"Yesterday is already a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision, but today well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.."
The motto that hangs from the wall of the Imperial Hotel
The minibus journey from Ramallah to Jerusalem was not quite as easy as the outward journey and one Arab family were required to leave the bus by the Israeli soldiers. The bus deposited me at the minibus station near the Damascus Gate. I paid for another Jerusalem hotel (my back was giving me gyp and I had luggage to carry) and then found my favourite hotel in the world, The Imperial, had free rooms. 'Stay here for free' said the gracious and legendary manager, Mr. Dajani, so here am I in what seems like being back in a college room. Of course I shall pay him.
'Wow!' said my Jewish Zionist friend, who has lived here for decades. 'Imagine a Jewish hotel-keeper doing that. It would never happen.'
The Kaiser stayed here in 1898. EXACTLY my kind of shabby genteel place. I feel it is my spiritual home.
While the hotel was being built, the pool in which Bathsheba was seen bathing by King David was discovered on the site. The view from the front balcony is endlessly fascinating - from the roof there is a wonderful view of the Dome of the Rock, the old city and the Mount of Olives.
This is the real old Jerusalem, before the coming of the Jews, after 1918. In the 1950s and 1960s, this was the place for elegant Christian wedding receptions but now it needs doing up, though I shall no longer like it when it is renovated. Mr. Dajani's father, a Palestinian Muslim refugee, leased the hotel from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in 1950 but the hotel is now the subject of a lawsuit with Jewish investors. This say local Christians part of a highly organised attempt by Jews to seek to buy up the Christian Quarter. Mr. Dajani says it is organised by a rich, politically well-connected Jew, who made his money in the U.S.A. from gambling and less respectable forms of entertainment. Elderly Arabs are offered vast sums in return for signing over their properties and are allowed to retain a life interest in the properties. Mr. Dajani says he turned down an offer of U.S. $20 million for his rights. Now the case drags on.
You go inside the milky tea-coloured stone courtyard, ring the bell which says 'Sonnez jour 6.00-24.00' and walk up the stairs where the Kaiser trod and General Allenby, when he took Jerusalem and started all the trouble which will probably never end. The walls of my little room are stone, the ceiling sixteen feet high, the desk and wardrobe are Formica, the loo cannot cope with loo paper and a bin is provided (I suppose it was the same for the Kaiser), the bed is comfortable, the air conditioning heats the room quickly. My room feels like a monastic cell, appropriately enough considering that this is Jerusalem. Many things do not work at first but do with the help of the man from the reception. The public rooms are a higgledy-piggledy jumble of antiques, paintings, framed maps and signed photographs. This feels like home.
It is one of my three favourite hotels in the world, the other two being the Baron in Aleppo and the Continental in Tangier. A fourth, but it was not really shabby and has now been renovated, would be the Pera Palace, Constantinople.
Mr. Dajani, unlike most of the people I talk to, does not think there will never be peace. His gentle eyes are sharply intelligent and he sees that the Jews of the present day have lost the self-confidence and brutality that they he remembers in the boy soldiers of the 1967 Six Day War. The war in Lebanon in 2006 took 33 days not six and ended inconclusively, he points out. He wonders how many Jewish families will decide they would prefer to live somewhere else as the conflict goes on.
He is frightened of the rebels in Syria and about whether Assad will attack Israel in a final throw of the dice.
Was that a gunshot? It sounded like it. No cars nearby to backfire.
I opened my window and peered into the dark passageway below. All I could see was a couple of gendarmes.