Monday, November 8, 2010

Holy Toledo! Or indeed Holy Jerusalem!

The Western Wall 

I have never seen anything like it. An amazing vista as thousands – nay – hundreds of thousands – of heaving, sweating, foaming pilgrims pushed, shoved and elbowed each other out of the way to see where Jesus was born, crucified, got his driver’s license, had his Bar Mitzvah, rose from the dead etc.

We were sort of carried along with the seething masses – there was very little optional movement but we clung to each other shouting things like ‘I love you Pumpkin’ and ‘See you on the other side – if there is one’.

Reunited at last we embraced and sobbed and raced for the Jaffa Gate – pausing only to throw money at the swarms of Charlatans, Bandits, Merchants. Pickpockets, Taxi drivers, Beggars and the wide range of multifarious Ruffians whose sworn duty it is to relieve Pilgrims of every last Shekel so that they finally arrive at Ben Gurion airport with empty pockets but with full heart and with bags of Pictures, Postcards, Books, Maps and some of the most gruesome schlock that was ever manufactured in the name of religion – and there is a lot of competition for that title.

And what you have experienced in the Old City is good training for what you are about to experience at Ben Gurion when you try to leave Israel. Think again if you think you have experienced a security check anywhere else.

I have never been asked so many questions in such a short space of time. The only saving grace is that most of the security staff are young Israeli woman many of whom are very cute. However, they are supported by a large number of teenagers carrying very large guns indeed. And I don’t mean automatic pistols. I mean the very largest Mo Fo weapons I have ever seen!  These guns are as big as these boys are. And I have no doubt that they know how to use them.

However – moving at comatose snail pace through security is good training for when you get to Immigration - which is something the likes of which I have not seen for 30 years. I vaguely remember something like it in Hong Kong in about 1980. Therapy has erased most of the memories.

Imagine a large room the size of a Basketball stadium. The maximum capacity is say 2,000 people so you cram 10,000 in there. There are 30 booths capable of housing an Immigration Officer. You designate 5 of these for Israeli Citizens. Then you designate the other 25 booths for ‘Foreign Passports’.  You close 20 of these. 

You then hold a competition. The lucky ones who can reach an Immigration Booth can leave the country. To make the competition fair, there are no barriers or supervised lines. There are no staff and no one giving direction.  It is open slather. Natural selection. The survival of the fittest. Darwin’s finest hour.

The frail and the weak have just spent three hours getting through security so are now in very poor shape. The last time they saw water was when it was confiscated by the security people a long time ago. They are licking the sweat of each other’s foreheads.  They are dispatched easily and trampled underfoot.  

All children under the age of 8 are now completely and frothingly hysterical so their parents are trying to prevent them from turning purple and exploding. The way around them is easy.

This leaves the strong, the cunning, the desperate, and the determined. I am not good at this because I am not pushy. Unfortunately for me, almost everyone else in that hall was, so it took me longer than expected because I kept getting shoved aside by Eastern Europeans and Germans. (Russians are ferocious!) But I made it. I popped out into an oasis, a fairyland of cafes and shops, of seats, of Tuna Salad sandwiches and free wireless Internet.

See - it is training for Heaven. Struggle, be good, visit holy sites,  you will reach paradise.

Tomorrow. The oldest city in the world. The deadest sea in the world. What Palestine is really like and why it has no contestants in the ‘Tidy Towns Awards’.


  1. Love your description of Immigration. Glad you survived!

  2. That's pretty much how I remember Jerusalem - Immigration has never been described better! Dead Sea is awesome - you should go to Masada if you get a chance - it's stunning

  3. Wanderlust: It is a strange way to treat tourists.

    Glen: Yes - sorry we missed Masada.

    angiv: Yes indeed!