What was Jerusalem worth?

Nothing. Everything.

This is not The Aqsa Mosque but people usually mistaken anyway

This is not The Aqsa Mosque but people usually mistaken anyway

I just back from my travel to Jordan and Israel (or Palestine /inb4 butthurt) about four wee… wait, I think more than four months ago. Took me awhile to write this because a couple of weeks after I went to Indonesia, heh (and then procrastinating when it comes to writing looooooong blog post). Although it’s only a 7 days travel with a group of various people, I do think I got a lot of stuffs to be written considering the notes that I took on my iPhone as I went to several places. Before I start, I think it’s better for me to give basic information about the travel. My parents and I went to Jordan first and then to the city of Jerusalem with a Malaysian travel agency, POTOTravel, that consisted of 26 persons including one tour guide. You might be wondering about how a Malaysian gained a permission into Israel that’s not allowed within their passport. It’s suffice to say that it’s how the travel agency got the required documents and stuffs for our entry there. I will explain about my experience later in this blog post.

Day 1 (15/10/2012)

As early as 4 a.m., my parents and I already packed up our luggage and fetched a taxi to Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Although the flight will be at 9:40 a.m., our guide already told us to gather there around 6:40 a.m. for briefing, checking in and distribution of boarding passes. We were riding with Oman Air and it’s my first time traveling outside Malaysia for almost 16 years. There were quite a lot of people boarding the plane. Some foreigners and also Malaysian students bound for Cairo, Egypt. Our plane flew from KLIA to Muscat, Oman, as we will change our plane there to Amman, Jordan. The flight to Muscat took about 6 hours and 30 minutes. Despite being an economy class passenger in Airbus A330, I had my own LCD screen for me to enjoy movies, musics, games and many more entertainments with controller-cum-joypad. They also have WiFi (dubbed WyFi since Oman Air is WY. Not free and it uses Satellite connection) and USB slot if we want to charge our devices like phones or tablets. One of the options on the entertainment offered was Flight information; GPS and Camera.

Jakun

Jakun

The GPS showed our flight’s current position along with other details like flight speed, outside temperature, estimated time of arrival and many more. The camera option had two views for forward camera and downward camera. Quite thrilling to watch forward cam when we’re about to approach for landing. We arrived in Muscat at 12:30 p.m. (local time) only to quickly boarding the the next flight which was scheduled to take off at 1:20 p.m. Yeah, at Muscat, the other people who flew with us from KL were separated like those students to Cairo.

Hey, Oman

Hey, Oman

Muscat International Airport wasn’t that different from Langkawi I guess. We had to ride bus from the plane to terminal for transit to other plane. Bigger than Sabah airport though. Onward to Amman, we had a smaller plane. I think Boeing B737. Oh, just beside the airport were Royal Air Force of Oman. Maybe just for show off or something. Saw a couple of Hawk fighters (if I wasn’t mistaken), some helicopters and transport planes. The said Boeing flight didn’t has those entertainment LCD things. They did have such thing but for all passengers rather than for personal usage. I realized from the GPS that, when we’re over Saudi Arabia, the plane was like evading Iraqi border as they went through the area. The flight took about 3 hours and half before we landed at Amman, Jordan. Arriving at 4:20 p.m. local time (and Malaysia at that time was 9:20 p.m.), we had smooth immigration checking and stuffs. Before the journey, I had in my mind to get a prepaid sim card for my iPhone from Orange but guess what? Their shop at the Queen Alia International Airport was closed, on freaking Monday afternoon. Then, when I was using a toilet at the airport, some guy tried to open the door while I was still peeing. As I went out, an Arab cleaner was saying in higher tone than usual (not really yelling) that he wanted to enter (أدخل) as he wanted to clean the toilet. Quite rude. Just as I arrived Amman, I met with the bad sides of Arabs. Later on we met with our local guide, Mr. Atef, and rode with our bus towards south. With our itinerary to have a night at Petra, the travel from Amman to Petra with bus took about 3 hours. More than 3 hours I think. We had our dinner as we stopped at a restaurant within the travel. Spicy Arabian food which our guide said it’s according to Malaysians flavor who preferred spiciness. Too spicy for some but I was fine with it.

Food food food food...

Food food food food…

Later on we arrived at Wadi Musa. The Spring of Nabi Musa. The place is beside the infamous Old City of Petra. After getting our hotel room keys at Silk Road Hotel, we took our luggage into our rooms and it didn’t took that long for me to sleep on my bed. It was very tiring. More than 10 hours of flights and plus riding with a bus.

Day 2 (16/10/2012)

Morning in Wadi Musa. We had breakfast at the hotel. Took some pictures nearby the hotel as I saw some cats. As the entrance to Old City of Petra was nearby to the hotel, we walked there. Mr. Atef bought tickets for us. 50 Jordanian Dinars each.

Expensive ticket

Expensive ticket

For your information, 1 Jordanian Dinar is about 1 US Dollars. Though you can use US Dollars at their shops in Jordan. As we passed through the entrance, there were many horses and chariots. I knew that the place was pretty far. Well, sandy and rocky road plus far. The horses only brought people up until certain part as I found out later on. I chose to walk by my foot.

Trying to be smart with photo editing

Trying to be smart with photo editing

The place was rocky mountain and the path wasn’t even. Although there were original stones on the roads from the ancient times but most of the parts were already being made smoother for tourists to use. They’re pretty much stony and sandy as you might slipped down as what happened to one of the people in my group. The path was pretty much long.

