ISRAELI & the PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES – The Trip

Israel & Palestinian Territories February 17-March 7 2016

TIPS ON TRAVEL
1. Shabbat. Everything stops on Saturday, the holy day of the Jewish week. All public transport including buses don’t run and restaurants and businesses are closed. So travel has to be planned to deal with Shabbat. It officially starts at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday, but businesses start closing at 2pm and don’t open till Sunday morning.
The Torah states that the Sabbath is to be a day of rest but the present Orthodox Jews have carried that edict to the extreme. They don’t switch on electricity, drive, use a phone or computer or cook or use elevators. Food is precooked, hot plates are programmed so turn on at certain times and food is reheated. Salads can be made and refrigerators used. Lights are programmed to come on and turn off but the switch can’t be used. Elevators are programmed to open and stop at every floor so no buttons need to be pushed.
Traveling on Sunday morning is a zoo. The bus stations look like an army camp with 90% of the people, young army men and women most carrying M-16s on their shoulders. They go home for the weekend and return to their bases Sunday morning.
2. Accommodation. Hostels are common: the best source is hostels-israel.com. Hostels International also has several hostels (iyha.com) but they ate atypical hostels with youth groups, fewer dorm rooms and a worse atmosphere.
3. Food and taxis are very expensive. Taxi set rates are apparently cheaper than using meters which seems strange. I wanted to go to Tel Be’er Sheva, a Unesco site 5kms outside of Be’er Sheva but the one way fare was 80S (US$20) and 130S return. This is simply not practical pricing. Renting a car might be cheaper is you want to see many sites.
4. Green Pass. A great way to see all the sites in the country, you can buy a pass that gives 6 or all the sites. Because it has a 2 week limit, buy only the 6 site pass.
5. If planning on going to Jordan, buy a Jordan Pass (www.jordanpass.jo) before you go. It is a great saving even if you only use it for the 40JD visa and the Petra cost as you also get free access to over 40 other sites in Jordan.
6. Reading. To get the Palestinian perspective on Israel, read The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and Extreme Rambling: Walking Israel’s Barrier For Fun by Mark Thomas, a British comedian. Be warned, these books will destroy all myths you may have had about Israel. To get the Israeli perspective, talk to any Israeli. Few Israelis have read, or even know about these books (I have come to believe that they are banned in the country), are largely ignorant of their own history, deny that any of this is true, don’t want to know, and could care less about the Palestinians just as long as they are kept behind the fence.

At the intersection of Asia, Europe and Africa – geographically, culturally and even botanically – Israel and the Palestinian Territories have been a meeting place of cultures, empires and religions since the dawn of history. Cradle of Judaism and Christianity, and sacred to Muslims and Baha’is, the Holy Land offers visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in the richness and variety of their own religious traditions, as well as to discover the beliefs, rituals and architecture of other faiths. Distances are short, so you can relax on a Mediterranean beach one day, spend the next floating in the mineral-rich waters of the Dead Sea or rafting down the Jordan River, and the day after that scuba diving in the Red Sea. Hikers can follow spring-fed streams as they tumble towards the Jordan, discover verdant oases tucked away in the arid bluffs above the Dead Sea, and explore the multicoloured sandstone formations of Makhtesh Ramon.

Capitals. Jerusalem (I), Ramallah (PT)
Country Codes. 972 (I), 972 or 970 (PT)
Languages. Hebrew and Arabic (I), Arabic (PT)
Official Names. State of Israel, Palestinian National Authority
Populations. Israel 7.8 million, West Bank 2.7 million, Gaza 1.7 million
MONEY. Currency Israeli new shekel (NIS or ILS). In January 2016: 1US$=3.91 NIS, 1NIS-.265US$
ATMS. Widespread throughout Israel, but are less common in the Palestinian Territories so take cash along with you. Visa, MasterCard and, increasingly, American Express and Diners cards are accepted almost everywhere. Most, but not all, ATMs do Visa and MasterCard cash advances.
Cash. The official currency in Israel, and the most widely used currency in the Palestinian Territories, is the new Israeli shekel (NIS or ILS), which is divided into 100 agorot. Coins come in denominations of 10 and 50 agorot (marked ½ shekel) and one, two and five NIS; notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200NIS.
Travellers Cheques. Can be changed at most banks, but charges can be as high as 20NIS per cheque; instead use a no-commission exchange bureau or the post office.
Wire Transfers. Post offices offer Western Union international-money-transfer services.
VISAS
In general, Western visitors to Israel and the Palestinian Territories are issued free tourist (B-2) visas. You need a passport that’s valid for at least six months from the date of entry. (For specifics on who qualifies, visit www.mfa.gov.il and click on ‘About the Ministry’ and then ‘Consular Service’.)
Most visas issued at an entry point are valid for 90 days. But travellers, eg those entering by land from Egypt or Jordan, may be given just 30 days or even two weeks – it’s up to the discretion of the border control official.
Kibbutz volunteers must secure a volunteer’s visa.
You’ll probably be subjected to extra questioning if you have certain stamps in your passport (eg from Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan or Sudan), though after a long wait you’ll probably be allowed in. You may be asked to provide evidence of sufficient funds for your intended length of stay.
If there is any indication that you are coming to participate in pro-Palestinian protests or are seeking illegal employment, you may find yourself on the next flight home.
A visa-on-arrival is not possible when crossing by land from Eilat to Aqaba. A 15-day VOA is available only when coming by plane or ferry to Aqaba and is free. So you must have arranged the visa previously (in your home country or an Israeli Embassy). It is possible to go on an Israeli one-day tour to Petra where the visa (90JD), entry to Petra (50JD), transportation to Petra (cumbersome to go direct from Aqaba), food and guide are included. But this only gives you 3 1/2 hours in Petra, insufficient to see the Monastery, no less all the great hiking and is very expensive at a total cost of US$330.
There are many implications of having an Israeli stamp in your passport and basically are not allowed in most Islamic countries (except Egypt and Jordan).
Extensions. To extend a tourist (B-2) visa, you can either apply to extend your visa (170NIS) or do a ‘visa run’ to Egypt (Sinai) or Jordan. This might get you an additional three months – or just one. Ask other travellers for the latest low-down.
Visas are extended by the Population Immigration and Border Authority (www.piba.gov.il, in Hebrew; generally 8am-noon Sun-Tue & Thu), part of the Ministry of the Interior which has offices in most cities and large towns. Join the queue by 8am or you could be waiting all day. Bring a passport-sized photo and evidence of sufficient funds for the extended stay.
Travellers who overstay by just a few days report no hassles or fines.
When to Go
Feb–Apr Hillsides and valleys are carpeted with wildflowers; the ideal season for hiking.
Jul–Aug Warm and dry in Jerusalem, humid in Tel Aviv, infernal at the Dead Sea and Eilat.
Sep–Oct Jewish holidays generate a spike in domestic tourism – and room prices.
Connections. For onward travel to Egypt, the only crossing currently open to travellers is at Taba, on the Red Sea 7km south of Eilat. If you’re heading to Jordan, you have three options: Allenby/King Hussein Bridge, just east of Jericho; the Jordan River/Sheikh Hussein crossing, 30km south of the Sea of Galilee; or the Yitzhak Rabin/Wadi Araba crossing, 4km northeast of Eilat/Aqaba. Travel to the Gaza Strip may be possible from Egypt.
TRAILS IN ISRAEL
1. Israel National Trail. 920kms long it begins at Israel’s northern border to traverse forests, mountain ranges, urban areas and deserts before ending at the country’s southern most point on the Red Sea at Eilat.
2. Jesus Trail. A 60km trail from Nazareth to Capernaum in the Galilee region. The trail highlights sites from the life of Jesus, as well as diverse communiites and landscapes. Usually done in 4 days, it appeals to Christian pilgrims or anybody interested in nature and history.
3. Golan Trail. A 120km trail stretching along the beautiful Golan Heights, from the ski resort on Mount Hermon to Taufiq Spring by the Sea of Galilee. Taking 7-10 days, it passes streams, volcanic hills and local communities.
4. Sea of Galilee Circle. A 60km trail surrounding the Kinneret (Sear of Galilee), it can be walked or biked with nice beaches and some pilgrimage sights.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES in ISRAEL. 1. Baha’i Holy Places, Haifa* 2. Biblical Tels at Migiddo, Hazar and Beer Sheba, 3. Incense Route – Desert Cities of the Negev 4. Masada* 5. Old City of Acre* 6. The White City of Tel-Aviv* 7. Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls*.
NATURAL SITES. 1. Red Canyon Eilat 2. Dead Sea* 3. Makhtosh Ramon Crater* 4. Negev Desert*

