A few months ago, I was exploring the Old City of Jerusalem with a friend of mine. Right at the entrance to the Old City, at Jaffa Gate, we spotted a group led by Mejdi Tours. My friend, who had heard about them before, commented that she would like to join one of their Dual Narrative Tours sometime in the future. “It should be really good,” she said. A long time has passed since then, but finally, I was able to find time to join their Dual Narrative Tour of Jerusalem (or Al-Quds), which takes place every Monday morning and goes on for five hours.
It was very thought-provoking and sometimes annoying (as one of the guides said, “If you won’t get pissed at some point of the tour, we aren’t doing a good job”). In this post, I’m going to tell you a bit about how this tour works and about my experience, but mainly about some subjects which arose during the tour and made me think a bit more than usual.
The tour begins at Jaffa Gate, which is the classic starting point of almost every tour in the Old City. We were greeted by two guides – a Palestinian-Bedouin, who lives in Jerusalem and represents the Palestinian side, and an Israeli, who lives in the northern part of Israel, and represents the Israeli perspective. After introducing themselves and their roots, they asked each of the group members to tell their name, country and why did they decide to join the tour. I, like many others, said that the reason for joining the tour was “to hear different points of view”. We did get to hear the two different points of view, although I personally felt we were hearing the Palestinian side much more than the other.
The tour passes through the main sites of Jerusalem – David Citadel, the Armenian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and more or less ends at Temple Mount (or as our Palestinian guide called it – “al-Masjid al-ʾAqṣā”), the most controversial point in Jerusalem.
Here are some of the main subjects which were discussed during the tour. In some places I might accidentally write “us” or “we”. In that case, I will be referring to the Israeli-Jews, as I am part of that group.
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The West Bank and Palestine
Right from the beginning, our Palestinian guide made it clear that when we are entering the Old City, we are actually entering the West Bank. (My note: The Old City was conquered by the Jordanians in 1948, and the Jordanians were the ones to create this term – “The West Bank”). The Palestinians believe that the Old City is the West Bank and is supposed to belong to Palestine, although today it is part of the State of Israel. Among most Israeli people, it is clear that Jerusalem belongs to Israel. And maybe this is one of the main conflicts between the two nations – both want the same piece of land to be theirs.
Later on, when we settled down next to the David Citadel, the Palestinian guide mentioned that the name Palestine was first mentioned long ago, in the 4th century BCE. The Israeli guide commented that he wasn’t sure about it and that even if it was true, the name Palestine has no connection to the current Palestinians. The southern region of Syria was called Palestine because of its ancient dwellers, the Philistines. It is unclear if those people came from Egypt, the Mediterranean Sea, or any other area, but they sure existed and were even mentioned in the Bible. The Romans were the first to call the region Palestine. Before them, the region was called many other names, such as Canaan and Judea. Today Israelis call the region Israel, while the Palestinians call it Palestine. The Palestinian guide claimed that the Palestinians won’t mind that Israel will keep on existing alongside a future Palestinian state, which will be established in West Bank and Jerusalem. But personally, what I hear from the streets and social media is that many Palestinians just want us to disappear.
Here’s a nice video about the Israel-Palestine conflict which sums up most of the things, published by Vox:
Were the British helping the Jews establish a state?
Another interesting topic was the Balfour Declaration, which was signed by the UK’s Foreign Secretary in 1917. Our Palestinian guide said that if the 1948 War was a Nakba (“Catastrophe” in Arabic), then the Balfour Declaration was the first Nakba. Why? Because the Foreign Secretary, Balfour, wrote this public statement: “His Majesty’s government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
While our Israeli guide said that “a national home” is a very unclear concept, our Palestinian guide started asking us about our nationality. “What is your nationality?” he asked a number of people, and they answered “Germany”, “Poland”, “Italy”. “You see?” he said, “Our nationality is our country. A national home is a state.” He argued that the British wanted to help the Jewish people establish a state on account of the Palestinians from 1917. He also claimed that the land was given to the Jewish people on a platter and that the British people helped get the Palestinians out of their homes in the War of 1948. The Israeli guide shook his head and said: “If the land had been given on a platter to the Jews, there wouldn’t have been so many casualties from both sides”. I personally know from my history books that the British did help evacuate Palestinians from their homes in some cases, but in other cases urged the Jewish people to leave and even gave the keys to strategic buildings to the Palestinians. So, I wouldn’t say they gave us the land on a platter. I would even say that they didn’t like the Jews nor the Palestinians very much.
