Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cool Pictures Of The Muslim Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem (Part 5/5)

This is the final portion of the pictures I took last week from a little trip around the Arab areas of the Old City of Jerusalem.  Specifically, I was in the Muslim and Arab Quarters.  These final two pictures were, in my opinion, the coolest things I saw.  I hope you enjoyed the posts, and if you didn't happen to catch them all they're still on this very same page.  Just scroll down!  

Enjoy part 5, the final bit:

Click on the picture for larger view!

There are actually two women here.  As you can see, they're selling amazing
looking grapes.

Arab men, including one dressed in a jalabiya (or a thobe, I guess),
playing a friendly round of backgammon, otherwise known as sheshbesh.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cool Pictures Of The Muslim Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem (Part 4/5)

I've been thinking about this portion of the multi-part post all week. I'm concerned that I won't be able to accurately and effectively convey to those of you who don't really have experience in Israel, even as a tourist around soldiers, with the disposition of Israeli soldiers while on tour around the country. You see, Israel has a mandatory army, so all but the highly religious are drafted for two to three year services at the ripe old age of 18. Consequently, the army does nice little things once in a while, like taking the soldiers on educational trips to important sites.

These soldiers are in uniform during the trips, as well. I have observed that more often than not the soldiers aren't really so excited about being the object of foreigners' curiosity. Yes, many will take a picture with someone that asks nicely, but rarely have I seen them get really animated. They tend to just stand there and look like they'd rather be anywhere else. So, when I saw this I was a little blown away.

At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site of Jesus' supposed crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, a large crowd of tourists had their attention fully on the soldiers instead of on the church. These visitors were mainly Southeast Asian, as far as I could tell. Now, as far as stereotypes go, I know that Koreans are branded as being very religious Christians. So, it really amazed me to see that the focus was not on Jesus and Christianity, but rather on these punk 18 year olds who just happened to have on a uniform!

You should have seen it. People were running around trying to capture the perfect shot: two soldiers laughing, two soldiers hugging, two soldiers acting tough. It was hilarious. What really surprised me was that the soldiers were bouncing around, smiling, holding cameras and taking pictures for the tourists, posing with and hugging those who asked... It was just not a normal sight. These kids are usually so bored. They seemed really energetic, instead.

Every person in that courtyard was snapping pics of the soldiers, so I figured I'd snap some of the snappers. Make sure to look at the third one. She was a little too happy to oblige to their requests...

Here's part 4:
Click on the picture for a larger view!

Notice the stairs in the back right of the picture. A large
group of soldiers were sitting on that, and tourists were
climbing the steps to sit with them, and there was a clog
as you went in and out of the door to the church as people
were bottlenecking it while taking pictures of the soldiers.

The slab of stone that Jesus was anointed on before burial
rests about 20 feet away, directly inside the door...

This honestly deserves its own post. I think the Asian tourists
were amazed to see an Asian soldier (her dad was from Vietnam),
and I was too, honestly. But, she has to be the dumbest soldier
I've ever seen. If her commander saw that, she would be in
BIG trouble. I wonder what her fellow soldiers thought...

Oh, yeah, that's what they thought. The guy on the left is
thinking, "Um, should I say something?" The guy on the
right is thinking, "Holy-Freaking-Crap. Is she really doing that?"

Cool Pictures Of The Muslim Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem (Part 3/5)

This is part three of five of some pictures that I took while on a little trip through the Muslim and Christian Quarters of Old City, Jerusalem.  Again, they're focusing mainly on Arab sights in Jerusalem since I get such a kick out of touring around those areas.  It's a whole different world.

Scroll down to see part one and two, which should still be on this same page.  

Enjoy part three:

Click on the pictures for larger views!

This is a pretty common sight, but nonetheless I find
it very exciting whenever I notice it.  It usually works
out like this: walking along, trying not to trip on the 
stones or avoiding hassling shopkeepers begging you
to "just take a look," and then you glance up and notice
a huge minaret rising high above.  Seeing that symbol of
a nearby mosque just really reinforces the feeling of 

I've seen these guys around once in a while. They are
dressed in what is either traditional Turkish or Moroccan
clothing, and they sell a very sweet tea from that metal
container (what would be the word for it?). If anyone knows
what country this is from, inform me!  The tea, by the way, is
unbelievably sugary and delicious.

Sorry, couldn't help it.  He's riding a donkey into the Lion's
Gate entrance of the Old City.  This is, believe it or not, more
or less what the Moshiach (Jewish messiah) will supposedly
do when He comes.  For now, we just smile.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Cool Pictures Of The Muslim Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem (Part 2/5)

This is round two of the pictures I found to be noteworthy on my trip last week through the Muslim and Christian Quarters of Old City, Jerusalem.  I decided to break them down into categories, really, and this post's focus is on the traditional headcovering of Arab women - the hijab, and in one case the niqab.

Part two:

Click on the pictures for a larger view!

A selection of hijabs.

Poster advertisement for yet another hijab and niqab store.
I thought it was pretty cool that I got a couple women in the
frame that had on the gear.  Too bad they're overexposed.

As far as I've seen, this is a rare sight here in Israel.  Seeing a
woman in full covering is something you'd expect to see more
in Baghdad than Jerusalem - even though the resident Muslims
can be quite religious.

And finally, just to balance the ledger, here's a very
normal Internet cafe in the Muslim Quarter.  These
Internet/computer sites have been targets of attacks
during the rougher times around these parts.  Apparently,
computers and the Internet symbolize the evil devils of the West.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cool Pictures Of The Muslim Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem (Part 1/5)

This week I am going to post multiple pictures in five separate photoblogging articles. Because of my circumstances I tend to just have pictures from the modern areas of Jerusalem, the predominantly Jewish and Westernish sites throughout the city. I put up pictures of silly Hebrew signs and unique occurrences on the street. As representative of my day to day experiences these can be, they fail to relay one part of my life that is just as important to me.

I like to tour through Arab areas. I go into East Jerusalem sometimes. I often find myself in Arab neighborhoods. I have been through the West Bank, deep into what most would consider dangerous territory. And, of course, I love to walk the Arab/Muslim streets of the Old City here in Jerusalem. Trust me, I'm always very safe and objective in these trips.

So, as I went on a little stroll with two friends of mine through the Muslim and Christian (still Arab, though) Quarters of the Old City last week, I snapped all the interesting shots I could think of. You should keep up with the site this week as I have many pictures to post, and this is only part one of what caught my eye:

Click on the pictures to see larger size!

What appears to me to be an old running water alcove that the residents
of the Muslim Quarter must have used before that luxury was available
throughout homes. My archaeological estimation is that this dates to
the Ottoman timeline, and it may even stretch back all the way to the
16th century - I think that because of the inscription, which looks
enormously like the actual surviving inscriptions for Suleiman the
Magnificent at the city's gates (1530s).

Here is that inscription up close. If someone could translate it for me,
I would be extremely grateful. There are many of these inscriptions
throughout the Old City. They are written in a fancy, cursive Arabic.
I think they're among the most beautiful treasures in all of Jerusalem.

This is as close as I could get to the Temple Mount. I am standing on
some steps leading to a gate onto the Temple Mount. The deal is that
the Mount is often closed to anyone but Arabs, and many religious
Jews won't even enter the area because we aren't 100% sure where
the Holy of Holies stood - a prohibited room in the Holy Temples,
entrance punishable by death. These steps were flooded with tourists
aching to get on the Mount. You can't even really tell from the picture
just how close I was, though. The Dome of the Rock loomed overhead.

A store specializing in various fabrics, which apparently are a big
deal in the tourism industry for the Old City Arabs. You can get all
types of scarves, afghans, throws, et cetera - all in innumerable
different colors.

