Tour guide seminars: Silwan-City of David

One of the best and most challenging tours which Green Olive offers is our weekly Silwan-City of David tour. You can read more about the tour at this page. In the past month, Green Olive senior Israeli guide Yahav Zohar led two successful and challenging guide seminars around the archeological site and the largely Palestinian neighbourhood it is in.

The archeological site is fast becoming one of Jerusalem's most popular tourist attractions, and every Jewish schoolchild in the country, every Israeli army intake and everyone on a Birthright trip will now visit at least once. Despite this, or indeed partially because of this, the site is highly controversial in some circles. During our seminar we explored the various reasons for this.

One relates to the archeology itself. Dubious techniques are being used here; such as widespread salvage digs, and politically motivated horizontal excavation. Academically disingenuous claims have been made by site archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, including the very notion that the site contains the Biblical Palace of David, something which has never been proven and which most in the field doubt. The majority of the funding for this archeological work is also ideologically sourced.

The other serious issue is the sensitive nature of the neighbourhood itself. Although a small number of Yemenite Jews did settle here in the 1880s, from then on this has almost exclusively been a Palestinian, Muslim neighbourhood. Since the 1967 Six Day War, Israel has full control of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem and this neighbourhood) and when combined with the settler movement the archeology threatens this character. Much of the land the excavations take place on (and under) was acquired in suspicious, immoral or illegal circumstances. This practice carries on today and expulsions and house demolitions are ongoing. The lives of those living in Silwan are being irreparably altered by this work.

The exit of the famous water tunnel is in the courtyard of the Silwan mosque

At Green Olive, are are proud to help professionalise the tourism field and are running regular, free seminars like this for tour guides. Are you a guide yourself? Would you like to join a similar session in the future? Do you have a suggestion for where we should work next? Please, let us know in the comments or by sending an email here.

Unprofessional archeological practices
"I work with the Bible in one hand and the tools of excavation in the other, and I try to consider everything." - Dr. Eilat Mazar


Tell your friends. Help spread the word . . . .

Twit it Sphinn it Add To Digg it Add To Google Bookmarks Add To Reddit Add To Technorati Add To StumbleUpon Add To Facebook Furl it Subscribe to RSS

Remembering the Holocaust in Jerusalem

 - by Yahav Zohar -

‘No’, said the policeman, ‘you can’t come through’.

‘But we live here, we need to get home’.

‘The whole area’s closed. If you wait here maybe I can get someone to escort you home in 15 or 20 minutes.’

It was cold, we were hungry, my daughter was crying. The policeman walked away. There was no way home. We walked back past the roadblock to our parked car and drove to spend the evening elsewhere.

Living in West Jerusalem we often experience traffic delays because of all sorts of foreign dignitaries, as well as our own convoy-loving prime minister, but this was extreme. Our whole neighborhood was shut down for security reasons, to protect world leaders who had come for a fancy dinner in the Israeli President’s residence to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz.

I was offended by the way he just turned and walked away from us and so to console myself I thought: this kind of thing happens all the time to my neighbors in East Jerusalem. You see, Jerusalem is one of the most segregated cities in the world, not only do Jews and Palestinians live in separate neighborhoods, go to separate schools and use (mostly) separate public transport systems, we have different legal status, Jews are citizens and Palestinians are only residents. In Palestinian neighborhoods the police operates very differently, there it would be much more normal for a road to be indefinitely closed and people be denied access to their home.

But in East Jerusalem Palestinians still have some civil rights. Things are worse just outside the city, beyond the separation wall which surrounds Jerusalem on three sides, there Palestinians are under Israeli military government and can be detained indefinitely without ever being told the charges against them, houses are regularly taken over by the army to serve as makeshift positions while families are locked in a back room, and neighborhoods are placed under siege or curfew to facilitate searches and arrests.

I was glad to hear all those leaders who did come here got, according to reports, quickly and safely through the empty streets to a satisfying dinner at the president’s residence. And the next day at Yad Vashem they got to hear the German President say he is guilty, Netanyahu say we are strong and holocaust survivors move them to tears.  They would soon go home in the great convoy of jets they came in and continue to stall over climate crisis, and I would continue to enjoy my privileged Jewish status here. Did any of them see the irony of celebrating in an ethnically segregated city surrounded by walls and military government? Were any of them frustrated by the narrowness of the lesson drawn form the holocaust experience? Never again will this happen, to Jews.

