It's September 1st, and although there is nothing around here even close to "a touch of fall in the air", children have finally gone back to school. That means the summer is officially over. Finally. It has been another long and deadly summer here in the Middle East. Thankfully, I was not personally affected very much by the recent war in Gaza. Jerusalem, where we live, is too far from Gaza (about 60 miles as the crow flies) to be a real target for Hamas rockets, although there were a handful of attempts that the Iron Dome intercepted. Mostly, this war impacted my livelihood, as almost all tour groups cancelled their July/August trips. They actually tell you this in the tour guide course: make sure you have a secondary source of income to fall back on because when the security situation is not calm, tourism is the first thing to fall away. This was the first time I really saw it happen. For the past three years things have been quiet and Israel has enjoyed record-breaking numbers of tourists. 2014 was on track to be the highest grossing year to date for the tourism industry. All this abruptly ground to a halt on July 1. It is amazing how quickly the Old City of Jerusalem empties out when things get bad - or more precisely, when rumor has it that things are about to get bad. On June 12 the three boys were kidnapped in Gush Etzion. On July 1 their bodies were found in Halhul, and the next day Mohammed Abu Khdeir was murdered. Right then and there rioting began in Shuafat which spread to the rest of East Jerusalem. Since then there have been no lines at any of the major tourism sites. The markets in the Christian Quarter are deserted. I never saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre so quiet. Over the past two months things never actually "got bad" in Jerusalem, but the tension down south in and around Gaza was enough to keep almost all tourists far away.
As many pundits have noted, despite the heavy fighting and appalling loss of life on both sides, this time around the "real" war was fought outside the Holy Land, on social media with hash-tags and YouTube videos. I rarely partake in online political debates, and am not a big social media user. This summer was no exception. I also rarely discuss political affairs on this blog as it is really meant to be limited to historical/philological matters. However, since so many visitors to this country whom I teach and guide eventually ask me, "so what do you think about the political situation here?", I feel as though I should say something. Like everyone, I read a lot of opinion pieces published over the last two months, and most of them left me with my head spinning. One, however, stands out in my mind as particularly lucid: "An Insider's Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth". It is written by Matti Friedman, a fairly young journalist who over the past ten years has become one of the most eloquent observers of current affairs in the Middle East. Please have a look. And when you are done with it, go read his excellent book, The Aleppo Codex.
I am Jonathan Lipnick, tour guide and educator specializing in Christianity and Judaism. In this blog I explore questions (historical, linguistic) that come up in the course of my teaching and reading.