EILAT (pop 47,500)
This glitzy Red Sea resort town occupies a thin wedge at the southern tip of Israel between Jordan and Egypt. And it’s separated from the rest of Israel by 200kms of desert. With average winter temperatures of 21°C, this is where Israelis come to have fun. Summer temperatures rise to 40.
It’s main appeal is its proximity to desert mountains and canyons. It has a small coral reef, but serious divers should head to the Sinai to see the best of the Red Sea.
Underwater Observatory Marine Park. This aquarium has a glassed-in underwater viewing area, sharks, turtles and phosphorescent fish. I never go to these places – they are a poor substitute if you have actually dived.
International Birdwatching Centre. Tens of millions of migrating birds pass through the Arava and Eilat en route from Africa to Europe and vice versa.
The Yitzhak Rabin/Wadi Araba border crossing between Israel and Jordan is about 3km northeast of Eilat.

AROUND EILAT
Eilat is surrounded by jagged, red-rock mountains created by the tectonic movements of the Great Rift Valley (Syrian–African Rift). The desert has great colour especially at sunrise and sunset. Hikers head for the Eilat Mountains. North of Eilat towards the Dead Sea, on both sides of the border with Jordan, is the beautiful Arava Valley.
Timna Park
About 25km north of Eilat, Timna Park, source of copper for Egypt’s pharaohs in the 5th century BC, has some stunning desert landscapes, enlivened with multicoloured rock formations. The most intriguing are the Natural Arch, the eroded monolith known as the Mushroom and the photogenic Solomon’s Pillars. There is also a range of excellent day hikes through one of Israel’s wildest desert landscapes. Buses between Eilat and points north pass the park turn-off, 2.5km from the park entrance.
We went here for the day, got the bus (16S), hitchhiked from the gate to the end of the road and walked everywhere on a very hot day. The ancient mines were the most interesting. The Egyptians were here in 12-14 century BC and left lots of evidence of their presence.
Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve. Located 35km north of Eilat, this wildlife reserve was created to establish breeding groups of wild animals that are mentioned in the Bible, as well as other threatened species. In addition to savannah areas that can be visited only by car, you can see reptiles, small desert animals and large predators such as wolves and leopards in the Predator Centre, and nocturnal animals such as pygmy gerbils in the Night Life exhibition hall. All buses to/from Eilat stop nearby on Rte 90.
Kibbutz Lotan. 45kms from Eilat, it is known for its funky geodesic dome houses and one of only two kibbutzim in Israel affiliated with the Judaism Reform Movement. Lotan runs regular workshops in alternative building methods, as well as half and full-day tours that show visitors how to put environmental theory into practice. Its Bird Reserve is set on a sandy plain very near the Jordanian border. It is possible to stay here but they never answered several phone calls (the fax machine was turned on) nor returned any e-mail inquiries. I guess this is what happens in a commune where personal initiative is determined by the laziest person.
Hiking around Eilat.
Shehoret Canyon. About 20km north of Eilat on the Arava Rd (Rte 90) on the Israel National Trail (3-4hours). Near the mouth of Shehoret (or ‘Black’) Canyon lie the impressive Amram Pillars.
Nakhal Gishron. An excellent six to seven-hour hike will take you through the spectacular (part of the Israel National Trail) from Har Yoash to the Egyptian border. Get an early start and carry at least 3L of water per person.
Red Canyon. Further north, the 600m-long canyon can be reached off the highway to Ovda (Rte 12). The canyon, which is just 1m to 3m wide, and 10m to 20m deep, is accessible on foot by way of a 1.5km walking track from the car park. It makes a great 1½-hour hike and involves some climbing.

I have decided to not walk the Negev section of the National Trail of Israel. It is necessary to cache food and water in 13 locations: a pick axe and shovel and wrapping the food in nylon is necessary, you must map the location and each cache can cost up to $100 to establish (you hire someone to drive you around and several locations require a 4WD). And the area has been going through a major heat wave. The plan is to see many natural areas around Eilat and then move north.
I have been staying at Arava Hostel (65S per night). It is ok but nothing is provided (coffee, sugar, tea), towel and the kitchen is closed from 10pm to 8am so you can’t heat water. The toilets have an interesting sign above the toilet “Please brush you shit from the toilet”.
Staying here is a woman from Penticton who is great company. We started talking one evening and when I looked at my watch it was 2am! We went to Timna together and traveled north to Mitzpe Ramon.