The Treasury

The Treasury

The ancient people of Nabateans made the city deep inside the mountains so that enemies will think hard before invading their city. Greeks and Romans influences of the city were only because the Nabateans let them in or what the historians believed to be the Nabateans embracing the Romans instead. Ancient Nabateans worshipped the same Gods as Quraysh people of Mecca. Especially the idol of Al-‘Uzza. It’s theorized that when the Muslims people of Arabian Peninsular came there, they easily converted to Islam because they’re from the similar root. Nabateans also used an early form of Aramaic language (original form of Arabic language). After some walk, I finally reached the place called Treasury and that’s actually only the front-end of the city.

Khazneh al-Firaun here is the Treasury as local called it

Khazneh al-Firaun here is the Treasury as local called it. Photo taken from Wikipedia.

From the entrance to the Treasury, it’s about 4 kilometers. There were a lot of tourists (and flies) there when I arrived at the place like Greeks, Italians, French, Spaniards and English-speaking ones that I am not sure British or Americans or even Canadians. Then there were Asians like Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Indians, Philippines and us, Malaysians. A lot of street hawkers for souvenirs. Inside the tourist area, a canned drinks can be as high as 3 USD. Of course that a cold Coca Cola drink can be as heavenly as possible after a long walk into the old city. Previously, the Treasury can be entered but due to recent earthquake, we’re not allowed to get into the place fearing walls and ceilings might be collapsed. I walked along the Facades street where I saw a Colosseum from afar (we cannot enter the place) and then returned back to the entrance. Approximately 10 kilometers worth of walking as I refused to ride those horses, camels or donkeys. Then we had lunch at the hotel around 12 p.m. Mandy Chicken yum! After that, we checked out from the hotel and rode back to Amman. Before leaving Wadi Musa, we prayed at a mosque there. As we were pretty much late for Zuhur from joining the locals there, we prayed separately and when we finished praying and our imam performing du’a, I saw some locals there also joined us (ameen). Within Wadi Musa itself, there’s a Well of Nabi Musa. I just took pictures from outside though.

Perhaps the Coca Cola beside there was produced from the well...

Perhaps the Coca Cola beside there was produced from the well…

My LX3 camera dial was kinda stuck. Perhaps due to dust from the sandy place of Petra. From Wadi Musa to Amman, we stopped for awhile at a rest place nearby the highway. A usual place like this has a restaurant and souvenir shop as well. Pretty clever for the shopkeeper to place the souvenir area just beside the women restrooms. We had some refreshments there. One thing that I noticed with Jordanians is that there were lots of Jordanian flags. And posters of King Abdullah everywhere. Not sure if genuine affection or just being installed by government but they even have a poster of the king smoking shisha. Road condition in Jordan was not good. Potholes and cracks even on the highways. But they don’t have tolls though. Koreans influences were also there. Not in form of K-pop but a lot of Hyundai cars. Before reaching our hotel in Amman, we stopped a little for shopping some local fruits like figs, grapes and pomegranates. The hotel in Amman is called Sadeen Hotel, a 4-star hotel. The dinner at the hotel was more on to western-styled. Among our group, some people brought along foods from Malaysia such as sambal and serunding. The Arab chef at the hotel was pretty much astonished with our meat floss (serunding daging).

Day 3 (17/10/2012)

The day for going to Jerusalem. Preparing our luggage as we were told not to bring a lot of stuffs there like jewelries and it’s best for us only to bring just a bag with clothes for each of us. So, our other bags were put inside a store which the hotel took care of them. We moved from the hotel around 8:30 a.m. just after breakfast. The city of Amman was pretty congested at the morning. Of course, it was working day of Wednesday. About an hour later, we arrived at a sea level point near the Dead Sea.

We will meet you. Later

We will meet you. Later

A few minutes later we arrived at the Jordanian immigration office. The bridge connecting Jordan and Israel is called King Hussein Bridge by the Jordanians while the Israeli side called it Allenby Bridge above the Jordan River. The process at Jordanian side was pretty much quick. After our guide collected all our passports which he later on brought it to the immigration office, we got back our passports within 15 minutes. Then we need to wait for the other side, which is Israel, to approve our passage there… and it took about 2 hours before we got the approval to enter. At 11:43 a.m. (Jordan time) our bus moved towards the border which our Jordanian guide didn’t follow us. Only the driver was the only Jordanian with us there. It was pretty long path and we were not allowed to take photo after we passed the immigration office of Jordan. Along the path, I saw several dugouts, trenches and bunkers from the past war. It looked like they didn’t use them anymore. After a couple of minutes, we finally reached the bridge. A very short bridge. Maybe a hundred meters or so. Just after the bridge, we’re stopped by an Israeli soldier. At a glimpse, it looked like he was using a TAR-21 rifle though I might be mistaken but I was pretty sure that he was an IDF soldier considering that he wore a helmet. After a couple of guard posts, we arrived at the Israeli Immigration Office building. After the bus driver dropped us there with our bags, he drove back to Jordan.

Hey Israel

Hey Israel

I saw an Israeli immigration office with a white T-shirt, black long pants and an M4 rifle with Red Dot Sight (later I found out that every personnel were using this weapon setup). The first immigration counter had women officers who looked at our passports and put some stickers on it. Then we moved to the X-ray counter. Yeah, quite ordinary as we had to take off our wrist watches, belts, etc, just like normal procedures at immigration in airports. One thing I realized at that moment was the officers were Jewish while the civil workers like porters were Arabs. The somewhat hard part when we were at the next counter where they’re checking seriously about our passports. Because my passport was new and this was my first ever time going out after a long time, my turn was pretty much quicker than others. Other people like my parents took longer time as they were being asked about their previous journeys especially to Arab countries like Saudi Arabia.

Hello minefield!

Hello minefield!

Each of us were given a tiny visa pass ticket since they cannot or rather shouldn’t stamp on our Malaysian passports. After that, we were waiting at some seated area as we had to gather for our group before moving on to the next counter. In that area, there were several other people waiting like Arabs who seemed to get more in-depth inspection as they were entering a separate room where their luggage being opened and checked. Then, we proceeded to another counter where they scanned our passports (somewhat similar in KLIA for Malaysian passports for auto-gate) and took back the visa passes that were given to use earlier. I am not sure until now why they took it back at that moment. Since there was no photography allowed there, I can only remember that the pass was written like “3 months visa” on it. Apart from the stamping counter that took awhile for some of our guys, everything else was fine and Israeli personnel there were kind. They let family with small kids or people with bandages or on stroller pass through first.

Israeli Immigration building

Israeli Immigration building

As all of us we passed through, we finally met with a new tour guide on the Palestinian side. His name’s Mahmud. About 1 p.m., Israeli time, we’re having lunch at Jericho. It was a few kilometers away from the border of Israel and Jordan. The restaurant’s called Temptation Restaurant. Because nearby the town of Jericho, there’s a mountain where Jesus was believed to be tempted by devils when he fasted there for 40 days and nights. Conveniently, pilgrims there can ride cable cars from town of Jericho to the top of the mountain.

Mount of Temptation Restaurant in Jericho

Mount of Temptation Restaurant in Jericho

From a far, I could see a church there. Since we were there during lunch time, there were a lot of people in the restaurant. It’s not only a restaurant as the we had lunch at the top floor of the building while the ground floor is the souvenir shops. Just outside the building, they had fruits shop and they’re promoting pomegranates along with other fruits like figs and dates. The salesmen there could speak in many different languages including Malay. After we had lunch there, we’re moving towards Jerusalem at 2:10 pm. The Israeli highways were great, clean and they put a lot of road signs. Even the road paints looked like some new ones. More importantly, they didn’t put tolls or installed any kind of AES there (lol). As the area is situated near the Dead Sea, we’re below the sea level at that moment. The lowest part of the Dead Sea level is around 350 meters below the level. While Jerusalem city is on the mountainous area up to 400 meters above the sea level. So, we’re journeying through mountainous paths before reaching the city. This is the place once called the Judea Mountains. Before we reached the city, Mahmud said something about administration areas of the West Bank; Area A, Area B and Area C. For further information, you can look up here from Wikipedia. Technically speaking, these areas have different color codes for vehicle plates and different pass for Palestinians and Israeli. For instance, Jericho is situated under Area A and only Palestinians including their cars are allowed there. Area B is where Palestinians and Israeli vehicles and passes could go through together while Area C is solely for Israeli. The Jerusalem city is on Area B. While Palestinians and Israeli were the two groups that fighting for the settlements and lands, there’s another group who doesn’t care about all these political matters. They’re the Bedouins. They’re living as nomads throughout the desert and mountain areas. They also are not siding with any sides. Around 2:36 p.m., we reached the checkpoint of the Jerusalem city. They didn’t stop our bus though. Soon after that, our ride’s entering a tunnel. Inside the tunnel, Mahmud said that we must close our eyes and told us to open it later when he give the instruction. I didn’t as I was expecting something. True to what I thought, just after the tunnel, he told us to open our eyes and look at the left side. There, the Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, also called the Temple Mount as these are situated on the highest ground of Jerusalem. He kept crying, “Allahuakbar! Allahuakbar! Allahuakbar!” which some of us followed. Jerusalem’s a busy and clean city. A lot of people too including locals and tourists. I am not sure how should I compare it with Malaysia. Maybe a very urbanized city in Cameron Highlands? After getting through some traffics, we finally arrived at our hotel, Metropole Hotel, and checked in there. After resting a little bit in our room, we gathered just outside our hotel and walked to the Old City of Jerusalem at 4 p.m. This is the old forts of the city which is still exist until now. The narrow cobblestone roads where houses side by side and sometimes a vehicle may pass through slowly. It was quite a long walk passing through Herod’s Gate and then Lion’s Gate but finally we reached a checkpoint where it was guarded by Israeli policemen. The checkpoint is nearing a big old door where just from the outside I could see the golden dome.

The Golden Dome

The Golden Dome

From narrow paths, the door led us to a wide field. The very ground of Temple Mount. The place where 70,000 people of Jerusalem were killed when they retreated there as the Crusaders took the city in 1099 AD. The mount where the alleged First Temple was destroyed by the Greeks and they slaughtered swines and installed idol of Greek gods to dishonor the defeated Kingdom of Israel. As it gave me shivers when I thought about that upon reaching the place, the serenity and peaceful environment of the evening there gradually cooled me down. There were a few kids playing football just like what I heard before. As it’s already Asr prayer time, we headed towards the Dome of the Rock for a prayer. It’s also called As-Sakhrah Mosque.

Dome of the Rock. As-Sakhrah Mosque. Not Aqsa Mosque, okay?

Dome of the Rock. As-Sakhrah Mosque. Not Aqsa Mosque, okay?

The mi’raaj place of Prophet Muhammad. The Hanging Rock as we Malaysians got to know. Though the place of the stone’s under restoration. Under the stone, there’s a cave where we could pray there. Mahmud said something about people claiming that the rock wanted to follow the Prophet during mi’raaj but stayed there ‘hanging’ just like that. Through archeological finding, he said, there’s like a crater there where a large rock being put or placed on top of it to make the cave-like place. Furthermore, the rock is not of the same with the ground over there. Although the rock is mostly covered due to restoration, there’s like small shrine with a hold large enough for one’s hand to get into and touch the stone. Upon touching the stone, it gave the same feeling as I touched Hajar al-Aswad in Mecca 15 years ago. And it smelled pleasant and nice.

Praying under the Hanging Rock

Praying under the Hanging Rock

After praying Maghrib there (Maghrib prayer time was around 5 p.m.), we walked a little to the infamous Aqsa Mosque. People usually confused the Dome of the Rock as Aqsa but Aqsa is situated a little further down from the place. Masjidil Aqsa is certainly larger than As-Sakhrah Mosque. If you want me to give a comparison, I can say that it’s a little bit smaller than Putra Mosque in Putrajaya. But that’s not the whole point here as during the congregational prayer on Friday, the whole place of the ground area of Temple Mount (simply called Aqsa by locals) will be used for the prayer. The smaller mosque of the Dome will be for women for the Friday prayer.

Inside Aqsa Mosque

Inside Aqsa Mosque

During our times at the Aqsa Mosque, we’re approached by Arab children who could speak English fluently. In fact, almost everyone there could speak English very well. These kids somehow became our personal guide as many of us getting separated within the compound area of Aqsa after Isha’ prayer which was around 6 p.m. They showed us many stuffs inside and outside the mosque including bombs, trip mines and ammunition shells that placed inside a glass cabinet.

Hey grenades and tripmines. How are you?

Hey grenades and tripmines. How are you?

These weapons were used upon the mosque during the conflict between Israel and Arabs. I took a photo of it which one of the kids forbade me of doing so since it’s kind of a sensitive stuff for some other people there (though I kinda questioned it myself why keeping the sensitive stuffs there and not throwing it away instead?). I took a lot of photos with my three years old Lumix LX3 camera. Soon after, we walked back to our hotel for dinner and then rest in our rooms.

Day 4 (18/10/2012)

Woke up early in the morning. Quite early at 4 a.m. as I heard the muezzin call. For Subuh prayer, they called for prayer twice. The first one for waking the people up and the second one for the prayer itself. I didn’t go to the Aqsa for prayer since my parents were tired especially my dad who had leg cramps the day before. Around 7 a.m., we went down to the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast. For some reason, I ate a lot. Probably because they had chicken ham, cheese and salads. Plain water in Jerusalem tasted insipid. I am not sure the correct word for it as I called it ‘payau’ in Malay. Brackish? Well, the journey for that day was to go on top of Mount Zion.

Currently at the top of Mount Zion

Currently at the top of Mount Zion

Yes, this is where the Zionist term came out. We rode there with our tour bus. The morning day of Jerusalem was busy like any metropolitan traffics. On top of Mount Zion is situated the Tomb of King David (Nabi Daud a.s.). For Jews, Christians and Muslims, King David was an important figure especially the Jews. I believe that you know about King David better. Entering the area that considered holy, I saw a Jewish old man praying while reciting from a holy book and facing towards the Wailing Wall.

Sup bro? Prayin'?

Sup bro? Prayin’?

A lot of Jewish symbols there like the Star of David and menorahs. Before entering the room where the tomb is placed, we’re required to wear a skull cap or called Kippah. Because the Kippah has Jewish symbol of David’s Star, some of us refused to wear it and wear different kind of skull cap like ‘songkok’ and ‘kopiah’ instead. The tomb was covered with a blue fabric which has Hebrew words. I couldn’t take picture inside there properly as there were more visitors coming in.

King David's Tomb and German people

King David’s Tomb and German people

Somehow I realized that a group of people who just entered the place were speaking German. It’s been awhile I haven’t speak German so I greeted them. “Halo!” “Halo.” “Aus Deutschland?” “Ja, Deutschland.” I couldn’t talk much as more people getting inside. Anyway, the building where the Tomb of King David is situated was previously a church which later turned into a mosque during the reign of Salahuddin Al-Ayubbi. It was said that the mosque can be visited by Jews and Christians as all 3 faiths highly regarded him. But during the formation of Israeli state in 1948, Jordanian government at that time restricted any entrance of the place from Jews. The Arab-Israeli conflict in 1967 that saw the Israel forces being on the victorious side, their government changed the place into a synagogue and solely for the Jews. The place was highly contested by Muslims, Jews and also Christians. Because the building also has a sacred room for the Christians on the first floor where a room claimed by the Christians as the Last Supper Room.

The Pope's olive tree inside the Last Supper Room

The Pope’s olive tree inside the Last Supper Room

The room where Jesus Christ and his disciples having their last supper before Jesus being captured by Roman soldiers which later crucified. Inside the room, there’s a green plaque with Arabic words which was put there during Ayyubid rule and then several colored stained glasses in Arabic wording decorated above the room which was during Ottoman Turks rule. Around 1970s, the building was opened for every faith as negotiation among all sides resulted with the place no longer being a house of prayer anymore. A Mass was held there by Pope John Paul II where he asked permission from Israeli government as well as Muslims before the ceremony. To commemorate the event, he placed a statue of tree as a symbol of peace. The room wasn’t that large. The first thing that gave obvious attention inside there was a couple of cats laying down near the mihrab. Mihrab is not something that Jewish or Christians enough.

Mihrab and cats

Mihrab and cats

Only after I knew the history of place from the tour guide about the place being a mosque previously. There’s a table inside the room which some of the Christian pilgrimages were already there praying. Of course it’s not the original table where Jesus and his disciples were using (2000 years old table?). Just a symbol which was recently being placed. After that, we’re leaving Mount Zion to go to Hebron. On the way to Hebron, there were a lot of checkpoints and guard posts. Israeli forces on every checkpoint. Hebron’s totally different from Jerusalem or even Jericho. In the city, there’s the heavily contested tombs of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph inside a mosque between Muslims and Jews. The locals there were some tough people who were fighting for some building. This was the closes encounter I had with a large number of Israeli securities. The mosque was divided into two as a result from recent clashes. A mosque at a side and a synagogue at the other side with Nabi Ibrahim’s and his wife’s, Sarah, tombs as the divider. On the mosque side, there are Isaac and his wife tombs as well.

Prophet Ibrahim's Tomb

Prophet Ibrahim’s Tomb (Abraham)

Prophet Ishak's tomb (Isaac)

Prophet Ishak’s tomb (Isaac)

Jacob and Joseph tombs are on the synagogue side which we Muslims are not allowed to enter. Entering the mosque was like entering the Israeli country itself. They had metal detectors at the entrance with armed guards. We’re even had to show our passports. Interestingly, the Jewish guards there were a dark skinned man and also a slanted eyed man who looked like someone from Far East Asia. Inside the mosque were also some keepers who always asked for ‘sadaqah’. Even the kids from the neighborhoods there kept following us while shoving us souvenirs for us to buy from them (while murmuring ‘sadaqah fi sabilillah’). Due to recent fightings there, some building rubbles can be seen.

Wartorn

Wartorn

But not really a bad view. I don’t consider it as a really worst place for living. Shops were still opened and people were fine by themselves, mostly. For your information, Palestine territories are not a war zone. Medias always depicting that there were fightings like all over the place. In fact, fightings were only at certain areas like occasionally in Hebron and most of the time in Gaza. Even though it’s not like it’s everyday fighting in Hebron. Rockets? Mortars? Stones? Nah. Perhaps in Gaza I assumed. Although Hebron wasn’t as clean or beauty as Jerusalem or Jericho. From the mosque, we moved away by bus towards another mosque. But on the way there, we stopped by a ceramic shop. Because of mountainous area of Levant, they’re also pretty popular with ceramic products. Just like Jordan, they accepted US Dollars here. Palestinians and Israeli people are using Israeli Shekel as their currency. Certainly that Malaysian Ringgits are higher rate than Shekel. Though due to widely usage of Dollars, a can of Coca Cola drink is priced at 1 USD and using Shekel can be slightly higher. Goods here can be quite cheaper than in Jordan (a can of Coca Cola at 1 JD or 2 USD). My parents bought some souvenirs there while there’s nothing that attracted to me much. Well, there’s a few that beautifully crafted like a marble of the Dome of the Rock but too expensive. Just outside the shop, a hawker selling breads came by as he saw us tourists there. My mom purchased a couple of the breads. The bread tasted ordinary but we’re given a pinch of salt as well for the breads. Pretty much a delicious snack. To be fair, it’s quite expensive for one bread to be priced at 1 USD considering that breads aren’t that pricey for such place. Yet, he managed to sell pretty well after some members of our group bought them all in the end. Our journey passed through several residential houses and reaching upon a mosque. The Nabi Yunus Mosque.

Shrine of Prophet Yunus inside the mosque

Shrine of Prophet Yunus inside the mosque

Prophet Yunus is also known as Jonah. Infamously known for his story being swallowed by a big fish or whale. It’s pretty much a small mosque but has two floors although only the ground floor that has the shrine was opened for daily prayers as the upper floor is for Friday prayers. This town is known as Halhul. Literally means ‘stop by for a year’ or something like that since Jonah was claimed to be staying at this place for a year. The place he was staying became a mosque. And the Jewish people want this place too. Just like the Ibrahim Mosque. The caretaker of the shrine opened the curtain for us. He looked like an ordinary person with white T-shirt and black pants. So, I started a conversation about the shrine (or maqam in Arabic) and he is actually the imam for the mosque. The conversation went to his story being an imam there for 14 years. He has been captured by the Israeli forces several times because he tried to defend the mosque. At one event, the local Jews there started gathering outside the mosque yelling that they wanted the building and some kind of minor quarrels broke out which, in just a few minutes, the Israeli authorities arrived where he got caught. After taking some pictures there and I wanted to go back to the bus (because local kids started gathering to ask for sadaqah), I said to the imam, “الى اللقأ”, which means “Until we meet again”, he immediately hugged me tightly, from cheek to cheek. I was surprised as that’s the passionate hug for the Arabs when they meet their brothers. As all aboard the bus, we travel again towards Bethlehem. We had lunch there, Chicken Maghloba. Very delicious as it was specially made for us. I started to understand why it took awhile to prefer if I order it on local Arabian restaurants in Malaysia. After the lunch, we’re returning back to our hotel in Jerusalem though this time through the infamous Wall of Separation, means, a lot of Israeli checkpoints. Upon arriving the wall, I saw a lot of graffiti on the wall. Mainly Palestinian flags and also Italian and other nationals drawn on the walls boosting peace like birds image. At the checkpoint, our bus was ordered to stop. Mahmud told us to remain calm and bring out the passports. A guard boarded the bus. I say, a cute young lady with glasses and blonde ponytail who wears a beret, army uniform, body armor and an M4 equipped with Red Dot Sight. She’s of my height yet she’s wearing army boots. She asked for my passport as well as others’ in the bus. Surely she didn’t smile while maintaining her serious face. Seemed like nothing went wrong so we passed through the checkpoint and headed towards Jerusalem. To our hotel. Dinner at hotel as usual.

Day 5 (19/10/2012)

Since I didn’t go to Aqsa Mosque for Subuh prayer yesterday as well as being the last day in Jerusalem, I decided to go along with my group there this morning. Woke up as early as 3.00 a.m., I took an early bath and getting prepared. Then around 4.00 a.m., I went down to the lobby to meet with the group and off we went to the Aqsa. Walking through the street of Jerusalem in the serene morning made me calm.

Early morning in the middle of Jerusalem street

Early morning in the middle of Jerusalem street

I noticed that the stony paths to the mosque were dampened. Turned out that some guys were cleaning the old roads of Jerusalem by using a water hose. Bigger one just like those being used by fire brigades. Since it’s slightly a slope, it’s quite convenient for them using the force of water to push out the rubbish down to the road. Also, we were going there quite early before the first Azan being called out, so there were not as many people there yet. By the time most of the people came out of their houses to the mosque, the old stony roads should be already cleaned. Upon arriving the mosque, there were quite a number of people there. I almost forgotten that today was Friday. It was pretty amazing to see young people there. Young people just like me and even younger. Not school kids though. What’s more, they’re wearing something just like me; jeans and T-shirts. Not only the young ones, even the old ones were pretty much similar. They didn’t wear skullcaps or keffiyah or long robes. A few were. But, the usually such stand out people wearing those long robes with turbans were Imam, bilal and other mosque staffs. For such subuh prayer on Friday morning, there were about half of the mosque being filled with people. Maybe more. Maybe less, I wasn’t sure since I was at the front saf (row of solat). Well, not really at the front row, I was at the second row.

About front row, uh, yeah, whatever

About front row, uh, yeah, whatever

After the prayer, people didn’t immediately went back home which surprised me a little bit. People formed several groups or halaqah and the speaker of the group started talking. Each with their own topics that in Arabic. One of the halaqah in front of me was explaining one of the Surahs in Al-Quran. Young people immediately picked a copy of Al-Quran themselves and refer it to what the speaker was talking about.

People gathering for halaqah

People gathering for halaqah

Oh, before that, just barely after we finished praying and du’a, a guy stood up and talking in Arabic with loud voice. He’s like preaching something. I couldn’t catch up on what he was talking about though later on a person in my group explained it to me that he was talking about focusing on Muslims daily life and whatnot. What impressed me more that time was when he reciting du’a, it was about God to give help towards Muslims in Burma (Myanmar), Iraq, Afghanistan and other places while not mentioning about Palestinians themselves.

What a kawaii morning of Aqsa Mosque

What a kawaii morning of Aqsa Mosque

As the the time was almost 7.00 a.m., we decided to go back to the hotel for breakfast. After breakfast, we boarded the bus to go to one of the infamous churches in Jerusalem, Tomb of the Virgin Mary. According to Wiki, it’s called Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary. Apparently, it’s an empty tomb as the Christians believed that Mary’s body has been resurrected into the heaven. Since Friday and Saturday are the weekends for Israel and Palestine, there were a lot of people there. Especially nearby Mount of Olives. Upon arriving at the church, there were a group of Russian people (or so I guess from what they’re speaking) in a large group performing prayers.

Entrance to the church

Entrance to the church

The door of the entrance of the church led to a steep stairs downwards about less than 10 meters. It was dark. The church hall down there which accommodating the empty tomb was mostly illuminated through a lot of candles there. I took several photos there including the priests but later I found out that the priests were unpleasant with people who took their pictures. They actually refused if someone ask them for photos. And I took the photos without them realizing. Feel bad about, haha.

Empty tomb of Virgin Mary

Empty tomb of Virgin Mary

Well, it wasn’t that long inside the church as we climbed up the Mount of Olives later on (with bus, obviously). It was a lot of people there which I started to wonder why. Silly me for not knowing the place before coming to the place, Mount of Olives in Jerusalem is the best place for taking panoramic photo of the Old City of Jerusalem. From top of the mountain, we can see the area of the Temple Mount and that’s included Dome of the Rock and Aqsa Mosque.

From the top of Mount Olives, we can see the Old City of Jerusalem clearly

From the top of Mount Olives, we can see the Old City of Jerusalem clearly

The place’s pretty much crowded with visitors from many origins. Even the Israeli tourist guides there could recognized us as whether tourists from Malaysia or Indonesia. Within the area of Mount of Olives, there are two tombs of infamous Islamic figures, Salman Al-Farisi and Rabiatul Adawiyah. Although we didn’t visit the latter because our guide said that usually only Sufists were going there.

Tomb of Salman Al-Farisi

Tomb of Salman Al-Farisi

Behind the tomb area of Salman Al-Farisi is the new graveyard of Muslims. Mahmoud said that if he died in the future, he will be buried there. From the crowded mountain, we went onwards to Jericho again. On the way to the town, we stopped by a place claimed by some Muslims as tomb of Moses. A very quiet place which also harboring some mentally ill people there. The place isn’t recognized by Jews and Christians as the tomb of Moses. This is just my opinion but perhaps why the ‘authorities’ placed those madmen there were simply trying to mock the Muslims for believing the place as the most venerable prophet of Jews. I don’t know. The place’s in the middle of the desert which pretty much hot and sandy.

The alleged tomb of Propher Musa (Moses)

The alleged tomb of Propher Musa (Moses)

Then we moved towards Jericho again. Yeah, at the same shop again where I bought more souvenirs. But, for most of us, we wanted to get the fresh olive oils. The products were made by their own hands using traditional ways. Olives of Israel and Palestine are highly regarded since they’re famous for being within what we called as Fertile Crescent. As we’re inside the town of Jericho again, Mahmoud told us another story about a big casino there. One might be wondering why a gambling place is situated within a territory of Holy Land. The casino was built by the Palestinians but not for Palestinians themselves as they forbid Muslims to enter it. Since Jericho was out of Israeli jurisdiction before the year 2000, Jericho welcomed Israeli visitors to the casino. Basically, it’s an illegal way to invite the Jews to spend (wasted) their money at the casino as the income from the casino were used by Palestinians for living. Though, during Intifada in year 2000 and onwards, the casino was seized by Israeli forces and no more people are allowed to enter or open business there anymore.

