After mere minutes of walking through the Jerusalem market, I found myself outside Israel’s holiest place – and I haven’t even heard of it. The street had led directly from the Jaffa Gate to the Western Wall and we were now outside the Plaza which housed it.
Before me lies an expanse of synagogues and golden mosque roofs. Arabic dwellings rectangular, like lego houses.
We have stopped off at a lookout point to view, from above, the Old City that I’ve only read about, and now Jerusalem spread across the desert plain in front of us.
We are surrounded not by sand dunes, but parched hills with a bristly beard of dry grass. Over the hills lies visible tread of where a dry fire spread and then halted – the trees dead, black like ash, distinct from those mere inches away that remained untouched.
Park Ra’anana, the biggest park in the biblical Plain of Sharon just north of Tel Aviv, was the place for Itai and the other kids to visit from the nearby elementary school – the opportunity to enjoy a petting zoo, monkey bars, rides, and, of course, get out of class without having to play hooky.
Today I am told “Bethlehem: No.” I am in Itai’s home in Israel, in the middle of a very European breakfast of pastry and espresso, flipping through scribbles of itineraries I had taken from my guidebook. Bethlehem was definitely on the list. “I’ll get shot, you might be okay,” he says, translating his father’s headshake: