(Jerusalem Mount of Olives)
It was easy to exit Jerusalem. After a couple up and downs the road becomes level. When you stop at red light Israelis congratulate you shouting from their cars or horn. Surprising? Among the comments on Faceebook and under the photos I posted in my website the questions “BRO HOW WILL THEY TREAT YOU? You have a big Turkish flag on you bile” arose a lot. We’ll see. For the time being it seems good.
How to go to West Bank? I pay attention to the churches which increase in number while heading towards South. There are churches of saints all around. I also saw an excavation which was still going on. It seems to belong to Roman period. There is a pretty good bicycle lane along the route I follow. Even if not there is always emergency lane.
Moving along this road I came to the wall separating Palestine and Israel. Ahaaa.. This is it. I had seen the ruins of the former wall between East and West Germany while riding in Germany. Man! That wall is a fence compared to this one. Dude, what the hell is this? Even if you want to break the wall down in the future, it seems pretty robust. Holy shit! Separating people from each other like this. Let’s see what happens? A building right in the center of the area I guess this would also be unable to break down with a tank or cannon
– Hi man, what’s up?
– Hand your passport.
My passport is checked by the system. Without any further questions the gate opened and they let me enter. It was much easier than I had thought.
At the other side of the wall, Leila Khaled’s graffiti welcomed me. Hmmm. During my university years I was curious about the Palestine and Israel issue about which I had done some research and read articles. At that time I had read about this woman. Wide metal plates were hanging along the wall giving information in English about what happened in this region, especially what Israeli soldiers undertook. These plates were hanging at a height suitable for bus passengers to easily read while passing by. Naturally, there are many touristic busses passing and it is good to learn what happened through Palestinian eyes.
The vast majority living in West Bank are not allowed to go to Jerusalem. Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock can be seen from the top of the hill not far than 20 km. Some of the citizens living in this region are allowed to go to Jerusalem between certain time periods to work there. If I’m not wrong, Palestinians over the age of 50 were also allowed to go to Jerusalem for praying. Furthermore, people are allowed to go to Jerusalem by means of bus agencies during Ramadan. But according to my friend living there, a Palestinian woman tried to knife an Israeli soldier due which the border gate was closed once again. It is really hard to understand what happens and why it happens in this geography. I, as a Moslem would not take such a risk. Why? Well, now nobody is allowed to go to Jerusalem. The gates are closed for Moslems. Why would a Moslem take such a risk during Ramadan? It seems that there is a game. The Israelis should learn that with bold force and killing people the problems would remain unsolved. And the Palestinians should learn not to get provoked under repression. Well, now the guy says: “Look, we allow for everything but they attack us.” I witnessed how such an act was played in Jerusalem which I mentioned in my previous article.
After entering the ambience immediately changed. You already feel that you arrived in Arab geography. Why?? Because is dirty as usual, that is, nothing to do, dude. It is coded in their genes. To keep the environment, streets, green areas, deserts clean is not a matter of the people belonging to this culture. Look this is the fifth country in my road memories in which I mention about cleaning issues. Always the same dude.
After crossing through bazaar I come close to the center of Bethlehem. But let me eat something before, I got really hungry. Hugh, a doener restaurant.
– Selamun Aleykum.
– Ve Aleykum Selam.
– Can I have doener with open bread?
– Of course…. Are you Turk?
– Are you Moslem?
The countries in which I was asked about my religion during my world tour: Turkey, Germany (Turks living in Germany asked this question), Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, Palestine, as if the rest of the world is non-religious. Why do you need to know my religion, my belief? The questions I hate most are the ones about my religion. I said, yes I‘m Moslem. “and me Christian” he replied. Look at it, it is becoming interesting. It is the second time I met a Christian Arab during my travel, I’m chatting with him and he is asking what my religion is. This means that, it is not a matter of religion but might be a side effect of a cultural deformation, what shall I say? This is settled in the culture of all the countries I mentioned above. Nobody asked this question in Europe and Asia.
– My friend, it is enough to be good-hearted. It doesn’t matter to which religion we all belong to.