Center of Jericho

Center of Jericho

Soon after, it’s our goodbye to the Holy Land of Jerusalem. Our bus went through the initial checkpoint of the immigration center. Our bus driver and guide unloaded our luggage from the bus to the screening center. Getting out from Israel was easier compared to when we’re getting inside. My queue number was 18 and I waited a little bit before my number being called. Coincidentally, the custom officer was the same old man who checked my passport for the entrance of Israel a couple of days ago. Then I felt weird why my turn at the counter was taking longer time than the others. It’s like 3 persons passed through the checking while mine still stuck at the same counter. Then I heard he murmuring something, “Muhammad, Muhammad, Muhammad…” Yeah, he’s checking the Interpol list or maybe wanted list or whatever list to make sure if I was one of the criminals out there. Apparently when I talked to other guys, they’re quite particular with people with the name of “Muhammad”, “Ahmad” and “Mahmoud”. All is well I guess and as I went out of the immigration building, a big guy with large beard just like those American Biker gangs said to me, “Your bis is there.” I couldn’t understand at first but then my multiple language understanding kicked me in as I replied, “Oh, bus.” “Yeah, your bus.” He then asked me again in friendly manner and pretty much sounded like an American accent, “Where do you come from, brother?” I answered with smile, “Malaysia.” His face a bit mellowed there. Ha, caught you there, mate. As I entered the bus, I met with the same bus driver from Jordan earlier. “Welcome back, brother,” he said.  While it’s a bit sad that we couldn’t say a proper goodbye to Mahmoud, our Palestinian guide, I still remember what he said, “We shouldn’t say goodbye to each other as that means we won’t meet again. We shall meet again in our country Palestine. Insha Allah.” I crossed the border at 11:11 a.m. Israel time.

The pass

The pass

Arriving at Jordan immigration center at 1 p.m. Jordan time. As the border is nearby to the Dead Sea, our guide led us to the place. The Jordanian government made the place as extravagant as they could. Tourist beach spot that certainly not for lowly people. The only purpose of going there was for lunch. At least for me. Why? Because it’s the Dead Sea. The place where it’s believed to be the lost city of Sodom and Gomorrah.

“When Our Decree issued, We turned (the cities) upside down, and rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread, layer on layer,” – Sura Hud, 82nd ayat.

Some of us believed that the Dead Sea is what the sign left of the actual city. Dead sea of human. Jokingly, a person in my group who’s a doctor said that after thousand of years, human remains will be so salty.

The Dead Sea. Sea of the dead. Yuck

The Dead Sea. Sea of the dead. Yuck

Oh, for the first time Middle Eastern countries, I had fish for the dishes as they’re usually more on chickens and lambs. Of course, the fish wasn’t from the Dead Sea since no living being can survive in such high density of salt water. We then continued our journey back to Amman. On the way there, we stopped by a gift shop called Holy Land Gifts. Looking around there, I started to think that stuffs in Jerusalem were cheaper than in Jordan. Back in the same hotel in Amman before, Sadeen Hotel, we had our dinner there. We also met another travelling group from Malaysia who were also will be visiting Jerusalem on the next day. Not really that tiring but I slept soundly.

Day 6 (20/10/2012)

Woke up early in the morning and had breakfast at 7 a.m. as usual. Around 9 a.m., we moved from Amman towards north. Moving northward to a place that quite nearby to Syrian border. As we all know, Syria’s currently having civil war. Though nearby the town there, I didn’t feel the tense or perhaps the people there used to it already. Who knows? There’s a shrine there where Prophet Hud took a refuge.

The cave where Prophet Hud took refuge

The cave where Prophet Hud took refuge

The shrine with a mosque beside it is situated on top of a hill. On this day, it was quite windy. Almost like a sandstorm was about to come. While wearing glasses made things easier to look around compared to people who didn’t wear them, my pockets became a bit sandy and the temperature was colder compared in Amman. Since this is just a shrine, the actual tomb site for Prophet Hud is in Yemen. Moving away from the hill, we journeyed to another mountainous area where a fort of former Byzantine Rome lies. Ajloun Castle. During the Crusade era, a nephew of Sultan Salahuddin Al-Ayubi captured the fort around 1184 from the Crusaders to cut off their land supplies and reinforcements for the Crusader state in Jerusalem. He later constructed the fort into a huge castle. I climbed up to the roof of the castle and from there I got the view of how important the castle was. Because it was high on top of the mountain area there, I could see the surrounding area very clear. Means that if there’s an enemy force coming down from north it’s pretty much visible. The castle was also equipped with ballistas and trebuchets which made them capable of bombarding the enemy from afar.

Ajloun Castle

Ajloun Castle

The only vegetation nearby the castle are olive trees which may not helping the enemy with visibility advantage at all. Oh, according to the locals there, the olive trees were already there for centuries. Surely olive trees can live long, eh? From there, we visited a town called Jerash. In Jerash, there’s the ruin of a Byzantine city. The Byzantine city gate caught my attention at first. While there were some workers doing some restoration jobs, the other ruins behind the entrance made intrigued me further. Of course that it isn’t as astonishing as Petra but it’s still historical things from the Roman era. Part of the hippodrome is still there albeit only a quarter of it as our guide told us.

In Jerash

In Jerash

Sadly, due to lack of time, we didn’t go further towards the theatres, baths and forum ruins. Bought some souvenirs and almost feel annoyed by a persistent seller there. Later on, we had lunch at a place called Wadi Akhdar. Afterwards, we’re going back to Amman and I fell asleep inside the bus. I woke up when we arrived at downtown Amman. A famous place for purchasing souvenirs at cheaper price.

