eace and Death
Haas Promenade, February 8, 2002
There it was again. "Haas Promenade is a hillside park that commands unbelievable views of the Old City and the Dead Sea. The dusk experience alone is worth the trip." We'd been resident in Jerusalem for a week and remembered something about a very beautiful view. But where was it? Finally, some research in Let's Go Middle East found the reference among the minor sights of Jerusalem, well past the glories of the old city and even past the description of the rambunctious Knesset and the Supreme Court on Gi'vat Ram, which we had already toured. So now, perhaps, was the time to go.
In fact, the entry was under the title "German Colony and Haas Promenade" and described the German Colony as "a leafy neighborhood of somber European houses and spacious Arab villas, surround[ing] Emek Refa'im St., an upscale avenue with a lively cafe scene". A little research on the internet revealed that in the late nineteenth century some German Christians, calling themselves Templars, had founded around the Middle East a half-dozen "colonies" for religious pilgrims. The Jerusalem "colony," part of a spill-out from the growing congestion of intra-muros Jerusalem, had retained its name, if not its original inhabitants.
Our very first night in our new apartment we'd taken our dinner on Emek Refa'im. We'd arrived after a 12-hour bus ride from Cairo and been let out by the conductor on a corner that we'd hoped was near our new abode. A call to Yuval Abend, our new landlord, was successful and he picked us up and drove us the kilometer or so to 14B Lincoln Street. After we were installed we asked where the closest fast-food shop was, thinking we'd go to Ben Yehuda Street. Instead, he recommended Emek Refa'im, and drove us there.
We hadn't read our "Let's Go", but certainly had in mind that we should be introduced to Jerusalem by a "lively cafe scene." Only an hour with him had revealed to us his gregarious nature and the naturalness of this idea. The drive there was also short, the distance being perhaps 1.5 km, but lengthened a bit by one-way streets. Upon seeing the place we and he were obviously disappointed; he probably more than us. The street was all torn up with work still going on, even if it was well past dark. A fashionable and fancy brick paving was being installed in place of the old asphalt. Perhaps one day it would seem gracious, but today it was simply dusty and a mess. The night was cold and the glittering crowds were elsewhere. The restaurants Yuval had in mind were either closed or he couldn't find them.
In fact, all that made little difference to us. We just wanted a simple and cheap meal and a place to relax by ourselves after the headaches and strains of crossing the border and switching buses three times, each time wondering if and when we would find the next. We selected a place that offered pizza by the slice and were happy there was a place to sit, it was warm, and the counterman understood our English.
From the map it was clear that we could easily walk from Emek Refa'im to the Haas Promenade and we already knew that the restaurants on Emek Refa'im were only a 20 minute walk for us. So on the Friday in question, after a late breakfast and a long morning of leisurely reading, we gave up the idea of shopping before all the shops closed for Shabbat and set out to get lunch at our "favorite" pizza restaurant. In fact, of course, it was not our favorite: just across the street is a Pizza Hut, which does have our favorite thick-pies. Like all minorities, we wonder when the rest of the world will wake up to the true heavenly facts. Unfortunately, even though a week had passed the Pizza Hut had not yet supplied heating to their meager seating, two tables enclosed in a transparent tarp.
Walking on Emek Refa'im we did pass several upscale places which we again decided would be saved for an upscale occasion. And we passed the Thai takeaway with its few benches in an alcove open to the air. In the daylight we discovered that just beyond the Pizza Hut, almost next door, was a McDonalds, or more exactly, a proto McDonalds that looked like it might open in a month. And in the daylight we were discovered by a Hassidic Jew, a very sweet young man, who wanted us to go down the street to have lunch with him and his colleagues and share the approaching Sabbath. But leaving him — with little difficulty compared to passing a shop in Cairo or old Jerusalem without buying something -- we elected to walk down the street and see what else we'd missed our first night. At the end of the block we found and settled on Burger Ranch, one of a kosher hamburger chain — as much because it was the end of the block as anything else. Seated among parents with their sometimes squalling children, including some in orthodox dress, we read our newly bought "weekend" Jerusalem Post, complete with almost as many magazines and subsections as a minor American paper.
