I returned to Jerusalem’s Old City today by entering through the Damascus Gate and figured to just look around and at least find how to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque grounds whenever non-Muslims are allowed in.
Before even reaching the Gate, I couldn’t help but notice the Israeli soldiers in a guard tower-like structure near the sidewalk and again grouped near the Gate entrance itself. Took some photos of the half-dozen or so heavily armed and uniformed troops before walking down into the mystical buzzing shops, doorways, eateries, residents and tourists that fill this section of the old city.
And a lot more Israeli soldiers and police.
I felt absolutely no tension or hostility among anyone in those narrow covered streets. Everyone simply ignored the soldiers and border police who more often than not were on their personal phones and talking among themselves, mostly 20somethings who obviously had no combat experience and not much discipline. Kids with guns. But they were a regular presence on the main thoroughfare.
A tour group of pilgrims numbering in the hundreds led by an Israeli soldier suddenly streamed out from a side street and bent down into the main avenue beside the Armenian church. Goodness knows why they needed the armed escort. The dutiful column was impressive in its numbers and time it took to clear the area. I suddenly realized I was beside the famed Austrian Hospice, the century-old guest house, originally for European Catholic pilgrims.
The hospice, more like a colonial grand hotel, is mentioned prominently by American journalist Vincent Sheean in his 1935 nonfiction book Personal History so I thought I’d give it a try. My $100 a night room at St. George’s Cathedral on Nablus Road was way too pricey for me, but they at least had a room available when four other places I’d walked to were booked full. Anyway, I was able to reserve a dorm accomodation in the Austrian Hospice for a week at $40 a night. I was very happy about that for now.
Jerusalem was cool and breezy, a godsend to this heat averse traveler. My physical state was holding up well, and I felt much more at ease now that my room and board were agreeably settled for the immediate future.
I continued my walk to the Western Wall plaza to get an idea where and how to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Non-Muslims were not allowed on Friday and Saturday, and you had to line up early, about 5am apparently, in order to have a decent chance to access the grounds, I was told.
The plaza was teeming with thousands of Jewish faithful in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel. Thousands more were jammed up against the Western Wall itself while boisterous music thundered through the air. In the segregated female section, dozens of young women sang loudly in linked arms and danced in a huge circle of joyous celebration. Up on the plaza near me was an older man leading what appeared to be a tour group encircling him in a chorus of praise.
Not one uniformed soldier could be seen on the plaza or near the wailing wall. No one with a clearly displayed assault rifle. No one carrying any kind of visible weapon as a security presence in the midst of 10’s of thousands?! I’m sure the sight of heavily armed uniformed soldiers might have upset and intimidated the revelers, all dancing and massing in accompaniment with loud magnified music in celebration of the creation of the State of Israel directly beneath the gleaming golden Dome of the Rock Al-Aqsa Mosque, the holiest site in all Islam behind only Mecca and Medina.
I hung around the plaza for a time but eventually grew tired of all the Zionist clatter and headed back into the Old City alleys and byways. Back off the main street toward the Christian quarter, the rising street brought me past many shops of all descriptions.
I ended up talking for an extended period with a middle-age Palestinian man about politics and religion.
“I don’t usually talk about these things,” he admitted a bit surprised, I could see, shortly after we got into it. I have that affect on people sometimes. It’s a gift of mine.
“Well, I’m an atheist. Don’t much believe in any god. But I certainly respect your belief, and anyone else’s,” I explained.
“Hey, I was raised Roman Catholic, went to Catholic grade & high schools. Then I learned about the history of the Church, the most blood soaked institution on the face of the earth.
“Anyway, the world is so cruel now. So filled with the murder and torture of innocent children and women and seniors. I want no part of any god that controls these horrors. Freedom of choice? What choice did those defenseless people have?!”
My Palestinian friend urged me to believe in god, and I apologized for Trump and my country’s continued blind support of Israel and its ongoing atrocities like the ongoing massacres in Gaza.
Eventually we parted ways, and I ran into all those Israeli soldiers again. They all seemed to be college kids with very heavy weaponry. Many of them were constantly on their cell phones and joking around with each other. Hardly battle-hardened disciplined soldiers defending the local security concerns or anything else, it was clear to any serious observer.
