Adventures in Israel, the Epic Saga, Chaper III - Religion and Politics

That evening a slew of us headed to a bohemian soup restaurant: populated by younger people, mismatching bowls, and everything kosher neutral. Our dining area was a whole bunch of old couches and chairs out back in a covered alley.

Understandably, Jamie felt a desire to talk about religion and its impacts. It happens when you travel in such territory. Ronni shut him down, eventually, for various reasons. But he still had those urges when we returned to Ronni's place, so we stayed up super late, talkin' religion. The conversation, at least for me, was tied closely with a question sometime in high school: Does religion do more good or bad for the world? I've never been able to come to a satisfying answer.

My discussion with Jamie that night was much like a human trying to fly with only the use of a trampoline. One would find a probing question or thought and use it to project the conversation, but the force of gravity, or the weight of the uncertainty would bring up back to the question: religion, good or bad?

Jamie's stance was adamantly against religion. He reveres science as a god, though, which I pointed out as comical, though he didn't think so. Being a religious person myself, I found the hatred and unwillingness to understand religion and religious people a little upsetting, but also moderately understandable. I think that we all find our own gods, whether they be in traditional religion, in science, in relationships with other people, or in the small things of life. Feeling dislike of religion as a scientist is not so different from disliking Catholicism as a Lutheran or vice versa. It's when dislike swells to hatred and misunderstanding results in deeming other schools of thought to be rawly stupider than their own that I draw my objections.

The next morning, Jamie and I walked to the old city of Jerusalem, which was quite the hike: the route was something like this. Have I mentioned that Jamie doesn't like to take buses? He abhors them. Thus, we walked, and at a decent clip.

In the old city, there were a few helpful merchants who weren't shoving merchandise in our face. The informed us that the Dome of the Rock was closed until a certain hour of the day for tourists, and since Jamie was headed off to Jordan that day before it opened, we parted ways. I headed off the the Lion's gate, in a hope to see Gethsemane. Once I arrived at the gate, I decide to go back into the city because I wouldn't have as much time as I wanted to see the garden.

So I walked back to the street corner with the same friendly merchants. They asked me to sit down if I like, so I did. The first one I spoke with was so friendly that I wasn't sure how he made money or if he even had a store. Eventually I asked him if he had a show, and he took me inside it, with my chair, and gave me a bottle of water, no charge, and kept handing me seeds and nuts to try. I didn't quite master the watermelon seed eating technique, but they were tasty and a bought a small bag. He knew I was waiting to see the Dome of the Rock, so he kept encouraging me to stay, since it was so close. Eventually, he and a few of his male relatives who also worked in the shop went off to pray, leaving me with the shop owner, who also encouraged me to sit and relax with him outside.

The shop owner identified himself as Palestinian. He talked for a while about all sorts of interesting things: his people, his perspective on the conflicts, his wife's modesty choices, Islam, and religion in general.

An interesting discussion point came when he asked me, "Do you know the biggest difference between Christian and Muslim beliefs?" "The divinity of Christ?" was my tentative answer. "No!" he responded, "It's that we believe in your prophet, Jesus Christ, and you do not believe in ours, Muhammad." Taking away the fact that I belong to a sect of Christianity that believes in a modern-day prophet, he is still missing the point that most Christians believe that Christ was more than a mere prophet. But, the perspective is understandable. For Muslims, that is the biggest difference. And for Christians, the biggest difference is something else. Any pairing of religions in contrast would likely have a similar problem.

We talked about Islam for a while, including that the Qur'an is only the Qur'an in Arabic, and that Christians have hundreds of versions of the bible in all sorts of languages. I expressed interest in learning more, and by then, his relatives had returned, and he ran off to search for a pamphlet for me.

He couldn't find it easily, and it was time for me to go see the Dome of the Rock, so I promised to return, since one of the exit gates was right by their shop. The Dome was certainly beautiful. In a city where everything is build or covered by a pale pink/yellow stone, this stood above it all in brilliant blue and gold.

Soon after entering and wandering, I met an Arab man who offered to give me a tour. In stark contrast to the Palestinians whom I had just been with who make a point not to touch me, this man asked me to hold his hand as he showed me around. Completely naive and not wanting to insult the man, I allowed two fingers to touch his palm. He showed me around and told me all sorts of interesting things and took my picture for me. He was uncomfortably close and kept telling me not to be afraid and come closer, speaking in whispers, which I attributed to it being a hold place.

But then he told me about a German girl who he had basically taken on as a girlfriend for two weeks when she was a tourist, explaining that for hugs and kisses he took care of her and took her to dinner, etc.. Umb, I thought, not happening with me. Also, telling me that you're a player won't help, just FYI. We left the dome and he took me to a museum, very close by. He paid my way into this museum, which had really cool underground structures (old old Jerusalem) and a lot of interesting artifacts. He told me to hold his hand again (I had stopped a while ago). At this point I flatly told him that I was warm and didn't want to. He told me to go meet him to walk the ramparts and left. Thank heavens. I took my time in the museum, then rushed back to the Palestinian shop, where I felt safe and respected.

When I got there, they were preparing lunch, and invited me to join. There was a danish girl there in addition to the five men and all of us talked extensively over a delicious meal. The son of the shop owner, who had previously (and jokingly) asked the Danish girl to be his second wife, asked me as well over dinner, to the amusement of all. He had just been recently married.

The shop owner and I chatted again (he had found the pamphlet for me), this time with him expressing more anti-Jew opinions. I originally used the term anti-semitic when talking about this to Ronni, but she pointed out that since he was technically a Semite too, it was a funny usage. Anyway, it was a sad conversation, because he said a lot of things that in the states would be shot down as not politically correct, but at the same time, he had a right to his opinions. He felt that since Jews controlled most of the world financially, and were in all sorts of positions of power in cooperations, banks, etc. that they shouldn't take Palestinian land. Though the reasoning was flawed, and the language a little hostile to Jewish people, he did speak some legitimate points.

I believe in an Israeli state, but I think the Palestinian territories should be returned. How is unclear, since it would require uprooting families. It's a tricky business, and I just don't know enough to be able to express an articulate and detailed opinion.

One of the Palestinians was dressed in brand-new religious garb and showing it off. He was the most visually religious,m but also the most jocular and fun. High-energy, almost. After lunch, he meandered around the shop and showed me everything. He had one bad hand, which is why he worked in his uncle's shop, he said, but so much enthusiasm that it made up for it. He showed me spices, the nuts and seeds again, and scarves of all sorts. He put the traditional Palestinian white-and-black scarf on my head and called me something, leaving the shop owner a little disgruntled. He and I were grinning like thieves, though. From him I bought spices, a scarf, and one of the traditionally touristy mother-of-pearl inlay boxes.

Finally, I knew I needed to leave, so I left the sanctuary of the Palestinian shop and wound my way back through the city. I took pictures of some children on one street and was harassed by a little girl crying "No! No!" to me and my camera, which I thought was odd since I wasn't taking pictures of her. Having a hard time finding my way, I took out a map and was approached by a little boy whose glasses gave him giant eyes. I asked him for directions and another little boy came up and started leading me. When I got to a place I knew, the boy demanded for money, which I gave him. And then he demanded more, which I grudgingly gave him. I wish I had let the big-eyed boy lead me, for I don't believe he would have been as impertinent.

And at last, I caught a bus on (J|Y)af+a street, which took me all the way back to Ronni's place. Regular expressions are the only way to deal with the transliteration of Hebrew into English. Tangentially, I like the word hebraization.

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