It was hot, but not unbearably so. Jeff Roberts and I were making our way through the Arab Quarter as quickly as possible. We could see the Dome of the Rock, and were taking a shortcut through a residential district. It was a half hour since we learned that we had been left behind by our tour group in Jerusalem. Everybody was supposed to buddy up and go out shopping for awhile. Jeff and I were the only ones that didn’t go off in a large group to make tourists out of ourselves.
Apparently, people got tired of shopping and returned to the meeting point early. About 10 minutes before the scheduled meeting time, our leader decided that it looked like everyone was back, asked if everybody had their buddy for confirmation, and led the group off.
There had been some discussion before we split off about where we were going to go that afternoon. The only destinations that Jeff and I could remember were the Holy Sepulcher, and the Dome of the Rock. We ran down to the Holy Sepulcher first. It was gaudy and disgusting even from the outside. We somehow cut in front of the hundreds that were waiting to get in and saw that our group wasn’t there. That left the Dome of the Rock. Meanwhile, the tour group was actually boarding the bus to leave the old town area of Jerusalem. Thankfully, they did a head count before they drove away.
Jeff and I were having a great time being abandoned. It was fun to explore parts of the old, stone city that most people never saw. I have always enjoyed seeing where people actually live in the cities I visit. As we walked up the street, I noticed a group of young boys in the middle of it playing on the ground. The street was a narrow corridor, about 6 feet across with high walls on each side that enclosed private courtyards. One of the boys, he couldn’t have been more than 11, looked up and saw us approaching. He immediately jumped up and ran the opposite direction. I took note of which gateway he ducked into, and nudged Jeff. “Watch out, that kid just ran to get his older brothers.”
I was mostly joking, but we were a little on edge being in the Arab Quarter. We walked past the other boys, who took no notice of us at all. When we passed the gate that the boy had run into, I looked inside. The boy was standing just inside with a large, jagged stone in his hand. His arm was cocked back, ready to paste the stone into the side of my head. Our eyes connected and he froze. The stone rolled backwards out of his hand. “Jeff, we need to get out of here.”
We ran out of the residential district, always trying to get closer to the Dome. Finally, we came to the bottom of a gentle hill. A street ran off to the right and we could see the gate to get into the Muslim holy site at the end. Jeff and I ran again, all the way up to the gate. It makes the Israel Defense Forces that guard the gate to the Dome of the Rock nervous when people run toward them. They jumped to their feet, aiming their weapons and shouting for us to stop. We stopped. Our group was not there. In fact, the site was closed to all outsiders at that time for Muslim prayers.
We were out of ideas. Jeff and I decided to wander back up to the Joppa gate. We had narrowly avoided death twice in the last hour or so. It was time to go back to a public area that we were familiar with and wait to see if our tour group would come back for us. When we walked out of the ancient gate, we saw our bus parked on the street. Ty Layton came out of the crowd and grabbed us. They had been looking for us, but not as hard as we were looking for them. The general consensus was that we of all people would be fine. We were greeted on the bus with cheers and jokes. The buddy system was scrapped for the remainder of the trip.