This would have been his path. According to the gospels, it was in the area of Bethany and Bethphage that Jesus would have stayed each evening of the Passover holiday--on the far slope of the Mount of Olives, where his followers Mary and Martha lived and where he raised their brother Lazarus from the dead. During the festival it was a tradition and a necessity for pilgrims to spend the night on the outlying hills. Each morning Jesus would have set out again, over the top of the mount and then down its western slope to the great holy city below.
Today verses from the Koran waft from a dozen open windows in the town of Bethany. Islam regards Jesus as a great prophet, and Bethany's mostly Muslim residents are proud of its 2,000-year-old tradition. Just a few yards down a steep road from the tomb believed to have been Lazarus' is al Ozir Mosque, named for him in Arabic; a few yards up is a Greek Orthodox church honoring Mary and Martha. Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, would have walked up this hill, a local woman explains, and turned right at the top toward Bethphage.
Next would have come a hike along the hill's crest, which would have led him to a place now occupied by a hotel called the Seven Arches. The view here is stunning. Directly below is an ancient necropolis--an immense graveyard dating back long before Jesus that could cause anyone, not just a religious rebel with a price on his head, to consider his mortality. The ground falls off sharply, dotted with stands of pine and, yes, silvery green olive trees. Jesus--or his donkey--would have picked his way from here down into the Kidron Valley. On the other side, then as now, a great tan wall--the grandiose platform for a place of worship--would have reared up before him. He would have passed through what was known as the Beautiful Gate and entered Jerusalem.
Across from the Seven Arches, five or six colored hens pick for corn, and a herd of sheep grazes among scarlet anemones. Hiba Gaith, an 11-year-old Palestinian girl who lives nearby, is singing a song she and her friends learned at school. She wears jeans, and her long ponytail is done up with a brown butterfly clip. "The sound of the stone/ The blood of usurpers/ The hearts are bleeding in fury/ They carry stones in their small hands/ And challenge the aggressors," she sings. "The martyr Mohammed/ Seen by millions/ Taking refuge in the bosom of his father/ Dying by damned bullets/ His blood is splashing in the sky." The song, by Egyptian pop artist Walid Tawfiq, is about Mohammed al-Durra, the 12-year-old whom the world witnessed dying in his father's arms in cross fire last October during the early stages of the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflagration. The tune, says Hiba, "is implanted in my heart."
Seven-year-old Mahmoud Zomored zooms by on his red-and-black tricycle. He pauses to peer down at the city below. What does he see there? "I see war." Why? "The Arabs throw stones at Jews, and Jews kill Arabs." Does he throw stones? "No. I do not want to die."