Shared By F.E.K of California
I’d like to share part of my own pilgrimage story in Israel; particularly in Jerusalem in the hopes of inspiring, educating and awakening those who read this.
I decided not to post anything immediately about this because I didn’t want our family and friends to worry more amidst the missile strikes in Tel Aviv from the Gaza strip, we were still processing everything, and also trying to just enjoy our remaining time in Israel.
Last month, November 11 my husband J.D. and I planned to visit the Christian holy places within and outside the walls of Old Jerusalem . We were on our way to visit the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary via the Temple Mount area when we were turned away 3 separate times by heavily armed Israeli soldiers at different passageways.
Oddly familiar, based on the story of the Nativity, pregnant Mary and Joseph sought shelter and were turned away by many. She ended up giving birth in a manger. It was such an eye opener to be in the middle of this centuries old contentious political and religious divide within the confines of Old Jerusalem . Until you’re there in the middle of it you likely won’t fully understand some of these emotional and intractable issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While we we’re blocked at one of these junctures and trying to figure out how to navigate our way some soldiers were loudly laughing with shop keepers while dramatically gesturing at me head to toe. We asked them what was so funny and they seemed surprised by our frankness. We decided it was best to diffuse the situation by walking away and just shook our heads in disbelief. We moved on to look for other ways to go around and head to the slope of Mount Olives.
After marveling at the 2,000+ years old olive trees at the Garden of Gethsemane and the tomb of the Virgin Mary where the smell of incense fills the air, and the ceiling is blackened by hundreds of lanterns we decided to buy some drinks from a street vendor out front. Immediately a very aggressive salesman started to relentlessly try and sell us travel books and other souvenirs. We’re experienced travelers so we politely said “no thank you“ numerous times, but he proceeded to harass us and interrupt our conversation with the drink vendor. He insisted we pay 40Israeli Shekels or about $15 for two sodas; so we declined and started to walk away. That’s when he tried to physically block us and push on us, but we just kept walking. He became enraged and started yelling that we were “rubbish” and “faggots”!
Such hatred and aggressiveness just steps from one of the holiest places in the world; I can only imagine the mocking of Jesus that occurred several times, after his trial and before his crucifixion-according to the canonical gospels of the New Testament. It is considered part of Jesus’ passion. According to the gospel narratives, Jesus had predicted that he would be mocked (Matthew 20:19, Mark 10:34, and Luke 18:32).
So we carried on with our journey and hiked back up through the Lion’s Gate inside the walls of Old Jerusalem along Via Dolorosa trying to shake off the negativity and mocking we received that day. We stopped by a couple of the stations of the cross as we made our way to The Holy Sepulcher, but we were becoming increasingly thirsty and hungry. Now inside the market, we end up eating at “Al Shawish“, a hole in a wall restaurant located in the Christian Quarter along Via Dolorosa. The first red flag for us should have been when we asked for the menu. The owner said they had no menu and pointed us to the photos of food on the wall to order from. This isn’t our first rodeo, we’ve eaten at similar market restaurants in India, China, Turkey, Morocco, etc. so we figured it wouldn’t be much for some simple food. We had a kebab plate and a fish plate with the accompanying salads and sodas. During our lunch the owner lured other unsuspecting folks into the cafe using us as the example of “happy customers”. We ate our mediocre and rather small portioned lunch and were shocked when they told us the bill was 350 Israeli Shekels or over $125US! We live in the San Francisco Bay Area where a comparable meal would be less than $40 US!
So we turned to the couple next to us that we had noticed spoke Arabic and English to ask them if there was some sort of misunderstanding. That’s when the owner snapped and rushed over to us and yelled in our faces “Don’t speak to the other customers! You are in MY RESTAURANT and you’ll only talk to me!” We were obviously startled but tried to stay calm and replied “We can talk to whoever we want and this price is unacceptable”. Things escalated quickly from there when he kicked J.D. and then slapped my neck! He started to yell and call us “FILTHY HOMOSEXUALS” and tried to bully us into paying the 350NIS! Thankfully another concerned customer tried to intervene but this only enraged the owner more.