Our map actually has "Haas Promenade" on it, but as with most maps, it's difficult to be sure how to associate place and label until you've been there: just exactly which squiggly line is the promenade? While we had map in hand and were pondering the question, we were approached by a man who offered us help. As it turned out, he was the manager of the Burger Ranch we'd just eaten in. Out of thankfulness for his clear directions, we lied a bit about the quality of the food and service. In fact, the fries had been cold and the sandwich meat dry. But his cheerful manner and clear directions made us want to please him. In response to our parting question he said that the opening of the McDonalds would take some business away, of course, but would not materially hurt him: they weren't kosher.
The first part of our walk to the promenade took us over the disused rail tracks to Tel Aviv; disused because there are not enough paying rail passengers. How can it be that the socialist economy of Israel makes the logical choice that is avoided in so many other rich countries? Maybe it is because Israel is still not rich enough for this foolishness. But our friend the burger manager did suggest that there were plans to reopen the line at some future date. Maybe there are some closet train riders waiting to come out. From there the walk took us along Bethlehem Road for a moment and then for a short distance on Hebron road, each putting in our mind the question of going to these places and wondering about the safety. Bethlehem, hardly over a few hills to the south, maybe yes. Hebron, well beyond sight, almost certainly not.
And then we turned left and our route became a short climb to what would obviously be the hilltop promenade. As we approached the crest, or possibly even before then, we were aware of the noise of a helicopter. Around and around it went, making pass after pass over something. It was too far away to see its markings, but we suspected it belonged to the police. Its flight pattern reflected a manhunt, a pattern that we had first learned when noise over our Bruce Road house in New Jersey had eventually driven us outdoors to investigate. Then we had learned that a burglary had taken place nearby and the perpetrators were thought to be hiding in some back yard.
On the crest of the hill we found a new stone wall in Jerusalem stone inscribed with the name of the park: "the Walter and Elsie Haas Promenade" — most prominently in English but also in Hebrew and Arabic — and we entered on the path through the wall. As we went in it was with hope and anticipation: Would the guide writer have exaggerated? They usually do, but from the way we had climbed the hill it could be expected that we would get a good view. And we did. There was no exaggeration. As soon as we were past the wall we began to see the panorama before us. We were just below a ridge running northwest to southeast; below us was the Peace Forest, about 30 acres of scrub; beyond were the village of Abu Tor and the Valley of Hinnom; and beyond them and almost due north, less than two kilometers, was the Dome of Rock.
Stretching generally from west to east we could see the tall buildings of new, west Jerusalem around Jaffa road; the tall obelisk like Three Arches YMCA, our backyard neighbor; the impressive Dormition Abbey with its fine dome and separate bell tower just outside the old wall's Zion gate; the entire southern wall itself, with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the more modern Lutheran Church tower as well as the Dome of the Rock appearing above the wall; and then to their east we could see the rise of Har Ha-zetim, the Mount of Olives.
From our perspective it was easy to see that the upper reaches of the Kidron valley were just a scratch in the more generally continuous line of the ridge that contained all of the above. It was easy to see why the view from the east, from the Mount of Olives, was favored by medieval travelers sketching a perspective of the holy city.
The circling helicopter didn't draw just our attention. As we entered, a car slowly came along the street in a manner that clearly indicated the driver was looking for something. Almost simultaneous with our entry he got out and came into the park, following the helicopter with his eyes. We and he went in and descended a fine stairway to a small plaza with a semicircular arbor done in stone. In doing so we had cut our distance to the helicopter in half and now could easily read its marking; indeed, in English, on its side, it said "Police."
