Palestinian farmers -- goats, sheep and donkeys in tow -- have traveled to the animal market in northern Jerusalem century in and century out, despite the Arab-Israeli dispute over the once-divided city and the modernization that followed the Six Day War.
The market's teeming tradition goes on each Friday morning as if nothing had changed in the last 2,000 years -- despite the fact that just blocks away lie Western-style hotels, restaurants and shops, and that noisy traffic jams obstruct its entrance.
The market is a perfect example of the dichotomy of Jerusalem, where the old regularly confronts -- and sometimes confounds -- the new. One of the rare examples where the ancient tradition can be seen in action, it is undeniably and indisputably authentic.
At other ancient sites, separating truth from fiction is not so easy and the task is left up to a group of professionals revered like no other in the Holy Land -- biblical archeologists.
These experts are the best guides to the offbeat, the unusual and, like the animal market, the most authentic historical sites in one of the most historic areas in the world.
Archeology is booming in Israel, especially in Jerusalem, and if you spend more than a week in the country, and are diligent, you will be able to identify the Roman, Byzantine and Mamelukian pottery and glass shards scattered about the countryside more densely in some areas than pebbles on the Eastern Shore.
At the "living" ancient site at the animal market, the archeological site in progress at En Yael, the newly completed excavation at the site of the Bar Kochba rebellion and the well-established archeological attraction of Hezekiah's tunnel, I gained a greater understanding of Israel's past -- and, therefore, its present.
The Animal Market Louder, livelier and smellier than any conceived by modern civilization, Jerusalem's animal market is one of the experiences of Israel that can catapult you into the past -- but only if you are ready to make the trip.
One of the dealers on the day I visited what can be called Jerusalem's Wall Street of the goat and sheep trade was a man named Odeh, from nearby Bethlehem. He had come into town to do what he always did on Fridays when company was coming over -- pick out a fat sheep to slaughter that would impress his guests.
Odeh greeted friends, neighbors and colleagues with two-fisted handshakes, illustrating that the market's popularity has less to do with buying and selling meat than in pressing the flesh -- in this case man-to-Arab man.
The traders wear traditional long gowns, some with matching suit coats, and many smoke pipes or hand-rolled cigarettes of Turkish tobacco. There are farmers, Bedouins, businessmen and beggars -- and a handful of tourists.
Most tourists stay on the fringes, away from the dense crowd, unruly animals and intense bargaining, or take pictures from tour buses as they pass by. But those who do venture into the fray are not ostracized; they are hardly noticed.
The crowd snakes up and down a center walkway surrounded on both sides by beat-up trucks and cars of indiscernible color. Bleating sheep run in packs away from their owners, while mountain goats seek high ground along rocky nearby walls. A donkey's bray sets off the entire donkey population as it is led through the packed bazaar, head held defiantly high.
Those who come to buy and sell yell at one another above the noise, and there is much patting of backs and smiling of snaggle-toothed smiles. A "good morning to you" is occasionally heard in English, but the language is decidedly throaty Arabic.
Odeh inspects a sheep being sold by Khalil Abu Jhalyeh, a mathematics teacher from Jericho in the north who is also a goat and sheep merchant.
Jhalyeh translates Odeh's words from Arabic into English when asked what the sheep will be used for.
He will slaughter it for "good hospitality," Jhalyeh explained.
"He wants to know why you ask these questions," the merchant added, and a small crowd gathered to hear that an American woman, the only one within sight, simply wanted to know. They disbanded just as quickly when the market's soup salesman strolled by ringing a bell, carrying a giant brass urn on his back and stopping to pour liquid into customers' cups.
The animal sales at the market provide a major source of income for the shrinking population of the area's nomadic desert tribes, who are slowly being drawn to Western ways.
Goats, sheep and donkeys sell for about $100 to $300 once they are brought into the city from the desert for sale. The goats, whose sand-color camouflage enables them to virtually disappear into the mountainsides when running in the wild, can wreak havoc in town and have been known to munch the fiberglass fenders of parked cars.
The trade, though it occurs in Jerusalem, is strictly in Jordanian money -- a symbol of the continuing Arab-Israeli division despite the joining of the city in the Six Day War 20 years ago -- and the Volkswagen trucks most popular for ferrying the animals all bear the blue license plates that identify Arabs living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The animal market is located on an outdoor plot in an enclave just outside the stone city walls of the Moslem quarter and just northeast of Damascus Gate, the most elaborate of the ancient old-city gates.
A city wall, with its identifiable layers of stone representing the various conquerors and rebuilders of Jerusalem, ranging from the Romans to the Crusaders, serves as its appropriately ancient backdrop. The only breaks in the massive sand-colored blocks are the "loopholes" -- small carved slits used by city defenders to spot the enemy (and the etymological root of today's term).
The market continues each week, marking time like a sundial in the desert despite the endless conflicts in the land that presently lays claim to it.
Hezekiah's Tunnel One of the modern-day archeological controversies in Israel has concerned the various boundaries of Jerusalem during its different periods, and many theories are still in dispute.
However, one of the disputes that has been settled, at least for now, is the location of the original City of David.
One of the ways its location was established was through the exploration in the mid-20th century of the water tunnel built in the late 8th century B.C. by the then-king of the Israelites, Hezekiah.
Because of the tunnel, archeologists helped correct the mistakenly held belief that the City of David was in the west part of present-day Jerusalem. It is now known to have been located in the southeast corner.
But why, other than a general interest in biblical history, should we care about Hezekiah and his water tunnel? Like the animal market, it is one of the most exciting attractions for the Holy Land traveler who is determined to actually see and feel ancient history.
I undertook a trip through Hezekiah's tunnel, and like the workers who pick-axed their way through solid rock to build the tunnel 2,700 years ago, lived to write about it.
"Behold the tunnel," the proud engineer chiseled in ancient Hebrew inside the rock waterway the day it was completed. "This is the story of its cutting. While the miners swung their picks, one toward the other, the voice of one calling his fellow was heard. So the day they broke through, the miners struck, one against the other, pick against pick, and the water flowed from the spring ..."
Those workers were excited because they had succeeded in protecting Jerusalem's water supply from potential enemies. And in those biblical days -- as today -- water to sustain life in the desert climate was the most important commodity around.
With news that the Assyrians were bearing down on him, Hezekiah and his officers cut off the water supply from the spring outside the city and constructed the underground tunnel to bring water in, undetected from outside. The city was saved -- at least for part of biblical history.
Sloshing through the tunnel, which begins at the source of the Gihon Spring and runs under the modern-day Arab village of Silwan, is not for the fainthearted. But don't let anyone tell you it's only for the youth groups so prevalent among the touring masses.
As we waited on the steps leading down into the tunnel, our group's leader handed out two tall, thin candles to every other person. One candle was supposed to last through the end of the approximately 40-minute, single-file walk, but a second was provided "just in case."
Our turn approached, and I entered the opening, candle lit, reserve in pocket. The air was cold, the spring water reaching to my knees even colder.
I got a glimpse of the tunnel walls by candlelight and felt the rocky, uneven bottom under my feet. The ceiling was just above my head and the walls were about four feet across, just wide enough that I could steady myself if need be.
Suddenly a rush of wind blew over us, taking our light sources with it. It was the kind of darkness Western city dwellers enveloped in their urban electric-light field do not experience.
I was glad I wasn't in this cramped space alone, even though I couldn't see any now beloved tour members, one of whom was six inches away from my face and another of whom was six inches behind me. I knew they were there because by this time we were holding each other's hands and calling each other's names. One of us fumbled for and lit a match and held it to several urgently stretched out candles.
The crisis over, we proceeded through the half-mile-long corridor. Along the way, we warned each other of rough rocks at our feet, pointing out the false starts where the workers so long ago got off track with their pick axes, and noting the small shelves chiseled out of the rock where ancient oil lamps once lit the way for the women water haulers. At times the tunnel got so small we had to crouch.
A song echoed through the tunnel from the group of young girls behind us -- a platoon of Israeli army soldiers with Uzis strapped around their necks. The tunnel Hezekiah built 2,700 years ago was at that moment a bridge -- between the warriors of Jerusalem past and the warriors of Jerusalem present.
