I ended up being in Israel for exactly 72 hours. The vast majority of my time was in Jerusalem. I definitely want to return and visit more of the city and the country.
The Old City of Jerusalem was only a 23-minute walk from my Airbnb flat. The Old City is a walled city whose gates resemble those of a fortress. The Old City constituted the entirety of the city of Jerusalem for many years. The entire Old City is the part of Jerusalem that is hotly contested in history and in the present. It is less than one square kilometer!
It has religious importance for anyone who believes in a god. It is the site where Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac or where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven. There should be religious computer whizzes who could divide the city fairly based on a variety of criteria. For instance, Jerusalem has more than 1000 synagogues but less than 200 churches and fewer than 100 mosques. We have a Jews vs. Christians vs. Muslims thing going on with Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the most important city for Jews, but it is only the third-holiest city in Islam. Jerusalem has been relevant to Jews for 3000 years but only 2000 years for Christians and 1400 years to Muslims. The problem is the exact same spots in the city are the sites of every religious thing happening, which is a miraculous and bloody coincidence in and of itself.
Aside from geopolitical and religious context, it is interesting to learn the history of the city. I realize now that the current battle over the city is short compared to the long drawn-out campaigns for it. By my count, Jerusalem is in its 27th different set of hands (currently Israel)! The current takeover has only existed since 1967, one of the shortest periods of rule! The Roman and Byzantine controls of the city lasted hundreds of years each. The Syrian Wars and the Achaemenid Empire led to prior controls of Jerusalem. The back-and-forth wars over Jerusalem are dizzying for an academic trying to understand its history. Each time an empire or group with different religious affiliation conquered Jerusalem, the various mosques/synagogues/basilicas would be destroyed or architecturally adjusted by adding a minaret or altar. To a man of science like myself, I would find this hilariously amusing, if not for the millions of people massacred.
All the religious genocide aside, I found the city to be awesome. Jerusalem is much bigger than the blood-stained Old City, as it is modern with nightlife and luxury shopping. I did not spend as much time in the modern areas outside the walls as I would like to in the future. The Old City is much different than what I was expecting. It is divided into four quarters: Armenian, Jewish, Christians, and Muslims. It took me a while to realize that people actually live in the Old City. I guess I was thinking it was like a religious Disney World, where people visit, and everyone leaves at night, but that is untrue. Due to the rampant tourism, the Old City is highly commercialized. It is like walking through the most commercial parts of Manhattan, where one would not think anyone would live. There are endless trinket and souvenir shops, along with a few restaurants. The city is strategically built on a hill, so there are rarely flat areas, and the stone pavements are slippery.
Although the walled Old City is less than a square kilometer, it feels bigger because it can take a while to travel a little distance due to the inclines, uneasy footing, and pedestrian traffic. There are almost no motor vehicles inside. The main gates into the city are basically large open doors with no security. Throughout both modern and Old Jerusalem, there is a heavy military presence, mostly kids with semiautomatic rifles. I have never seen so many weapons in such a concentrated area. There would be groups of 50 soldiers walking around, talking on their iPhones or taking pictures, but always with a slung scoped rifle off of their shoulders. The presence of Orthodox Jews was noticeable too. I reckon their beliefs and adherence to the religion are even stronger, given their dress, hair, and penchant for mumbling loudly from books.