Downtown Amman

Downtown Amman

Funnily enough, I didn’t plan to buy anything. But then I wonder why not if I buy some flags of Jordan? At a shop, I found stuffs that I want including a Palestinian flag. Personally, I also wanted a flag of Israel but that would be freaking stupid to ask some Jordanian for a such thing. Interestingly, the shopkeeper recognized people like us and immediately asked where do I come from. As soon as I answered Malaysia, he spoke Malay language to me. A nice guy. Well, that’s how a businessman should be. Lingering around the shop while my mom choose some stuffs to buy, the shopkeeper noticed my sweater that I wore. My Anime Shrine sweater. The Arab shopkeeper saw it and said, “アニメ..”

Arab Guy: 私は日本語がしてる。
Me: そうですか?
Arab Guy: あれ?あなたも?
Me: ちょっと *while showing hand gesture*
Arab Guy: そう何ですか、すごい。私は日本語好きです。
Me: 私も。

That awkward moment when I was speaking Japanese with a random Arab person. Some more in Jordan. Like I said earlier, stuffs are quite cheaper in downtown Amman where I can get a can of drink for 1 USD unlike 2 or 3 USD in Petra days ago. After getting what we wanted, we head back to the hotel. The traffic was quite heavy. Well, it’s Amman afterall. Back in the hotel, my dad called his friend who is currently working at the Malaysian Embassy in Jordan. For the first time ever in this Arab world, we had Malaysian food as we went to his house for a dinner. Before the civil war in Syria became worsen, he managed the Malaysian students in Syria as well. He told us some story especially about his near-miss incident while on the way to Homs in Syria from Jordan. It’s almost midnight when we’re going back to our hotel for the last night in Jordan.

Day 7 (21/10/2012)

Last day in Jordan. We checked out from Sadeen Hotel around 9:40 a.m. after having breakfast earlier. Sunday morning is a very busy day for Amman as the beginning day of the week (Middle Easter countries usually have Friday and Saturday as off days). We visited the tomb of Prophet Joshua (Yusha’ bin Noon).

Long tomb is long

Long tomb is long

Personally, I didn’t know much about Joshua prior this visit. While this tomb is situated in Jordan, there’s another claim of his tomb site in Palestine. As a very prominent figure for the Jews, the tomb in Palestine is currently heavily contested between Muslims and Jews. We didn’t stay long here as later on we went to an olive oil processing factory. Not really that big but the factory is where olive harvesters bring their olives here for processing. The hardware there was made by Italians. Quite a sophisticated equipment. This machine can almost make a very pure oil products from those olives. Unlike traditional way of pressing those tiny fruits into oil, this machine could separate external element such as dirts and water to make the most pure oil.

Fresh olive oil

Fresh olive oil

Though, people have been argued that the olive fruits harvested within the city of Jerusalem being the best olives. I had a taste of fresh olive oil directly from the machine and it tasted…. oily. Sorry for being vague as I am not a food connoisseur. After that, ou guide told us that we will be going to a place that no other Malaysian had went before, to the tomb of Prophet Shuaib.

Prophet Shuaib's Tomb

Prophet Shuaib’s Tomb

It’s hilly place just like Prophet Hud’s shrine. But the hills there have been planted with olive trees from the bottom to the top with occasional fig trees being planted in between. I was starting to compare the situation with Malaysian palm oil plantations. As we travelling on, we stopped by a fruit shop just down under the hills. Our next visiting place was the Sleepers’ Cave (Ashabul Kahfi).

Several tombs

Several tombs

Our guide explained to us that there are claims for such cave like in Turkey and Syria although the one in Jordan here has somewhat clearer evidences about the possibility being a proper site. Because according to traditional story there, after the tombs were built, a church was erected on top of the tombs by the Roman emperor of the era. Today, we could see the ruins of some building above the tombs. Additionally, there were Arabic scriptures carved inside the tomb that believed was around Umayyah period. Or was it Abbassiyah? I couldn’t remember. During our visit there, a local guide, probably the guardian of the place, told us the story of the Sleepers. Spontaneously, I asked about ‘the original church’ that was claimed to be situated above the tomb. He’s like scolding me saying that there’s no church. “The Quran said it is masjid, not a church!” as he raised his voice. Yeah, my bad, whatever. Arguably, the Sleepers were the followers of Prophet Isa or Jesus and the Emperor who saw them out of their cave were followers of Isa as well who made the ‘church’ or ‘temple’ or a holy ritual site there. Yeah, so, we prayed at the mosque there just beside the site. Our guide also told us that, there were also remains of dog’s skeleton which consistent towards Sleepers’ Cave story that they had a dog following them. Unfortunately, the skeleton bones were stolen as he claimed. Before we’re heading towards the airport, we stopped by a restaurant which I had one of the best lunch in Jordan. The restaurant is called Abu Zaghleh. If we Malaysians are familiar with Arabian cuisines like kabsa and madghot, this one is simply like a true Arabian cuisine. Very delicious.

Dericious

Dericious

After lunch, we continued our journey and reached the airport around 3:05 p.m. Jordan time. After unloaded our luggage, we bid farewell to our tour guide and the bus driver. I said, “الى اللقأ” while shaking the bus driver’s hand and then to Mr Atef, the Jordanian tour guide.

Back in Malaysia on Monday. Jet lag. After all these months, I am not sure what should I say for the conclusion. My mind is blank but I really missed the place so much. If you wish to see more picture, you can see them here.

الى اللقأ

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