Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Sarah Palin and a naive tourist at the Wailing Wall

This is autobiography, prompted by reading this morning's newspapers: Sarah Palin has visited the Wailing Wall.

I went there in December 1995. I had travelled to Jerusalem to represent my University department in preliminary negotiations for a study programme with an Israeli institution. I had a day for tourism before my meetings, so I headed first to the Wailing Wall.

The Wall was busy with religious activity, so I hung back at a respectful distance. A man in a black coat and a black hat, rather like my own, approached me. Would I like to see inside the Wall? I gestured to my own black hat (a fedora), which I now realised could be misleading, and replied "I'm not Jewish". "I know" he replied and took my arm.

Inside the robing room off the side of the Wall, he sat me down and told me a bit about the history. He pointed to the crevices in the wall with little slips of paper pushed into them and explained the tradition of leaving a prayer - though he may have said a wish. He gave me a slip of paper and I wrote my wish and pushed it into the wall. He then asked me for his fee.

I paid him and got up to leave. At the exit I was surrounded by three or four youngish men in the robes required for praying at the Wall. They wanted money. They had tales of woe. One of them lifted his beard to show a tracheotomy. They were quite aggressive.It cost me about $100 to get out.

I was a bit disturbed but nonetheless headed on to the Dome of the Rock. An elderly man in an old tweed overcoat accosted me. Here we go again. He offered a guided tour for a modest sum and so, knowing nothing of how I should conduct myself in a Mosque, I signed up. He led me into the Mosque, brushing aside parties of women and children in a rather imperious manner, and explained things to me in flawless English from the 1940s. I imagined that he had learnt it from the British in Mandate Palestine. At the end of my tour, he gave me his card and wished me well.

Unlike Sarah Palin, I also visited Bethlehem - I have written about this experience in the Stories section of my website, www.selectedworks.co.uk. Look for "A Christmas Carol". You will find me there shaking hands with Yasser Arafat ...

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