Monday, August 18, 2008


As does the moon, so does Jerusalem have a far side, some would even say - a dark side. The deep, steep-walled Kidron gully seperates the old city from the Mount of Olives, from there it continues to deepen towards the Dead Sea.

Just south of the old city, the gully's walls are packed with countless grey houses. This desert favella is the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, one of the most poverty stricken cityscapes in Israel. An Israeli wouldn't dream of venturing into it after dark, not unless he's literally dreamt of doing that.

See, I did dream, a couple of nights ago, that I was walking through Silwan, visiting Jerusalem's ancient undrground water system (Freudians, shut up). The last time I've been to these tunnels of cool stone was before the first intifada, when I was not yet ten. Twenty years have passed, it was time to return. Elise joined me for the adventure and together we decended beneath Silwan, walking in water through a dark tunnel for a full thirty minutes with a bunch of screaming Tel-Avivian tourists. At times the ceiling was so low we nearly had to crouch, at time the tunnel seemed nightmarishly long, but all in all it was a fine time.

We emerged to the labyrinthine alleyways of Silwan a bit after dark, surprised to discover that the neighborhood has in recent years become by-cultural. Nationalist Jewish organizations are buying property from Palestinians, then renting it to Jews only, in an attempt to "Jewify" the city's oldest quarter and one which they associate with the reign of King David. I have an issue with what they're doing, but no one's really asking me.

One part of the Kidron that suffers no development is the gully's bottom. Thanks to a British municipal law that sought to turn Jerusalem's lower altitude points into parks, nothing's ever been built there. This is not to say that there's a park there either, this is the east after all, and the winds blow municipal investments west. Still, it's a bit of a thrill to be walking through a bare, dark desert in the middle of a city of millions.

This bare, dark desert happenes to be crowned with ancient tombstones, dating back close to 2100 years.

We rode back into West Jerusalem on a bus full of nothing but ultraorthodox Jews. This was for some reason my French friend's favorite part of the day. Tourists make so much sense, but I won't argue on a stomach full of a fulfilled dream. There's nothing quite like walking into the hidden reaches of Jerusalem. I admit this bus was another one of them.

1 comment:

Helen said...

Hey Yuval! I haven't checked your blog so much over the past couple of months - the access that i have to the internet is more random, and another reason I've just realised, I live here now! No more dreaming about being here - just living here.

My cousin who's an amazing archeologist, tour guide and storyteller invited me to join a group of archeological volunteers that he took through Hezekiah's tunnel - I think it's the same underground water system that you walked through? It's amazing and I hope I take future opportunities to walk it again.

Well I hope we can keep in contact. I have made some really sweet friends among the people that I live and study with - and especially of interest to you - some musicians... Three of us from Bombay, Paris and myself from Nottingham are practicing so that we can go busking on Ben Yehuda and I think you'd like us. It would be great to see you and your friends when you're in Jerusalem or back in T.A Jaffa.

Is your mobile no. the same as last year? I think I sent my new no. to it if it is. Alternatively ask Benyamin.

I hope that life is treating you well : )