And here’s a bit about Balfour’s Declaration by the Economist:
The Jewish Temple – did it exist?
As I have already mentioned, our Palestinian guide denied the name “Temple Mount” and instead called the whole compound “al-Masjid al-ʾAqṣā”, which means “Al-Aqsa Mosque”. I will be calling the place Temple Mount because this is what I am used to calling it. So, when we arrived at Temple Mount, he claimed that there was no Jewish temple on Temple Mount, EVER. There was only a mosque, and if there wasn’t a mosque, then there was an administrative building of the Crusaders. There might have been a temple in the time of the Romans, but it wasn’t Jewish. Our Israeli guide argued and said that the two Jewish temples stood on Temple Mount and that the Second Temple was three times higher than the Dome of the Rock. “There is no proof that a Jewish temple ever stood here,” said the Palestinian guide. So, the Israeli guide mentioned Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian from the time of the Second Temple, who wrote about the Second Temple. He also pointed out two archeological findings, which were found in the rubble next to Temple Mount, and are connected to the Jewish Temple – the Trumpeting Place inscription and the Temple Warning inscription. The Jewish people believe that the Second Temple stood more or less where the Dome of the Rock stands today, but cannot be sure since we are not allowed to do excavations beneath the compound. The Palestinian guide said that the Israelis cannot dig beneath the compound because digging tunnels below might make the building collapse. I’ve heard that the Palestinians don’t want excavations because they are afraid the Israelis might find something.
Exactly as the Palestinian guide claimed that the temple was actually a mosque, he also claimed that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Mary, and Jesus were Muslim. Yes, very irritating for a Jewish believer.
The Right of Return
Near the end of the tour, we returned to the 1948 War, which is called the Independence War by the Israelis, and the Nakba (“catastrophe”) by the Palestinians. The Palestinian guide talked about the millions of refugees, who had to leave their homes and move to different Arab countries or regions, like Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Then he talked about the fact that Israel deprives those refugees – no matter if they are first-generation refugees or their descendants – of the Right of Return. The State of Israel and many Israelis say that the Palestinian Right of Return is not realistic. To which homes will they return? The homes which were abandoned during the war were taken by the state and later passed on to Jewish residents. One of the tour members asked if there was any nation which already used the Right of Return before the Palestinians, and the two guides couldn’t think of such a nation. “But most of today’s refugees come from dangerous countries, so they don’t want to return,” commented the Israeli guide.
And here’s a cool video I found made by Corey Gil-Shuster, which shows a number of Israelis answering the question – “What do you think about the Palestinian Right of Return?”:
The Oslo II Accords
We also talked about the Oslo Agreements, the Oslo II Accords, which were signed in 1995 between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Those agreements were supposed to pave the way to a Palestinian State within five years, but as our Palestinian guide said: “The agreements were signed in 1995. Now we’re in 2020, and the idea of a Palestinian state is slowly disappearing”. At first, the agreements were fulfilled and Israel began withdrawing from a number of areas in the West Bank, but at some point, this stopped due to Israel’s claim that the Palestinians were not fulfilling their part of the agreement. The agreement exploded when the Palestinians began the Second Intifada, which was a dreadful time of violence against Israel. The Palestinian guide showed some maps and said that Israel did not fulfill the agreement, since it did not withdraw to the lines of 1967. Someone from the group asked if he was sure that the Oslo agreements talked about the lines of 1967, and the guide said that he was sure. I took a look at the Oslo agreements later and didn’t find that it mentioned the lines of 1967, but maybe I missed it. Tell me in the comments if you find anything. Here’s the text of the Oslo Agreements.
Those were just a few of the subjects discussed during the tour. Bottom line – I would definitely recommend joining the Dual Narrative Tour in Jerusalem. If you’re a Jew, an Israeli, or a Palestinian it might get you pissed, but I’m always in favor of getting to know each other better – and this tour gives a great perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from both sides. Still, I would highly recommend reading well about the conflict beforehand, so you will be sure about the facts and be able to distinguish between opinions and facts. I also recommend taking an active part in the tour and asking lots of questions, so that you will be able to get the most out of it.
You can book the Dual Narrative Tour of Jerusalem through Abraham Tours. It maybe isn’t the most budget-friendly tour, but is totally worth it!
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This tour review was written on January 2019. I chose to independently join the tour and was not sponsored by any organization.
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