And its oh, what a beautiful,
Oh, Oh Lord, what a beautiful city
Twelve gates to the city, hallelujah!
Reverend Gary Davis
We all have a city or, if we are fortunate, cities
of our heart. A place you see for the first time and say I am
home. It is intangible a feeling, a sense of you belonging to
it, and it belonging to you. You might call it a spirit of place.
And whenever you return to your city of the heart, you feel that
youve never been gone, that the years that have passed since your
last visit, and the changes time has wrought on it and on yourself
I felt this spirit the first time entered London
with a bunch of Birmingham school mates on a spree. When I first
saw Paris. And when I first crossed the Jebal ash-Sharqi from
Lebanon and descended to the oasis that was Damascus.
And so too when first I set eyes on the Old City of
Jerusalem, and walked through the Damascus Gate. This ancient gate
was the portal to a city that has forever danced on the edge of my
consciousness (for that it what these cities do).
Back in the day, I would roll down from Ramallah or
Mount Scopus to Jerusalem and stand before its faux mediaeval
walls. I would walk through the Damascus Gate into the Old City,
grab a felafel sandwich, some figs, or a plate of kanafah,
depending on the time of day, and amble contentedly through the
alleyways and souks down to the Via Dolarosa, and then up Daoud
Street to Omar Ibn al Khatab Square and the Jaffa Gate beyond.
Traveling back from West Jerusalem, I would retrace my steps, and
always with the same sense of wonder and delight.
It was a journey of the senses the call of the
muezzin and the peal of church bells, the cacophony of the hustle
and bustle of the marketplace, the colours of the markets and
shops, the aromas of spices, sweets, and cooking meats, the
infinite variety of dress and custom of the many faiths, tribes and
communities that dwelt therein or, like me, were passing through.
If I had time on my hands, I would sit for a while in the gardens
atop the Haram ash-Sharif, or wander into the Dome of the Rock or
al Aqsa to sit and ponder awhile, or else progress through ecstatic
clamour of the Escher edifice that is the Church of the Holy
The Occupation was relatively new then. I was not
oblivious to it, but rather, very aware of its manifestations. I
had crossed from Jordan, via the famous Allenby Bridge, and had
watched my fellow bus passengers, Palestinians, endure the
humiliating searches and questions of the border police,
whilst armed military patrols were commonplace. No...