NEGEV. The Negev Desert is much more than just sand: wadis (valleys) with water. The Negev Highlands region is home to many vineyards and a wine route. Today, ecologists from all over the world come to the kibbutzim of Sde Boker and the Arava to study solar energy and water treatment. Two thousand years earlier, the Nabataeans cultivated grapes and invented desert irrigation, which can still be seen at the ancient ruins of Shivta, Mamshit and Avdat.
This region, comprising 62% of Israel’s land mass, may seem sparse, but it offers a world of adventure including mountain hikes, camel treks, 4WD desert drives, Red Sea diving and Makhtesh Ramon, a crater-like wilderness, which feels like another planet.

MITZPE RAMON & MAKHTESH RAMON (pop 5500)
This small but surprisingly engaging high desert town sits on the edge of Makhtesh Ramon, a dramatic ‘erosion cirque’ (crater) 300m deep, 8km wide and 40km long. Despite being in the heart of the desert, Mitzpe Ramon (elevation 900m) is also one of the coldest places in Israel – snow falls here more often than in Jerusalem. Although Israel is a little country, the makhtesh is one place where it feels vast. Here the desert landscape opens up. The lookout juts out over the edge of the crater. Detailed hiking maps are available from the SPNI Tourist center and there are an endless variety of places to go.
Mitzpe Ramon lies 23km south of Avdat and 136km north of Eilat. The bus from Eilat goes 100km north along the rift valley and the border of Jordan through a harsh desert environment. The acres of green houses and date palm plantations are impressive. The road then turns west and climbs up to a relatively flat plateau that is green and almost lush looking, but it is all irrigated. We arrived in Be’er Sheva after 3 hours then turned south to Mitzpe Ramon.
We stayed at Silent Arrow, a hostel about a km from town. Remote, it has no electricity or food and light was from candles. We slept on mattresses on the floor in large tents. On Friday night there were about 35 Israelis and 3 tourists there, but on Saturday night, there were no Israelis and 6 tourists and very quiet. As all stores were closed, the only food source was a gas store with a poor selection of food. But I had cereal and coffee and we didn’t starve.
We had all day Saturday to see the “crater”. This is not a volcanic crater but an erosional crater created by a single seasonal stream that flows down the centre. We went to the camel overlook for a good view and descended a trail down to the bottom. The best trail with the most interesting rock and formations was against the NW wall. Ancient eroded volcanic cones are frequent. Walking across the crater is not interesting – small wadis and flat rocky desert. There were some wildflowers. Across the crater and a climb up the other side is a wall of fossilized ammonite.
Staying at the hostel on Saturday night was a British fellow who had walked and hitchhiked for several days to get here. He was quitting the National Trail as the water logistics were too difficult. Carrying 9 bottles of water, he ran out one day and was saved by some army guys. He also didn’t think the landscape was that interesting but planned on restarting the trail where things would be more interesting and easier.

The bus back to Be’er Sheva stops several times including at Kibbutz Sid Boker with a large dairy herd. It was established in 1952 by young pioneers who at first planned to breed cattle in the desert. A satellite campus of Be’er Sheva’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, renowned for its environmental research and education is here. Razor wire fences encircle the village. I didn’t go to any of the following but include them for ideas of places to go.
Ben-Gurion Desert Home. The home of Israel’s first Prime Minister is preserved as it was at the time of his death in 1973. Ben-Gurion Graves. The graves of David (1886–1973) and Paula Ben-Gurion (1892–1968) lie in a spectacular cliff top setting overlooking the stunning Wadi Zin and the Avdat plain.
Ein Avdat National Park. A beautiful, canyon-filled park, with hikes through the Wilderness of Zin, spotting ibex. A steep, winding ravine of soft white chalk and poplar trees, the desert pools of Ein Avdat are reached.
Avdat National Park. Constructed by Nabataeans in the 3rd century BC – and recognized as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2005 – this city-upon-a-hill served as a caravan stop along the trade route between Petra and the Mediterranean coast. Jesus Christ Superstar were shot here. Situated 10km south of Sde Boker.
Small groups of Arab (Bedouin) houses lie on the outskirts of town. They look very poor with dirt roads and small one story, rectangular huts with corrugated roofs. Camels and sheep graze nearby.

BE’ER SHEVA (Bear Share-Vah pop 194,300). Israel’s fourth-largest city is ‘capital of the Negev’ and home to the pioneering Ben-Gurion University, with over 20,000 students.
Tel Be’er Sheva. Dating from the early Israelite period 10th century BC), this tel (hilltop ruin) was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2005. The best-preserved parts are the well-engineered cisterns and a 70m well, the deepest in Israel. It’s 5km east of Be’er Sheva. A taxi here was 80S, return 130 so we didn’t go. I can see that having a car would be valuable if you want to see everything.
Israeli Air Force Museum. Offers a gripping account of Israel’s aeronautical history, displaying about 100 airplanes ranging from Spitfires to Phantoms. Situated 6km west of Be’er Sheva on the Hatzerim (Khatserim) air force base. From the central bus station take bus 31 to the last stop.
Museum of Bedouin Culture. This museum contains displays and demonstrations about the Bedouin’s rich culture and heritage. It’s situated 20km north of Be’er Sheva behind Kibbutz Lahav, near Kibbutz Dvir. The best way to get here is by car.

DEAD SEA
The lowest place on the face of earth, the Dead Sea (elevation -425m) has natural beauty and ancient history. In addition to floating in the super-saline waters, see the oases of Ein Gedi, which nourish lush vegetation.
Ein Gedi (pop 520)
Nestled in two dramatic canyons that plunge from the arid moonscape of the Judean Desert to the shores of the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi is one of Israel’s desert oases.
The area stretches for 6km along Rte 90, with separate turn-offs for the following places, from north to south: Ein Gedi Nature Reserve (this is the turn-off to use for the oases of Wadi David and Wadi Arugot, the Ein Gedi Youth Hostel and the Ein Gedi Field School), Ein Gedi Beach (1km south of the reserve), Kibbutz Ein Gedi (3km south of the reserve) and Ein Gedi Spa (6km south of the reserve).
Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. A paradise of dramatic canyons, freshwater springs, waterfalls and lush tropical vegetation (come wearing your swimming costume) that consists of two roughly parallel canyons, Wadi David and Wadi Arugot, each of which has its own entrance complex and ticket office.
Ancient Synagogue. Situated about midway between the Wadi David and Wadi Arugot ticket offices, this 5th-century AD synagogue sports a superb mosaic floor decorated with the 12 signs of the zodiac.
Ein Gedi Beach. This hugely popular but unpleasantly stony public beach (bring plastic flip-flops) fulfils the bare requirements of those seeking a Dead Sea float in that it has toilets and changing rooms (per entry 2NIS) and a towel (10NIS).
It’s possible, but not so convenient, to explore the Dead Sea by public bus. Egged buses (www.bus.co.il) link sites along Rte 90 (including, from north to south, Qumran, Ein Feshkha, Metzukei Dragot junction, Mineral Beach, Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, Ein Gedi Beach, Kibbutz Ein Gedi, Ein Gedi Spa, Masada.
I didn’t stop here but simply drove by on the bus. I didn’t need reassurance that I could float and don’t like beaches much.

