Today was our first full day in Jerusalem and I’m starting to better see how the pieces of the puzzle—places, ideas, events—fit together. We began the day with a visit to the Temple Mount, retracing many of our steps yesterday from our hostel (the Rosary Sisters) through the Armenian Quarter and the Jewish Quarter. As we made our way up the ramp leading up to the Temple Mount, we were able to catch a glance of the Western Wall, which we visited yesterday. Today, though, instead of the relative quiet of yesterday, the Western Wall resonated with the celebration of a Bar Mitzvah. Even as the historical landmarks of Jerusalem endure from age to age, the stories and events acted out around them, near them, and in them shift day by day and moment by moment.
Because the Temple Mount is controlled, in name, by Jordanian kings, we were told to have our passports ready as the space that we would enter upon climbing the ramp would not technically be the state of Israel. It turned out that even though we had to go through security, passports were not necessary. In fact, the Israeli soldiers that we’d seen throughout the same city had posts on the Temple Mount as well, further confusing in my mind what exactly the Temple Mount represented and which people groups could lay claim to it. Regardless, the mood was decidedly different from the celebratory atmosphere of the Western Wall below. Muslim groups sat in circles on plastic chairs or walls in clumps under trees and next to fountains, holding what appeared to be animated conversations and teaching moments. The focal point of the Temple Mount is, of course, the Dome of the Rock, located on the Mount’s highest point. The Dome of the Rock is the third holiest place in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, built in AD 688 to commemorate Muhammad’s Ascension into heaven after his night journey to Jerusalem. However, the Dome of the Rock is a holy place for Jews and Christians as well. While not recognizing the ascension of Muhammad, Jews hold the place dear because it was believed to be a former location of the temple and Christians recognize that the mosaic decorations are the imperial jewels of Byzantine rulers and the ornaments worn by New Testament figures, reminding them that “the spoils of have gone to the victor”, the Muslims, according to Murphy-O’Connor’s Oxford Archeological Guide to the Holy Land(86). Although these other two faith groups are apparently heavily invested in the Temple Mount space, from our short visit there, it became clear that the area and the structures on it indicate only the Muslim interest in the holy space.
One of our other excursions for the day to Hezekiah’s tunnel, an excavation overseen by the conservative Jewish group, ELAD, in a formerly Palestinian area and then to the Hebrew Museum of Jerusalem, also reminded me of the ways in which Israelis and Palestinians commemorate their histories and choose to accept or reject the ways in which their pasts intertwine. For example, according to Dr. Meyers, at the Hezekiah excavation in the City of David, ELAD has used underhanded methods to acquire property that has historically belonged to the Palestinians. This situation represented yet another way in which the inhabitants of Israel struggle to negotiate ownership of place.
Even after only two days in Jerusalem, the logistical difficulties of shared holy spaces are becoming increasingly clear, from the stories of bickering among the six Christian groups who share in the maintenance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the conflict incited by the Dome of the Rock built on top of the Jewish Temple to the humanitarian issues presented by the displaced Palestinian families who lived on top of the area in the City of David that ELAD was determined to excavate. Like the rest of my classmates, I am only just beginning to touch the surface in my understanding of how archeological sites and holy spaces create conflict for the various religious and ethnic groups represented by inhabitants of Israel. Jerusalem is multi-layered, with holy sites built one on top of the other. The city is also multi-faceted; convictions about the archaeological decisions range wildly, colored by everything from Zionist ideology to orthodox Jewish faith to evangelical Christian piety. As Uzi Baram mentions in his article, “Appropriating the Past: Heritage, Tourism, and Archaeology”, Israel can no longer afford to let a Zionist agenda dictate its archaeological policy. In fact, Baram argues that Israel should strive for a post-nationalist approach to archaeology, rethinking “how to represent itself to its citizens and to external audiences” (323). I’m looking forward to more fully grasping what may lie in wait for Israel as the nation strives to address the heated conflict over archaeology and holy spaces and reimagine itself in a post-national context, taking into account the desires of tourists, scholars, Israeli citizens and long-time residents of the nation.