After shaking his head as acknowledging me, he asked me whether I came all the way from Turkey on bike. Getting the reply “yes”, he called his friend and took a selfie in front of the bike. He offered me juice before seeing me off. That’s it. Just be good-hearted.
I was riding towards the city center where I joined the crowd. Destination: The church where Jesus was born. What was its name, what…. The signboard: Church of the Nativity. Ughhh, there is a crowd in front of the door. I leave my bicycle in front of the church. The guides come immediately to me and ask for guidance.
– No thank you. I’ll prefer to read and see around using Wikipedia from my smart phone. I’m on tour by bike. I don’t have money for such extras.
They appreciate and I sit with them outside the church to have some break. By the way, the door which the people use to enter the church catches my attention. The door was reduced to a smaller size. The normal dimensions were easy to be recognized from the beams. I ask to the guides sitting next to me why the door was not left at its original dimensions. This was done during the period under Ottoman rule in order to prevent people by entering on horse. The reason why we have to bend to enter the church is due to respect. We are entering the birth place of Jesus. Wow… at the same time my phone rings. For good reason I hope!
Ugh!… Dude, I had a meeting with Shimano-Turkey via Skype today. I had forgotten totally. I had an appointment with the head of Shimano-Turkey for sponsorship for the bicycle team of my dream (the bicycle on the Man with Iron Horse logo was designed and registered for this team in 2011). Yes, yes. I’m dreaming to establish a bicycle team since last four years. My dream partners all know this from the beginning on. But I need the right means. I’m at least working on this issue. No way out. The meeting will take place in front of the Church of the Nativity. After five minutes the head of the company appears on the screen. After greeting each other, I come to the point. For the bicycle team I want to establish I require Shimano gear for all the bicycles and ask for a long time contract. While I was talking to the head about my plans, an interesting scene happened in front of the church. About 300 Palestinian veiled girls have come to visit the birth place of Jesus. I immediately shared this moment with the head of the company. They got also surprised as I did. At this scene everything was present, peace and serenity. Christians and Moslems were visiting this holy place side by side. Then, we moved on our meeting and talked about what to do. Two weeks after this speech I was informed by Shimano-Turkey that they couldn’t create the budget for my project. Anyway, it was worth to try. I’ll try further another time, I’m giving my best.
I strolled around in Bethlehem. Just near the church is the place where Mary took care of her son Jesus. Pretty crowded. Especially there were a vast number of Hindus and Pakistanis. Also, the streets full of crowds. I started to ride in the side streets as it was getting dark. Here the center was comparably tidier. There were restoration works in some historical places which were somewhat more touristic.
I’m riding towards the south of the country, but which road to use, which ones are side roads? I see a town Husan on the map. Let me go there. While looking around I entered a road. This curving road started at 900 m altitude and ended at 400 m. Dude, this road should had been going straight, at least it seemed so on the map. The scenery is beautiful: The forest, small cottages. All seem so beautiful at sun set. I opened the map. Fuck, I went a hell down. Hugh! No road no connection. Do I have to climb back the road I came down? Oy, oy, oy….
Wait, let me get out through the towns and enter the forest where I may camp or ask someone for an overnight stay. I’m getting bold as brass : )While playing with such thoughts I arrived in a village called Battir and everything changed all of a sudden. The streets are clean there are waste baskets in front of every house. A different village with nice vineyards. But, let me stop at a grocery and buy some vegetables first. Just in case, I may cook for dinner in the field.
I parked my bicycle in front of the store. Its owner saw me and asked me “are you Turk?” Replying as yes he hugged and kissed me. I smiled. He offered a seat and asked: “Do you know Arabic?” I said: “No”. We got along with broken English. He kept saying: “Erdogan is number one” I told him what I need for dinner. I said: “Take whatever you want.” I didn’t take money from me though I insisted. By the way, the products in the store were mostly imported from Turkey. Very strange, how this much Turkish goods had come here? As if I entered in a village store in Turkey. (By the way, you’ll always find Turkish goods in Israeli and Palestinian stores. I got surprised as I learned that some of these goods came via Gazze. How come, dude?) After I got what I needed, I asked the owner where to camp. I need a place to put my tent up. It would be nice if I can use a backyard for this purpose. To camp in the forest I have to go further 250 m in altitude down.