MASADA
History. Almost all historical information about Masada comes from the 1st-century Jewish Roman historian Josephus. Josephus writes that the site was first fortified by Alexander Jannaeus in the first century BCE. Herod the Great captured it. Masada was the first site Herod the Great fortified after he gained control of his kingdom. Masada was the built in three building phases in 35 BCE, 25 BCE (Northern Palace continues two levels down, over the end of the cliffs) and in 15 BCE (entire site of Masada – except for the Northern Palace – was enclosed by a casemate wall, a double wall with a space between). It survived the siege of the last Hasmonean king Antigonus II Mattathias. In 66 CE, a group of Jewish rebels, the Sicarii, overcame the Roman garrison of Masada with the aid of a ruse. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, additional members of the Sicarii fled Jerusalem and settled on the mountaintop after slaughtering the Roman garrison. According to Josephus, the Sicarii were an extremist Jewish splinter group antagonistic to a larger grouping of Jews referred to as the Zealots, who carried the main burden of the rebellion. Josephus said that the Sicarii raided nearby Jewish villages including Ein Gedi, where they massacred 700 women and children.
In 73 CE, the Roman governor of Iudaea, Lucius Flavius Silva, headed the Roman legion X Fretensis and laid siege to Masada. The Roman legion surrounded Masada, and built a circumvallation wall and then a siege ramp against the western face of the plateau. The 375-foot (114 m) high assault ramp consisted mostly of a natural spur of bedrock. The ramp was complete in the spring of 73, after probably two to three months of siege, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress with a giant siege tower and a battering ram moved laboriously on April 16. The Romans employed the X Legion and a number of auxiliary units and Jewish prisoners of war, totalling some 15,000 troops. Originally, Jewish rebels on top of Masada threw stones at those building and constructing the ramp. When this plan was realized, the Romans put captured Jewish prisoners from previously conquered towns to work the ramp. The Jewish people on top of Masada stopped killing those who built the ramp, choosing not to kill their fellow Jews, even though they understood this might result in the Romans penetrating the fortress. According to Josephus, when Roman troops entered the fortress, they discovered that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide or killed each other. Only two women and five children were found alive. There are significant discrepancies between archaeological findings, and Josephus’ writings. Josephus mentions only one of the two palaces that have been excavated, refers only to one fire, while many buildings show fire damage, and claims that 960 people were killed, while the remains of only 28 bodies have been found.
Masada was last occupied during the Byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire) period of rule, when a small church was established at the site.[
In 1842, American missionary Samuel W Wolcott and the English painter W. Tipping were the first moderns to climb it. Due to the remoteness from human habitation and its arid environment, the site remained largely untouched by humans or nature for two millennia.
These days, Masada is guarded by the massive visitors centre, home to the superb Masada Museum (a really excellent introduction to Masada’s archaeology and history). Masada was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
How to Get Up: 1. Snake Path. This famously serpentine footpath winds its way up Masada’s eastern flank, starting from near the visitors centre. It gains approximately 300 metres (980 ft) in elevation. A dawn hike is considered part of the “Masada experience”. Hikers frequently start an hour before sunrise, when the park opens, to avoid the mid-day heat, which can exceed 43 °C (109 °F) in the summer. 2. Ramp Trail. Ascend Masada from the west side via this Roman-built trail, accessible only from Arad (it’s a 68km drive from the visitors centre via Rte 31 and then Rte 3199). or 3. Cable Car. (adult return/up only/down only incl admission fee 72/54/27NIS) Whisks you from the visitors centre to the top in Swiss comfort in just three minutes.
The Roman attack ramp still stands on the western side and can be climbed on foot. Many of the ancient buildings have been restored from their remains, as have the wall-paintings of Herod’s two main palaces, and the Roman-style bathhouses that he built. The synagogue, storehouses, and houses of the Jewish rebels have also been identified and restored. The meter-high circumvallation wall that the Romans built around Masada can be seen, together with eleven barracks for the Roman soldiers just outside this wall. Water cisterns two-thirds of the way up the cliff drain the nearby wadis by an elaborate system of channels, which explains how the rebels managed to conserve enough water for such a long time.
Inside the synagogue, an ostracon bearing the inscription me’aser cohen (tithe for the priest) was found, as were fragments of two scrolls; parts of Deuteronomy 33–34 and parts of Ezekiel 35–38 (including the vision of the “dry bones”), found hidden in pits dug under the floor of a small room built inside the synagogue. In other loci, fragments were found of the books of Genesis, Leviticus,Psalms, and Sirach, as well as of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice.
In the area in front of the northern palace, eleven small ostraca were recovered, each bearing a single name. One reads “ben Yair” and could be short for Eleazar ben Ya’ir, the commander of the fortress. It has been suggested that the other ten names are those of the men chosen by lot to kill the others and then themselves, as recounted by Josephus.
The remnants of a Byzantine church dating from the 5th and 6th centuries have also been excavated on the top of Masada.
The Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Moshe Dayan, initiated the practice of holding the swearing-in ceremony of Israeli Armoured Corps soldiers who had completed their Tironut (IDF basic training) on top of Masada. The ceremony ended with the declaration: “Masada shall not fall again.” The soldiers climbed the Snake Path at night and were sworn in with torches lighting the background. This ceremony is now held at Latrun, outside Jerusalem.

