I took a business trip to Israel a week ago, but I've been so busy since then that I haven't had time to write anything about it. Most of my trips I don't get the chance to see much of anything outside the hotel lobby, but on this trip I was in the country on the weekend (Israel takes friday and saturday off instead of saturday and sunday), so I got the chance to do a little tourism.
Awais wanted to visit the Al-Asqa mosque, so he gathered up a couple of our local co-workers and we drove out to Jerusalem. It wasn't very far, a little over an hour drive from our hotel in Hertziliya. It's something that's a little tough to get used to -- pretty much everything in the country is less than two hours drive from Tel Aviv.
We spent the day touring the old city. The old city is, by definition, the portion of Jersusalem contained in the city walls. These walls were built by the Ottomans in the 16th century (or thereabouts), so they're in pretty good condition.
As soon as we entered the city we were in the middle of a market. We spent the first part of the day in the Muslim quarter, where pretty much every available square inch is used for retail purposes. The way to the mosque was packed with people and hemmed in on both sides by stalls.
As we got close to the mosque, a group of Israeli police motioned me over. They asked about, roughly, my ethnicity (I said I was American), and then asked if I was a Muslim. I said no, so they replied that they wouldn't let me in ("Maybe on a weekday"). Awais said I should have said I was Muslim -- "they can't tell" -- but one of our friends in Israel said that they've been known to issue a pop quiz on the Koran if they doubt you. Which I would have failed miserably, of course.
Awais went in and I wandered around the city for a while. I went and saw the Christian quarter (no security guards there, but then again it wasn't Sunday), and then wandered into the Jewish quarter.
The Jewish quarter seemed pretty quiet, except for a couple tour groups. At one point we did hear someone around the corner launching into an angry tirade of some sort, but didn't investigate that. In the afternoon, the whole city shut down, which put a pretty effective end to our outing -- we had already walked around the city, seen the city walls, and visited the West Wall of the temple of David, so shopping was about all that was left to do.
I found Jerusalem to be a fascinating city. I wasn't as impacted by the religous aspect, since I don't participate in any of the three religions which vie for control of the city (or any other religions, for that matter, unless "Linux" counts), but the whole city oozes history. The four-hundred year old wall surrounding the city is new.
On saturday my stomach didn't feel very good, so I cancelled my plans to go see Tel Aviv. I spent the day hanging out in my hotel room and on the beach in front of my hotel.
Weather was nice -- I was worried about getting a sunburn while I was on the beach. Security wasn't too bad, although Awais was detained for 5 hours while they ran a background check on him. My biggest problem was getting the customs official to actually pay attention to me. They don't pretend to be even-handed on security, and aside from the beard, I look pretty darn white.
I actually ran into much stiffer security on leaving the country, where they gave me a short (6-7 question) interview on why I was there, who I visited, if I had friends the country, etc. They appeared satisfied that I only associated with co-workers and let me through.
Flights to and from Israel were long, but I actually managed to get some sleep on the plane there and back, so it wasn't as gruelling as previous trips. I was tired but functional by the time I showed up on both ends. Which is good, because it looks like I'll be going back.