Israel: Days 6 and 7

September 8, 2023 • 10:30 am

Yesterday was our “strategic tour” with the boss of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), whose son drove Anna and I around Jerusalem, looking at different neighborhoods, including politically and strategically important places.  This morning we transferred to a spiffy boutique hotel in Tel Aviv for a week, where Anna has a science meeting. You thus get two days in one.

First, some information from Visualizing Palestine about how the West Bank (not part of Israel proper) is partitioned:

The Oslo Accords divided the Palestinian West Bank into three administrative zones: Area A (18%), where the Palestinian Authority (PA) administers civil and security matters; Area B (22%), where the PA administers only civil matters; and Area C (60%) where Israel maintains full control.

Area C includes all Israeli settlements and two thirds of the West Bank’s fertile agricultural land. While Area C is a continuous territory, Areas A and B are fragmented into 166 separate enclaves. In spite of the breakdown of the Oslo process, Areas A, B and C remain in force today.

It’s all very complicated, but what I didn’t realize is how close parts of the Palestinian-controlled Area A (green) are to Jerusalem, and how fragmented all the areas are (area B is in tan and area C in gray).

One minute we were in Jerusalem, overlooking the old city, and the next minute we are here. This is part of area A.  Are there similar signs in Jewish villages in areas adjacent to Palestinian ones?

Area A was so close to Jerusalem that Israel built their much criticized cement walls to keep terrorists from moving freely across the borders and creating.a lot of carnage. Part of one of those walls is shown below, but they ran out of money.  A lot of those on the Left criticized the walls for interrupting the lives of Palestinians who worked in Israel (and now had to be vetted at checkpoints), as well as for their symbolic and looming presence, but they did cut the number of Israelis killed in terror attacks by at least 90%.

Movement is still restricted here, but by fences with motion detectors:

This is what is called a Palestinian “refugee camp”, but it’s not tents and hovels as many imagine. Rather, it’s a village, much like Jewish villages:

We were not of course allowed to go into any area A places, though as an American I could have, though as a (secular) Jew I don’t think I’d chance it. Here’s a view of the Old City of Jerusalem very close to where the photo above was taken. The city walls and Dome of the Rock (the latter controlled by Jordan and usually restricted to Muslims) are evident.

There are only three roads cutting through the western hills that can be used to invade Israel, and were so used during the various wars between Israelis and Arabs, as in 1948 and 1967.  One of them is the road to Jericho you must take to get to Masada and the Dead Sea (see above).  Israel has now taken military precautions to batter any enemies trying to attack along these roads. Here’s a view of the east-west road to Jericho, bisecting the picture horizontally.

Where are the IDF? I was told—and this is no secret—that they have an underground base in the mountain indicated, underground to prevent damage from bombing. There is in fact a sign pointing to the entrance:

We then went to the famous Mount of Olives, a ridge to the east of the Old City of Jerusalem where you get a splendid view of the city, the olive trees that still remain, and he 150,000 Jewish graves that line the hill. (This has been a traditional burial spot for Jews since Biblical times, harbors many well known Jews, and costs you thousands of dollars if you want to buy a gravesite here.)

It’s a Christian pilgrimage site because of its association with Jesus tales from the New Testament. From Wikipedia:

The Mount of Olives is frequently mentioned in the New Testament as part of the route from Jerusalem to Bethany and the place where Jesus stood when he wept over Jerusalem (an event known as Flevit super illam in Latin).

Jesus is said to have spent time on the mount, teaching and prophesying to his disciples (Matthew 24–25), including the Olivet discourse, returning after each day to rest (Luke 21:37, and John 8:1 in the additional section of John’s Gospel known as the Pericope Adulterae), and also coming there on the night of his betrayal. At the foot of the Mount of Olives lies the Garden of Gethsemane. The New Testament tells how Jesus and his disciples sang together – “When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” Gospel of Matthew 26:30. Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives according to Acts 1:9–12.

The Garden of Gethsemane lies at its base below, next to the olive trees (still there, though not 2000 years old) and below the graves. The view of the Old City and Dome of the Rock is splendid.

The graves:

The Old City and Dome of the Rock, a panorama:

Below: the crown jewel of the old City, revered by Muslims and Jews alike. Sadly, Jews are forbidden to enter, even though it sits atop the ruins of the First and Second Temple and the reputed Holy of Holies: the room said to contain the Ark of the Covenant that held the stone Ten Commandments.  Muhammad was also said to have ascended to heaven from this place, and that, due to an unwise decision by Moshe Dayan, trumps all Jewish access.

