I love Jerusalem. There is no other way to say it. I enjoy walking its streets. There is a wonderful feeling of vitality and energy in the air. Often during very hot summer days, Jerusalem is slightly cooler, and less humid. Jerusalem offers so much to so many. Its modern architecture is beautiful, because it is in keeping with its ancient architecture. The city’s museums, cultural venues and government buildings are among the world’s finest.
Yad VaShem! I used to visit its Hall of Remembrance a day prior to my call-up for reserve duty. I stood there, in silence. Minutes. Hours. I gathered strength there for the upcoming days of service to my country and to my people.
Hauling wheat harvested in fields near Beit Kama, I would often unload at the flour mill opposite the Angel Bakery in Jerusalem. With over sixty metric tons of gross vehicle weight, I drove after midnight, slowly climbing the hills to Jerusalem, slowly descending them to avoid jackknifing the trailer. The wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread awaited, and often a group of us, drivers with wheat to unload, drivers from kibbutzim along with drivers from Bedouin villages, would make coffee while someone went to the Angel Bakery to buy fresh buns and bread. Another went to the local “makolet”, the grocery store, already open at five in the morning, for fresh cheese, and we feasted.
I visited the Old City of Jerusalem. I visited this wonderful city within a city on my own, and in groups. I visited with my father when he was still alive, along with my step-mother and my two younger siblings. Our guide, A., fluent in Arabic and somewhat an expert on the historic sites within those ancient walls, was a fellow reservist from my liaison unit.
I would walk along the narrow streets of the Armenian quarter, and later, along with my wife, we bought some of the most beautiful handmade art from Mr. Sandrouni’s shop in the Armenian Quarter. I spent hours walking the passageways of the Jewish Quarter, the steps of the Cardo taking me back to Roman times and before.
My visits to Jerusalem often included a visit to the Western Wall. When I could, I would visit the beautiful Dome of the Rock, amazed at its beauty both inside and out. Going back I walked along the shops of the Souk, sharing a tea or a coffee with this shopkeeper or the other.
I accompanied groups who visited Christianity’s holiest sites contained within the Christian Quarter. Always respectful, constantly aware of my place, humbled by the sheer weight of these centuries of history, I also felt as one would in one’s home. I was in mine.
It was with a great deal of sadness then, on July 7th, 1989, that I heard about the tragedy of bus 405. A terrorist had wrestled control of the steering wheel from the Egged bus driver. He had forced the bus to plummet over 100 feet into one of the many ravines along the climb to Jerusalem. Many people were wounded, and fourteen people died that day.
It would not be the first time, nor would the last, that terror, hatred and violence marred the beauty of those hills, and the beauty of that city, the City of Peace. Passions would best the composure of many. Some threw rocks from the sacred plateau of the Haram Al Sharif, The Noble Sanctuary. Their targets were Jews who prayed below, facing the Western Wall, known to Israelis as the Kotel. Again and again Israeli security forces had to close access to this holy place.
As shopkeepers went about their business, as people traveled on Jerusalem’s buses, as people sat in restaurants enjoying life, violence struck again and again, tearing lives asunder. The beauty of Jerusalem was bathed in the blood of innocents.
Yes. We captured parts of Jerusalem from Jordan in June of 1967. Yes. We united all of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the nation of Israel. Yes. We opened the city to all. We welcomed everyone. We asked for only a few things. Conduct yourself with the respect due to these holy sites. Respect those who live in this wonderful city, whether Christian, Muslim or Jew. Leave this city of rooftops glimmering golden in the sunlight with fond memories and promises to return again, and again. We do not ask for more.
And, yes, we ask you to understand. Those who choose paths of violence and terror will be dealt with harshly. We will act to prevent the further escalation of violence. We will continue to pray for peace and many of us will continue to seek bridges to end the centuries-long cycles of bloodshed.
Climbing the hills towards Jerusalem the air is filled with the scent of pines. Here and there are vendors selling the best falafel in the world. The aroma remains etched in memory. Within the walls of the old city, youngsters carry trays laden with freshly baked bread, and with a sprinkling of zaatar, (thyme) and a bit of hyssop, you carry with you forever that wonderful flavor. People have lived in this city for thousands of years and there is no reason to believe that they should not live in Jerusalem for thousands more.
We just need to stop the violence! All of it. In every corner of this wonderful city, ancient and modern. Now.