Some observations on Israel
Level of English. I expected that everyone in Israel spoke English. But the level of English is little better than in China. However English ability improves considerably in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Shopping in a grocery store is worse than in China. Everything is in Hebrew and Hebrew script (which is more difficult to decipher than Chinese characters). Store names, bus announcements and bus tickets are all in Hebrew with no English at all (in China everything is repeated in English on trains and planes and tickets are bilingual). Highway signs are in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
Friendliness. The first question they ask is “Do you like Israel?” Israelis think they are the friendliest people on Earth, but they are delusional. Maybe if you are an Israeli Jew or speak Hebrew, but generally they are impatient, short and on the rude side. Of course this is a generalization, but compared to Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, Central Asia, or China, they are not friendly.
And issues of controversial politics go nowhere. None have read the “Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” and dis it immediately “That isn’t true.” That is one opinion and you need to look for the other side”. Israel has more propaganda than most places and history books have been wiped clean. I was purposely trying to be controversial without offending them. But they actually seem to think that they are doing the Palestinians a favour by allowing them to coexist in their country.
Sunday mornings in bus depots are a zoo. All the young Israelis go home on Thursday or Friday for Shabbat, then return to their bases on Sunday. The Be’er Shiva bus station was packed, about 90% were in the army. Most had M-16s slung over their shoulder. They ride the buses for free and be careful about obtaining bus reservations if you want to travel on these days. It was easy to go to Masada as no one lives there.

I stayed at Masada Guesthouse, an HI hostel and the only one at Masada. It is booked daily by school groups and there are hundreds of 14-year-olds rotating through every day. They are unbelievably noisy and out-of-control. The food is very good. My room mate is Henry, a Canadian in his late 60s from Quebec who has led a fascinating life. He worked for John Lennon in the early 70’s and his daughter works for Diana Krall. He is a Buddhist and into mystical religions, travel, producing videos of his destinations and exposing the cults of Scientology, Jehovah Witnesses and the LDS church.
We went south to the big spa/hotel complex. It had rained all morning and the roads had small streams crossing them (there are no culverts), so there was a road block at the outskirts of the “town”. We wandered through one of the hotels full of Russians in bath robes, but then were prevented from returning by a guy who spoke zero English and we could not make him understand that we were staying at Masada and needed to return. After 4 hours, a policeman appeared who spoke English and we were finally able to cross the barricade. It hadn’t rained the whole time and the water had disappeared. But we were prevented from heading north to Qumran (the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered) and Ein Gedi to see the ancient synagogue and Nature Reserve. Masada was also closed until the afternoon and it was too late to go up.
I continue to talk to Israelis about their country and finally met some very open-minded tour guides who were a joy to talk to. Nobody has even heard of “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” but they actually believed that the atrocity had occurred. Most Israelis are ignorant of their history and very defensive about their existence in a sea of animosity. Israel is all they have and everyone hates them. They had traveled after leaving the army but 99% of young Israelis return to Israel. They all want peace and an end to the Palestinian conflict but see nothing happening for generations. They talked about their grandparents who started the country, their parents who built the country and how their generation had been given everything by indulgent parents and were basically spoiled and entitled. The kids they guide are rude, disrespectful and only here to raise hell in their one road trip of the year.

JERUSALEM (pop 729,100)
Jerusalem has been seducing travellers, pilgrims and curiosity seekers since time immemorial. Holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, the city is overflowing with sites of intense religious importance, not the least of which are the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Even for the nonreligious, it’s hard not to be moved by the emotions and history that come alive in the narrow alleyways of the Old City.
I’m staying at the Jerusalem Hostel (80S per night or an 8-bed dorm). It is on Jaffa Street, a long pedestrianized street with only a light-rail line. The hostel is in an old hotel called the Ron Hotel. Maybe I was meant to be here. Half the guests are tourists and half are young people working as volunteers on kibbutzes or moshaves (private and communal enterprises).
A sign in East Jerusalem read “This Road Leads to a Palestinian Village. The Entrance for Israeli Citizens is Dangerous.”
History. Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, placed under siege 23 times, attacked another 52 times and captured and recaptured 44 times.
The first settlement on the site of Jerusalem was a small Jebusite village situated south of Mt Moriah (today Al-Haram ash-Sharif/Temple Mount), where the Bible says Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac. In 997 BC King David captured the city and made it his capital. His son, King Solomon, built the First Temple. This was destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, who exiled the Jews to Babylonia. In 538 BC they were allowed to return by Cyrus the Great, and almost immediately began construction of the Second Temple, which was consecrated in 516 BC.
Power in Jerusalem shifted between Jewish rulers, such as the Maccabees, and various regional empires, until the Romans took control in 63 BC, installing Herod the Great as king of Judea. He launched a massive building campaign, significantly expanding the Second Temple. The city was then ruled by a series of procurators; it was the fifth of these, Pontius Pilate, who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus.
Growing Jewish discontent with Roman rule exploded in AD 66 with the Great Jewish Revolt (the First Jewish–Roman War), which ended with the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70. After the Bar Kochba Rebellion (AD 132–35), the Jews were banished from Jerusalem. Emperor Hadrian razed the city and rebuilt it as Aelia Capitolina – the street grid forms the basis of today’s Old City.
During the Byzantine era (4th to early 7th century AD), Christianity became the official state religion, forcing the conversion of many local Jews and Samaritans. Many Christian shrines were built; work on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, for instance, commenced in AD 326.
In AD 638 Byzantine Jerusalem fell to a new power, Islam, and came under the sway of Arab civilization. The Dome of the Rock, instantly recognizable thanks to its gleaming gold dome, was completed in AD 691. But despite its significance to Islam, Jerusalem’s political and economic fortunes fell into decline, the result of the city’s distance from the imperial capitals of Damascus and Cairo.
In the 11th century, Palestine fell to the Seljuk Turks, who stopped Christian pilgrims from visiting Jerusalem. The response of Western European Christians was a series of Crusades – and Crusader kingdoms – that lasted from 1095 to 1270. The Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099, but lost it in 1187 to Saladin (Salah ad-Din), Kurdish founder of the Muslim Ayyubid dynasty.
In 1250 the city came under the influence of the Mamluks, successors to the Ayyubids, who ruled from Egypt and turned the city into a centre of Islamic learning. In 1517 the Ottoman Turks absorbed Jerusalem into their expanding empire, where it would remain, something of a backwater, for the next 400 years. Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (r 1520–66) built the walls that still surround the Old City.
In the 19th century the first road linking Jerusalem with Jaffa was built, greatly increasing the number of Jewish and Christian pilgrims. By about 1850, Jews constituted the majority of the city’s 25,000 residents. The first neighbourhood built outside the walls of the Old City was Yemin Moshe, established in 1860. Access to the city became quick and easy with the completion of the Jaffa–Jerusalem rail line in 1892.
The British captured Jerusalem from the Ottomans in December 1917 and later made it the capital of the British Mandate of Palestine. Tensions between Jews and Arabs flared in the 1920s and 1930s. After the British left Palestine in 1948, fighting between the new State of Israel and Jordan’s Arab Legion resulted in the city partition. West Jerusalem became the capital of Israel; East Jerusalem, including the entire Old City, was annexed by Jordan.
Jerusalem was reunified after Israel captured the eastern part of the city during the 1967 Six Day War. Shortly after the war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, declaring the entire city to be its ‘eternal capital’. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state of Palestine. Israel’s Separation Fence – in many places around Jerusalem an 8m-high cement wall – cuts East Jerusalem off from the West Bank.
Sights. Jerusalem is divided into three distinct parts: the walled Old City, with its four quarters; the predominantly Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem; and the Israeli New City, also known as West Jerusalem.

OLD CITY. Protected by 16th-century stone ramparts, the magical, mysterious Old City is divided into Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters, each with a distinct and intoxicating atmosphere. The sturdy Old City walls are the legacy of Süleyman the Magnificent, who built them between 1537 and 1542. Above all, the Old City is a holy place – the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are hardly more than a stone’s throw from each other.
Most visitors enter through Jaffa Gate; the rest of the Old City is downhill.
City Gates. Jaffa Gate, so named because it was the beginning of the old road to Jaffa, is now the main entrance to the Old City from the New City. Moving clockwise, the 1887 New Gate, built by Sultan Abdul Hamid, gives access to the Christian Quarter. Down the hill, Damascus Gate, the most attractive and crowded of all the city gates, links the Muslim Quarter with the bustling centre of Arab East Jerusalem. Here, you’ll see vendors selling their wares, as they have for centuries, and armed Israeli border policemen peeping out from atop Süleyman’s magnificent gateway. It was near Herod’s Gate in 1099 that the Crusaders first breached Jerusalem’s walls. Lion’s Gate, facing the Mount of Olives, is also called St Stephen’s Gate, after the first Christian martyr, who was stoned to death nearby. It was from here that Israeli paratroops took the Old City in the 1967 Six Day War. Dung Gate links the Western Wall with the City of David excavations, a bit down the slope to the south. Zion Gate became known as the Gate of the Jewish Quarter in late medieval times, and is still pocked with reminders of the fierce fighting that occured here during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.
Ramparts Walk. This is a 1km jaunt along the top of the city walls – from Jaffa Gate north to Lion’s Gate, via New, Damascus and Herod’s Gates; and Jaffa Gate south to Dung Gate, via Zion Gate. The stretch along Al-Haram ash-Sharif/Temple Mount is closed for security reasons. You can only enter at Jaffa gate and my Jerusalem Walls ticket didn’t work.
Citadel (Tower of David). Dominating the Jaffa Gate area is the Citadel, which includes Roman-era Herod’s Tower and the Tower of David (actually a minaret). Inside, the highly worthwhile Tower of David Museum, presents the entire history of Jerusalem in a concise and easily digestible format. Among the highlights: a scale model of Jerusalem, made in the late 19th century and discovered almost 100 years later, forgotten in a Geneva warehouse.

CHRISTIAN QUARTER. Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter, to the left as you enter Jaffa Gate, is an attractive blend of clean streets, souvenir stalls, hospices and religious institutions belonging to 20 different Christian denominations.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The centrepiece of the Christian Quarter is this sombre, exuberantly decorated church, at the site also known as Calvary or Golgotha – this is where the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian and Coptic churches believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. The Via Dolorosa ends here. The original Byzantine church was destroyed by the mad Caliph Hakim in 1009, extensively rebuilt by the Crusaders, and tweaked by numerous others over the years. To keep the peace between the church’s notoriously fractious Christian denominations, a Muslim family keeps the keys, unlocking the doors each morning and securing them again at night. Open daily to anyone who’s modestly dressed. This is a moving place. I was interviewed by Russian TV by a good interviewer who asked some good questions. After walking the Via Dolorosa, i entered the Church again and waited in the long line to get into the resurrection chamber. I waited in line with a Baptist minister from Kentucky and got into a pointless discussion with him over evolution. He asked if I believed in “in kind” or gradual evolution!! He wanted to know the specific date that humans appeared. He really didn’t know much about evolution.
Ethiopian Monastery. Located in the northwest corner of the Holy Sepulchre complex, where a few Ethiopian monks reside in a highly atmospheric medieval cloister.
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. Built in 1898, this church is famed for its excellent views over the Old City (from the tower). I attended a lovely mass here for a large tour group from England.
Most of the tourists in Jerusalem are in tour groups on short holidays to Israel. Many are religious pilgrimages and I saw groups from America, Korea, Singapore (one group had 614 people in it), Indonesia and England. I’m sure they get more information and the independent traveller has to do his own research to get the most out of all the sites.

ARMENIAN QUARTER & MT ZION. Armenia was the first nation to officially embrace Christianity when their king converted in AD 303. When the Armenians’ kingdom disappeared at the end of the 4th century, they adopted Jerusalem as their spiritual capital and have had an uninterrupted presence here ever since. The city’s Armenian population, now numbered at about 1500, grew significantly in the early 1900s, when immigrants arrived – both to work on re-tiling the Dome of the Rock and to escape Ottoman Turkish persecution.
St James’ (Jacques’) CathedraL. The glowing lamps that hang from the ceiling and the richly patterned carpets strewn across the floors give St James’ Cathedral a palpable aura of mystery. The cathedral is only open for services; the most impressive are held on Sunday when nine hooded priests take part. Not open when I visited.
Room of the Last Supper. From the Armenian Quarter, Zion Gate leads out to Mt Zion, where you’ll find a room believed to be where Jesus’ last supper took place.
King David’s Tomb. At the back of the same building as the Room of the Last Supper.
Church & Monastery of the Dormition. Where Jesus’ mother Mary fell into ‘eternal sleep’. The mosaics here were quite astounding.
Grave of Oskar Schindler. The Austrian industrialist who saved more than 1200 Jews from the gas chambers (and whose story was captured by filmmaker Steven Spielberg in the Oscar-winning film Schindler’s List) is buried on Mt Zion, downhill and bearing left at the fork as you exit Zion Gate. I couldn’t find this.
Chamber of the Holocaust. Very interesting, this was not a museum but had hundreds of marble plaques commemorating all the European towns and cities where all the inhabitants had been killed.