He showed me the signboard “Sultan Hand Made Art” just next to the store. I left the bicycle in front of the door and we went together to the next store. The owner opened the door. After greetings I learned that his name was Sultan. Well, my name is also Khan (the Arabs cannot pronounce Gurkan and say Kan-Khan. Well, what does Khan mean? A kind of Sultan in Arabic. Therefore the Arabs like it when I say it means Sultan. That’s why I’m known as Khan in the Arab world). Anyway, he says: “We have a guest house here. You came all the way from Turkey, we can host you here.” Guest house? Here? “This village differs from the others Gurkan” Since it got dark I could not recognize what the village looked like. While I was thinking the guest house might be a primitive place, it turned out as a nice cottage! : ) The I was given room had one double and two single beds and a large bathroom. He told that my neighbors were French and Spanish. Honestly, I was not expecting to arrive in such a place while riding down. In some regions in West Bank the interior of the houses are beautiful even though the exterior just vice versa. After leaving my belongings in the room I returned to the store of Sultan.
Sultan was born and grown up in Battir, now 42 years old. I told you this village differed from the others, it was clean. Well, the reason was he. This town was previously very dirty. He established natural agricultural fields from the scrapheap. He raised awareness among people on environment and how to keep the nature clean. They had also restored the grape yards dating back to Roman period. They established trekking pathways in the forest. He sells his own hand made art crafts in Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock reliefs sold in stores in Jerusalem were all made by him.
Wow! I learn also that a part of the Hejaz Railway was passing just near the village. The railway was restored by Israelis and used for goods transportation. Congratulations, at least someone thought to make use of this railway.
Formerly there was a station also. This was torn down but I couldn’t understand for what purpose the new building was built. There is also a tower dating back to Ottoman period in the vicinity of the village. Sultan tells about so many things, my eyes get closed. With the help of my fingers I open my eyelids.
– Time to go to bed. I liked the story of this village. Tomorrow I’ll also stay here.
– Ohh, Khan, good to hear that. Ok then, we’ll continue tomorrow. Come to the store in the morning. I’ll introduce you some people.
I said alright and left. I had a very good sleep.
In the morning I woke up at 5 a.m. as usual no matter I sleep in the tent or in a bed. I was always an early bird. I wouldn’t say that I’m a late sleeper, I run out of steam at 11 p.m.
I step out on the balcony. The weather is nice. I chowed down a little and took my camera and went out. First I went to the olive trees field. Then, I went to the Ottoman tower. I recognized that the batteries of the camera were empty I forgot also to take my smart phone. What a pity… This happens from time to time. I sometimes forgot my camera in the mute mode. Anyway, I’ll come back later. I hear the voices of the school children while walking back. Let’s go there, but first let me go back and take at least my phone. I don’t want to scare the people with my camera.
There is a caution signboard at the entrance of the school. “Not allowed to enter with weapons” I enter the garden and the kids eyes turn on me. To their shouts a teacher comes. I introduce myself and tell what I’m doing. The teacher shows me around. The village has two primary schools. One is this and the other in the upper part of the village. That one is for the girls and this for the boys. The girl’s school was under the protection of UN which was supplied with computers, pencils, note books, erasers, anything what comes in your mind. But this school was lacking many things. “Mr. Gurkan, we even cannot find paper. Some of the children don’t have the money to buy a note book.” You know, I’m a traveler on bike and never carry cash with me. If I had I would definitely donate. I felt sorry for these children.
They invited me for breakfast. The teachers of the school and me set down for breakfast: Olive oil on sesame paste, olives and bread. They gave some information about the village. The history of the village was dating back to Roman period and the gardens of that period were still in use. The teacher who showed me around was a history teacher. They talked about Turkey and Erdogan. They thanked me for the supports made by Turkey. Then the history teacher said:
– Look, it is a shame that we are talking in English although we have a common past and belong to the same religion.
