The moment we pass security control at the Western Wall, we hear happy song. Forty young people dance in a ring and sing Hava Nagila at the top of their voices while ultraorthodox Jews whisper their prayers to the wall a few meters away.
I have never felt this close to Judaism, says one of the youngsters, whose trip to Israel is paid for by the organization Taglit/Birthright Israel.
JERUSALEM. It is with reverence that I pass through the Jaffa Gate and enter Jerusalems Old City. Within its walls Jesus staggered under the weight of his cross, King Solomon erected his temple and (perhaps) Muhammed dreamt that he flew here on a winged horse with a womans face
The Jaffa Gate leads to the Christian section of the Old City and to my surprise the first thing I see is a Swedish flag marking out the Swedish Christian Study Centre.
From time immemorial the Old City had been divided into four parts: the Christian, the Jewish, the Muslim and the Armenian sectors. But the moment the State of Israel was pronounced on May 14, 1948 (following the November 1947 UN decision to divide the British Palestine mandate between Jews and Arabs), the surrounding Arab states launched a military attack on Israel. Jordan occupied the Old City and drove all the Jews out.
It was not until the Six Day War in June 1967 that Israel gained control over Eastern Jerusalem and as able to merge the Old City and modern Western Jerusalem. But although Israel had not evicted anyone, the UN in its Resolution 478 from 1980 has declared that Israel has no right to this part of its capital. Some even claim that Eastern Jerusalem is a part of occupied Palestinian territory.
Jerusalem lies 900 meters above sea level so its alleys are quite cool. Two religions have an irrefutable reason to venerate every stone. The Christians walk along Via Dolorosa and visit the dark and mystical Church of the Holy Sepulcher containing the tomb of Jesus. Erected in AD 335 it was burned by the Persians in 614, destroyed by the Muslim Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah on October 18, 1009 and rebuilt 1027-1048. Next door to the church is a mosque from where the imams scream their message that whoever doesnt toe the line of Allah is doomed.
A short promenade away is the Temple Mount where King Solomon built a temple during ninth century BC on the spot where, according to Genesis in the Old Testament, Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac. Despite the fact that the Mount is in one of the Old Citys lowest lying areas, Jews always go up to the Mount, never down.
The Wailing Wall also known as the Western Wall is part of the wall supporting the Jewish temple that once stood here and is thought is to be close to the temples Holy of Holies. For that reason prayers at the Wall are thought to be particularly powerful. Throughout the ages Jews have gathered here and many visitors place bits of paper with written prayers in the cracks of the wall. Many are awaiting the moment when water starts running down the stones because that will be an indication that the arrival of the Messiah is imminent.
To get to the Western Wall one must pass the kind of security control known from every airport in the world. Bags are being x-rayed and bodies are scanned. As in any other place in Israel no chances are taken. Terrorists and suicide bombers pose a constant risk.
But what is Islams connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount? Why do Muslims claim that Jerusalem or al-Quds as they call it is their third holiest city after Mecca and Medina?
One wont find the answer in the Koran for Jerusalem isnt mentioned there (but 667 times in the Bible). The Muslims claim to the city is based on a legend that the Prophet Muhammed dreamt that he flew on a winged horse with the face of a woman (buraq) to the farthest mosque. Since the 1920s Muslims have labeled the Western Wall the Al-Buraq Wall because this was where Muhammed is supposed to have tied his winged horse.
Despite their lack of any legitimate claim to Jerusalem, Muslims maintain that they have the best entitlement to the city and many of them argue in all seriousness that Jews have nothing to do there. For example, Hassan Khader, founder of the Al Quds Encyclopedia said this during an interview with a TV channel run by the Palestrina Authority:
The issue of the Al-Buraq Wall (the Western Wall) is one of the wonders which we dont know why it happened in this order [of historical events]. Who would have believed, back then, when Islam began in the time of the prophet, who would have believed that the Israelis would arrive 1,400 years later, conquer Jerusalem and would make this wall into their special place of worship, where they worship and pray? Its incredible!
On the spot where King Solomons temple was erected, we now find the Dome of the Rock, which may look like a mosque but isnt. It is open for prayers but as no services are held, it is not considered to be a mosque. The Dome of the Rock was built between AD 687 and 691 during the ninth caliphate and is claimed to be the place where Muhammed ascended to heaven accompanied by the Archangel Gabriel. A short distance away is the al-Aqsa Mosque, built after the Muslim conquest of the city in AD 638.
Back to the chanting and dancing youngsters whose trip to the Holy Land has been made possible by a donation from the American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, 80. Adelson is among the richest in America, with a fortune of $23.3 billion according to Forbes Magazine. Taglit-Birthright Israel is a collaborative project between the Israeli government, local Jewish organizations and leading Jewish philanthropists. Jewish youngsters between 18 and 26 may apply for a ten-day trip to Israel intended to strengthen solidarity between Israel and Jewish communities around the world-
Taglit started out in 1994 but the program didnt blossom until Sheldon Adelson went in with 25 million dollars in 2007. Over the years he has donated 180 million dollars and more then 350,000 Jewish youngsters all over the world have so far visited Israel as part of the initiative.
The young people who dance and sing in front of the Western Wall radiate joy and energy.
The trip to Israel is the most fantastic thing I have ever been a part of, says a guy from New York.
I have never felt closer to Judaism, says another from Chicago.
The visit to Jerusalems Old City leaves me humbled. To watch all the Jews in front of the Western Wall and all the Christians in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher creates a link to the past and reminds me of where we come from. The fact that Muslims play football outside the Dome of the Rock and claim that Jews have no right whatsoever to Jerusalem is at best revolting and at worst pure provocation.
It is preposterous that Muslims have succeeded in conning an entire world into accepting that they have any claim to Jerusalem because Muhammed flew on a horse with the face of a woman