En Yael The archeological dig at En Yael is technically in the city of Jerusalem but it is located in the outlying western farming area -- thought to be a strange place for a dig until 1977, when archeologists began making significant finds among the remains of agricultural terraces.
The bus ride from Jerusalem to the southwest valley takes about half an hour; the terrain is hilly, the packed dirt roads narrow. Our experienced driver, a native of Iraq, took the inclines in stride and made no complaints when forced to stop the bus to move a boulder in the road. To go around would have meant plunging down the hillside. No divided highways or exit ramps here.
The dig itself is a tiny community of trailers, tents and cots set in the hillside that is fed by a vegetable patch and a natural spring.
Called the En Yael Living Museum, the dig on the 40-acre site in the Rephaim Valley is based on the principle that only through first-hand experience can you get a true sense of the way of life and evolution of ideas in ancient times.
For the first-time visitor, that means a choice of three duties -- digging, washing pottery or schlepping (bucket-hauling).
When you take part in an archeological dig, you are literally searching for buried treasure -- and you may actually find it. A member of my group, a Georgetown University medical school professor, did just that. Within 45 minutes after he started to dig, he unearthed an intact oil lamp so precious the archeologists debated about letting him hold it long enough to have his picture snapped.
I dug up mounds of pottery shards, most of which were destined for the discard pile, but I also found more than one fully intact jar handle, and a couple of pieces of clear blue glass that ended up in a special box for important finds.
The founders of En Yael, which means "spring of the mountain goat" and is as peaceful as the name implies, have made important discoveries about the agricultural terracing that transformed ancient Israel from a semi-arid barren land to "the land of milk and honey."
Excavations on an upper terrace have yielded remains from Early Arabic, Byzantine, Roman and Iron ages. A Roman villa with remains of beautiful mosaic floors, fresco walls and bath houses dated to the 3rd century A.D. was revealed in 1986, and a Roman bath plastered with frescoes was found on the lower terrace. Pottery unearthed in an exploratory trench indicates that settlement at En Yael occurred as early as the 7th or 8th century B.C.
Plans are underway to excavate at both En Yael and Canaanite sites across the valley during the 1988 excavation season; more than 1,500 volunteers from around the world are expected to participate from May until September.
Eventually, the founders of En Yael want to restore the ancient agricultural community and hold workshops to study weaving, pottery, metallurgy and long-lost cooking methods -- all in an effort to recreate the conditions of the past.
Bar Kochba Rebellion If En Yael is a work in progress, the site of the last stand of the Bar Kochba rebellion -- a maze of underground rooms and connecting passageways -- is a work just completed.
Like Hezekiah's tunnel, the site -- at the ancient city of Bethar, 4 1/2 miles southwest of Jerusalem -- is another example of archeology's ability to shed new light on tradition and offer it up for the present.
Discovered in 1980 and opened to the public less than a year ago, the site is so new it does not appear in research texts, and is not fully developed as a tourist attraction: A wood and tin shack is used for an introductory lecture delivered in broken English.
But a climb through the subterranean caverns is spectacular -- a climb through ancient history.
At the center of the honeycomb is a story-high olive press and four complexes that served to store some 10,000 liters of olive oil -- about $100,000 worth in 1988 dollars, and an extremely large quantity even by today's standards.
The complexes were used as an olive oil factory in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. but were taken over by the followers of the Jewish leader Simon Bar Kochba in a revolt against the oppressive government of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
The Jewish activists fortified their underground shelter by linking underground water wells, closing unnecessary openings and narrowing underground passages. The passages were constructed with particularly sharp turns to make it impossible for an armed man to use them -- and difficult as well for a tourist with a camera around his neck.
The site, which is just now beginning to draw tourists, is one of the newest illustrations that the pace of archeological activity has skyrocketed in recent years.
Archeologists have inspired pilgrims by the thousands to travel to the Holy Land, exposing the roots of their traditions and shattering some myths in the process.
In a land where some of humankind's fundamental beliefs began, archeologists have cast doubt on the existence of the famous walls of Jericho and traced the march to Armageddon. If archeologists and their followers have it their way, the revolution has just begun. Danna L. Walker is a Washington-based journalist who normally travels the halls of Congress.