So I approached at least four different groups of them, usually 2, 3 or 4 together, and usually at least one female in each cell. Again, they all looked liked young kids casually sporting way too much firepower.
“Hey, man, what exactly are you guys really doing here?”
“We are fighting the terrorists,” one dude immediately responds.
“Really? What terrorists are there here in the Old City? I see and feel no tension. There’s no big problems here. What kind of violence has happened here recently?”
When no one could answer, I replied, “You obviously only need a simple police force here, with about 75 percent less troops than you guys have here now. In fact, your presence in these kinds and numbers actually causes whatever tensions and problems do exist. Your presence here is a huge part of the problem.”
One female gave me a very nasty sneer; I looked her in the eyes and called her on it. “What, you can’t talk? You think you’re doing something good here? Tell me. I wanna know.”
She couldn’t or wouldn’t say anything except “Have a nice day,” twice, as she grabbed her two companions and lead them away from me, the dangerous Lawrence of Arabia. Lordy. Again, these were in no way, shape or form some highly trained authorities standing their ground who understood how to deal with vocal opposition, much less the real thing. Just kids spouting propaganda cliques who had no idea whatsoever how to interact with someone determined to stand and look them in the eye and call out their occupation. Pretty pathetic, really.
The descriptions unprofessional and haphazard come to mind.
If something actually happened where you need a disciplined reasoned response in close quarters like Jerusalem’s Old City, I’d want want to be as far away as heavenly possible from these idiot kids with guns.
I did get one decent response from a female soldier who replied, “Yeah, maybe you’re right. But we can do nothing.”
“You can vote, right? Put pressure on Netanyahu and the government. You’re supposed to be a democratic country.”
After I finally left the Old City stoneways and went beyond the Damascus Gate, up to the main trafficked street, I reached the guard pavilion where 3 soldiers were stationed, again mostly talking among themselves and in no way acting like real military or police on a security detail. They must give out the Old City detail to the freshest least experienced newbies. If these folks are representative of Israeli military and border forces, they have very big and serious internal security personnel issues.
After only a few minutes when one of them realized I was no Western tourist fanboy, he screamed out “Go! Leave here!” while pointing down the street.
“What, you can’t talk?! What did I do? Are you afraid?”
“I will have you arrested at the police station!”
“For what?! What are you gonna arrest me for?!”
“This is Israel! Leave now!”
“No, this is Palestine! It’s not Israel” I shot back immediately.
“That’s right. It is Palestine,” this tall professional looking guy right behind me shouted out in agreement. Man, I was so heartened. Finally some support.
The soldierboy kept up the screaming for me to leave, but one of his buddies chimed in and tried to calm him down.
“I’m no threat, and you can’t talk? Gonna take you away from your cell phone?” I asked, again holding up my arms palms out. “Man, so weak. Big guns. That’s all you got! That guy next to you seems like he’s smart. He can discuss. You? Wow!”
I had made my points, and nothing else was gonna happen. I just slowly turned and calmly walked off into the chill breezy Jerusalem night and bought a 10 shekel kaboob sandwich from a Palestinian vendor right across the street. 
You can only enjoy a comfortable life for so long in the West, especially as a person alone in this brutal world.
And one of the most ridiculous examples of a man-made hell on earth is the American supported apartheid Israeli Zionist occupation of Palestine. Since 1948, the founding of Israel, Tel Aviv has killed, expelled, hammered, stolen from, and waged war and war crimes on the native Palestinian people.
In the past few weeks, the Israeli military has gunned down dead more than 30 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,000 during mostly peaceful mass protests along the Gaza border, all the protests happening inside Palestinian land.
Israeli army snipers from a protected distance on their side of the border, shot down unarmed people like dogs. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli PM, has once again proved his title as the Butcher of Gaza.
So maybe it’s time for Americans in Peoria, Topeka, Youngstown, and Omaha to better understand how their politicians are in thrawl to a racist Israeli lobby all too ready to shout anti-semitism whenever justified criticism comes their way.
