The Western or Wailing Wall is for many millions around the world, one of the great holy spots in the world. It is commonly thought of as being part of the original and second Temple. Imagine that, the original Temple built by David.
I had the opportunity to visit the Wall on my National Geographic Expeditions tour operated by Meiji Tours. I’ve now been to the Wall which is an incredible experience. More than that, I now understand the Wall for what it is. And I’ve been behind the Wall which is more than incredible. And I did it on a week when historic news about the wall and its environs were making history.
The Wall is part of the original temple compound which was a series of enclosures, the most central of which was the holy of holies. Inside the Wall is the Temple Mount, a large (half mile across) courtyard with a number of different structures on it. The most amazing structure on the Temple Mount is the Dome of the Rock (Al-Aqsa Mosque), a beautiful mosque located in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Access to the Temple Mount is highly controversial and a focal point of conflict between the Jews and Moslems. The general status quo is that only Moslems over the age of 50 are allowed to go in to pray. Very few tourists are allowed in. And Israelis who want to pray are generally not allowed in. In some ways, this is consistent with Jewish thinking in that only the Priest class are allowed to enter and pray in the center of the Temple Mount. But, normal Jews would like to be allowed to go up on the Temple Mount and pray around the outside.
At the moment, when Jews try to go up to pray, they are allowed to go up singly and only when accompagnied by two security guards. This past week, a group of Jews, as part of a provactive move, sought access to the Temple Mount which created such a volatile situation that the Temple Mount was closed to everyone for a day. This was the first time this has happened in decades.
But two days later, it was open for business again and we visited it this past Monday. We waited in a line, went through a slow security check, and were accompanied around for a quick and somewhat tense visit around the Temple Mount. We even heard a short private speech from the Iman (religious leader) of the Dome of the Rock Mosque.
While we were going up the Temple Mount, one group came through and with Israeli security closing watching, they were allowed up on the Temple Mount.
As I write this, later the same week, Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock are headline news around the world. The dispute over access to the area behind the Wailing Wall has turned violent and there’s been related violence in Jerusalem with driver intentionally hitting a dozen or so citizens with his car. This is all just a few blocks from where I am.
While I intended to visit historical sites, I’m now witnessing another chapter of history being written from a front row seat. Fascinating but given the growing violence here in Jerusalem, I’m relieved that I’ll be in more peaceful less political parts of the country for the rest of the trip.