This is the fourth part in a series tagged “A Stroll Through Israel”. If you won’t jump into the fourth episode of a Game of Thrones season, you may want to begin with the first article.
Our trip to Israel began with Tel Aviv, then Nazareth, Bethlehem, Rawabi and Ramallah. Having gone through these cities to view Israel and Palestine from a different lens, it was time to tour what is unarguably the most contested piece of hills in this galaxy. From being a space merely contested for mainly political reasons, Jerusalem morphed into the site of a religiously-charged contest, and has now retained the political dimension, making it a hotspot for flares. It is in this context that the #LetsTalkBusiness entourage went on a tour of Old Jerusalem.
To begin our tour, we checked out of our hotel in Jerusalem, and then were introduced to Jeremy at the Mughrabi gate, the only gate at the Temple Mount that is open to non-Muslims. Jeremy is a Jewish scholar at one of the universities in Jerusalem. Just as we went through the gate, we heard the sound of bongo drums behind us, leading a procession of Jews on a coming-of-age ceremony for a young boy. The proud boy walked under a canopy held up by his peers. We were now ready to go into the Muslim section.
A little digression may be helpful here. The temple mount has significance to three key religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For the Jews, it is the site of two temples destroyed by the Babylonian and Roman empires respectively, and the place where they believe Abraham was stopped from sacrificing his son, Isaac. Hence, they see this area as the holiest site in Judaism. For Christians, the same area has symbolism; first with respect to Christianity’s Jewish roots, and then the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Muslims also consider the same area as the third holiest site in Islam with respect to Muhammad.
As we approached the Israeli guards at the security post, Jeremy asked us to remove any religious symbols on our persons or even in bags as non-Islamic symbols are not allowed into the area. Everyone complied and Jeremy even had to leave some printed documents in his bag with someone at the gate. As we went through the security post, I had my laptop confiscated. Apparently, laptops are not allowed into the area. On clearing the Israeli post, we were reminded of the rules imposed by the Muslim controllers of the area: modest clothing, and no touching between males and females.
When we entered the main courtyard, Jeremy did his thing, drawing on his deep knowledge to explain different aspects of Muslim, Jewish and Christian culture. We also observed a scene where Israeli soldiers formed a de-facto security corridor for a group of Jews who were walking through the courtyard. While we waited for one of us who used the opportunity to do Muslim prayers at the accessible mosque, I tried to speak with some fully armed Israeli security forces about their views on the recent violence at the site. “Sorry, we can’t speak about our feelings. Please enjoy your stay in Israel”.
We then bypassed the imposing Al Aqsa mosque and went through the Cotton Merchants street to the Jewish section. The key monument in the Jewish section is the remnant of the Western Wall; the only remaining structure from the destroyed Jewish temple. At the wall, Jeremy contextualised the activities at the wall in view of a current legal struggle regarding gender-segregated sections. While some Jews argue that men and women should pray separately, some others argue in favour of egalitarianism, and the case has now reached the Israeli supreme court.
Moving on from the Jewish area, we went towards the Christian section, which is controlled by seven key Christian sects. As we viewed different churches and monuments relating to Christianity, some of them seeming as idolatry to someone like me, Jeremy touched on the issue of sacred spaces and how this is handled in both religious and secular contexts. We wrapped up our tour with lunch at the Jewish quarter, but not before I went to retrieve my laptop from the Israelis.
After lunch, we visited the office of Mobileye, an Israeli firm recently bought by Intel for US$15.3 billion. In the first article, I mentioned that Mobileye’s technology is being used by many major car manufacturers in the world. Our anchor person, Erica, informed us that the technology arose from a challenge given to an Israeli professor to create a system to avoid collisions using only one camera. Her presentation highlighted average gross national product losses of about 1-3% due to vehicle collisions, and attributed the collisions to 93% human factors, with 80% of these human factors occurring within 3 seconds of distraction. Mobileye’s technology is an advanced driver assistance system aimed at preventing such collisions through emergency braking and autonomous driving.
Still feeling the euphoria of Mobileye’s amazing technology, we proceeded to the offices of Energiya Global, where we met with its founder. Yosef took us through the process that led to the company’s formation, up to its partnership with the Obama administration for the Power Africa initiative. The discussion was very interactive and covered different aspects of power sector infrastructure development, from planning to financing to regulatory issues. He proudly described Israel’s role in the development of solar energy with a link between California and Israel. Since his company is actively involved in deploying solar power plants in African countries, he also highlighted collaborations with the World Bank and the US government to mitigate political risks to investments. After we had finished getting our heads filled with how to solve the world’s energy issues, we took pictures and departed.
The journey back to Tel Aviv was largely quiet as most persons were either tired from the day’s walk around the hilly Old Jerusalem, or were reflecting on all we had learned in the course of the week. We reached our hotel in Tel Aviv, checked in and had dinner, during which some groups passionately discussed international issues, especially regarding trade, diplomacy and foreign policy. Dinner over, it was every person to their rooms, or if they preferred, the bubbling Tel Aviv night. After all, it was the last night for this trip.
- Some colleagues have violently demanded that I mention I asked for Wi-Fi at the Western Wall. In my defence, in a place of spiritual significance, a strong Wi-Fi connection could be the best auxiliary for the spiritual.