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Posts from the ‘Palestine’ Category

about Masada and the Dead Sea, Israel…

MasadaDead Sea Mud

trip: Jerusalem to Masada, Masada to the Dead Sea, Dead Sea to Jerusalem
how: by Avis rental car or the Peugeot 206 master.
miles total:  4894
days: 1

We all jumped in the 206 Master early this morning because we wanted to get to Masada (מצודה) before the day got really hot. Well, considering it was 10 am and it was really hot and we were just leaving Jerusalem, I guess it was inevitable. We got to Masada around 11am and  after a short introduction video about the fortress, we caught the cable car up to then decided to hike down.

Masada is perched on top of an isolated mesa about 1300 feet or 400 meters high with a fantastic view of the Dead Sea below. Originally, Masada was a fortress and refuge for Herod the Great. However, the Romans were determined to get in and after many failed attempts at breaching Masada’s walls, the Romans reached Masada only to find that the 960 Jews living inside had committed a mass suicide to escape imprisonment and slavery by the Romans. There were only 6 (this number varies from source to source) survivors who were children and left to tell the story that ‘Masada shall not fall again’.

It was incredible. The views from the top, the fortress, the rooms, the history, and the scenery were spectacular. But it was hot.

We headed back down to the car and started our search for a good beach to rest for the afternoon. We got to Ein Gedi where we went into the hotel area to eat a cheap and tasty buffet (this is basically the only place to buy food around the whole Dead Sea). Then we continued on until we got to Khalil Beach. We soon realized that all the beaches along the Dead Sea are private and we paid about 20 NIS each to get in. Whatever.

Fantastic!! We jumped right in. Actually it’s quite impossible jump in. We first got stuck in the mud on the way to the water and then decided, who doesn’t need a free mud spa with Dead Sea salts. Back home we would pay loads for that kind of stuff and instead I had it right at my fingertips. Actually, I had it all over me. After we lathered up, we slowly dove into Dead Sea. Man. This water is WARM and super sah-weet. You just float. Just hang out… floating…even if you try… you just float. We had a great rest of the day there until we found ourselves slightly disturbed when we realized we were on an Israeli Only beach and the Palestinian beach was right next to us (separated by a fence). We only realized this when a Palestinian happened to cross the imaginary fence in the water and two big guys with massive guns walked over and started yelling. Oh jeeze. Seriously… nobody owns the Dead Sea… it was a sad wake-up call and we soon realized that somethings are impossible to escape.

Look at more pictures on my picasa site.

Tel Aviv tomorrow.


about Hebron and Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories…


trip: Jerusalem to Bethlehem, Bethlehem to Hebron
how: by shared taxi (Sherut)
miles total:  4758, 4778 (return to Jerusalem 4804)
days: 1

When we went to tourist information before we left this morning they warned us about going to Bethlehem because of the Fatah conference that was being held there this weekend. However, we had no choice because we were limited on days, so we went. It was fine. Fatah, if you didn’t know, is a major Palestinian political party and the largest sector of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It was the first meeting in 20 years and the first on Palestinian soil, so a pretty big deal.

In order to get to Bethlehem we took a sherut that dropped us off at the Israeli side of the wall, then we passed through like a customs area and then entered into the Palestinian Territories. It’s like a whole different world. Palestine is more like the Middle East, with a little more grunge and a whole lot more character. Bethlehem in general is very small and most people come here just to see the church where they believe Jesus was born. This is why we came here too, but we also wanted to go to Hebron which is a little further south.

The tightened security because of the Fatah meeting was present and we couldn’t help but notice all the snipers on the rooftops and the tanks rolling around. However, as a tourist I didn’t feel in danger. The security was to protect the people in the conference, and in general if you mind your own business it’s hard to feel threatened at all. However, because of the security we had some issues getting into the city and our taxi driver said he must drop us off outside of the city, but still insisted we paid the same amount as if he would have taken us to the center. We refused, and he decided to argue, accusing us of treating him like this because he was Palestinian. We were appalled, we paid him the correct amount and went to the tourist police, where we complained. The Palestinian police officer who helped us was very kind and thanked us for coming and telling him about this. Apparently, they have problems with the taxi drivers and he was more than apologetic when we told him of our experience.

He then proceeded to tell us a more than unpleasant encounter with Israeli soldiers over coffee. The five of us listened to his story of when his wife was pregnant with their son and she had to be rushed to the hospital. The Israeli soldiers had stopped them at a checkpoint and asked him to step outside of the ambulance while they spoke to his wife. He refused and the Israeli soldiers threatened him, until another soldier came and told them to just let him and his wife go. He said since then he would never stop to fight for Palestine’s freedom. He said he didn’t want violence, he just wants to live in peace and with freedom. However, the last thing he said to us is what stuck with me, “Palestine is too weak to ever have it’s own freedom so we must not think we can do this alone,” he continued to say, “this is why we want people to come here… we want people to see that we are not bad people, we just want to live with our own freedom and we need their support and their government support.”

