However you approach Jerusalem, you ascend. The commonest way for new arrivals is from Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv. Even in winter, the coastal plain is warm in the middle of the day — pleasantly so if you have come off a flight from Europe. The journey to Jerusalem begins through flat agricultural land, then takes the traveller through rising, rockier, ground until you arrive on the outskirts of the city. The landscape here has been transformed over the last half-century. Modern blocks of flats stand on hillsides which look as if for hundreds of years they have been home to villages and fields for subsistence farmers. The Old City, which contains almost all that makes Jerusalem sacred to so many people around the world, is seen only at last: still walled like a medieval citadel, and even higher than the surrounding hills upon which the modern town stands. Coming from the east, the ascent is even more dramatic, passing as it does areas of the desert which are below sea level, crossing landscapes which are even rockier and more barren. Here you might still see camels tethered at the edge of Bedouin camps — a scene which for Europeans like me might more readily come from a children’s Bible than real life. Jericho, Bethlehem, Hebron: the names of West Bank towns and cities fire the imaginations of those travelling towards Jerusalem, a place which in recent decades has drawn journalists in large numbers, ‘It’s one of those places that any journalist worth their salt wanted to come and try their time in,’1
says Crispian Balmer, Bureau Chief for Reuters from 2010 to 2014. Balmer believes this is a place which fascinates the wider world, too:
A lot of countries, a lot of peoples, feel that they have got a stake in this story and it’s a story that they engage in, and are committed to over and above any other conflict for religious reasons, for historical reasons — you know, so many European, American countries deeply involved here over a long period of time.