Time for a lot more mainstream pushback in the name of basic human rights, if you ask me. Which means I’m back on the road ready to attempt to observe and witness exactly what is going on in Israeli occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.
A few days ago, I attempted to enter Gaza through the Rafah checkpoint, but Egyptian authorities blocked all land traffic through the northern Sinai due to “terrorists”. Returning to Cairo, I flew to Amman and then holed up a few days in Irdib, Jordan. Heading to the occupied West Bank tomorrow for a transit to East Jerusalem.
While here in Jordan, I’ve visited the local Palestinian refugee district, considered the poorest and most crime ridden section of the metro region. I saw and felt no tension or craziness during my night-time visit when I spoke with young men at a modern clean coffee house about their situations. One man said he had been there for ten years with no real hope for a return to his homeland.
A noon-time rally for Illinois passing the Equal Rights Amendment was held this past Tuesday in downtown Peoria.
I can’t believe Illinois has not yet passed the ERA. But it actually got a little closer the next day when the Illinois Senate passed the federal ERA amendment.
The state House now needs to take up and pass the measure this year. It’s a complicated process better explained in this Chicago Tribune article.
The boisterous progressive crowd of several dozen ERA backers heard short speeches from the people attending, yours truly included.
Several women reminded the attendees that although white women make less than their male counterparts, women of color earn even less. And transgendered people are in the same leaking wage boat.
We chanted ERA! All the Way! and the sound ricocheted off the tall downtown buildings, and for a few moments again I was incredibly proud of our liberal advocates in the River City.
Several white males walked past the crowd and voiced support for the measure. When I said they should stand with us, getting back to work inside the courthouse was their response.
“You can’t stand here for five minutes to show some true support?!” I responded. “You guys are white collar workers who don’t punch a clock. Come on!”
They didn’t miss a step and just kept walking.
Women’s rights are human rights.
Chaos at Waveland & Sheffield
“Take me out to the ball game! Take me out with the crowd!!”
I wasn’t there when cops were busting heads in Grant Park outside the Democratic convention, or marching with antiwar protesters when W invaded Iraq, or arrested with Occupiers flooding the Financial District.
But I was once right in the middle of a Chicago mob action, at Waveland & Sheffield for opening day at Wrigley Field, on Friday, April 14, 1978.
To this day, it remains the largest North Side opening day paid attendance at 45,777, close to the all-time record Wrigley crowd of 46,572 on May 18, 1947 back when Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers first came to town.
On that clear cold morning 40 years ago, I was just one of the ragged rambling mob on the streets below the center and left-field bleachers scrambling for a chance at one of the 12,000 same-day tickets for opening day (a last-minute surprise cutback from the expected allocation of 22,000), a final cosmic and dark comic gesture at working-class access to the highly anticipated annual event, courtesy of the recently late club owner Philip K. Wrigley.
By the time my high school buddy Tom Williams Jr. and I arrived at the backside of the left-field bleachers, following a 3-hour dash from downstate Peoria, the ticket line in the 5:30am dawn’s early light was already hundreds, and probably thousands, deep.
At that time, everyone seemed unusually sedate, settled in and camped down on the concrete sidewalk. We considered ourselves lucky that the queue starting way down the block at the Waveland and Sheffield intersection wasn’t yet to the far corner of the left-field wall near N. Seminary Street. We got in line.
Bleacher seats were a buck fifty, and that’s where we intended to go. The cheap seats where all the fun happens, no matter what. The Cubs had not been winners in our lifetime, but that never mattered. Back in the day, being a Cub fan for many was something bred into a person as an integral family identity: American. Catholic. Democrat. Cubbie. It’s not something you ever stop being. You just are, no matter what.
Skipping a day of class during our senior year at the now shuttered parochial Academy of Our Lady/Spalding Institute back in Peoria only added to the fun and excitement out on the big city streets of Chicago. However, after a few serene hours the romantic appeal of queuing up outside Wrigley Field on opening day ended in a terrible instant via a bizarre and awful stampede.
