Israel: Jerusalem: Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif

The Temple Mount in Judaism is said to be the place where God gathered dust to create Adam, the place where Abraham bound Isaac for sacrifice, the location of the first and Second Jewish temples, and the home of the Foundation Stone from which the Earth itself was created.

The Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, is the third holiest site in Islam. It holds the Al-Aqsa Mosque, to which Muhammed made a miraculous journey from Mecca in only one night. For a time, in the early days of Islam, Muslims were instructed to pray towards Jerusalem instead of Mecca, and the site of the glittering Dome of the Rock is where Muhammed is said to have ascended to heaven.

Unfortunately, these two sites are the exact same place. The Mount sits directly above the blocks of the Western Wall, the remaining piece of the Jewish temple. After the site was conquered in 1967 by Israel, it was immediately turned over to Jordanian control to avoid inciting a war, and it remains in their control today. It is one of the most politically and religiously charged places in the world, and is a pin in the semi-dormant grenade of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The ascent to the Mount is not made easy by any means. Non-Muslim visitors are only allowed to ascend between 7 and 10 in the morning and between 12:30 and 1:30 in the afternoon, so that they are only there in between prayer times. Non-Muslims are also not allowed into the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Islam maintains a very private, mysterious, and exclusive air in a city where religions are so jumbled.

Visits require strict security as the site often erupts into sometimes violent political displays and protests. Non-Islamic prayer is not allowed on top, so bags are searched to remove any books written in Hebrew that might be used for prayer.

Once the gates were opened, I climbed up a narrow, rickety plank to the top of the Mount where beaming sun, the gentle murmur of conversation, and several Israeli guards with machine guns welcomed me to the most beautiful place in Jerusalem. The expansive terrace is covered with gnarled old Cyprus trees, palm trees, glittering fountains, and students of Islam in quiet circles reading and studying the Qur’an under the twinkling shade.

Behind the gardens looms the impressive, glittering gold of the Dome of the Rock. After ascending a staircase and passing under a delicate archway, I emerged onto a stark, desert-like plateau. In the center, the Dome of the Rock stood like a fortress, immovable and imposing. Tiny, ant-like people moved around the base of the structure, dwarfed by its weight and austerity.


Its surface pulsed with intricate tilework and windswept Arabic calligraphy. Cursing my blonde hair, pale whiteness, and obvious not-Muslim-ness, I watched as men and women in long flowing robes passed in and out of the doors, freely able to see the beauty of the interior.

As my very short time on the Mount dwindled, I went back down to the Al-Aqsa gardens to draw the men and women milling about and reading from the Qur’an. In contrast to the emptiness of the area surrounding the Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa plaza felt very much like a college campus, with students (of all ages) passing to and fro, books tucked under their arms, reading and studying together in large circles, separated by gender.

Suddenly, the solemn quiet erupted into a howling chant that began in the distance and slowly began to move from circle to circle, like the wave at a baseball game. “ALLAHU AKBAR!” each group would shout in turn, until the entire plaza, and hundreds of people were all shouting with increased fervor. I continued drawing, not sure what was happening, until I asked a nearby man.

He told me that people were shouting because extremist Jews had entered the Haram al-Sharif with an armed Israeli escort. He said these Jews sought to destroy the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque to rebuild the Jewish Temple. It is true that an extreme, right wing Jewish faction is gaining traction in Israeli politics, and part of their platform is the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount. The shouting would start intermittently every 20 minutes or so, and last for several minutes as the Jews and their guard moved through the plaza.

As I was drawing the angry crowds shouting at the two men walking through, I became nervous that the onlookers might be offended by my depiction of them. On the contrary, it energized and excited them. Men began calling their friends over to point out people they knew in the drawing, and seemed very pleased that I had accurately depicted their anger. They seemed to feel validated by my drawing. I wonder if the Jews I drew in the picture would have felt the same way, and been equally validated in their reading of the drawing.

The Mount itself has become an illustration of whatever anger or righteousness each side of the divide feels entitled to. Within it are the seeds of Israel and Palestine’s most festering wounds and also the potential for its most poignant healing. Its contested nature is a testament to the deep, shared roots of Islam and Judaism: two seeds of the same fruit.

For more of Evan Turk's travel illustration, check out the link below: 

Israel: Jerusalem: Western Wall

The Western Wall, or kotel, in Jerusalem is considered the most sacred place in Judaism, and has been a pilgrimage site for Jews since the 4th century. A wall of enormous blocks of Jerusalem limestone is all that remains of the Jewish temple built by King Herod in 516 BC, after its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD. When writing about holy Jewish and Muslim sites in Jerusalem, every sentence is a political statement. Even the previous sentence is loaded, since some Muslims believe that Judaism has no religious claims to anywhere in Jerusalem. When discussing the area around the Wall, it becomes even more difficult. Under Jordanian rule, from 1948 – 1967, Jews were forbidden to come to the wall. When Israel conquered Jerusalem in 1967, they liberated the wall for Jews in an emotional celebration, and demolished the Muslim neighborhoods that surrounded it in the now non-existent Moroccan Quarter.

Politics aside, there is no denying that the Western Wall is an incredible pilgrimage site for millions of Jews around the world. This pile of stones, with no special aesthetic value above any of the other stone walls around the ancient city, is made sacred only through the prayers and connections of the millions of pilgrims that place their hands against its cool, hand-worn surface.


In contrast to the solemnity and darkness of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the outdoor Wall Plaza is often full of singing and celebration. Bar mitzvahs, celebrations for boys entering manhood at age 13, are held in front of the wall every Monday and Thursday.


Boys beam from ear to ear as they carry enormous Torah scrolls with the men of their family. 

After the ceremony is complete, the congregations erupt into swirling circles of dancing and singing of the hora, as female relatives and onlookers peer over the divider between the men’s and women’s sides of the wall and toss candy as tradition.

Another Jewish tradition, tefillin, which consists of small black boxes containing verses from the Torah, and leather straps wrapped around the head, arm, hand, and fingers, is worn by observant Jews during weekday morning prayers. The origins of tefillin in the Torah are fairly vague in their symbolism, but they are described as a reminder of God’s bringing the Israelites out of Egypt and a protection against evil thoughts.

There is a stall near the plaza that will wrap the tefillin for you, to experience the prayer. The man asked if I would like to try it, and I asked what the meaning behind it was. He described the leather strap, which runs from the parchment scroll box, around the arm tightly down to between the fingers, serves as a symbol of connection between mind, heart, and hand. It is a physical reminder that a person should strive to connect his thoughts and feelings into action.

I saw a group of soldiers from the Israeli Army have the tefillin tied and the talit, prayer shawl, draped around their shoulders. They all then prayed at the wall, and several of them also wrote notes and put them in between the cracks of the stones.

Most of the moments at the Wall, though, are of quiet, personal connection. Young men and old men alike place their hands and heads against the Wall in quiet prayer. Proud fathers lead their sons to touch the wall for the first time.

Men often leaned against the Wall for so long, eyes closed, sometimes with tears falling down their cheeks, that when they opened their eyes, the sun was too bright and they looked like they had awakened from a trance.

The cracks between the stones burst with prayers and wishes written on scraps of paper and pushed as close to holiness as possible.

It is these spaces in between the stones that are sacred, physical reminders of hope. Like the plants that grow from in between the stones, there is the potential for life.

The Wall stands, not as a monument to a temple that existed two thousand years ago, but as a monument to tradition, hope, and connection.

For more of Evan Turk's travel illustration, check out the link below: