A few months ago, I was exploring the Old City of Jerusalem with a friend. 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, said she would like to join one of their Dual Narrative Tours. “It should be really good,” she said. A long time has passed since then, but finally, I found time to join their Dual Narrative Tour of Jerusalem (or Al-Quds), which takes place every Monday morning and goes on for five hours. (The link takes you to Abraham Tours, but the tour is operated by Mejdi).
It was very thought-provoking and sometimes annoying. As one of the guides said, “If you don’t get pissed at some point of the tour, we aren’t doing a good job.” In this post, I will tell you a bit about how this tour works and my experience, but mainly about some subjects that arose and made me think a bit more than usual.
The tour begins at Jaffa Gate, 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 group member to tell their name, country, and why they decided to join the tour. Like many others, I said my reason for joining was “to hear different points of view.” We did get to hear the two different points of view. However, 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, it will be referring to the Israeli-Jews, as I am part of that group.
Also recommended >> My book review of “Son of Hamas.”
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The West Bank and Palestine
Right from the beginning, our Palestinian guide made it clear that when we enter 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 part of the West Bank and is supposed to belong to the future state of 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.
A short while later, 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 existing alongside a future Palestinian state, which will be established in the West Bank and Jerusalem. But personally, from what I hear from the streets and social media, many Palestinians just want us to disappear. When they shout, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” they refer to the entire State of Israel – from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
Read more >> Is Palestine a state?
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, 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 several people, and they answered “Germany,” “Poland,” and “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 from 1917 on the backs of the Palestinians. He also claimed that the land was given to the Jewish people on a platter and that the Brits 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 on both sides.”
I know from my history books that the British did help evacuate Palestinians from their homes in some cases, but in other cases, they 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 there was no Jewish temple on Temple Mount, EVER. There was only a mosque, and if there wasn’t, then there was an administrative building of the Crusaders. According to him, 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, found in the rubble next to Temple Mount, and 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 we cannot be sure because we are not allowed to do excavations beneath the compound. The Palestinian guide said that the Israelis could not 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 fear 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.
Recommended read >> The story around Temple Mount: History, Status Quo, and current situation.
The Right of Return
Near the end of the tour, we returned to the 1948 War, called the Independence War by the Israelis, and the Nakba (“catastrophe”) by the Palestinians. The Palestinian guide mentioned the millions of refugees who left their homes and moved 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 of the Right of Return, whether they are first-generation refugees or their descendants. The State of Israel and many Israelis say the Palestinian Right of Return is unrealistic. To which homes will they return? The homes abandoned during the war were taken by the state and later passed on to Jewish residents. One of the tour members asked if any nation 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 several Israelis answering the question – “What do you think about the Palestinian Right of Return?”:
The Oslo II Accords
We also discussed the Oslo Agreements, the Oslo II Accords, 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 several 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, 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 looked 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 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 can get the most out of it.
You can book the Jerusalem Dual Narrative Tour through Abraham Tours. It may not be the most budget-friendly tour, but is totally worth it!
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This tour review was written in January 2020. I chose to join the tour and was not sponsored by any organization.
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