Here’s a reconstruction of the Holy of Holies from Wikipedia (with their caption). Only the High Priest was allowed to enter the rear chamber, and then only once a year on Yom Kippur. The closest Jews can get to it to worship is the Western Wall, and that’s why they press up against the Wall to pray. If it existed, it’s somewhere under the Dome of the Rock. Truly Orthodox Jews won’t even walk near the Dome for fear of stepping on the site of Holy of Holies.

A model of the Tabernacle showing the holy place, and behind it the Holy of Holies

The Dome of the Rock is not, as many think, a mosque. Rather, it’s a Muslim shrine. But Muslims did build a mosque on the hill: the Al-Aqsa Mosque, covered with aluminum rather than gold. The arrow indicates it.  A religiously crazed Australian, Denis Rohan, tried to burn it down in 1969 so a temple to Jesus could be built there. That triggered huge tensions among Muslims; Rohan was institutionalized and then deported.

Want a camel photo on the Mount of Olives? Me neither.

Anna and I returned to Jerusalem and had a late afternoon lunch of falafel in a pita, which was great.

After checking out this morning, we took an Israeli Uber-equivalent to Tel Aviv, checking into the beautiful Melody Hotel, only a block from the beach.  Free wine (all you can drink) in the lobby, beautiful rooms, free soft drinks in the minibar, and a free happy hour. I’m told the breakfasts are awesome. Did I mention the beach access?

My room:

Minibar with free soda:

Coffee fixings:

There’s a rooftop lounge with sunning facilities and this view of the beach past a park:

Anna was up there preparing her talk for the meeting:

Jay, who’s also a hummus maven, said there was a highly rated place three blocks away, and so we went there for lunch. Micha’s hummus!

The menu: it’s almost all hummus, though I was tempted to try the cholent as it’s Friday. The menu (a shekel is about 25 U.S. cents):

Hummus always comes with condiments and fresh pita:

I had hummus tahini and oy, was it good! It rivaled Jersalem’s Arafat’s hummus for sure. Isn’t it lovely?

Annd and Jay had hummus with chickpeas, and also pronounced it good. So much hummus, and so little time!

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s almost happy hour.  Here’s a photo of the reflections from the outside on the silver elevator door:

20 thoughts on “Israel: Days 6 and 7

  1. Great pictures and explanations. I’ve always had trouble visualizing the Old City and the locations of the various sites.

    And, of course, the food! Awesome.

    Related to the first part of your post, I just completed reading Bibi Netanyahu’s recently published “My Story” ( It’s super interesting. Very personal but, more importantly, it lays out the logic of his positions very clearly and why Netanyahu parts company with most on the left. It’s long, but incredibly well-written. I couldn’t put it down and was sorry that it ended. An important book IMHO, and appropriate given your sojourn in Israel.

  2. I, also, really appreciate the maps and pictures that explain both the physical and complex historical geography of this ancient area. With artifacts covering nearly 3000 years human occupation, stories are bound to be as complicated as the rooting of the archaea and eubacteria diagrams in Dawkins’ “Ancestor’s Tale”. That said, the tour so far has been exquisite, just the type of view I had hoped to get. I really appreciate Jerry’s ( and his local subject matter experts) time and efforts to convey what he is learning himself on this first visit to Israel.

  3. I recommend that readers click on the “it’s all very complicated” link above which brings up an informative chronology and commentary on the Gaza Strip and West Bank areas. Though I have absolutely no background that allows me to vouch for its veracity (maybea more knowledgeable reader/commenter can) I still found some sense of plausibility in explaining much ofwhat we see happening in this region.

  4. Fascinating – and I never realized the Dome of the Rock supposedly holds the Ark of the Covenant … I wonder how accurate the story in Raiders of the Lost Ark is … I know it by heart…

    1. Think you misread – the temple held it “atop the ruins of the First and Second Temple and the reputed Holy of Holies: the room said to contain the Ark of the Covenant “

  5. You don’t mention that the camel has two humps so not a dromedary, that one might have expected in the near east. There are three camel species, Dromedary Camelus dromedarius, Bactrian Camelus bactrianus is the second, but true wild camels Camelus ferus, are very rare & found only in Mongolia/China, but this is sure one of the hybrids that were first bred I think by central Asian Turks in the mediaeval period. I think foetal dromedaries gave two humps. Camel biology is pretty interesting if you want to look it up…!

  6. So apparently baba ganooj is only sometimes to be found at hummus places. Is sometimes more on the usual side or rare?

  7. Way off topic but apparently a fat bear camera saved a hiker.
    Check out BBC for details if interested (my post with a link did not work).

Leave a Reply