I've been dying to get this picture. The irony! If you've wondered
if the Arabs of the Old City are generally hostile and easily angered,
just take a look at this. What's more important, freeing "oppressed
Palestine," or selling the ubiquitous tourist T-shirts promoting Israel's
military dominance for a profit? The proximity of those two
shirts is just classic.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bulldozers & Construction in Downtown Jerusalem

If you were wondering how those two bulldozer attacks were able to take place so easily, so freely in Jerusalem last month, this post ought to give you a pretty good insight.  How could Palestinians just on a whim take bulldozers and plow through traffic? What is Jerusalem, one big construction zone or something?

In fact, yes it is.  Jerusalem has been planning on, and has finally really begun construction on, utilizing a light-rail system to replace key bus routes. Essentially, it will be an electric railroad through the city. If you follow that previous link and take a look at the pictures, it is shaping up to be an absolutely gorgeous system. It's taking a long time, but if everything goes as planned, it should be a unique modern addition to an ancient, traditional city. I'm excited.

For now I hate life in Jerusalem. I took a bus today that went through the center of the city; normally a 40 minute ride or so. This time with the heavy construction, nearly two hours. That was fun. I think I'll walk from now on.

So, if you looked at the picture I posted at the top there, you'll see the main street of Jerusalem's downtown, Jaffa Street (Rechov Yaffo), totally obliterated and dug up. Just a few weeks ago this street was packed with buses and taxis. Now, and from now on with the light-rail system (whenever that actually happens), this section of the 'road' is strictly pedestrian and rail. I don't know if it's going to ease congestion. I don't know if it's going to work at all. But, right now it's certainly not working, and not just because of the traffic nightmare.

How did those Palestinian men go on rampages through main Jerusalem streets with bulldozers? Easily. It seems to me, as I've walked around the past couple weeks all through Jerusalem, from the German Colony area, to downtown, to the central bus station, that Palestinian men are working with bulldozers, Bobcats, road ripper uppers, all types of weapon-like vehicles with absolutely no supervision. No foreman was in sight as I walked down a heavy pedestrian side-street today and dodged two Palestinian men in Bobcats. No supervision was to be found as some guys with a full-size bulldozer shifted rubble on congested Keren HaYesod street.

I'm not going so far as to claim that Palestinians need to be supervised. I'm especially not saying that Palestinians are evil, and they aren't to be trusted. But, I have to tell you, I've never ever in my time here in Israel felt a wariness of Arabs, who are to be found everywhere in Jerusalem, like I feel walking the streets lately. I have never walked past a group of young Arab men, as I do daily, and felt anything bordering on fear or apprehension. Not until recently, that is.

This is on Jaffa Street.  There is a barrier here because of the pedestrian dominance of the street.  But with my hands I could pull that fence down...

The strangest thing, and I want to italicize this to show you just how sickening I find this, is that I know they feel my suspicion. I have never walked past an Arab, made eye contact, and seen a sheepish look. Until recently. Walking past some of these guys working on the side of the street, no barrier or even rope between us, I have made eye contact and noticed an undeniable expression of uneasiness. I can't even put it in words.

I see them. They see me. They look at me as I walk by. I stare at them as they work, stare at the vehicle as I walk by. A face of suspicion. A face of...

I can't quite understand what I have seen. I swore that once it was shame. Once, I swear, it was like the look of a beaten dog. I feel that two men, two savages, have stolen my innocence in a way. I've lived in Israel during a war, through numerous suicide bombings, and I've even witnessed a homemade explosive being detonated on this very downtown street of Yaffo. I've been through all that. I have no illusions of life here.

Yet, you can't just look at every Arab after a suicide bombing and think 'terrorist.' In my mind and heart, from my first-hand experiences, it just doesn't work that way. But how can you not feel wary of an Arab with free reign over bulldozers in a crowded pedestrian walkway after two unprovoked attacks during a 'ceasefire' like we just saw? Should I feel bad about my instinct of self-preservation? I'm open to suggestions, concurrence, and criticisms.

What I know for a fact is that the men I have walked by who are working on the streets of Jerusalem with dangerous vehicles are not themselves dangerous - not until an incident occurs, of course.  They shouldn't have to work in suspicion.  I feel terrible for them.  But what can I do?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Israeli Use of English Expressions (Part 2)

I find myself talking a lot about the things that Israelis do that kinda drive me nuts. I talk about them yelling all the time. I talk about them being too proud to get things spell-checked. I talk about them having ridiculous signs and not thinking twice about it. Many things really catch my eyes and ears here.

