In late May and early June my dear friend Kimberly came to Palestine to visit us.
Kimberly is a friend I've known for a long time - since before our first year of college when I called her in the summer of 2003 to find out what kind of person my future roommate was. I knew we'd be friends when I found out she drove a car that she'd painted the exterior of, covering it completely in brightly colored flowers. She still an artist; now she's a professional painter and muralist. And one of my favorite people in the whole world.
Of course, since this is her first time to the Middle East, we made sure she got to experience plenty of Holy Land sites around Israel and Palestine during her two-week trip. Many of the places we went have been covered previously on this blog, but we did take her to two places that were new to me: the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Palestinian city of Nazareth in Israel.
Photo credit goes to Kimberly for almost all the pictures in this post.
The Dome of the Rock
Commonly confused with Al-Aqsa Mosque (which has a silver dome) the Dome of the Rock is the famous gold-domed shrine on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. You can see the dome behind Kimberly in this photo.
Only Muslims are allowed on the Temple Mount and in the Dome of the Rock, except for during limited visiting hours. Getting to the Old City of Jerusalem is difficult enough that planning to be there during certain hours simply hadn't happened for me previously. However, during Kimberly's visit, we made it happen. The guards told us the visiting hours on our first trip to the old city, and on the second, we experienced the Temple Mount.
First we walked up the wooden footbridge over the Western Wall.
We encountered a stack of riot gear on the way.
At this point we were in the center of the center of one of the most religiously turbulent places in the world. Through the wooden slats, we peered down upon the holiest place in Judaism, the Western Wall, the only remaining piece of the Temple. Ahead of us lay the Dome of the Rock.
The Dome of the Rock is a sacred site in Islam because tradition says that miracles occurred there, including the Prophet Muhammad's ascension into heaven. Additionally the Foundation Stone around which the Dome of the Rock is built is sacred to Jews as it's considered to be the foundation of the Temple and was the location of the Holy of Holies.
All this results in a strange simmering stew of resentment for members of both religions. On the day we were there, tourists wandered curiously around circles of robed Muslim women who sternly yelled religious chants from texts they held their hands. Some of the tourists appeared to be Jewish, and some were pretending to be Muslim so they could enter the shrine.
One Muslim friend told me he was praying at the Dome of the Rock and a bunch of female Jewish Israeli tourist soldiers entered the male prayer area without appropriate clothing. Apparently the Israeli army uses its military power over the region even to the point of openly disrespecting one of the holiest places in Islam.
Kimberly and I were both labeled as non-Muslims by the guard in front of the shrine, presumably because our heads weren't covered. We weren't allowed to enter, but it wasn't clear whether that was because we weren't Muslim or because we weren't dressed properly. To the guard, it seemed to be the same thing. We circled the shrine and consulted with some tourists who had seen another group of tourists who were allowed to enter. They told us you had to "pass" as Muslim to enter. We were unwilling to lie about our religion, but very willing to dress differently, and that seemed to be all that mattered to the guard. We donned scarves and tried again, only to be turned back because we were wearing t-shirts that showed our elbows.
I'm 80% sure we would've been allowed to enter if we'd covered everything but our face, hands, and feet, so if you are a female non-Muslim who'd like to visit, make sure you dress accordingly.
Kimberly and I had to settle for walking around the grounds of the magnificent shrine.
It was truly spectacular.
Nazareth is famous for being the birthplace of Jesus. We toured the Church of the Annunciation, where tradition says Mary received a message from the Angel Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus.
I loved the courtyard of the church, where portraits of Madonna with child hung, each from a different country, and reflecting a different idea of Mary's appearance. My favorites were Thai Mary and Chinese Mary.
The church is new, so very different in appearance from traditional churches I'm used to visiting. I was happily surprised to discover that the modern interior was warm and soaring. The multiple levels and open central area allowed the chanting from the ongoing Greek Orthodox service to waft up to tourists on the floor above.
None of the photos captured the beauty of the interior, so you'll just have to go visit the church yourself to see it. Here's a sneak peak of the ceiling.
Here are a few more photos taken around Israel and Palestine that I can't resist adding.
Kimberly got to see a herd of camels,
enjoy the Dead Sea and mud,
and see the Church of the Sepulchre.
I also took Kimberly to Juthour Arboretum, our neighbor's project to preserve the natural heritage of Palestine.
They've made incredible progress on the Arboretum over the past year, and now are running an Indie Go Go campaign to raise funds to forge a sustainable, green Palestine. Please support it below. It's a great cause, and a politically neutral one.
That's Just Wrong
I'll end on a funny note, which is a hilarious onesie we saw when we were shopping for a mutual friend who is having a baby. When clothing with English on it is produced and sold in countries where English isn't widely spoken, this plane-wreck of a fashion situation is what can happen.
Yes, that's for real.
Thanks for a wonderful visit, Kimberly.