In my return to the Holy City I feel like a lost desert prophet, returned to the world of men, altered, perhaps inextricably in parallel, still in some remote waste. It is disorienting and intangibly uncomfortable. Oh tragic Jerusalem! So near the center, always at the intersection; of insubstantial spirit and manifest political necessity, of just peace and the defilement of war, of Israel and Palestine.
The divides are mirrored in the landscape, where the ancient walls and cobbles of the old city quickly and inexplicably dissolve into the blinding modernity of West Jerusalem. The global commonalities of communal culture and minor poverty, found in variants marked by their character, not their utility, from Beijing to Cairo. Hanging meat, finger food, toilet paper bins, undrinkable water, sleeping mats, and the same small plastic chairs. The same sterile glass and metal stretching into empty heavens, the same dreams of safety and fear, the same efficiency, and the same isolation.
The history of this city is written with clarity on its walls. The empires, revolts, conquests, and genocidal massacres. The Ottaman-era walls are a patchwork marked by ever constant razing and rebuilding; the city has been destroyed to its foundations twice. Cananite, Egyptian, Hebrew, Babalonian, Macedonian, Seleucian, Hasmonean, Roman, Persian, Byzantine, Umayyad, Turkish, Fatimid, crusader, Ayyubid, Tartar, Ayyubid, Ottoman, English, Israeli, Jordanian, Isreali; confronted by such roiling successions, it is difficult to believe in the solidity of the current victors.
Stasis is an alluring concept in places with a more linear history. Here the lies of national narratives are made clear. Even as they struggle to find new life, expulsion and conquest mar the clean stories of the growth of a people, and the indulgences of common culture are in constant threat as culture expands, merges, and fades, leaving us to sift for some dim shred of meaning in the bloodshed and ash that accompanied their heraldic arrival. There is little to be found. Instead, the stories we tell, of struggles and victory, mask a darker truth; the violence we inflict is, in its final moment, naked and devoid of greater meaning. The battle-lines of chimpanzees, forgotten in the chaos. They will be buried and forgotten, like bones in the desert wastes, leaving only the momentary imprint of their suffering.