Israel doesn’t seem to have a problem with legal segregation, with people shut behind walls, with people discriminated against by ethnic origin, just that it doesn’t happen to Jews. In fact, the state of Israel has adopted the Nazi definition of Jew and turned it upside down- those who the Nazis would have persecuted, we will treat preferentially.

 For the Israeli state, the holocaust is an ever relevant point, the proof that nobody can be trusted, and that if we do not have a strong army terrible things will happen to us. It is also perhaps the reason why Israel has no laws against arming those who commit genocides. Israel sold arms to Rwanda during the genocide there, and more recently to Burma as it was killing the Rohingya.  We cannot stop to consider ‘human rights’ say the Israeli generals and politicians (often the same individuals) we are as ever on the brink of another holocaust and must do whatever makes our military and alliances stronger. Let us arm the strong to kill the weak that we may become stronger, they say.

The next day things were even worse. The city was shut down for the event’s guest of honor, Russian president Vladimir Putin. Again, it’s hard not to think of the Irony, or the narrowness of the lesson drawn. Putin, whose government persecutes political opponents and the gay community, whose forces are responsible for war crimes in Chechnya (at least 100,000 civilian killed) who has expanded Russian rule into Ukraine and Georgia using force and following the logic that Russian speaking areas belong to Russia, and who recently completed the propping up of the murderous Asad regime in Syria came to Netanyahu’s Jerusalem to celebrate the liberation of Auschwitz. Too bad Netanyahu’s ally President Modi of India couldn’t be here with us to celebrate, he’s too busy looking for ways to strip non-Hindu Indians of their citizenship. Mr. Xi of China was also otherwise occupied, or he could be here to discuss his reeducation camps for Uyghurs.

 In Jorge Luis Borges’ story ‘Deutches Requiem’ a Nazi war criminal awaiting execution after the war gets news in his prison cell of the atom bomb dropped in Hiroshima and is greatly pleased. Germany, he says, may have lost the war, but our harsh logic (to borrow a phrase) has won. Total war, which does not differentiate civilian from combatant, raw force unrestricted by ethics, has won.

 Luckily, I thought, I am on the right side of history,  a Jew in the Jewish (supremacist) state. My house was safe once I could get back to it and I was free to vent my frustration at the police’s behavior in writing and in public. And yet that moment, the policeman just telling my daughter and I we had no way home and walking away to leave standing in the cold, stayed with me. It bothered me, I guess, not that the police could do that, I know what they do in East Jerusalem, it bothered me that they could do that to us, to Jews in the nice part of town. It planted the thought in my mind that once you train people well enough to follow orders and ignore their innate sense of empathy, the danger would never be just to whoever happened to be the original target. 
- Yahav Zohar is based in Jerusalem, is a Partner of the Green Olive Collective, and Senior Tour Guide at Green Olive Tours. Read his profile here > >


Tell your friends. Help spread the word . . . .

Twit it Sphinn it Add To Digg it Add To Google Bookmarks Add To Reddit Add To Technorati Add To StumbleUpon Add To Facebook Furl it Subscribe to RSS

Jaffa to Jerusalem by train

- by Alexander Jones - 

This month, for the first time since 1892, the inauguration of a new, direct rail connection from Jaffa to Jerusalem was celebrated. Admittedly today Jaffa is known as Tel Aviv-Yafo, and the new train line doesn't go as close to the historic centres of either city as the original did, but it is now possible to make the journey in just 32 minutes. Despite the project's infamous delays, this is nevertheless a remarkable achievement.

Jaffa and Jerusalem have always been inexorably linked. Jaffa was the port, Jerusalem the pilgrimage destination for at least three major world religions. Until Jaffa's walls were demolished, you would leave the city via the Jerusalem Gate. In English, the main road today in Jaffa is called Jerusalem Boulevard. Similarly, the main road approaching Jerusalem from the west is the Jaffa Road, and people enter the holy city through the Jaffa Gate.

Caravanserai alongside Highway Route One
As the crow flies, this journey is just over 65 km. For thousands of years, this took most people at least three days on foot, or with the help of horses, donkeys or camels. After 1867 the road was made passable with a carriage, but even with a state of the art vehicle the journey would still take two days. Most travellers would spend the night at the Ottoman-era caravansarai which is still visible on the southern side of the modern highway at 'The Gates of the Valley' (Bab al-Wad in Arabic or Shaar HaGay in Hebrew).

In 1892, the inauguration of the Middle East's first railway changed everything. Built under the Ottoman Empire, by a Jewish Jerusalemite named Joseph Navon, who enlisted a French company called the Société du Chemin de Fer Ottoman de Jaffa à Jérusalem et Prolongements, it reduced the journey time to as little as 3 and a half hours. Admittedly this was rarely possible (most reports of early trips suggest it was usually more like a 6 hour trip) as although the journey across the coastal plain is simple enough, the winding switchbacks to get through the steep hills into Jerusalem pose a serious challenge. Initially built using a metre gauge, it was eventually rebuilt as standard gauge during the British Mandate.

Postcard of the old Jaffa railway station
The project shows the importance of the link between Jerusalem and Jaffa - the port of entry for  North African and European Christians and Jews alike, who in this era began coming to the Holy Land in much larger numbers. Many well known names were involved in the project. Moshe Montefiore made the initial feasibility assessment in the 1850s. Aharon Chelouche paid for a bridge in his neighbourhood of Neve Tsedek. Baron Rothschild paid for the construction of several villages along its length. Many of the engineering works were built by the Eiffel Company (of Parisian tower fame).

UNESCO World Heritage listed terraces of Battir, and the train
The line was seriously damaged in the fighting of the War of 1948, and passenger trains never used the Jaffa Station after this, instead running only as far as several Tel Aviv stations. At the end of the war the railway was fully controlled by the new State of Israel, but Jordanian territory came within a metre of the rails near the village of Battir. Incredibly, the train kept chugging up the hill throughout this time with almost no interruptions, and although this beautiful village is now under the control of the Palestinian Authority, the same holds true and no physical barrier separates the village from the railway. More problematic than war for the railway were new roads. The first few decades after Israeli independence saw a huge focus on building modern highways and railways suffered both from neglect and falling usage.  Passenger trains stopped running entirely on the Jaffa-Jerusalem line in 1998, with the idea either to modernise or build a completely new rail route linking the two cities.

In 2001 construction began on a novel, northern route and 2005 the old line reopened, with a greatly reduced schedule and with a change of locomotives required at Bet Shemesh. In 2008 the former Jaffa station was renovated as an entertainment and leisure facility, with the old central Jerusalem Khan Station following suit in 2013. The old line remains a beautiful, winding passage through the hills which takes over two hours and leaves you in a distant suburb of Jerusalem. Useless for all but the enthusiastic train lover, it retains all its old fashioned charm.

The impressive new viaduct on the approach to Jerusalem
The new line first ran un-electrified to Ben Gurion Airport, from 2004, but the rest of the project - which involved building several massive bridges and boring three long tunnels - proved much more difficult. Costs ballooned to an estimated 7 billion shekels and the launch date was repeatedly delayed. The line also involves several short sections over the Green Line, meaning building on land the UN considers to be Occupied Territory. Deutsche Bahn pulled out of the project in 2011 for this reason and many remain opposed to this day. It has also been claimed that the project is the most expensive railway ever, when you calculate the cost per kilometre. In 2019 it initially opened with a diesel locomotive to the airport, a 12 minute wait, a change, and then an electrified section to Jerusalem. But finally in January 2020, the full trip is now possible directly, for just 22 shekels.

The story continues, however, as the section of Jaffa railway which was closed is now being used to build the Tel Aviv metro. Progress on this section is reportedly going well, and is scheduled to open in 2022.

Green Olive offers private tours exploring the rail routes of Israel-Palestine. Please contact us for more information. We will also be launching a 10-day Rail Tour later in 2020 and will post more details when we have them.


Tell your friends. Help spread the word . . . .

Twit it Sphinn it Add To Digg it Add To Google Bookmarks Add To Reddit Add To Technorati Add To StumbleUpon Add To Facebook Furl it Subscribe to RSS