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Jerusalem by moonlight

Jerusalem has sudden changes of ethnic pace - all part of the entertainment. It manages to be both familiarly western and tenaciously Middle Eastern, almost in the same camera frame. Where else in the world, outside the Commonwealth, would there be a King George V Street?

For a city so brimful in faith - the most sacred facus for both Judaism and Christianity, one of the three most holy places for Islam - it seems almost sacrilegious to report that on the day-to-day level of practical tourism, Jerusalem comes most thrillingly to life when illuminated by that very pagan heavenly symbol, the full Moon.
At midday the Dome of the Rock, glimmering fabulously in its new coat of 14 carat gold leaf, paid for by the Saudi government, is the only big feature in the cityscape to keep its definition under the solar savaging. The ubiquitous sumptuous sandy limestone simply melts away into the glare. But by comfortable mid-evening, under maximum lunar wattage, Jerusalem takes on a sharply etched if two-dimensional, shape in an elegant cool yellow.
The famous Israel self-sufficiency has had to plug many shortfalls - from guns to bananas - imposed by perfidous foreign governments. But building blocks were never a problem. There is enough Jerusalem limestone to cloak every new government office, synagogue, university building, hotel, smart housing development, supermarket and petrol station. There is even enough to pave the streets.
We took a walk under the moon within Suleiman I's great city walls. Every alley in Old Jerusalem gives onto a surprise - a square containing some recently unearthed Roman ruin, a select new residential development, a memorial to the hand-to-hand fighters of the Six Day War. Turn a corner and you are in a fresh ethnic quarter: the Old City delineations, Arab, Armenian, Christian and Jewish, begin as suddenly as London's China Town when you walk off St Martin's Lane.
If politically Jerusalem is still unfinished business, touristically its sudden changes of ethnic pace are part of the entertainment. It manages to be both familiarly western and tenaciously Middle Eastern, almost in the same camera frame. And where else in the world, outside the Commonwealth, would there be a King George V Street?
We visited the synagogue of the Hadassah Hospital lit by the glow through Marc Chagall's twelve stained glass windows representing the Sons of Jacob - when they were shattered in the 1967 war, he had the heap of glass sent to his studio and put them together again, leaving a single symbolic bullet hole. The accents of the ladies serving in the gift shop came straight from Surbiton, their figures of speech from Ealing B movies.

An hour later we were in the bazaar that blots out the third quarter of the Via Dolorosa, passing stalls of paklava oozing honey, and veiled women proffering burnished radishes. A little further, and we reached the Wailing Wall where a black-clad side-whiskered Orthodox Jewish father left four little daughters in identical floral dresses to their segregated devotion. Behind him that cliche of the miliatarised religious state, a soldier in green fatigues, Uzi automatic over his shoulder, bible in hand.
Overseas supporters have bankrolled both Judaism and Islam in Jerusalem. By comparison, Christianity is seriously underfunded, although it is it hard to see how money could be easily apportioned in a city that contains every Christian tinge from the Scottish kirk to the Coptic church. In the event the perhaps the greatest service was performed not by rich backer but by tree surgeon. In the Garden of Gethsemane, a serene enclosure whose historical pedigree is not disputed, an olive tree dated by scientists to the 1st Century appeared to be near death. The roots of this tree, a possible direct physical link with Christ, were injected with oxygen. Now it thrives.
With tourism flow measured in coach parties, it is perfectly possible to sit undisturbed in its shade for a few minutes before the next consignment arrives. Today the supposed route of Christ's agony leads only to crowds and the most determined vendors in Israel. Beyond the final crush of the bazaar is the church of the Holy Sepulcher, with its overpoweringly ornate flourishes, hanging with gold and silver, candlesticks as thick as tree trunks. Clerics in many garbs from the seven interested churches stand by. Nothing gets done. The last effective work seems to have been by the last Tsar. There has been scaffolding up for 22 years.
Just when you begin to envy the Jews the robust simplicity of the Wailing Wall, the holiest place in their faith yet approachable on the Sabbath by any family, we learnt of a coda, especially for Anglicans and non-conformists. Half a mile away, hard by an Arab bus station without the city walls, is another possible site for Golgotha, now a lovingly tended garden. Our guide is a tweedy English lawyer on a two month sabbatical. As the birds sing and the water plays, he offers us the softest, gentlest sell we have received in Jerusalem. That this is The Garden, and that opening into the rock, The Tomb.


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