When We Ignored Islam and Palestine in Jerusalem

by - 6:00 PM

I never planned on writing this post. I'd be too political, too much religion thrown into it, too many controversial opinions shared. Israel is a conversation anyway and I never wanted to make anyone feel Lost in Translation doesn't welcome them for having certain opinions. It's the internet, so I rather stayed away from complicated matters. But looking back on my time in Israel, I realized I absolutely had to write about Jerusalem and the way our visit was organized there. This will be no fun storytime, no post full of recommendations, but my honest opinion on the way a Jewish tour guide steered us away from opinions that weren't the same as his.

I'd like to tell you that my arrival in Jerusalem made quite the impression on me, but I can't. In fact, I don't even remember first entering the city. I was dozing off in the bus, only half-awake at best. My first view of the city was the famous on from postcards and travel brochures: we got off the bus at the viewpoint on the Mount of Olives. The city looked beautiful in all its vastness, but the first detail I noticed in this massive urban sprawl was a huge golden dome.
I expected our tour guide to tell us all about the impressive sight in front of us, but being most interested in the golden dome, I first took some pictures of it while he told about all the other building we saw. Then I took some pictures of other people. Then they took some pictures of me. And when all that was done, I still hadn't heard anything about the golden dome. Later that day, in my hotel room, I learned that I'd been looking at the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam. A mosque our Jewish tour guide told us very little about. Even if he did tell us, his story was so short that I completely missed it while taking pictures, at most 10 meters away from the group...

When all the pictures were taken, we walked down the Mount of Olives, slipping and sliding on a sloped street. I was wondering when we'd hear something about the role of Islam in the history of Jerusalem. I'd always heard how important Israel was to three major religions. Now that I was finally there, I saw only two represented: we visited a Jewish cemetery, two churches, the garden of Gethsemane... and not a single place where Islam was the most important religion. Sure, our tour guide mentioned when and where Muslims had lived in Jerusalem, but I felt like we focused a bit too much on Judaism and Christianity.

Don't get me wrong though. I enjoyed my brief visit to all the major sights. The garden of Gethsemane was beautiful and I'd bombard you with pictures if they weren't full of Italian tourists. The church in the garden, where Jesus apparently sweated blood, had a pretty cool facade, the Lion's Gate made me feel like a 16-year-old Latin student again and hearing about the Biblical significance of all these places was very interesting. I don't want to build my life on what that book tells me, but it's awesome to walk down the Via Dolorosa understanding why it's such an important street to so many people around the world (in case you're not Christian: Jesus dragged his cross down that street).

We walked through endless streets and a souk. Then, when I was daydreaming for a bit, we found ourselves at a gate to the Western Wall, where we had to open our bags and show everything inside to the security guards. This is usually done by X-ray, but the X-ray machine was on 'Sabbath mode', fancy for 'it is turned off because it's Saturday.' After a very aggressive French lady told me not to take any pictures, I walked up to the Western Wall and prayed. I'm more of a messed-up Buddhist than a Jew, but I believe every sacred place is a good place to pray (told you this post would have more serious opinions than my average ramblings).

After lunch, I once again found myself wondering about the Muslims who'd left their mark on Jerusalem. I saw countless pretty streets and had a lot of fun, but my curiosity kept nagging. At the end of the day, I felt like everything Islamic was being neglected and ignored by the people who'd organized this trip.

That night at Jaffa Gate, I heard my tour guide rant and complain about Muslims. It shouldn't have surprised me after his radical stance on the situation on the Golan Heights. It did explain why he didn't tell us much about Islam in Israel.
When we got on the bus to Bethlehem, where our Jewish tour guide wasn't allowed to stay the night, he told us as little about Palestine as possible. The way he described it, Bethlehem was the most boring place in the world. The West Bank Barrier, separating Palestine from Israel like a Berlin Wall on steroids, was barely acknowledged.

The more time passed, the angrier this situation made me. In my humble opinion, you can't ignore an entire religion in a place like Jerusalem, but we did. You can't just go to the Jewish and Christian landmarks, but we did. You can't remain silent on the problems in Palestine, but we did. You can't refuse to look at all the sides of the story, but we did. I didn't want to gloss over the situation in Palestine, but with a tour guide who kept us away from things he didn't agree with, it wasn't easy to learn more about the other side of Jerusalem and the West Bank Barrier.

That night, our bus driver took us on a tour of Jerusalem. Suliman, a practicing Muslim, showed us the side of the city I'd been longing for. We saw the Arab quarter and the Damascus Gate. We were told about mosques and other important places. Sadly, no everyone in our group decided to tag along. I feel like those who didn't come, never saw the full picture of Jerusalem. The same happened the next day, when I visited the Palestinian side of the West Bank Barrier with two others. My parents always taught me to stay true to my own opinion, an opinion based on stories from both sides. It was simply impossible to do so by staying with the tour guide and group all the time.

Where am I going with all this? To the point where I ask you to do the same thing I did if you ever go to Israel: don't allow a tour guide to spoonfeed you propaganda. Go and see all parts of Jerusalem. Talk to a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim. Go see the West Bank Barrier. But don't be that person who refuses to see that Islam has made Jerusalem to what it is too.

x Envy

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10 Fellow Ramblers

  1. Aww love this! That's so annoying your guide was doing that. :(

    Nabila | Hot Town Cool Girl

    1. I filed a complaint against him when I came home (mostly because he yelled at me for liking street art), so I hope he'll stop being this way in front of tourists.

  2. Hi Envy! Such a cool trip but it was messed up how the tour guide let his opinions get in the way. I'm Christian and I was taught to love every one and let people have the opinions because it's not my place to jugde. If you're going to be a tour guide, it's essential you're objective on the situation. The focus should be on everything not just the things the guide wants to see. He should have made a group where he specifically for what he knew he could elaborate on that way people aren't mislead. You took amazing photos, I hope your trip wasn't ruined. Ttys🤗

    Natonya | www.justnatonya.wordpress.com

    1. My trip luckily wasn't ruined, because I decided to go my own way and see the parts of Israel that I wanted to see (including all the mosques). I have so much respect for people like you, who let others have their own opinions. Shoving your own opinion into someone else's face never has a positive effect in the long run.

  3. Brilliant post, Envy. Your tour guide is one of the reasons I will always donate to Palestinian causes. Yes, there are issues, but IMO Israel takes a far too heavy handed approach and is able to do so because of their influence in America. I don't want this to turn into a political debate on your blog but I just wanted to wholeheartedly congratulate you on seeing both sides and writing such a good piece. xx

    Lisa | www.lisasnotebook.com

    1. Thank you! The guide may not know it, but he's really pushed a lot of people away from the Israeli side of the conflict. I agree that there are issues, but building a wall to protect yourself is usually a sign you're doing something wrong. I don't mind a bit of political discussion by the way, as long as everyone is willing to listen to one another and accept facts (just had to delete comments claiming I had historical facts wrong because they painted Israel in a bad light).

  4. I respect both. Anyways I'm amazed by their culture and the building structures.

    1. Respecting both is a good thing. That's where it all starts.


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