It was his idea. But, neither of us was wimp enough to pull out. Dragging ourselves out of bed at 6.15am was a struggle, never mind the aching limbs from days of walking narrow winding sloping streets, and stomach cramps from unaccustomed food.We were the only early risers in the lobby of the King David hotel. Our group of doctors, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christian allsorts, some with none, mongrel and à la carte religions, were all safely tucked up in bed, dreaming of the breakfast buffet. Even the bright eyed American evangelicals with whom we shared the hotel needed sleep.
Two joggers slipping through the revolving doors into the Jerusalem dawn, the sun rising as we shuffled down King David Street past the Citadel hotel. We passed the security cordon, bored looking soldiers waiting, seemingly, for the visit of Condoleezza Rice, one of yesterday’s women, on her way to Sharm on another failed attempt to broker peace.
We strode along a short flat link through an incongruous new shopping precinct and up some steps towards the Jaffa Gate. Our run today was a circuit of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, along the narrow roadway, a steep downhill and then up the long drag under the barbed wire parapets of the Armenian quarter. As we ran the low sun glared off the bright sandstone. Breathing harder on the climb, and heating up with the morning we made our way towards the Dung Gate and entrance to the Western Wall.
At this entrance to the most important shrine of the Jewish people, we dodged between groups of ultra orthodox Jews making their early morning journey to the wailing wall, blacks hats and long black coats, white shirts, beards, ringlets hanging down before their ears. A short flat section and then a dip.
And to our left the vertical walls rising high above us hide Temple Mount, one of the most holy places of Islam.
And, to the right, the Kedron valley, with the grey line of the security wall in the distance and beyond, the West Bank. The Mount of Olives comes closer into view with its rows of tombstones climbing up the valley, the most desirable Jewish burial site, closest to where God will begin to redeem the dead on the Day of Judgment. Jerusalem, city of hills, each one more sacred than the next.
Slowing down a little to make our way past some Arabs ambling along pathway, we push on towards the Lion Gate. This next gate brings Christians into the ancient precincts towards the Via Dolorosa, with nuns and priests of every hue leading followers along the way of Jesus to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
With the sun behind us, we climb again, conversation faltering in the heat. Breath too valuable to waste on idle conversation. Jerusalem is not for the casual jogger; sweating, laboured, climbing and descending. Looking across towards Arab East Jerusalem, the city has already risen to meet the day.
Climbing, finally, back up towards the New Gate and Jaffa road, two middle aged joggers puffing and panting past three millennia of history legend, truth, half truth and gospel.
Battles, wars, sequential slaughter, religious fervour fighting for their God. And in the foreground, the bustle of daily life; of buying, selling, gossip and commerce. Leaving the city wall and climbing once again, a Jew and Christian with a single aim. Seeking the welcome shade of King David’s garden, rest for tired limbs and refreshing drink. If Jesus was a jogger, he could have picked an easier place.
Domhnall MacAuley is Primary Care Editor, BMJ, and was visiting Jerusalem with Conference Plus, an organisation that provides postgraduate medical education for general practitioners combined with cultural and educational travel. He paid for this trip in full and while he did not receive any payment, benefit, or incentives on this occasion or for this blog , he has had travel and accommodation benefits when lecturing for this organisation in the past.