A Street Divided

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Authors: Dion Nissenbaum
who don’t take good care of his final resting place. And so Abu Tor’s tomb remains. He has been buried alongside one of the neighborhood’s most captivating homes: a one-story stone house with a central domed roof and high ceilings that may have served as a mosque, a Greek Orthodox patriarch’s home, and a brothel.
    Others say the origins of the neighborhood’s name can be traced back much further than the seventh century. Some people say the name Abu Tor dates back thousands of years, to the time of Canaan, when pagans worshipped gods like Baal, a deity often depicted as a bull. As in the Valley of Slaughter below, some locals say, small cults used the Abu Tor hillside to honor their gods with fiery offerings and bloody sacrifices.
    One of the suspected sacrificial spots is near Eliyahu Goeli’s home, inside the walled compound that has been owned by the Greek Orthodox Church for centuries. For the Greeks, for all Christians, this spot holds special significance beyond its reputation as the Hill of Evil Counsel. Hidden beneath the sloping hilltop is a claustrophobic catacomb that once held the bones of some of Jerusalem’s important Christian pioneers, one of whom was beheaded in the fourth century when he refused to betray his faith.
    The small stone monastery is built above a beautiful, long mosaic floor that some people say is a clear sign that the hillside was an important spiritual center in days gone by. The monastery seems to be jammed into the hillside at an angle, like it’s been yanked around a few times. The building, with its short, narrow, arched stone entrance and its rusting crucifix hanging from the heavy iron front door, dates back to the seventh century when Saint Modestus restored Jerusalem’s decimated holy sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Modestus wasn’t just a Christian hero: Church leaders say he protected and healed animals. For that, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch has said, Modestus was the one from this hillside known as the real, the original, Abu Tor.
    Of course, there are some modern-day residents of this neighborhood who say that the original name is actually Givat Hananya, the hill of Hananya, a Jewish priest from the city’s Second Temple era who had a summer home there. But most people, Arab and Jewish, simply know this place as Abu Tor: home of the stubborn-headed.
    The Gates of Hell
    Until the late nineteenth century, many people thought this hillside was too far from the Old City to be safe from marauders. Though only a half mile from the safety of the Old City walls, Abu Tor is on the far side of an ignominious valley with steep drops that make it difficult to quickly move through by foot, horse or car.
    The Old Testament refers to it as the Valley of Slaughter. On this the city’s Jews, Christians and Muslims can agree: This rough-stoned valley leads to the Gates of Hell. This is where the wicked will be held to account for their deeds.
    It is among the spotty grass and olive trees that Jewish kings are said to have once sacrificed their sons. The choking smoke that once rose from the darkened valley floor came from innocent children thrown by pagans into funeral pyres to honor their gods.
    It may be the valley where an inconsolable Judas hanged himself from a tree after realizing the result of his betrayal of Christ. It may be where Judas bought a potter’s field and had a mysterious—and fatal—fall. It’s a place known in the New Testament as the Field of Blood.
    To the southeast of Abu Tor is the city’s Peace Forest, a plunging ridgeline filled with hundreds of acres of pine, eucalyptus and olive trees. The modern-day forest promenade has been the setting, depending on the level of tension, for everything from Jewish-Muslim musical performances to small-time criminal dognapping rings, from Palestinian kids’ malicious stone throwing to fatal Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis out for a

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