to the Dome of the Rock - all to accomodate the various histories that currently co-exist.

Now the general assumption over the years was that history - whilst it is grasped and clutched to the breast of each cause and faction to their advantage - that in fact time is a healer of sorts, in that the human memory forgets knowledge and fails to pass it on.

The Western Wall is significant for two factors - the first is it significant because it is the closest wall to the former site of the Holy of Holies - this was the temple built upon the site where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son. The destruction of the temple by the Roman Emperor Titus after the first Jewish rebellion was pretty complete - some 50 years later a more intense form of destruction was wreaked by the Emperor Hadrian to surpress another revolt.

Both of these events have led to a human recollection that says that the bit of the Western Wall visible from the Plaza (above) is the only surviving structure.

Two issues with that. First is that in fact bits of the other walls - north, west and south all survive but for Jews it's the proximity to the Holy of Holies that is religiously significant. Secondly archaeologists have confirmed and now opened up the full length of the Western Wall as a tunnel and with it the site of the earliest synagogue - and that tunnel was my experience today. Pictured here are the stones of the Herodian 2nd temple, still standing, still acting as foundation stones to the constructs of subsequent generations over them.

So being in Jerusalem - in Israel - listening to issues around the conflicts of the middle east - I was really struck today that with the history live and in front of us - it's also above and below us, all around and is a relevant now as ever before.

No comments: