03.12.2005A German Brass Band in the Middle EastTouring the Orient with a Trumpet and a NotepadJerusalem
The most important border crossing point from Jordan to the West Bank is the Allenby Bridge. Stretching across the Jordan River, this border crossing is one of the most impressive locations that I have encountered on the trip. Even the organization of this crossing from the Arabic world into Israel – and since the annexation in 1967, the West Bank is de facto Israeli territory – required months of elaborate preparation.
After having entered Israel, the band drives through a barbed-wire corridor and a roadblock "reminiscent of East Germany" Before the trip began, we all had to apply for a second passport, because the Israelis forbid anyone entering the country who has an Arabic stamp in their passport. The reverse case is true for Arabic countries.
A chubby, gum-chewing Israeli soldier seriously scrutinizes my virgin passport. The next moment, I am through the cordon and in the Promised Land.
It is 40 degrees Celsius outside and we get back in the Goethe bus and drive through a barbed-wire corridor and roadblock reminiscent of East Germany into the West Bank.
The buses of the Goethe Institute are recognizably painted with the German flag on both sides and on top. This has little to do with patriotism, but rather is an attempt to prevent being mistaken for Israelis by Hamas fighters or for Arabs by Jewish settlers. Either situation could be deadly. Vehicles are ever more frequently being attacked by rockets and automatic weapons.
Ramallah is like a large open-air prison surrounded by barbed-wire fences and the new, notorious Israeli-built wall. One can only enter or leave the city via two checkpoints. One of these is reserved for diplomats. Palestinians are forbidden to cross here.
The diplomatic crossing is not as severe as at the other checkpoint, but the sight of a 19-year-old soldier with an automatic weapon and bullet-proof vest, whose Rambo-like posing probably arises out of a mixture of uncertainty and delusion, is enough to make it clear to me that this is the gateway to a completely other world.
On this side of this border we take a shared taxi, and drive along a well-built city highway to the famous Damascus Gate, which in Arabic is called Bab-al-Quds.
In these parts, one's sympathies are made quite clear merely by choosing to use either the Jewish or Arabic name for this gate. One is either a supporter of the strict Zionist faction or that of the Palestinians, who claim the eastern part of Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
In any case, this gate is the heart and entrance to Jerusalem's old city, which is populated primarily by Arabs. Andreas explains to us that East Jerusalem has the most all-encompassing surveillance of any city territory on earth. And in fact, I now discover hidden video cameras in every nook and cranny and on the corner of every house. Surveillance really does seem to be complete.
We visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which holds a number of chapels and shrines, each administrated by one of the large Christian world churches.
The tomb of Christ (in which, of course, Jesus never laid) is looked after by Egyptian Copts, in the Syrian Orthodox cellar you can see burial shafts from which the resurrected Jesus disappeared, the Greek Orthodox section features the true cross, which was found in a historic trash heap, the Roman Catholics have a beautiful capella, and so on.
Everyone, it seems, has their own holy corner. The stone slab upon which the body of Jesus was washed and anointed is soaked daily with aromatic oils so that pilgrims can rub the messianic fluid on to cloths they bring with them from home.
It is not far from this first-class holy site to the next one – the Wailing Wall. The path leads straight through bazaar-like Arab alleyways, which certainly must be unpleasant for the orthodox Jews who are crossing our path with increasing frequency. Without looking either to the right or to the left, they make their way through assumed enemy territory at a veritable marching pace.
The large plaza in front of the Wailing Wall can only be entered after passing through an identity check and a metal detector test.
It is unusually full here. This probably has to do with the fact that the Feast of the Tabernacles begins tonight and many orthodox Jews from around the world have come to Jerusalem for the occasion and to pray at the still standing Western Wall of the legendary temple of Solomon.
They greet each other, chat a bit, are boisterous, and even dance together in a circle. Everyone is dressed in their "Sunday best" and the very orthodox women have shaved heads and wear wigs.
At a certain distance from the actual wall is yet another barrier. We cannot pass, as we are neither of the proper faith nor do we have the appropriate head covering. Praying here is also separated according to sex – women right and men left.
After so much religious life, we are exhausted and take a shared taxi home. It is already night and the checkpoint closes at 1 AM. After that, you can't get in or out.
Next stop: Ramallah (press 8)