Archive for August 2011

All Quiet on the Western Bank

August 31st, 2011 — 1:17pm

Kind readers, forgive me for a blog that will be more photos than prose—my family and I are currently traveling with friends through Israel/Palestine and finding quiet times to write are few and far between.

If you are living in Jordan, it is best to generalize when referring to this disputed land and just call it “Jerusalem,” or, if you are being very sensitive to your Arab friends, Al-Quds (Arabic for Palestine). Saying the word “Israel” can cause your Jordanian listener to visually flinch, and it took me a few flinches before I realized why my listener seemed suddenly afflicted. Jerusalem, self-proclaimed capital of Israel (although the international community does not acknowledge it as such), is the land of the Temple Mount and Western Wall for the Jews, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus to Christians, and the Dome of the Rock/Haram Esh-Sharif where Mohammed was lifted to the heavens for Muslims. Jerusalem felt like a place of truce when I walked its streets and saw veiled women buying their Ramadan sweets, shops selling menorahs and Star of David necklaces, a priest leading a procession of pilgrims carrying a life sized-cross. As the Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai says, Jerusalem is surely a place “saturated with prayers and dreams.”

We have been on the road for almost two weeks so these are just a few highlights from along the way. Here is a glimpse…

Tel Aviv at sunset

If you find yourself in Tel Aviv, watch out for the damned matkot players. Matkot is this horrible little game where players knock small black rubber balls at each other with wooden paddles, preferably while standing over the heads of toddlers (until my Irish temper flared and I demanded they leave our staked piece of beach alone). Beside getting hit with stray matkot balls, the beach was good for people watching. There were bikinis on every female, many of whom ought to wear bikinis but an awful lot who should never even think of squeezing themselves into a two piece; men in speedos or, if they were wearing swim shorts of the American variety, they felt the need to roll them up to their butt cheeks, which created a puffy diaper look that I can’t imagine anyone finding remotely attractive. We even saw a mostly naked young man in a drenched white t-shirt that clung obscenely to rear end; fortunately he carried his wet pants across his unmentionables.

The matkot menace.

On our way to Haifa, my daughter and I spent most of our trip to Caesarea, one of the country’s major archaeological sites, playing with stray cats, of course…

Then the Old City of Akko, with its underground crusader halls, hummus with mushrooms (I have had this dish just about once a day for our entire trip), and most refreshingly, its fresh pomegranate juice… 

Then Nazareth. We’ve witnessed many faiths and nationalities interacting everywhere we go, and this is the only outright sign (ok, billboard) of intolerance we’ve seen. It is posted in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation (thought to be built over the home of Mary, mother of Jesus)…

Mary's home in the bottom left, church on level above with light spilling out.

Oh, Jerusalem! 

We started at the Mount of Olives and worked our way down. Here is the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene. There was a young nun sitting at the gate with baskets of scarves and sarongs, and she promptly asked us to cover up: my husband was wearing shorts (not allowed), I was wearing pants (not allowed), and my daughter just felt like it (allowed).

The over 2000 year old olive trees of the Garden of Gethsemane, the only thing standing that hasn't been torn down and rebuilt over and over again by each new conqueror.

Greece and Armenian Orthodox Tomb of the Virgin Mary

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the church built over the spot where Jesus was both crucified and buried. I have never heard of this before, but the Church is “shared” by many different Christian denominations, among them the Latins (what they call Catholic here), Greek and Armenian Orthodox, and Egyptian Coptic. There were a lot of shouting holy men in big black hats. But a lot of beauty and awe too.

Site of crucifixion.

I kept my scarf/veil on as we walked through to the Wailing Wall/ Western Wall.

Next was our trip from Jerusalem up to the Golan Heights, with a lengthy stop at the Sea of Galilee where we swam in a spot where it was where absolutely prohibited and crabs grabbed at our toes.

The idyllic lushness of Golan Heights’ pomegranate and peach groves are a bit incongruous with the Israeli tank battalions in position near the border. Yesterday we drove around hoping to find a scenic outlook so we could see the demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel, only to happen upon a mine field (which didn’t stop the men from getting out of the car and following a dirt trail to the top of the hill. Women and children wisely stayed in the car.) But today we chased the plenty of Golan rather than the turmoil, like the gentle offerings of a brewery, an olive oil factory, and a vineyard.

Shalom and salaam,  my friends.

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