I don't think I've really written about it before, but here's another little factoid about Israelis and the Hebrew language that might fit into the whole original premise of this blog - having an audience to bug about the things I find so odd in this country. If you know me in person, you know I like to go on and on about these little things.

OK, so here's another little oddity that caught my ear a few nights ago when I was running. Quite a few times now I've been out in the city, minding my own business, probably looking through my phonebook on who to text message, pretty much letting the Hebrew all around me whiz by. Every once in a while, though, my ears will perk up to something I find so out of place. Here's what I heard the other night:

דגכח דגכל זדטאנ נסמבצ לוטאזח נניעאך צל סארקש הערי לפבירף העחלצתץ תכרקזס יכאטון כספומט לדגקגדכלחיד דגכלח. Nevertheless, סתצמבה סבמתס דוטרדגכ דגכדגכ שלח לם יזנססנ דגשדוטק סנדלח זבב'לחיג דחרו'לדלח בהמ רטורח דחידחי יבצמה דגידו דלחעש דח

I think the Israelis that will throw in gratuitous English expressions tend to be younger, more Western-attuned types, but all the same it gives me a big smile each time I hear it. And, if you were wondering, I do hear this all the time. I was just on the bus a few weeks ago when I heard it twice from two different people - within minutes of each other.

דגכח דגכל זדטאנ נסמבצ לוטאזח נניעאך צל סארקש הערי לפבירף העחלצתץ תכרקזס יכאטון כספומט לדגקגדכלחיד דגכלח. What will be will be, סתצמבה הנהבנה מנמג צמננצד דצמנדגנמנסבמתס דוטר סנדלח זבב'לחיג דחרו'לדלח בהמ רטורח דחידחי יבצמה דגידו דלחעש דח


דגכח דגכל זדטאנ נסמבצ לוטאזח נניעאך צל סארקש הערי לפבירף העחלצתץ תכרקזס יכאטון כספומט לדגקגדכלחיד דגכלח. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be, סתצמבה סבמתס דוטר סנדלח זבב'לחיג דחרו'לדלח בהמ רטורח דחידחי יבצמה דגידו דלחעש דחכעעינה מניעכיה מהמחיעג אטראטר יכעיע

I suppose it's not so different from an American using the Israeli word aval instead of but, which you will hear a lot in Israeli-American yeshivas, or even the ubiquitous Arabic slang like sababa or yalla. I suppose it's similar, but they're tossing in entire expressions, not just words!

Maybe I should start using some Hebrew expressions in my daily English. My friend Kipp, who just joined the army, said that his commander yelled to the group, "quit throwing [certain male body parts] at me!"  Now that's an expression to use in any language.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Beauty & The Geek Israel - Now We're Talking The Same Language

Since that last post was so serious, I figured I'd balance it all out with a solid post about the stupidest, and yet one of my favorite shows in the world. Though I'll sit around and watch the History Channel all day, I've also found myself watching a certain fluff American show pretty regularly. I was overjoyed to flip through the channels a few nights ago and come across the Israeli version of this show.

Beauty and the Geek is a dumb, dumb show about a bunch of really smart guys being paired up with some really good looking but typically less intelligent girls. Essentially, the girls are to teach the guys how to function properly around girls, and the guys are supposed to teach the girls how to keep the blonde hair dye from poisoning their brains. So, why do I like it? I dunno. It comes on, and I just keep watching...

Finally, I get to practice my Hebrew and drool at the same time. Did I mention that I'm 23?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Anti-Israel Media Bias and Mahmoud Darwish

I don't know if you've ever heard of the subject of anti-Israel media bias. If not, you should go check out for an insight into what it's all about. I spent the summer of 2005 as a research intern at The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, where I worked on anti-Israel media bias in the post-Holocaust anti-semitism department (a lot of hyphens, right?). I essentially was working under the chairman's direction, as this is his main field of expertise.