JEWISH QUARTER. Largely residential, the wheelchair-friendly Jewish Quarter was almost entirely flattened during and after the 1948 fighting, and was reconstructed following its capture by Israel in 1967. Consequently, there are few historic monuments above ground level, but excavations have unearthed a number of archaeological sites.
Western Wall. Judaism’s holiest site was built about 2000 years ago as a simple retaining wall for the Temple Mount, upon which stood the Second Temple. It became a place of pilgrimage during the Ottoman period – Jews would come to mourn the destruction of the temple, which is why the site came to be known as the Wailing Wall (a name that Jews themselves tend to avoid). The area immediately in front of the wall now serves as an open-air synagogue; the right side is for women (who must dress modestly, covering their arms and legs), and the larger left side for men (who must wear a kippa; paper ones are provided). It’s accessible 24 hours a day. Look out for the prayers on slips of paper stuffed into cracks in the wall, which are thought to have a better chance than others of being answered.
Beside the wall in a large room, I watched 50-five-year-old Hassidic Jews singing – they were so behaved.
Western Wall Tunnels. This fascinating 488m passage, excavated by archaeologists, follows the northern continuation of the Western Wall. The foundation stones here are enormous – one is a 570-ton monster the size of a small bus. Visitable only on a 75-minute guided tour that was amazing (30S). The tour follows the Western Wall along its entire length under the Muslim Quarter which was built on top. The two or three? layers of previous cities are visible in many places – a never ending archaeological dig. A video shows how all these stones were moved and quarried. The surface of the unweathered stones are dressed perfectly.
Jerusalem Archaeological Park & Davidson Centre. A bit south of the Western Wall, this area’s streets, columns, walls and plazas offer a peek into the history of the Temple Mount.
Cardo Maximus. Cutting a broad north–south swath, the Cardo Maximus is the reconstructed main street of Roman and Byzantine Jerusalem. At one time it would have run the whole breadth of the city, up to what’s now Damascus Gate. Part of the street has been restored to approximate its original appearance, while another section has been turned into a shopping arcade with thoroughly modern gift and souvenir shops. Close to the large menorah (seven-branched candelabra) near the southern end of the Cardo, the Alone on the Walls Museum documents the Jews’ unsuccessful 1948 campaign for control of the city.
Wohl Archaeological Museum (Herodian Quarter). Features a 1st-century home and several Herodian archaeological sites, plus interpretive displays detailing the lavish lifestyle enjoyed in the Jewish neighbourhood of Herod’s city.
Hurva Synagogue. Built in the early 1700s, rebuilt in 1864 and destroyed by the Jordanians after a pitched battle in 1948, this synagogue underwent a lengthy post-1967 reconstruction and re opened in 2009.

MUSLIM QUARTER Running from Damascus Gate south and southeast towards the Temple Mount, this is the most visually stimulating area of the Old City; it’s also the most claustrophobic, confusing and crowded. You’ll inevitably get lost in the tangle of trade and teeming humanity and be enchanted by the tempting aromas emanating from spice merchants, coffee shops, bakeries and tiny restaurants. Wander its Mamluk and medieval alleyways and you’ll be transported back to a different century.
Al-Haram ash-Sharif/Temple Mount. There are few patches of ground as holy, or as disputed, as this one.
The huge, open stone plaza, dotted with cypress trees, was built over the biblical Mt Moriah, the location, according to Jewish tradition, of the foundation stone of the world itself. It was here, says the Talmud, that Adam, Cain, Abel and Noah performed ritual sacrifices, and where Abraham offered his son Isaac to God in a supreme test of faith. It was also the site of Solomon’s First Temple, where the Ark of the Covenant was housed, and the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. The Romans subsequently erected a temple to Zeus on the site, which later served as a Christian church.
There are nine gates to the enclosure, but though you can leave the compound by most of them, non-Muslims are allowed to enter only at the Bab al-Maghariba/Sha’ar HaMugrabim (Gate of the Moors), reached from the Western Wall plaza. Line up early for security checks and bear in mind that the Mount closes on Muslim holidays. Modest dress is required. Non-Muslims can walk around the Temple Mount, but are barred from entering the Dome of the Rock. Hours are very restricted: 07:30am to 10am and 12noon to 1pm daily.
Dome of the Rock. The centrepiece of the Temple Mount today is the gilded, mosaic-adorned Dome of the Rock, completed in AD 691, which covers the slab of stone on which, according to the Quran, Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Ishmael, and from which Mohammed ascended to heaven. I was very disappointed that non-Muslims cannot enter the building.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is a functioning house of worship believed to be a partial conversion of a 6th-century Byzantine church, with columns donated – oddly enough – by Benito Mussolini. For Muslims, Al-Haram ash, Islam’s third-holiest site, after Mecca and Medina.
Via Dolorosa. The road leading from Lion’s Gate into the heart of the Old City is known as Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows) or the Stations of the Cross. It’s the route that many Christians believe was taken by the condemned Jesus as he carried his heavy cross to Calvary. At 3pm on Fridays, the Franciscan Fathers lead a solemn procession here; you’re also likely to encounter groups of Italian or Spanish pilgrims lugging their own huge (rented) crosses up the hill. Explanations on plaques at each of the nine ‘stations’ along the way illuminate the New Testament story (the final five stations are in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
I visited all the locations. Finding #9 took a long time. I passed one store owner a few times and unfortunately stopped to look around and mistakenly picked up a falofel maker, then had a lot of fun bargaining with him. The kitchen gadget everyone should have. You enter the Church of the Sepulchre through a dimly chapel. This was a fun hunt to find them all.
St Anne’s Church. Near Lion’s Gate, this church – famed for its superb acoustics – is perhaps the finest example of Crusader architecture in Jerusalem. It is traditionally thought to have been the home of Joachim and Anne, parents of the Virgin Mary.

CITY OF DAVID & KIDRON VALLEY. To the east of the Old City, outside Lion’s Gate, the land drops away into the Kidron Valley, then rises again up the slopes of the Mount of Olives. The Kidron Valley has over four millennia of archaeological remains. Because of the steep terrain, it’s more isolated than other areas of Jerusalem, making it all the more worth exploring.
City of David. The oldest part of Jerusalem, the City of David was the Canaanite settlement captured by King David some 3000 years ago. David brought the Ark of the Covenant into the city, thus transforming it into a spiritual and political centre. David’s son Solomon enlarged the city to include Mount Moriah where he built the Temple and his Royal Palace. Razed to the ground by the Babylonians in 586 BC and again by the Romans in 66AD, in the 11th century the southern wall of Jerusalem was diverted northward leaving the City of David outside the city limits. The excavations are the result of work, still ongoing, started in 1850. I walked through the extraordinary 500m-long, water-filled Hezekiah’s Tunnel.The Gihon Spring (always the Jerusalem’s water source) ended up outside the city walls. In the 18th century BC, the Canaanites hewed a large pool in the rock near the spring and fortified it. Fearing that the waters could be used by the Assyrians, King Hezekiah of Judah dug this tunnel to a pool built within the walls in the southern part of the city. It was hewn simultaneously from both sides for 533m with a height differential between the source of the spring and its end a mere 30 centimetres (an average slope of .06%), a truly amazing feat of engineering. The tunnel is about 2 feet wide and 5-6 feet high and still has running water in it that came to above my knees for only a few feet. The tunnel ends on a city street in the Kidron Valley that I walked up towards the Mount of Olives.
Pillar of Absalom. At the top of the Kidron Valley sits the legendary tomb of David’s son (II Samuel 18:17).