– You are right… I really would like to talk to you in Arabic. Actually, I wanted to learn Arabic but didn’t find the time for some reasons. If I would visit your town again we’ll talk in Arabic for sure. This is really pity.
– Actually, Mustafa Kemal is responsible for the today’s problems in the Middle East. Inshallah my friend, you’ll learn Arabic in the shortest time.
Upssssssssssssssss. I was not expecting this move from the history teacher.
– Why is Mustafa Kemal responsible?
– He removed caliphate. The Moslems don’t have a leader. Don’t you see, there is war among Moslems everywhere. There is no unity. How many Moslem countries support Palestine? He changed your language. Formerly you knew Arabic.
: ) Dude, it was smart to take my phone. While the guy was talking I opened Gokturk alphabet. I didn’t listen what he was telling after a point. I was just looking at him and pretended as if I was – listening to him.
– My dear friend let me start from the language issue. The language of the Turks is Turkish and our fatherland is Mongolian steps. And this alphabet you are seeing belong to old Turkish language (showing on internet from my smart phone). That is, our language was not Arabic formerly. As the Turks accepted Islam in 9th and 10th centuries they started to learn Arabic. But the language of ordinary people was always Turkish. During Ottoman period the written language became Ottoman.
I opened an Ottoman text on my smart phone.
– Please, can you read it?
– This is not in Arabic.
– Yes, I know. You can read but not understand. Just read it.
He started to read. After each sentence I translated what he was reading. The guy finished the second sentence, and I translated the meaning from Turkish to English. The teachers in the room got surprised that I understood what he was reading. That text was actually written in Turkish but with Arabic alphabet. : )
– This is what Ottoman language is. I’m repeating once more, Arabic was never our mother language, it was always Turkish. Well, to me the Turkish Republic should have focused on Russian and Arabic language education besides English since Arabs and Russians are our neighbors (The reason why I’m thinking so after my travels has both cultural and economical reasons). After enlightening the language issue let’s come to Mustafa Kemal Pasha.
– You can cross to Jordan. Did anyone among you go to Salt 40 km north of Amman?
They already knew the city but were not aware of the Turkish cemetery there. So they learned.
– Look there is a Turkish martyrdom and a museum. If you have time I advise you to go there. In this museum you can read about the history of this region. There it is written how and from which hill Ottoman soldiers and medical detachment were stabbed in their back by Arabs on March 25th 1918.
– Where was Mustafa Kemal in 1916? At the East front of Ottomans. Where was Ottoman Emperor and caliph? In Istanbul. What did Sharif Hussein do in 1916? He revolted against Ottomans defending Arab nationalism saying that Arabs must create their own state. Which date is still celebrated as the day of independence throughout the Arab world? What does the red triangle on your flags symbolize? Why red? What does red mean? (This information is found in Ottoman archives of Turkish armed forces. Let the army tell about this and not me.) That is my friend, the reason why Middle East is like this is and not Ottoman Empire nor Mustafa Kemal. When English attacked in 1917 the caliph ordered to protect this region. Turkish soldiers followed this command. Mustafa Kemal Pasha fought in many fronts with the Arabs side by side. And if support comes from Turkey to Palestine, it is sent by the state and its people created by him and his companions.
Let me give another information not written anywhere. While Mustafa Kemal was fighting in Salt front he was invited to a village. But the village got occupied by English soldiers and the Arab family hosting Mustafa Kemal helped him to escape by dressing him like an Arab. This family had been invited to the Republic Receptions of Turkish Amman Embassy for many years. Mustafa Kemal had left some of his belongings which are still kept by the family.
A sudden silence settled in the room. Nobody said anything. What, Mustafa Kemal removed caliphate. Dude, yes but then Sharif Hussein proclaimed himself as Caliph..
Sharif Hussein said towards the end of his life:
“I revolted against my benefactor, my sin is deep. Those happenings now and in the future are the divine retribution since we revolted against our benefactor, our protector and our highness the Ottoman Empire.”
