Jerusalem must be the the most highly politicized place on the planet. Sacred to three major religions, set aside secular claims, every inch seems to be contested. On any given spot there are competing views of what has been, what is, and what should be. There is no space in this brief overview to discuss all that we learned during our trip. I have attempted to find more-or-less unbiased sources (a vain hope!) for links for those interested in more information. Be aware that for each of these sources there are likely to be contradictory ones.

Likewise there isn't enough space for all the pictures that I'd like to include. These are just some of my favorites. We spent an entire week in Jerusalem and it wasn't nearly enough time. Needless to say, another week for the rest of Israel didn't give us enough time there either. My advice to travelers who are considering a visit: forget the Dead Sea and spend your precious time elsewhere.

Our tour, which was organized by Elderhostel, wasn't a typical "holy land" trip. The in-country travel leaders were from an orthodox Jewish outfit named Keshet, the Hebrew for "rainbow." The primary focus was on history and archaeology with a liberal helping of politics.



Jerusalem Overview

We were picked up at Ben Gurion airport to be taken to Jerusalem, where we spent our first week. The first stop was at this overlook where we had this overview of the city in the dusk.

The Temple Mount is in the center of the picture. The city walls surround it. To the right is the Kidron Valley and farther to the right is the Mount of Olives.

Mt Zion Our hotel in Jerusalem was the Mt. Zion. It was on a rocky eminence overlooking the Hinnom valley, once a place of sacrifice, but now a lovely park.

The building, a former eye hospital, had been one terminus of a cable car that supplied Jewish forces during the early partition battles of 1947.

And... the food and wine were outstanding!

Mt. Zion Cable Car

The cable for the cable car can be seen to the right of the image. When it was in operation, the cable would be lowered at night to prevent its detection.

Gaby Barkay Within a couple of blocks of the hotel, the "Ketef Hinnom" was the location where the oldest extant Biblical text was found by Dr. Gabriel Barkay, who is shown here explaining how it all happened..

The discovery, which was largely a result of serendipity, was in this cemetery from the first temple period. He also described the recent destruction of archeologically significant areas of the temple mount and the project underway to salvage artifacts even though they had lost their context by the removal and dumping.

The City of David

Our next stop was the City of David, which is perhaps the oldest part of the city

Temple Mount The site of Solomon's temple and the later Herod's temple is now occupied by the Dome of the Rock.

Highlights of this picture include the western wall of Herod's temple compound (lower area obscured by the covered walkway), the golden dome, the temporary covered walkway that provides access to the temple plaza, and the dark tent-like covers of a "rescue dig" initiated after the failure of the earlier access ramp.

Mount of Olives This is the view of the Mount of Olives from the Temple Mount.

The highest point is the traditional location of the ascension of Jesus.

Just to the right of the picture is the beginning of a huge field of cemeteries in the Kidron valley. This is a favored place to be buried because it is believed to be ground zero for the coming "Day of the Lord."

Gethsemane We visited the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mount of Olives.

Some of the olive trees are said to have been living when Jesus went there to pray. Maybe. This specimen certainly looks ancient. Apparently olive trees regenerate from their roots, so perhaps there is some part of the genetics that has survived through the millennia.

Most of the trees in this orchard were much younger looking.

The domes in the background are part of the Church of All Nations.

Jerusalem cardo Although we did not walk the Via Dolorosa as such, we did travel partway to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher along what would have been the Roman Cardo Maximus, which is part of (one of) the traditional route(s). As you can see it is now a bustling market. Another section of this street has been excavated back to the Byzantine level, but we did not see that part..

Most of the vendors in this section are Palestinian and I heard more than one cry of "Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state."

Our approach to the church was roundabout. We traveled over the roof and through an Ethiopian chapel before arriving at the plaza. Which sect has jurisdiction over which location is very strictly defined and sometimes contentious.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher We had entered the courtyard through the building on the right.

This is pretty typical of the crowds. According to tradition both the place of crucifixion and the place of burial, and resurrection, are within this church.

Lest we think that inter-religion squabbles are only between, say, Muslim and Jew, there is on-going controversy over who has authority over what. This even extends to the ownership of the ladder seen under the right-most upper window.

Church Interior This picture is inside the church. The golden archway on the higher floor is the traditional location of the crucifixion.

Not far behind where I am standing as I took this picture is the chapel said to be over the location of the tomb.

The Garden Tomb This being Jerusalem, however, there are those who do not accept the traditional location of the crucifixion and burial.

We visited the primary contender, The Garden Tomb, which first began to be seriously considered as the location in the mid-19th century.

It was just as crowded, but had the advantage of being in the open air. By the time we got here we were frankly getting a bit jaded about competing claims of this and that.

Security Wall Our tour of the modern city stopped at a point that overlooked Bethlehem, which is in Palestinian-controlled territory. The security wall shown here guards the access to Bethlehem. The concrete portion of the wall in the center of the picture continues with a chain-link fence.

We were told that the wall has been effective in controlling suicide bombers, but it has caused great hardship for the Palestinian people who have been cut off from their jobs or farms.

It took some searching, but I eventually found a relatively even-handed discussion of the barrier.

Market On a happier note we then traveled to a huge open-air market. This was Friday morning so business was brisk as folks did their pre-Sabbath shopping.

Everything was spotless and there were numerous stalls where we could buy lunch. Yum!

Shrine of the Book We visited the Israel Museum, but much of it was closed for renovations. We were able to visit the Shrine of the Book, which is where the Dead Sea scrolls are stored and are being analyzed. Everything is controversial in this troubled land, and the status of these scrolls is no exception.

There was also a fabulous scale model of Jerusalem just prior to the Roman destruction.

Western Wall On Friday afternoon we welcomed the Jewish Sabbath at the western wall. This picture was taken earlier in the week (cameras were not allowed for the Sabbath celebration) and doesn't give even a hint of the Sabbath crowds.

This is a picture of the men's section. The separate women's area is to the right out of the picture. There is also a "unisex" plaza to the left out of the picture.

If you ever visit Jerusalem DO NOT MISS this time of celebration and worship. It is unique. One of the high points was the arrival of the local yeshiva students ... dancing in a conga line.

Memorial The next day we visited Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Holocaust. It was a sobering and moving experience throughout, but the part that touched me the most was the section dedicated to children.

The Children's Memorial interior was breathtaking. Candles were reflected infinitely with changing images of the faces of the children who had been lost in the death camps.

This sculpture honors Janusz Korczak, who gave his life to stay with his students in Warsaw. The small stones are placed as tributes to him by visitors.

St. Andrews
Picture from
On Sunday several of us decided to attend services at St. Andrew's Scottish Church, which was very close to our hotel. (In this picture the church with its tower is shown on top of the ridge and our hotel is the long building to its left.)

The following day we bid goodbye to Jerusalem and headed to the Dead Sea.