The Heat Is Online

Surprise Snowstorm brings Peace In Middle East

Rare snow casts shroud on conflict in Holy Land

By Charles M. Sennott, The Boston Globe, Jan. 29, 2000

JERUSALEM - A rare snowstorm in the Holy Land left ridges of white powder yesterday on the ancient Herodian stone of the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.

It covered the cobblestones of the Via Dolorosa, the path that tradition holds Jesus walked before he was crucified. And it frosted the golden Dome of the Rock, Islam's principal shrine in the city.

The storm dumped some 15 inches on Jerusalem yesterday and left the Negev Desert with a sprinkling of snow for the first time in a half-century. In Jerusalem the snowfall seemed particularly dramatic; in a land where history is often measured by conflict and violence, the paralyzing storm gave the city of three faiths a sense of calm, tranquillity, and light-heartedness.

With temperatures just below freezing, the wet snow hung on pines and citrus trees. The sound of branches cracking under the weight could be heard in the morning stillness, and many streets were blocked by fallen trees.

Public transportation was shut down, and municipal tractors and bulldozers rumbled down the streets trying to clear them.

In the narrow alleys and pathways of the Old City in Jerusalem, the snow did not stop the faithful. At noon, Muslims wrapped in kaffiyehs, the traditional red-and-white checked scarves, trudged to prayers yesterday at the Dome of the Rock's Al Aqsa Mosque. Christian pilgrims tromped down the Via Dolorosa carrying a wooden cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as they traditionally do on Fridays. And at sunset, Jews rushed across the slippery slush on the cobblestones to make it to ''Shabbat,'' or Sabbath, prayers at the Western Wall.

Yakov Horowitz, 41, wearing a fur hat, part of the centuries-old dress of Polish and Hungarian Hasidic Jews, was on his way to prayer at the wall. He remarked that in Jerusalem, especially in the heat of summer, the fur hats seem ridiculously out of place.

''Once in a while, they work in our favor,'' he said, laughing and adjusting his hat against the cold as the sun began to set. ''My wife said to me today, `It's too bad they don't come with earflaps.'''

There were many who couldn't resist the temptation to toss snowballs. Sporadic battles broke out throughout the city. On one corner, a group of teenage Palestinians held the high ground on a rooftop and were engaging tourists in a test of arms.

For residents, snow prompts memories of earlier storms and provides a benchmark by which they gauge time, and therefore the level of conflict. There was the legendary storm of 1992, which left more than 2 feet of snow and occurred when the Palestinian intifada was burning out and peace was just being kindled. The most recent storm occurred in early 1998 and left about 12 inches, when the peace process had been faltering under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Looking out from the doorway of his shop near the Jaffa Gate in the Old City's Christian Quarter, Terry Abu Hassan said: ''Snow calms everyone down. You forget everything with the snow. But tomorrow the snow goes and everything you think you forgot comes back.''

This story ran on page A02 of the Boston Globe on 1/29/2000.