Was there anything to be alarmed about? Other than the helicopter the atmosphere was peaceful. Beyond peaceful. Almost serene. Besides us and the curious man, the few other people in the park didn't seem to give the noisy flight much attention. A middle aged couple went on with their jogging, on a track that zigzagged back and forth across the stairs that we were on. At the plaza several couples were having picnic meals and a man was dozing. We chose an empty bench and sat down to enjoy the fresh air, sunshine, and continue reading our Post. A half hour later the helicopter came back to our consciousness and we became aware that it was still making what we supposed was its search.
Hardly informed, and only mildly worried, we decided to stretch ourselves and explore more. As we progressed we discovered that the promenade is not one, but many, each at a slightly lower level. The top, giving its name to the area, is the Haas Promenade, but further below there is the Gabriel Promenade and still below there is the Armon Hanatsiv Promenade. Almost every bench is named for somebody, in a tradition that is at least as old as the first century BC, when the synagogues of the Galilee were paid for by donations noted in the ceramics of the floors. It should be noted that the vast majority of Jerusalem's public parks and buildings are the result of donations from abroad. For those Jews who are wealthy but don't want to come and live in Israel, a comfortable option is to give some large amount of money to fund some public amenity for those who have dared to make the commitment.
Staying at the same level we walked generally to the southeast, following the curve of our current promenade. As we did so our perspective changed and changed again, reinforcing our conclusion that the guide was right; it is worth the trip. Nearly at the end of the park we climbed back to the road and followed to the farthest external corner of the park. There we found a man in uniform, dressed rather like a policeman. In fact, on his badge it said "U.N." but perhaps he would still be able to tell us what was happening. A short conversation revealed that he had heard there was a shooting and that the police were seeking the culprits.
Where we had been seated we had thought just maybe a dark patch on the horizon might be the Dead Sea. But it was all to hazy to really believe it. Now, hoping to get a bit higher and see, if possible, the Dead Sea, we decided to walk farther east and see if we could get a higher, closer vantage point. Crossing the road we came to a separate small park. There, just below us, was a small pavilion with a family on its top and we went down to join them. Their dress somehow said "Palestinian". Perhaps that was an unwarranted surmise, based simply on the belief that we had gone beyond the Jewish neighborhood and must be in an Arab one, but it turned out to be true.
We said hello to the older of two men, about 50 to 55, and admired the young boy with him. "Is it your son or grandson?" we asked and heard that it was his son. He told us he was Palestinian, confirming our guess about neighborhoods, and asked where we came from. On hearing we were Americans he gave a big smile but not as big a one as we became accustomed to in Egypt. In response to our questions he named for us the villages we could see to the south: Beit Sahur and the outskirts of Bethlehem.
From there we walked another 500 m west, passing a group of young Arabs playing football (soccer), passed a UN compound with a dozen or more white vehicles behind the fence, and stopped on a small outcrop above a dozen grazing goats, shepherded by two middle-aged men. From there we looked east and saw that it was true: you can see the Dead Sea. Our doubts drained away and we became convinced that we could see the mountains of Jordan beyond the sea; mountains that we hope to visit in two months time. Slightly to the north of due east, hidden behind the closer hills must be Jericho. And slightly south of that, also hidden, must be the caves of Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. Their writers, a brotherhood possibly related to the Essenes, may have been a far out sect, but now from our vantage point, it was clear that they were only a day's, or even less, march from Jerusalem and religious orthodoxy (and destruction by the ruling Romans, which happened in 68 CE).
Sundown was little more than an hour away and we decided to head back to the Haas Promenade and adjoining areas and walk home through them. When we got back to where we had been reading, the helicopter was gone. But down below, 400m or 500m away, we could see several cars, one with blinking lights like those on a police vehicle. Were they part of the search? Had anyone been caught? We didn't know.
What we did know was that the park itself was a pleasure and the walk with its view of the old city etc. across the valley was a pleasure. We left it, picked up Hebron and Bethlehem Roads, and then passing by the disused train station and the restored windmill were soon home. Later that night we got on the web in search of news about what we had seen. We hoped that the Ha'aretz English version would have already been updated. And so it was. We found the news article reproduced below..
Woman dies after attack by masked militants in Jerusalem