We left Bethlehem after this and headed to Hebron.

Hebron is the biggest city in the West Bank and is not only holy for Christians and Muslims, but also said to be the second holiest city in Judaism, after Jerusalem. Unfortunately, this results in Hebron being a city in constant unrest. In recent years the Jewish settlements and Palestinians in and around Hebron have been the victims of much violence and disruption. All of this disruption has left the old city of Hebron a ghost town. This ghost town borders the Jewish settlements and high-security zone. There have been so many problems here over the past ten years that most Palestinians living in the old city have moved out and closed up there stalls. Furthermore, as you walk through these streets you have a type of wire netting above you that has been places there to protect the people walking from things been thrown (ex. rocks, liquids, glass, trash).  We crossed into the Jewish settlement in order to go to the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque and the Cave of the Patriarchs. Here is where Jews, Christians,and Muslims all have some ties believing that this site is the burial site of four biblical couples, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah.

Some of you may know that the mosque was subject to a horrific incident in 1994 when a Jewish extremist entered the mosque killing 29 Muslims and injuring more than 100 more during Ramadan.  This incident has inevitably caused the area to be a high security zone. It’s a strange feeling when entering into this mosque knowing that this happened here. You feel embarrassed and ashamed, but more than this I felt sad. Not all Jewish people want this sort of violence, but unfortunately this kind of attack leads some people to believe that they do. We met some very kind Palestinians here who told us the history of the Mosque explaining the importance of Abraham in Islam. After this mosque we went to the other side of the building, which is the synagogue. Another strange thing happened as we entered into the Synagogue, we entered listening to the call of prayer from the mosque.

We caught the bus back to Jerusalem and slept there the night before we got our car the next morning.

Full of thoughts.


about Jerusalem, Israel…

Holy Sepulchre al-Aqsa Mosque

Jerusalem, for me, was like a place you only read about. Not a place you actually go. So waking up the next morning and actually realizing I was in Jerusalem and I was walking the steps of the Bible was surreal. Not only this, but to be in this country and this city where so many people believe to be the holiest place on earth was incredible.

We met up with D and A this morning and also with our other CS friend and wandered around the old city of Jerusalem all day. We saw as much as we could since we don’t have a lot of time here. Starting with the old city, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Redeemer, Tower of David, Tomb of David, Dome of the Rock, Mary’s tomb, Basilica of Agony, Garden of Gethsemane, Mount of Olives and the old city souq. It was interesting, unreal, and extraordinary. It was as if the Bible was unfolding in front of me.

Jerusalem has many many sad stories too. The city has been, like the rest of Israel and Palestine, in constant turmoil. You have consistent reminders of this; armored soldiers, UN vehicles, the wall, and the checkpoints (to name a few). All are reminders that this city, although for a tourist is interesting and enjoyable, is a city that will most likely never be in peace, nor will it’s inhabitants ever be. It’s sad really and as I get talking to the man in the stall I am buying a scarf from I realize that he is Palestinian and he has a special permit to come in to Jerusalem everyday and work. He says to me, ‘but this is where I was born… why I cannot stay here?’ I give him a blank stare. It’s one of the many Palestinians in the next few days that I will have the opportunity to meet and they all ask me the same thing…

It’s a difficult country to be a tourist in. I suppose some tourist just blank out these problems and just see Jerusalem as a ‘cool’ city to visit and party and have a good time, while seeing a synagogue or church or mosque on the way. However, for me I like to see and feel more than a tourist to actually be with the people that live in the place that I am visiting and to understand them. It is quite difficult to do this here. It gets very complicated. It’s easy however to try and avoid these things and then again it’s easy to get wrapped up in these problems. Maybe I am rambling, but I hope that you understand all I want to say is that Jerusalem is whatever you make it to be (like everything in life).

I really enjoyed Jerusalem, the food was incredible (best bagels and falafel!). The city is fascinating and beautiful. The people are interesting, earnest, and heartfelt. In general, it is like a European city, very modern and western, with malls and fast-food, fast cars and lots of money. I suppose Israel is a very wealthy country so why shouldn’t it be like this! I am happy I came here as my first stop in Israel it opened my eyes and I’m excited to discover more about this beautiful and troubled country.

D and A agreed to rent a car with us for the next few days. Tomorrow we will be heading to Hebron and Bethlehem in Palestine. Then we will rent a car the next day and travel to Masada, the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, and the Golan Heights.