Snowfall in Jerusalem temporarily cools tension...again


Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock and the Old City covered with snow on January 10, 2013.


Gidon Belmaker

The ancient stone walls of Jerusalem’s Old City hold the heat of the day, and too often the heat of politics and religion.

But there is nothing like a snowstorm to chill out the Holy Land.

Freelance journalist Genevieve Belmaker was out and about in Jerusalem, where she is based, and sent along these snowy images of ‘ground truth’ in Jerusalem: A snow cap on the Dome of the Rock. A drift of white powder up against the Western Wall.The faithful playfully throwing snow balls in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. A Jerusalem evergreen toppled by the weight of the snow.

It doesn’t happen often — every five to ten years. But when it does, the city shuts down. Israelis and Palestinians go out for walks and the snow seems to cast a strange calm over a place that is always crackling with the heat of political tension and all too often exploding in violence.

I lived with my family in Jerusalem for about five years, from 1997 to 2001, as the Middle East correspondent for The Boston Globe. And I remember a big snowstorm well. I wrote a piece on January 13, 1998, which a brilliant copy editor titled “Snow Falls, but not Netanyahu.” I was looking back at the piece, 15 years ago almost to the day, and realized that journalists based there now are covering the same story all over again.

The peace process in trouble, Prime Minister Netanyahu struggling to survive and holding the line against any agreement with the Palestinians, Washington trying to pressure him, and various political factions vying to build a coalition to unseat him. Almost every angle that was in play 15 years ago is in play today during the ongoing election in Jerusalem. It all seems frozen in time, like Bill Murray’s ‘Groundhog Day,’ only with Hebrew and Arabic subtitles.

Here’s the story I wrote on January 13, 1998:

JERUSALEM -- Crisp white snow blanketed the ancient gray stones here yesterday morning, and cushioned the city in a rare calm.

For a few hours, it seemed as if the heated crisis that has engulfed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the simmering tensions surrounding the stalled peace process, had been buried under six inches of cool, clean powder.

But by afternoon, the snow was melting. And in the Knesset, the first "no confidence" vote was being held since a key member of Netanyahu's coalition resigned last week and left the government hanging by a thread. As analysts expected, Netanyahu survived. Once again. …