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The Holy Land

Friday, 12 September 2008 Due to busy work schedule, it appears that I am already losing the habits I have been trying to acquire. During all this time, I've been to Salonika and Halkidiki and even though I have seen very beautiful and interesting things, I have forgotten to note them. I at least hope that I will remember them all my life. Now I am sitting in the balcony of room 544 in Hilton Tel Aviv across the sea. Behind me, there are old and small buildings, which are squeezed between the tall buildings of Tel Aviv, traffic noise, UK Embassy and Turkish Embassy. What a coincidence! Between these two embassies, there is a 3-storey building and one of F's colleagues B.K. with whom we came here has a summer flat there (the orange one). B. is there right now.

Yesterday, when we got on the plane after work, F. and B. travelled in Business Class and I in Economy. After all, I paid for my own ticket. Unluckily, I had an uncomfortable journey. I took this Friday off as annual leave and of course, besides being able to travel, I would also love to be able to get the sleep I so need. But during the four and half hours in the cabin, I could not sleep because of a screaming kid like a mad man whose father did not bother to do something about it and the man sitting next to me who was constantly coughing, listening to loud music and spreading his arms and legs to my side. The architecture of the Ben Gurion Airport is really nice. It reminds me of the style of big museums. It took F. and I one hour to pass through the control. In a way, we were questioned in a private room. The policeman who was questioning me and F. separately wasn't that bad actually. He was making jokes. I guess he was checking how quickly and confidently we are answering his questions. Father's name, grandfather's name, my phone numbers in England and Turkey (now I will be listened to all the time), how many years I have lived in the U.S., for how long I have been living in London, what I do, my "name doesn't sound like a Turkish name at all" etc. The policeman mentioned to me that he goes to Istanbul three times a year for cloths shopping. We arrived at the hotel with the taxi that F. arranged from his office. The taxi driver seems to be a very friendly man. So far, people are not as rude as I thought they would be (before during some phone calls I made for work, they were quite rude). Tel Aviv is full of skyscrapers and office buildings. Roads, the streets, the plants etc reminded F. and me of Turkey. After all, we are in the Mediterranean and not too far from Turkey. Cyprus is only 50 km. away.

We slept at the hotel for about 2 hours. Now F. has a conference call with Frankfurt and England for 2 hours. So I now take the opportunity of the 33 degree weather (now London is cloudy, grey, cold, 14-15 degrees, rainy), the sun in the balcony of our hotel room, almost melting. Of course, it is quite difficult to fast in this heat. I feel very thirsty since we got out of the plane. After F.'s conference call is over, we plan to bath in the sea, walk by the seaside and then go to Jaffa in the evening. And tomorrow Jerusalem! If we have any time left, even the Dead Sea! Sunday, 14 September 2008 F.'s conference call last Friday lasted exactly 3 hours. It finished at 3.30pm. Its bill was $1000. In the meantime, I took a nap and finally we could go to the beach in front of our hotel around 4 pm. It was very crowded. It was full of young people playing racket. Everyone is very tanned, very fit and sporty. Even though F. and I are just back from our summer holidays, we look very fair next to them.

The Tel Aviv girls disappointed me. I haven't come across a beautiful one like everyone says. The beach and the streets are full of gays. The water is very hot. Even though the weather is 33 degrees, when you come out of the water, you feel cold.

Later, we went to places that were recommended to us by F.'s colleagues and the hotel reception. We were very disappointed. Tel Aviv is nothing but high-rise buildings, new concrete piles and dirty streets. It is not nice at all and it is even a city without a character and charm.

In the evening, as it was recommended to us, we went to a restaurant called Dalal. The food was really very good. They sell kunefe by renaming it as an Israeli desert "knafe". Next to it, cheese ice cream. From Friday sunset until Saturday sunset, it is Shabbat. Streets are deserted. It is almost impossible to see a car. Even at the hotel, there is a special lift for Shabbat. There is no need for religious people to press the button of the lift. It stops at every level automatically. After dinner, we went to Jaffa by taxi. It is very close to Tel Aviv, in fact right next to it. Before Tel Aviv ends, Jaffa starts and you suddenly find yourself in a completely different world with, even during Shabbat, a buzzing life, lights, sounds and people.

Even the new buildings in Jaffa are much nicer than the ones in Tel Aviv. Whilst it is impossible to see a single Arab in Tel Aviv, in Jaffa you see Jewish women walking next to Arab women with headscarves.

Old Jaffa has been renovated; it is an incredibly beautiful town. Narrow streets are like mazes; synagogues and mosques are next to each other. Architecture is beautiful, mysterious, rich. We wish we came to Jaffa during the day and had our dinner here. But no one had told us about Jaffa. We think that maybe because [...] praise.

The morning of Saturday, September 13th, Gavri who had picked us up from the airport, takes us to Jerusalem. Gavri is a Yemeni Jew. His wife is of Turkish decent. He says his daughter is beautiful like a model because she has Turkish heritage. He shows us her picture. On the road, he tells us about Israel, his background and the history of this land. [...] We stop by the Judea Desert. We are told that Jesus Christ has walked here for 40 days after being baptised in the Jordan River. We see an Arab village on the hills and Jewish settlements and villages, which surround this village and cutting all its connections to life facilities. We even see the "Chinese Walls", which have been constructed to restrict Arabs from roaming.