Anti-Israel media bias is really quite disturbing. In a sentence, this form of bias is whereby main media outlets cover Israeli news stories with an anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian perspective. For example, when reporting on a suicide attack inside Israel by a Palestinian, they would 'blame the victims,' essentially saying that Israel brought the attack on itself by 'oppressing' the Palestinian people. Stuff like that.

Now, I don't want to go into a whole big discussion about this topic. It's really quite sickening, considering it's the most pervasive media bias in the world, and just about every single outlet is guilty of it - BBC, AP, Reuters, NYTimes, CNN, AFP (French), and so on. If you want to learn more about it, just get a feel for what I'm talking about and how really ridiculously outlandish and bold this bias can be, check out CAMERA, an organization devoted to challenging media outlets to provide accurate, undistorted coverage in the Middle East and Israel.

So, what I wanted to point out was a nice little article found on CNN's website today. Typical with anti-Israel media bias, the Palestinian/Arab/non-Jew is portrayed as the hero, while Israel is the villain to his heroism. Here's the first sentence of the article:

"Mahmoud Darwish, whose prose gave voice to the Palestinian experience of exile, occupation and infighting, died Saturday in Houston, Texas."

That may not sound too bad to those of you who haven't really thought about this before, but let me explain to you what tone that sets. That just told the reader that Israel is an occupier, oppressor, and exiler of a people. Fine, that may be your opinion, but opinion has no place in a mainstream news outlet.

CNN spends about 75% of the article praising Darwish's evocation of the Palestinian plight and national struggle. CNN speaks of how certain poems of Darwish gave voice to the struggles of the Palestinians, such as the implied humiliation of having to carry identity cards. Problem is, everyone in Israel carries an ID card - Jew and non-Jew alike. Finally, they even discuss his crafting of the Palestinian declaration of independence, a document read by Yasser Arafat. Let's take a look at a line from the declaration:

"The intifada has set siege to the mind of official Israel, which has for too long relied exclusively upon myth and terror to deny Palestinian existence altogether."

Wow. Israeli terror? Let's take a look at this intifada that Darwish, the CNN hero, has praised so highly. (WARNING: graphic image)

I hate to go to that level, but when CNN essentially praises Darwish and his representation of the Palestinian 'struggle,' I feel I need to say a word or two about what that struggle actually is. I'm not saying Darwish was some kind of a terrorist, but he sure as hell supported the martyrs and terror of the intifada - at least from his own words. This is the guy that the media outlets are hailing as the appropriate voice of the people.

Yeah, CNN, Mahmoud Darwish was some kind of guy.

I won't even get started on the Reuters article. Reuters is, easily, the most unabashedly anti-Israel media stringer in the world. Sometimes I just read their articles for fun, just for a laugh!

I think I'll leave this post off with some of Mahmoud Darwish's profound words on peace and coexistance between Jews and Arabs:

"Live wherever you like, but don't live among us. Die wherever you like, but don't die among us."

Truly hero's words...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

America May Be Too Comfortable

For those of you who didn’t know, I was just in America for a few weeks. I think it’s something of a ritual for western immigrants to take a trip back to their home country just shy of their one-year anniversary in Israel. Being without my family over here isn’t the easiest thing, so it was nice to get the crew back together again, no matter how cliché my trip was. I went back, however, with a wary spirit.

In 2006, I spent about eight months in Israel studying in Tel Aviv University and a yeshiva in Jerusalem. By the end of that time, the final month and a half or so, I was more than ready to return to Virginia and all the luxuries of living under the roof of even a relatively poor doctor. I was just about sick and tired of tiled floors and stone walls - bring on the carpet and drywall!

Typical Israeli tiled floor.  We keep the dog bowls around as an excuse for the smell

Before I moved here last year I was a little worried that I would have that same yearning for the luxuries I grew up with. Don’t get the wrong idea: Israel is a first-world country with all the luxuries of America. The problem isn’t what’s available in Israel. The problem is what I can afford, of course. So, knowing that I would be stuck with grimy tile and peeling plaster, and that it affected me in the past, I wasn’t confident that I could put those trivialities aside and embrace the true reasons I moved to this land.

