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.
There is a warm wind enveloping my skin, just lukewarm enough to make the heat pleasant, but as we walk, I taste nothing but the dryness at the back of my throat.
It is hot. There is only the smell of my unscented sunscreen, and once in a while, a hint of greenery, maybe the scent of the olive tree. These are seen for miles, the only life in an otherwise choked city desert.
The air resonates with the string of the cicada. Occasionally, there is the sound of a pebble grinding underneath my foot against the concrete; occasionally, the sparse caw of a bird.
And then, out of the stirring, a wail. A low human wail, first quietly, and then more emphatically as it gradually makes its way over the city, the adhān summoning all Muslims to prayer. It wavers through the droning, louder and louder, until it fills the air like a mixture of goats baying, cars honking, dogs howling.
It encompasses everything, pauses, and then continues. And as it does, Israel swirls around me in all its essence:
Vanilla stone structures, olive trees; Jerusalem below.