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Middle East Monica Dispatch

Four quarters, 20,000 people, three thousand years of history . . . in ten minutes or less.
January 12, 2000

Here, you see the Muristan, a fun labyrinth of shops and felafel and kebab stalls. The oldest church in Jerusalem lies off a side street, but I am in this quarter to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on Golgotha, where Christ was crucified. Men and women of different Christian sects walk through the streets in robes and in habits. They are Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Anglican, Lutheran, Franciscan, and many more.

The Cardo, an old Roman road, cuts straight through this quarter. I walk through calm streets. Clean and quiet, this entire quarter was rebuilt after being destroyed in the 1948 War. Archaeologists uncover ruins from 600 BCE: layers upon layers of history, from the First and Second Temples until the present, are on display. Jews believe the Shechina, or divine spirit, is present at the Wailing Wall, the holiest Jewish site in the world. Bowing their heads and rocking back and forth, men and women leave prayers here, written on small pieces of paper and stuck into cracks in the wall.

Expert Fact

Expert Photo Did you know that the United States has two consulates in Jerusalem and an embassy in Tel Aviv?

Provided by: Geoffrey Aronson, Foundation for Middle East Peace(FMEP)

The markets bustle with activity. Vendors beckon, selling Bedouin necklaces and postcards, spices and sweets. After dark, during Ramadan (the Muslim holy month), the streets come alive. People of all ages cheerily jostle through the alleys: children run, women walk in pairs or threes, and men return from the mosque. The Arabic spoken here is different from what I learned in Egypt. I say "shukran gazilan" and one man corrects me. "Shukran jazilan," he says, which means "Thank you very much."

The Armenians have been here, continuously, since the 5th century CE, and this is their spiritual center. The walls surrounding this quarter are covered in posters detailing the Turkish genocide of more than 1.5 million Armenians in the years after World War One. The Armenians maintain their private community here, at the foot of Mt. Zion.

As I walk through the streets of Old Jerusalem, I ponder why the people live in separate quarters: Tradition? Culture? History? Hate? Or just Custom? Can that be changed? Should it be changed?
labyrinth - a maze
jostle - to bump into or push someone
Genocide - the planned and methodical extermination of an entire group of people

Israeli Defense Force soldiers guard one building in the Muslim Quarter near the Via Dolorosa. I find out later that this is a Jewish-owned house, owned by a retired Israeli general, and people in the neighborhood feel it was unfair that, previously, Muslims could not own houses in the Jewish Quarter.

What do you think? In your community, do people live side-by-side? Or do they live apart based on their religion, or on some other differences? Think about it.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Abeja - Racing the Sun, Waiting for the Moon
Abeja - Blood on the Rocks
Abeja - Crusaders in the Holy
Kevin - A National Memory that will Never Die
Monica - 2000: A Worldtrek Odyssey
Team - Exercise Your Right and Write

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