Let me mention the paragraph written in “Why we revolted against Ottomans?” by his son Abdullah I:
“The flag which is taken down a moment ago was also our flag till yesterday. However, we have another flag today. We were the same yesterday and are the same today. But the people responsible of for situation are the ones who bended towards Europeans and west giving up their Levantine identity. Unfortunately, this revolt took us to worse conditions. The Turks did whatever they wanted keeping their Turkish identity but we got separated into various groups and divisions. We selected governors to each group each talking all at once.”
The tension in the room became palpable. Need to lighten the mood. The teacher was sitting next to me. I put my hand on his shoulder:
– Look, I didn’t come here to talk about these. I know what is going on in Palestine and that you suffer. I came here to this geography to understand and witness what you are going through. I cannot understand people with whom I didn’t have a conversation. We all are brothers and stand by you. We have to know what happened in the past and take lessons from what happened.
While hugging each other he said you are right but then added: “The ones that attacked the Turks were not Arabs.” I smiled what else. Of course there were also Arab people who were in peace with the Turks. We left the school together while talking and they invited me to come over again.
I returned to the place I was staying. A girl came out from the house as I entered the garden. We got acquainted with each other. Her name was Celine. She was making a documentary for a French TV-channel being here for a month. Also, there was a National Geographic Journal photographer who left one day before I arrived. Two Spanish girls were staying at the next house. They came here both to rest and to collect information about this region. They were giving also Spanish lessons. I meet with such people almost everywhere I go.
I met with all of them and we talked about the region. Then I went to Sultan’s store and then to the next building. This building is used as a museum representing the regional habitat. There were trekking paths in the forest established for tourists.
– Well, where does this road go to?
– Till Tel Aviv.
– What? Can I go till Tel Aviv using this road through the forest?
– Most probably. We completed the roads on this side and we think that Israel had completed the roads on the other side.
– I guess it is not passable due to the wall.
– There isn’t any wall in this region.
– Then, a check point, a border gate?
– No, not…
– Aaaaa? Well, did you ever go to Israel?
– No, never.
– How come? Well, there isn’t any check point, no wall. Why didn’t you even try to go to the next village?
– We are scared Gurkan….
– Haa… I got it.
– But you can go. And also when you go you can come back to tell about what there is on the other side of the road. This road goes along the Hejaz Railway.
– Wow, that sounds good.. Dude, there may by mines, as there is nothing.
– I don’t think so. If there were mines we had known about them.
– Well, how will I pass to Gaza afterwards?
– Why to Gaza?
– I just want to visit.
– Don’t go there!!
I got surprised. He didn’t tell me to go there. I checked from GPS. Then, looked at the satellite views, well there is a road but then seems to discontinue for a certain distance. Is it passable with my bike? Afterwards, I learned that this road was lastly used in 1947! …. Heeee. Seems troublesome… Let me try and see what there is on the other side. If not, I’ll return.
After dinner we gathered to visit the surrounding towns by car. They all seem very lively. That is, there are no signs of war. The stores are open until late in the evening, people are strolling outside. All seem satisfied. With our latest model car we came to a eagle like hill. They showed me Al-Aqsa Mosque first then Israeli part. It is easy to recognize by its city lights, the Palestinian part is dark. The lights of houses are almost not visible. Cyprus came in my mind. I used to go to the roof of my university building the Greek part was full of lights whereas the Turkish part was dark. Just the same situation. Everyone in the car says that they want to go to Jerusalem. What since they didn’t have the allowance they couldn’t. There was silence where we were staying. I didn’t want to ask questions and disturb them. After a while Sultan: “Use that road Gurkan since in close future that part will also be divided by a wall. You might be the last one to pass on this road. We’ll recall you like this”. Since I was planning to set off early in the morning we returned. After saying good-bye to everyone I went to my room to prepare my bags. Tomorrow I’ll return to Israel. I’m also wondering what the people of the village on the other end of the road think about the ones in this village. I need to go there and talk to them since the ones here were afraid to go there. Anyway, let’s see what happens tomorrow. I hope there is a road and it isn’t mined.