Robert Fisk: Jerusalem can do strange things to your sanity

 

Share
Related Topics

So there was this chap, a bearded guy, spectacles, a settler, asking for a lift from Hebron to Kiryat Arba.

And Kiryat Arba is quite a settlement, home to Baruch Goldstein who killed about 50 Palestinians before he himself was killed by the survivors, and Don, our man in Jerusalem – who was driving – said "Are you sure?" and my companion and I, anxious to hear "another point of view", said "Why not?" and this chap climbed in to the back seat next to me. And as we left Hebron, he pointed to us and said: "Jew? Jew? Jew?"

And I was a bit taken aback and let Don do the talking, and he said: "No." That kept our mate quiet for a bit. He had a gun in his belt, which I didn't really like. But armed Palestinians had killed Jewish settlers, so I kept my mouth shut. Then we reached Kiryat Arba and an enormous chap – with an even bigger beard – came to the car window with an equally enormous gun and said we could enter. And this settler beside me said: "The Land of Israel – for Israelis. Arabs. In London." Well, I see, we murmured. A bit like the Balfour Declaration in reverse, I suppose. "His Majesty's Government views with favour the establishment in Britain of a national home for the Arab people ..." Well there you have it, I suppose.

So then I called up from the King David Hotel – the best hotel in Jerusalem, I may add, whose Jewish and Arab staff are the best advertisement for a one-state solution, albeit that they may not agree with me! – and asked if the Waqf would permit me and my companion to visit the Haram al-Sharif, the Dome of the Rock, the Esplanade. And they called back and said yes, 9am sharp, Monday morning, and I could touch the footprint of the Prophet. I did – if indeed, it is his footprint, but this I cannot, alas, vouchsafe – and sure enough, I entered the great mosque which looks so like the Omayad mosque in Damascus and wondered at its beauty.

Gold and green are the colours of paradise, so I was told – I can believe it – and then, across the Esplanade, I was shown the Carrara marble aisles which that old trickster, Mussolini, gave to the holiest mosque in Palestine, and I remembered, of course, the Grand Mufti and his trip to Nazi Germany, and his visit to Hitler, and I recalled my student days, researching his speeches and his appeals to send the Jews of Europe to the East... Did he know?

And then I walked across the carpets and there was a plastic casket in which the Palestinians had boxed the cartridge cases of the Israelis who had fired tear gas at them in the 1990 killings here. "Saltsburg, Pennsylvania," it said. "For outdoor use only." Well, I can imagine. Saltsburg? Nice little town?

But then another question. What on earth, in this holy of holies, are these cartridge cases doing? Is this really their place? Should they be here, so close to Mohamed's footprint? Well, yes, I suppose they should, in one way. But I wonder. And then to a brunch at the Hamam el-Ein – the Bathhouse of the Well – which is being carefully restored close to the Esplanade and I talked to a fine Palestinian woman who described Israeli occupation in the language of Conrad. "Israeli occupation," she said to me. "They search everything on you; they go into your soul." That really is an "ouch".

And then we left Israel and the West Bank. "Please don't stamp our passports. Please don't stamp our passports," we pleaded. And the Israelis did not stamp our passports. And then, on the Jordanian side of the river, "Please don't stamp our passports. Please don't stamp our passports," we pleaded, and the Jordanians did not, although the Jordanian emigration officer at Amman airport did stamp our passports, thus allowing the Lebanese to see we had left Jordan but never entered it – but the Lebanese ignored the Jordanian stamp.

All of which makes me think that the Holy Land, Jerusalem, "Al-Quds", "Yerushalayim" – the Israelis print the Hebrew name of the city in Arabic script on Arabic road signs, I notice – is all a bit mad. I don't think I've ever been to a city where people go insane the nearer they get to it.

I once entered the Seven Arches Hotel above the Mount of Olives (and above the grave of one R Maxwell) – and do not ever, ever stay there, O reader – to find a group of Christians linking hands and praying and not prepared to let me through the lobby until they had finished praying. When I told them I was in a hurry one of the Christian men threatened to punch me in the face.

Funny place, Jerusalem. Funny place, Hebron. What on earth did God do to them?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HSE Manger - Solar

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: HSE Mana...

Data Governance Manager (Solvency II) – Contract – Up to £450 daily rate, 6 month (may go Permanent)

£350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently looking...

Powertrain Design Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I hope you are well. My client based in ...

Java Developer - Banking - London - Up to £560/day

£500 - £560 per day: Orgtel: Java Developer FX - Banking - London - Up to £560...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tulisa Contostavlos arrives to face drug charges at Southwark Crown Court on July 14, 2014  

Tulisa might have been attacked for being working class, but she still has to take some responsibility

Chloe Hamilton
Is Ed Miliband a natural born leader? Or could he become one?  

Wanted: a leader with the strength to withstand criticism from the media

Steve Richards
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried