We had been walking for many months to see them. The Walls of Constantinople. They are stirring, ancient, like the decaying teeth of a defeated warrior. These walls have protected different Cities, all in this place. There was walled Greek Byzantium then a small affluent, Roman City centred on the hill now supporting the Topkapi Palace, then the City of Constantine – the New Rome. This new City was chosen to be the Capital of his Christian Roman Empire. It has been Latin (Catholic crusaders pillaged and occupied the City) and of course Ottomans after their conquest in 1453.
Constantinople 1422 – Crisroforo Buondelmonte
The City has been seen as a prize and indeed a jewel. Each time, both the occupier and would-be coloniser has craved the City and each has stamped an identity on it – and their own history. That is the nature of division and conflict.
Some months later we are walking out of the Jordan Valley from Jericho in the West Bank, through stark dry desert mountains towards Jerusalem. We have walked through restive Arab Countries which view Israel as Palestine and the proper homeland of Palestinian people who have lived there for very long periods, so they claim. (both Israeli and Palestinian claims to ancient possession of the land are dubious) Again, Israel reminds me of Byzantium.
Massively armed and more developed, but surrounded by enemies (however interspersed with Christian communities). Israel is also building walls to protect itself – and the entirety of its desired lands. The 700km long Security Walls, reminds me of the Long or Anastasian Walls built 65km in front of Constantinople in the mid 5th Century. Although only 56km long, they were 3.30 m thick and over 5 m high – reminiscent of the Security Wall. The 5th Century walls could not be staffed and were abandoned at some time in the 7th century.
Hagia Sophia, Constantinople? A Christian Church – now an Istanbul museum.
It is easy to go to the remaining great Churches of Constantinople and to be wistful about the loss of the great Christian city. The remaining Byzantine Churches are museums – in particular Hagia Sophia, so crowded with tourists, and Chora (Church of the Holy Savior in Chora), busy but not totally overrun by the impercipient. So we can have some sympathy with the racial loss apparently felt by elements of Judaism? Maybe or maybe not. But to recreate our faulty or falsified perception of history, and a racial history at that? Then to enforce that with force, and displace other populations? I think we may not properly seek that in Istanbul, or in Israel.
Without some fair settlement and convergence in development and cultural achievement, I see nothing but suffering on all sides, and the same outcome for Israel, Palestine and those separated by the “Security Wall”. Separating races with walls has a bad history.
Banksy graffiti Israeli Security wall
Jericho to Mizpe Yeriho and Jerusalem
Once entering the West Bank, Jerusalem is very close. It is quite possible to walk in a long day from Jericho to Jerusalem. We decide on two.
From Jericho, where Jew will not set foot, we head West and along the smaller road past Herod’s Palace – or rather the site of it. The ancient road is not easy to find – and indeed we don’t find it.
The old road from Jericho to Jerusalem 1934
This is Arabic Land, and along this parallel route we enter more and more remote areas as we climb into the dry hills. After a while the road is blocked – and and on the other side of the blockage, a few tourist coaches. We are surprised to find them. They are taking some tourists and school children to the Orthodox Monastery of St. George. We quickly descend and glad to enter the place and visit the monks before the crowds arrive. The Monks have good relations with the local populations as usual.
St George’s Monastery
On leaving we notice a trail heading down the Wadi floor – which is quiet, very quiet. This is the way into Wadi Al Qelt, a narrow gorge which widens into Bedouin grazing and some ancient water systems.
Wadi al Qelt – Arabic Language defaced
It’s significant because there is an Israeli walking trail thereabout – and that the State plans to cleanse the area of the Bedouin and resettle them in villages elsewhere – presumably outside the planned State? Certainly, there is no indication that anyone plans for this area to be part of a Palestinian State. The deafening silence from the West, (and indeed from Abraham Path Initiative, Israel) about this ethnic cleansing is sad. Emails remain unanswered and I guess they never will be.
The desert Wadi is spectacular, and the Bedouin so friendly, I cannot ask them about their situation – or explain what we are doing, so we pass by too quickly. After the valley widens, we head back to the new main road, and meet the first leisure trekkers – two young Israelis. It is also shocking to meet a normal (for us) couple with a women who speaks for herself. It is difficult not to find the meeting comfortable and acceptable. They have a high quality map, bought in a shop – which would not have been possible since North Italy. When we tell them where we started – in Jericho – “the Arab town” as the lad describes it, they visibly recoil, imagining terrible things of us, and quickly they are gone on their way. It is a curious thing – we have been judged as belonging to “the other side” by each of those sides in just a few hours. Maybe they are both correct, a little.
The next day we will enter Jerusalem – where the underlying spiritual presence seems to exemplify every negative and dividing quality in the inhabitants. It seems in this world, great spiritual purity is always accompanied by great difficulties in the group mind or individual personality.
View over the West Bank and Jordan Valley