You can find true happiness, wrote Mujir al-Din, the 15th-century historian buried on the Mount of Olives, “eating a banana in the shade of the Dome of the Rock”by Sameer Rahim / January 25, 2018 / Leave a comment
The bus driver taking us from Amman towards Jerusalem was playing Fairuz’s lament for the Holy Land’s “city of prayers.” I must have heard the Lebanese diva’s song a dozen times while in Jordan. It was a week since US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, and tensions were simmering in the country that lost the eastern half of the city in 1967. Approaching the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge, the current border between Jordan and Israel/Palestinian Territories, our driver turned up the volume.
The bridge has a chequered history. It was constructed by the British in 1918, a year after General Allenby entered Jaffa Gate and claimed Jerusalem. A Jewish militant group blew it up in 1946, and it again fell victim to war in 1967. After King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin made peace in 1994, it was rebuilt with Japanese help. Now it’s a busy entry and exit point for Palestinians, as well for a motley group of foreigners seduced by the city’s mystique. Jerusalem, despite what Trump says, doesn’t belong to one people—or one state.
The Israeli border official told me I’d been selected for a security interview. A British passport bearing my name raises eyebrows in the Middle East. For some reason, Arab officials think I’m from Afghanistan. Israeli questioning is more sophisticated. The last time I crossed this border, I had 45 minutes with a friendly woman keen to study my background. “That’s a Shia name, isn’t it?” was her opening question. Later she asked whether I’d ever visited southern Iraq, or Lebanon perhaps? My wife, meanwhile, was mildly offended that she wasn’t deemed important enough to be interviewed.
As we waited, we got chatting to our neighbours. A group of Sri Lankan Christians in purple t-shirts were looking forward to walking the Via Dolorosa. A frail Pakistani-American travelling alone said he was making the trip in honour of his recently deceased wife. She was descended from Bukharan Jews and had always wanted to see Jerusalem.
Mostly we saw Palestinians arguing with Israeli officials. “Only seven days!” complained one woman about the short time she was allowed to visit her family. “Take it up with the Palestinian Authority,” he replied, standing under a picture of King Hussein lighting the cigarette of Rabin—one of…