The line in front of us literally disappeared about 7am in a headlong mad rush to the bleachers’ box office at the Waveland and Sheffield corner. “This is nuts,” Tom wearily observed as we tramped through all kinds of abandoned lawn chairs, coolers, sleeping bags, radios, shoes, food, drinks and more – everything the line campers had used to maintain their stay – that was simply left strewn across the sidewalk. I had never seen anything like it.
Now, the only thing that mattered was getting inside. Any normal person would have seen the obvious dangers and immediately left the area. But not us, and the other crazies. We dove headlong into the hysterical madness. We were Cub fans.
The crowd lurched forward and finally bunched up close at the corner ticket office gate where the facing brick wall sloped downwards to about a dozen feet off the pavement. People started scaling the wall in a wild attempt to bypass the locked turnstiles. With a little help from their friends, I could see a few lucky bastards actually make it over the top as others kept trying. But no one stopped much to ponder their showy efforts; the overwhelming mass of fans just kept pushing forward.
In a few minutes we were in sight of the ticket office. I could see guys climbing atop the turnstiles trying to muscle through to the inside. But it didn’t work, and they were just stuck up there in the oily grime taking in the chaotic view. I wasn’t afraid or fearful among the mob, only more determined than ever to stand our ground and wait around to somehow get a ticket.
There were no cops, and no security in sight. Everyone continued to push and shove forward until we were piled up in front of the closed ticket office windows. There was no where else to go for our aimless mob packed in like suicidal sardines. No one was getting inside, and no one was leaving that I could see.
Thankfully my good friend Tom was at least a head taller than most of the mob, so it was easy to keep each other in sight. The crowd was getting really nuts and we became separated by a dozen or more bodies. I could see he was fast losing patience with the rapidly decaying situation.
“Give him room! He needs air!” someone suddenly screamed as this man started collapsing to his feet right in front of me. For a few seconds people backed off. Then he went completely down and was instantly swallowed over by mob. Gone. Out of sight. Like he never existed. It wasn’t frightening or awful or emotive in any way. He just disappeared, right there in front of me, as dozens of other saps rushed over where he had been, completely oblivious to his plight. There were still no cops, no security, no order of any kind except for the maxim of do whatever you need in order to survive.
I don’t know if Tom saw what happened, but I finally caught his eye and he motioned for me to meet him back out on the street outside the crazed mob. He had had enough, and I rather reluctantly agreed. It didn’t appear that anyone was getting through those turnstiles anytime soon.
“Man, do you believe that insanity?!” I said as we finally met up. Tom replied, “Let’s get out of here. We’re not getting in there again.” What really blew my mind was that a few feet out on the street there was calm and normal human behavior, as opposed to the utter life-and-death chaos back on the sidewalk in front the ticket office. The only thing that separated the two polar-opposite realities, the mayhem and the mundane, were a few flimsy blue barricades. I had never seen anything like it.
We wandered around the park back toward the main entrance at Clark and Addison. Some how, some way we hung around and eventually found an open ticket window on the first-base side of the landmark “Wrigley Field, Home of Chicago Cubs” marquee. Tom and I ended up with upper-deck reserve seats way down the first-base line. We were inside the park by 11am with the absolute worst seats I’ve ever had at the Friendly Confines. On top of that, I was woefully unprepared for April in Chicago, with bone freezing cold in an unrelenting wind from the second inning on.
The game? The weather made it painful to try and actually follow the two-and-a-half hours’ long proceedings, but it was, in fact, one for the ages. Cub first-baseman Larry Biittner hit a dramatic walk-off lead-off homer in the bottom of the ninth against the Pirates.
The standing room-only crowd went bonkers. By then, I was thankful to just get back in the car and out of the terrible and inscrutable cold. 
I relocated to Peoria in late 2017, and saw my friend Tom a few weeks ago for the first time in decades.
I asked him how he celebrated when the Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016.
Tom said he had become a Yankees fan some time ago.
Me, I’m ready for another great Cubs campaign in 2018. And every year after.
World Series or bust.
Go Cubs !
(photo by Carl Hugare/George Quinn from the back sports page of the Chicago Tribune, April 15, 1978.