Hesitatingly entering my eighth month, the point of my longest stretch in Israel, I was relieved to find that my fears were unfounded. I found that I didn’t care that my apartment smells like a wet dog (thanks to a wet dog that lived in our apartment for about two months more than half a year ago). I didn’t care that I literally cannot turn around in my shower without holding on to the wall to keep me from tripping and falling. I just don’t care that I sleep on a leftover mattress that looks like it was left out in a monsoon twenty years ago.

Despite not being bothered by my lack of creature comforts, I’m not too proud to admit that I have felt some degree of jealousy over the lives of certain friends of mine in America. Coming out of university I had a couple options. One, get a real job. Two, do something out of the ordinary. The out of the ordinary category included teaching English in China, getting a lifeguarding job in the Caribbean, traveling out West, and of course moving to Israel.

Though I am very happy with my post-college choice, sometimes when I hear what kind of salary and benefits kids in my own major and milieu are receiving, well…I have my doubts. With that shadow of a doubt in the back of my head, I went to America expecting to be overwhelmed with the lavishness of the world’s richest country. A year abroad as a poor man should do that. Just compare my bathroom at my parent’s house versus the bathroom at my apartment.

My Virginia bathroom

The bathroom I can afford in Israel... yes, it's pink

Instead, I had an unexpected realization while in Virginia's lap of luxury. Believe it or not, I was getting out of my mom’s car and walking into Wal-Mart when I was overcome with a feeling of uneasiness. Here I was, driving like it was no big deal, being surrounded by people greeting me and randomly talking to me, going into a store to purchase multiple items – all of which are activities that worry the hell out of me in Israel. In America I am so used to and comfortable with life that nothing really gets to me. Nothing, as I see it, has challenged me on a daily basis.

But in Israel, oh man, in Israel everything is a challenge! All my friends are getting their licenses - not me! Driving in Hebrew? I can barely walk in Hebrew. Random people starting conversations with me? Yeah, I can do it, but it isn’t mindless chatter for me over here. And buying necessities? Even that makes my palms sweat.

So, my realization was not that I wanted to do something ‘out of the ordinary’ with my life. Rather, I wanted a challenge that was out of the ordinary. Going to law school or getting a corporate job would absolutely be a real challenge – but in no way are those pursuits extraordinary. Not that there is anything wrong with either of those paths, in fact I will probably be on one of those eventually, but I just wanted something more exciting for now.

I felt that America’s comforts were just too comfortable for an ideological and inspired 23-year-old. I didn’t like how easy it was for me to just live my days. I didn’t like how cheap electronics were, how carefree we used water and electricity, how big our house was, how constantly climate controlled my bedroom was. Again, there’s nothing wrong with living the high life; I just want to live the most basic, most challenging life I can right now.

I can’t tell you the satisfaction I feel here when I struggle to pay rent, barely scrape enough together for a decent meal, and finally find a little extra to buy a beer at a pub with my friends. The satisfaction and pleasure of struggling to do all those things, but knowing at the end of the month that you’re living in your own apartment with your own stuff and your own food, all without any help from anyone else, it’s overwhelming. In America I have too many resources to fall back on, too many jobs are open to me there that aren’t open to me here (mainly because of my level of Hebrew), and too many family members looking out for me.

Here, I am all alone – and that is the greatest struggle an ideological youth can hope for. If I succeed here, I can succeed anywhere, in any pursuit.  This is my challenge.  This is my struggle.  This is my life, and I only have one chance to feel extraordinary.

However, I wouldn’t mind having carpet, which unfortunately just about nobody has in this country. That and gallon jugs of milk… that’s another post.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Who Reads My Blog?

In an ongoing quest to really figure out my readership, I frequently check the keywords that people use to get to my site through a search engine. I've posted before some of the strange things that have brought people to, but this one takes the cake (Israeli girls feet??). Unless this is some big misunderstanding, I think I might have to take this whole thing in a different direction...