This is a tough town. Steely eyed nuns can melt nosy tourists with a facial expression. Orthodox Jews have been known to beat up the “immodestly dressed” who mistakenly wander into their neighborhoods. Palestinian kids in the Silwan sometimes trash foreigners’ cars because they’re hyped up after Friday services. You might begin to perceive every sight as just a flashpoint of political conflict and the very archaeology of Jerusalem, its stacks upon stacks of burned remains, as the casualties of a never-ending controversy. You might start to see politics in everything, and feel yourself caught in a cultural maze, stuck between competing stories of hardship and violence. Whose story is real?
And then, on the day you realize you’ll have to leave, you might become extremely sad; that retreat to Tel Aviv might not look so necessary after all. The fact is these people are tough because there is something deeply worth fighting for here. It’s in the ground itself; the Temple Mount has been one of the holiest places in the world for both monotheistic and pagan religions for centuries. The most elemental and human battles about the most elemental and human beliefs have been waged here, and all it takes is a dig to discover them. Many of Jerusalem’s stories remain subterranean, too fought over to be found—yet you are walking on them all the time. Instead of trying to pick a side, you might step back and see the testament to devotion and heritage that is at the center of all these loyalties. Abandoning the conflict and the shaky compromises they have struck—that is, Jerusalem itself—will feel like you’re abandoning everything. You’ll have no choice but to marry a falafelist and move here permanently.