The road to Jerusalem is similar to the Turkish Mediterranean climate and fauna. As we arrive in Jerusalem, we pass through Arab villages. The poverty and disorder are clear. Gavri insists that Arabs like to live dirty like this. Even though the Governor of Jerusalem wants to "help" them!

We stop by the Mount of Olive to see the best scenery of Jerusalem. We see the haham tombs, the hill where Jesus lamented, place where he was betrayed by Judas, the starting point of Via Dolorosa, tomb of Mary, the walls that were constructed by Suleiman the Magnificent, the gold gate constructed to prevent the Messiah from coming in, and the Muslim cemetery he put in front of the gate and, in the distance, the hill where the Last Supper was eaten, which now hosts a church.

Later on, we settle in our hotel. American Colony, room number 5. It is an old Ottoman Palace (by the way, the Ottoman remnants are also visibly clear in Jaffa). This hotel is one of the most beautiful hotels I have stayed in my life. It is incredibly charming. Its internal court is like a garden from Eden, its architecture is cute, warm and gracefully noble at the same time. Even though the current owners are Americans, most of the employees are Arab. Our room is Pasha Deluxe. I feel like a princess. Even in Beylerbeyi Palace...The room is incredibly nice. The decoration reminds me of Turkey. I feel very very comfortable. And happy.

After a 10 minute walk from the hotel, we enter Old Jerusalem from the Damascus Gate and find ourselves in the Muslim quarter. It is very narrow, streets are full with the Ramadan crowds and excitement. Of course we get lost. Our entry to Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of Rock is being refused because the gate keepers do not believe that we are Muslim and because it is Ramadan. We show our IDs. I promise I will cover up. We are asked whether or not we read the Quran. With some anxiety, we recite the Fatiha. We are allowed to pass. I quickly try to cover up. I cover my hair with the silk scarf that F.'s mother has given me. The silk keeps sliding through my hair. I am in an uncomfortable situation.

During the mid-day prayers, men pray in front at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and women in the back by the Dome of Rock. F. prays in the front. I try to imitate the women from the back without reciting the suras. But a woman sitting across me who is not praying is watching me. I get embarrassed, panic, quit what I was doing and just sit down. I try to speak to God and pray my own way. Other things grab my attention and I cannot concentrate. I get angry with myself. I can't even manage to speak to God and pray in the 3rd holiest place. An Arab starts following us wanting to give us a tour. F. agrees. The man stinks. I cannot get close to him. He takes us to the first mosque built by Prophet Muhammed, the colons which remain from Prophet Solomon's time, the rock where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac. Especially the mosque built over the rock, its tiles and golden ornaments are real masterpieces. They almost look modest but they have a rich beauty. I feel sick in the mosque underground and other prayer areas. The heat and fasting are making me nauseous. On top of it all, the damp, stuffiness, the smell of disgusting human sweat and feet are unbearable. I don't understand how some people can sleep here.

My silk scarf falls off without me noticing. The men at the mosque suddenly start yelling at me "Ayup! Ayub!" "Mahrem!" Even though everything is very beautiful, I want to get out of there as soon as possible because I do not feel comfortable. The man who took us around do not leave us alone until he gets 100 Schakel from F. As soon as we get out of the court, I open up. I wish mosques were places for women to feel comfortable as well (even though they don't dress like Arab women but at least modestly). God forgive me!

We quickly find ourselves at the Wailing Wall and the garden where Adam and Eve were created. I have to say that the Jewish architecture is very weak and not very impressive. The Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem is significantly smaller than the Muslim and Christian Quarters. [...]

We walk to the church where Jesus Christ is buried through Via Dolorosa. Here I cover my shoulders. In the Christian Quarters, Ethiopian Church, mosque, Greek Orthodox, Catholic etc are all next to each other.

We also go to the City of David, which is outside the Old City walls. For thousands of years, the city's water needs are quenched from here. We are exhausted due to fasting, the heat, and walking non-stop. We decide not to go to the Dead Sea. We go to the pool and sauna of our gorgeous hotel.

We have our dinner in the Arab neighbourhood, in a restaurant called Pasha (walking in these streets makes one really feel like one is in Palestine). Food here is very salty. We drink lots of lemonade. F.'s other colleague M. joins us. After dinner, B. joins us in the hotel's garden. We drink and our long day comes to an end.

Early this morning, F. left for his meetings. In the bed where 4 people can fit, I read Jerusalem Post, slept a bit more, from our Juliet balcony looked at the blue sky, the sun, Jerusalem, I felt the heat, I smelled and listened to Jerusalem. Now, sitting at the hotel lobby on the oriental furniture, I am writing this whilst waiting for the car, which will take me to the airport. Many tourists started to arrive to have their lunch at the heaven-like courtyard of the hotel.

At least one week is needed to see Jerusalem and its surroundings. But thank God even for this! I am grateful for being a one third pilgrim and staying in this beautiful hotel and its beautiful room. Now let's see how my exit from the country will be like...

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