At this point we stood up and said we wouldn’t be bullied and mistreated and demanded to see the menu. Another employee (the “good cop”) stepped in and suddenly a menu appeared with prices. It was still about double what it should be but we just wanted to get out of there so we agreed to pay $200 Israeli Shekels ($70 US) as long as the owner would stop yelling at us, hitting us, and that they provided a receipt. This level of aggression is clearly never justified, but it was especially upsetting in such a holy place.
Unfortunately during the transaction the owner wouldn’t stop yelling, calling us names, and attempting to hit us again so we finally lost our cool. Heated words were exchanged while we managed to pay and get a (bogus) receipt, but the owner threw his hot coffee on J.D. and then a brawl broke out! As we tried to run away into the busy market an employee from the kitchen came flying out over the counter and punched me very hard in the head several times. Thankfully the fight was stopped because some neighboring shop keepers stepped in. They broke up the fight and held my aggressor down, and immediately apologized to me for the violence.
We ran down the street and found some security guards outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They asked us what was wrong and when we told them where this had happened they knew the place right away. They told us “Al Shawish Restaurant” is notorious for extorting and abusing customers, and encouraged us to file a Police Report at the Jaffa Gate Station.
My heart was still racing and my head was pounding as we made our way to the station. Call us naive but we were thinking the police would be concerned about tourists being attacked and beaten in their jurisdiction, but long story short they could care less. The desk person only wanted to know what country we were from and told us to take a seat. They made us wait for over an hour because they were allegedly looking for an officer who spoke English. When they did finally come to speak to us they were giggling throughout our statement, didn’t write anything down, and insisted the price they tried to charge us was reasonable. All the while they didn’t seem concerned by the violence and said they would need to review the security cameras before proceeding further.
After waiting another 30 minutes we became increasingly discouraged and concerned that I may have a concussion, but we really wanted to at least file a police report. J.D. called the US Embassy and unfortunately they were closed for the holiday, but a receptionist told us the best thing to do was to keep trying to file a report. In the meantime we were startled to see one of the employees from the restaurant approach and then enter the police station. Naturally we were alarmed so we told the desk person but he told us “so what?!”.
Eventually a different plain-clothed officer came to speak to us without introducing himself so J.D. asked him name. He refused to answer and stated he didn’t work for us. He said he reviewed the footage (only of the fight outside the restaurant because they don’t have cameras inside the shops) and claimed that we were also responsible for the altercation because we were yelling at the owner. J.D. said we take responsibility for our actions but that gave them no right to hit us, and that we still wanted to file a report. Then things got darker. He told us if we wanted to make a report that the owner could also press charges, and then asked when we were flying back to the US. We refused to be threatened and insisted on filing a report, but he told us we would have to wait a VERY long time and then left. It was very clear that the Police could care less, so we left feeling helpless, unsafe, and threatened.
After seeking medical care for my head and resting we decided to still go to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in search of some healing and solace. Finally, my emotions caught up with me and I started to cry at the slab of stone just as you enter the basilica where Jesus was cleaned and dressed after his crucifixion. It was a mixed feeling of sadness from what happened to us that day, and a sense of comfort that I am finally there to represent my family in spirit.
Despite these ordeals, we are thankful and feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land. Going to Jerusalem in particular, I planned to walk along the entire stations of the cross (Via Dolorosa) as I know my late father would want to do the same if he had an opportunity to do so. Perhaps in a way this experience was my own Via Dolorosa, my own pilgrimage. I wanted to walk where Jesus walked. I want to see what Jesus saw. Personally, I believe that connecting with God or your Higher Power doesn’t require you to visit holy places like Israel, India, Tibet, or Peru, and as cliche it may sound I believe it’s all within your own heart and mind.
No matter how challenging and rather scary our journey was that day that it’s a good reminder there are still so many kind people in the world like the nice Polish couple that stood up for us in the restaurant (amazingly we bumped into them later that evening in the Jewish Quarter), the brave shop keepers who jumped in to stop the fight, the security officers at the Holy Sepulcher who were very kind and encouraged us to seek justice, and the Filipina Nun Sister Mary David who hugged and comforted me at the Christian Information Center.