Gazing at the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

“Who is the owner of the language of this land? Who loves it more?

Woman Gazing at the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem 2011

© Leslie Hossack

Located inside the Old City, the golden Dome of the Rock is situated within the walls of the Temple Mount, a holy place for Muslims and Jews. Covering an area of 35 acres, the Temple Mount remains under the control of Muslim religious authorities; however, responsibility for security was taken over by Israelis after their occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

In this photograph, the woman gazing at the Dome of the Rock is standing near the top of the Mount of Olives, looking out over the Jewish cemetery immediately beneath her. Across the valley, the Yusefiya Muslim Cemetery lies outside the walls of the Old City.

Muslims make up approximately 16% of the Israeli population while Jews make up 75% of the total population currently estimated at 7,746,000. Over 700,000 Palestinians are citizens of Israel, living inside the country’s 1949 armistice borders. About 1.2 million live in the West Bank (including 200,000 in East Jerusalem) and about one million in the Gaza Strip. (Middle East Research and Information Project) Israel is a place of complexities and inequities.

Mahmoud Darwish was widely regarded as the Palestinian national poet. He admired Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai, but described his poetry as a “challenge to me, because we write about the same place. He wants to use the landscape and history for his own benefit, based on my destroyed identity. So we have a competition: who is the owner of the language of this land? Who loves it more? Who writes it better?”

Praying at the Western Wall, Jerusalem

“Jerusalem is full of used Jews, worn out by history…”

Woman Praying, Western Wall, Jerusalem 2011

© Leslie Hossack

Jerusalem is full of used Jews, worn out by history,
Jews second-hand, slightly damaged, at bargain prices.

And the eye yearns toward Zion all the time. And all the eyes
of the living and the dead are cracked like eggs
on the rim of the bowl, to make the city
puff up rich and fat.

Jerusalem is full of tired Jews,
always goaded on again for holidays, for memorial days,
like circus bears dancing on aching legs.

excerpt from Jerusalem Is Full of Used Jews, in Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems, by Yehuda Amichai

The lines above are taken from the same poem that I quoted yesterday, written by the celebrated Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. He was born in 1924 in Germany to an Orthodox Jewish family that immigrated to British Palestine in 1935 and settled in Jerusalem. When he was 22, Amichai started writing poetry, and he later became poet in residence at several universities, including Berkeley, New York University, and Yale.

Amichai was a soldier, a teacher, a scholar, and an internationally acclaimed poet. He wrote in Hebrew, and his works have been translated into more than 35 languages. Yehuda Amichai is also known as a peace advocate who worked with many Arab writers and Palestinian poets. He is quoted as saying: “I have no illusions. It’s quite difficult for poets to communicate with one another in a society that is politically torn apart the way ours is.” Amichai continued to live in Jerusalem until his death in 2000.

Women at the Western Wall, Jerusalem

“What does Jerusalem need? It doesn’t need a mayor, it needs a ring-master…”

Three Women at the Western Wall, Jerusalem 2011

© Leslie Hossack

The Western or Wailing Wall is a 187-foot long section of ancient wall located on the western side of the Temple Mount. It is a retaining wall built by Herod the Great around 19 BCE. He expanded the plateau where the First and Second Temples stood, creating a wide expanse which is still called the Temple Mount. In 70 CE, Romans destroyed the Second Temple, and subsequently the Western Wall became the holiest of all Jewish sites.

Today, tension still surrounds this sacred place. In order to enter the huge plaza in front of the Western Wall, visitors must pass through airport style security. The fenced off prayer area at the base of the wall is divided into a large men’s section and a smaller women’s section. In the women’s section, most individuals are engaged in silent prayer and contemplation, and many visitors place written prayers in the cracks between the stones. These enormous pieces of limestone weigh between two and eight tons each. Altogether, the wall consists of 45 rows of stones, 28 above ground and 17 underground.

What does Jerusalem need? It doesn’t need a mayor,
it needs a ring-master, whip in hand,
who can tame prophecies, train prophets to gallop
around and around in a circle, teach its stones to line up
in a bold, risky formation for the grand finale

Later they’ll jump back down again
to the sound of applause and wars.

excerpt from Jerusalem Is Full of Used Jews, in Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems, by Yehuda Amichai