Old City of Jerusalem, where seeing is also believing by Tayo Fatunla

The 18th Israeli International Festival for Animation, Comics and Caricature, established in 2001, was held in Tel-Aviv, Israel, last August.

I couldn’t resist travelling to Israel when I was officially invited. I felt very honoured to be invited to the land of biblical proportions. Proverbs 18:16 says that ‘your gift will make room for you’, so when I was invited as a guest comic artist and cartoonist to the Festival, I used the privilege and opportunity to request a visit to the Old City of Jerusalem and the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum.

The woman with the issue of blood, who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment for her healing; the raising of Lazarus from the dead; Christ’s numerous healings… these events all took place in public, with stories passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, so I looked forward to seeing with my eyes some of what I have read and been aware of in the Bible.

Arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport and heading to my hotel, one couldn’t help but notice how beautiful Tel Aviv is, with people on electric scooters all over the city, with its Uber-like airconditioned taxis and friendly people.

I requested a visit to Jerusalem and, with my time-tabled schedule on radio, Israel’s cable TV interviews and participation at the Festival, I had a day off to visit Jerusalem, which usually takes over an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv. My chaperone for that day, Ofem, was very good at explaining the history of Jerusalem, as he lives in and loves Jerusalem. On our way, he pointed out two images, which remain etched on my mind.

One image was a massive Disney-like mosque, built by a wealthy Chechen national, which was sited on top of a hill, and the second were buildings high above the hills, which are actually burial plot-shaped buildings divided into shaded burial halls, and shafts where vegetation grows under direct sunlight. It had become necessary to bury the dead on different levels above ground.

The hilly Jerusalem looks modern, and I wondered how long it would take to arrive at the biblical and historical parts of the Old City. My first visit was to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. It wasn’t that I hadn’t believed, but being there reiterated the atrocities meted out to human beings. To deny the Holocaust is like denying slavery.

And onward to the Old City of Jerusalem, made up of four quarters: namely the Christian Quarter, Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter and Armenian Quarter. We entered the City through the Jaffa Gate entrance, located next to the Tower of David (also known as the Jerusalem Citadel). I visited on a Friday, the Muslims’ big day of prayer and, from within the West Bank area, over 20 to 30 thousand people milled through the Roofs Market Promenade stalls and shops, to head towards the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Dome of the Rock), an Islamic shrine located on the Temple Mount.

Walking through the market, you can see Christians on pilgrimage and tourists heading towards the Jewish Quarter bask in the experience of the historical Old City. To get to this quarter, with its Western wall and tunnels, where the Orthodox Jews pray, you have to go through airport-style security, where people and their belongings are scanned before they are allowed access to the Western wall area. Police were everywhere. The Jews at the Western wall were not distracted from their praying by tourists, who had come from all around the world.

There were free white kippahs for male tourists to wear on their heads. Kippahs are generally made of cloth, and are worn at all times by Jewish men in Orthodox communities to fulfil the customary requirement for the head to be covered. Kippahs have become souvenirs, sold in souvenir shops.

We arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter, where two of the most guarded and holiest sites in Christendom are located: the site where Jesus Christ of Nazareth was crucified on the cross, at a place known as Calvary, also known as Golgotha, and Jesus’ empty tomb, where He was buried and resurrected. The atmosphere at the tomb felt very holy. You had to bend to get through a gap to arrive at the tomb. The pillars at the entrance of the church had distinctive etchings on them, which appeared to show that graffiti has been around for over a thousand years. The date etched on one of the pillars by a visitor was the year 1384. One day wasn’t enough to visit other biblical areas, but just seeing the Old City of Jerusalem had made my day.

I was met at the airport by a Jew when I arrived, and driven back to the airport by a Palestinian taxi driver on the Sabbath day – on a Saturday, a day of rest. I was certainly well looked after by ‘God’s own people’.

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