I was invited by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to participate in a three-day training programme on Public and Digital Diplomacy. The training was organised for Israeli Embassies in English Speaking African countries – Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa and Angola.
As part of the training, I had the opportunity to tour some parts of Jerusalem and a bit of Jaffa. The city of Jerusalem is holy to people of Jewish, Christian and Moslem faith. Jerusalem has been the historical, spiritual and national centre of the Jewish people since King David’s time, 3000 years ago. It is home to more holy sites than any other city in the world. For us Christians, Jerusalem is revered as the site of Jesus’ Last Supper, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension.
Besides the above, Jerusalem is the capital of modern Israel – it hosts the seat of government, among many state institutions and ministries. The city is the largest in Israel – both in terms of area and population. Due to time constraint, much of my touring was in the Old City of Jerusalem and some streets of Jaffa. Though the visit was short, I still managed to make some interesting observations worth sharing with you.
Jerusalem came across to me as a compact city with a blend of old and new. Though an ancient city with ancient relics, Jerusalem greets you with modernity as well. This is depicted in the lifestyle of the people and various architectural designs.
If you are looking for a city of religions, traditions and culture, then it is Jerusalem. The three major world monotheistic religions are found in Jerusalem – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Jerusalem has a vibrant mix of cultures and traditions which are reflected in the diversity of the city’s neighbourhoods, each with a unique ambiance and beautiful architecture. Synagogues, mosques and churches are found at almost every turn in the Old City. Cultures and traditions of the three monotheistic religions are preserved and upheld by the young and old.
The people are friendly and hospitable. For the few times I had to walk on the streets, I received warm smiles. My colleagues and I had one evening to explore the city by ourselves and we did it with so much ease. It was not difficult for us to ask for directions to where we could, for instance, take a bus or change money to buy things or pay for services. Though the official language of communication is Hebrew and most people spoke Hebrew with very little English, we still met people who offered to assist us. Through the generous assistance of people, my colleagues and I had the opportunity of patronising the Light Rail to the Old City and back to our hotel. Around the Old City, we stopped and asked different people to take us photos and all of them did so gladly.
The movement of people and goods in every city is vital. I did not have much time to assess this situation properly. However, with my short stay and observation, transportation is fairly easy in the city of Jerusalem. I was impressed with the few transportation systems I noticed around. I had the opportunity of walking to the central bus station, which was a 5-minute walk from my hotel. It was the central point for many buses, and also the Light Rail. I am not sure which locations most of the buses went, however, I had the opportunity to join the Light Rail to the Old City of Jerusalem and it took us 15 minutes to reach our destination. Well, from conversations with the locals, Jerusalem also has traffic congestions, hence, the decision to opt for the Light Rail. I loved the bus stops too, they were constructed for the comfort of public users. Taxis are extremely expensive in Jerusalem. The Light Rail and buses are less expensive but you do not pay with cash. For the buses, you use a Bus Pass Card, and for the Light Rail, you purchase a ticket from a vending machine at the various waiting points.
Jerusalem, though an ancient religious city, is also a business centre with different bustling businesses and enterprises. I noticed all kinds of business entities – both big and small. Shops of all kinds (groceries, food, spices, clothes, restaurants, etc.) exist in Jerusalem. It was even more spectacular at the Old City. As compact as it is, it had everything within.
A tourism centre from dawn to dusk. As an ancient city, Jerusalem attracts thousands of tourists from different countries. The Old City was filled with many tourists and visitors like us. My colleagues and I had the opportunity of touring most parts of the Old City – including the famous Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall. The Old City is an entire city on its own, with its own streets, shops, residences, museums, churches, mosques, restaurants and many more.
The Old City is divided into four main quarters – the Christian Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Armenian Quarter and Jewish Quarter, and we had the opportunity of visiting all the quarters. Within the Old City are traditionally preserved residences such as the one for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Directly opposite the Old City is the Tower of David Museum which serves as a Museum by day and a theatre centre by night. My colleagues and I were privileged to watch one of the most spectacular Light and Sound shows at the Tower of David Museum – it was amazing! Keep your fingers crossed, we will definitely host this Light and Sound show in Ghana soon.
Our Bible teaches us about cleanliness being next to godliness, and I guess the city of Jerusalem passed the test for me. For the few places I got the opportunity to visit, I would say it was a fairly clean city with not much litter on the streets. I also noticed a couple of bins placed at vantage points for people to dump their refuse in. In one of the mornings, I met labourers sweeping the street in front of my hotel – I think in Ghana we will call them Zoomlion.
If you would like to visit Jerusalem, please do not be too worried about food. Don’t also expect too much carbohydrate concentrated food, and of course, spicy foods are rare. In all, the traditional cuisines are easy to eat and they taste amazing. Humus was my favourite. In restaurants, beware of mistaking a starter to be the main dish. I did it and I learnt my lesson very well.
As a modern city, Jerusalem is still undergoing various kinds of development, especially in infrastructure. I couldn’t help but notice the heavy construction projects that were ongoing – roads, overheads and residences. The architecture of both the Old and New Jerusalem is a beautiful blend of traditional and modern designs. I was really impressed with their intense heavy residential constructions too.
In the City of Jerusalem, and I guess in most parts of Israel, night life is an integral part of the daily life of the people. I could not help but notice the trendy, vibrant and ecstatic night life even at the Old City. From Jerusalem to Jaffa is an active day and night life that attracts both young and old. Streets are filled with pubs, bars and eateries. Most streets of Jaffa had a restaurant or pub that was busy with patrons.
You cannot discuss Israel and Jerusalem without talking about human security. Human security is not taken for granted in Israel; and Jerusalem showed me glimpses of it. I experienced it from my arrival at the Ben Gurion Airport. Due to my familiarity with their security checks and systems, I could easily spot various security personnel; those in uniforms and those not in uniforms at various vantage points. They were not so obvious and did not cause any kind of intimidation to the people or visitors alike. Despite all the heavy security checks and presence, both residents and visitors of the city enjoy a normal life. One could easily conclude that the city does not experience any form of conflict or escalation.
In conclusion, Jerusalem is a very beautiful city with a blend of ancient and modern lifestyle. It has an interesting diverse culture which leaves a lasting impression on you. Visitors can enjoy a wealth of free activities, especially at the Old City, where I got to enjoy the best panoramic views. Despite all the odds, life and living in Jerusalem is as normal as it is in Accra. Though my visit was very short, I really loved and enjoyed the few places I visited and the adventures that came with it.
The writer is the Communication, Press, Public & Digital Diplomacy Coordinator,
Embassy of Israel, Accra.