MOUNT OF OLIVES
For Christians, this hillside holds special significance as the site where it is believed Jesus took on the sins of the world, was arrested and later ascended to heaven. According to the Book of Zechariah, this is where God will redeem the dead on the Day of Judgement (that’s why much of the Mt of Olives is covered with a Jewish cemetery). Keep yourself busy exploring the half-dozen churches, most commemorating events in Jesus’ life. The panorama of the Old City from the summit is spectacular – visit early in the morning for the best light.
Church of the Ascension. This church has stunning views from its 45m-high tower. Closed at 1pm, also shorts not allowed.
Church of All Nations. Situated amid the Gardens of Gethsemane, this church has glistening golden mosaics on its facade.
Garden of Gethsemane. This is the garden where Jesus is believed to have been arrested (Mark 14:32-50). It contains several ancient olive trees that were probably already standing during Jesus’ lifetime. Spectacular mosaic floor and nave.
Tomb of the Virgin Mary. One of the holiest sites in Christianity, the Tomb of the Virgin Mary is a dim and somewhat forlorn place, owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. One descends down many steps into a sunken church.

EAST JERUSALEM. Modern, workaday, predominantly Arab East Jerusalem is filled with plenty of hustle and bustle, some lovely (if crumbling) architecture, and a number of worthwhile sights.
Rockefeller Museum. Archaeology buffs who do not get their fill at the Israel Museum should drop by this octagonal building, established thanks to a US$2 million donation from the Rockefeller family in 1927.
Garden Tomb. This garden and ancient stone tomb may have once been the property of Joseph of Arimathaea. It’s believed by some to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, an alternative location to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Museum on the Seam. Conflict, prejudice and racism (and occasional coexistence) are on display at the Museum on the Seam, a sociopolitical/contemporary-art museum that speaks to issues both global and local. It’s located on the Green Line, which divided East and West Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967.

NEW CITY. The New City is centred on the triangle formed by Jaffa Rd, King George V St and the pedestrianised Ben Yehuda St. The latter two are good bets for shopping, as is nearby Yoel Solomon St.
Mahane Yehuda Market. Jerusalem’s bustling main market is crammed with fresh, delicious edibles, trendy restaurants, bars and art galleries.
Mea She’arim. One of the world’s most reluctant tourist attractions, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Mea She’arim is reminiscent of a shtetl (ghetto) in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe, with the customs and dress code to go with it. Dress conservatively (crucial if you’re female – women should wear long skirts and long-sleeve shirts), don’t take photos without permission and avoid the area during Shabbat – though Thursday night and Friday daytime before Shabbat are particularly lively times to visit. In 2011 extremist groups tried to segregate some of Mea She’arim’s sidewalks – men on one side, women on the other. The campaign, opposed by many mainstream ultra-Orthodox Jews, was declared unconstitutional by Israel’s Supreme Court.

HAR HAZIKARON & MUSEUM ROW.
Yad Vashem. This moving museum is Israel’s official memorial to the six million victims of the Holocaust. The centrepiece is a prism-like history museum illustrating not only how Jews died during WWII but also how they lived before the Nazis’ onslaught. In the underground Children’s Memorial, a solitary flame commemorates the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust. The Avenue of the Righteous is lined with trees dedicated to the Gentiles who risked their own lives to save Jews. Down the hill, in the Valley of the Communities, columns of stone are inscribed with the names of 5000 Jewish communities wiped out by the Nazis.
Israel Museum. At this world-class museum highlights include the Shrine of the Book, where you can see some of the extraordinary Dead Sea Scrolls and a 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem as it looked towards the end of the Second Temple period. Inside the main building, the Judaica wing includes synagogues brought from northern Italy, Germany and southern India; a Jewish bride’s outfit from San’a in Yemen; and costumes from the Jewish communities of Ethiopia and Kurdistan. In the Archaeology Wing, look out for the First Temple– period ‘House of David’ Victory Stele, the only contemporary, extra-biblical reference to the Davidic dynasty; a superb bronze bust of Hadrian from the 2nd century AD, found at Beit She’an; and a replica of a nail pierced through a human anklebone, dated to the first century BC: a victim of Roman crucifixion. The Israeli Art pavilion has striking paintings and sculptures.
Bible Lands Museum. This museum presents the material culture and history of both the Holy Land and neighbouring civilisations, with a wealth of well-displayed artefacts and background information.

PALESTINIAN TERRITORY
The Green Line refers to the 1949 Armistice Line, the demarcation line separating Israel from it s neighbours following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. During the 1968 Six Day War Israel captured territories over the Green Line including the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The international community deems these areas ‘Occupied Territories’, whereas Israel calls them ‘Disputed Territories’. Between the end of the 1984 Arab-Israeli War and the Six Day War in 1967, the West Bank and East Jerusalem were under Jordanian rule as set out in the 1949 Armistice agreement.
During Israel’s creation in 1948 and the 1967 Six Day War more than half of Palestinians living in pre-1948 Palestine were displacd, one of the largest displaced populations in the world. There has been dispute over what actually happened in 1948. Palestinians accuse the Israelis of widespread ethnic cleansing whereas the Israelis claim the Arab population left of its own accord to avoid a war started by its Arab neighbours. Palestinians refer to the creation of Israel as the catastrophe and the right of return for these refugees has proven to be a major stumbling block to peace.
Since 1967 successive Israeli governments have encouraged Israeli citizens to live in settlements in the Occupied West Bank by offering land and financial incentives. The international community regards the settlements as contrary to international law. There are over 200 Israeli settlements in the West Bank, housing over 300,000 Israelis, not including East Jerusalem, and along with the roads and buffer zones around them, they take up at least 40% of the West Bank land. The settlers are subject to Israeli law and Palestinians are not allowed to enter settlements without permission.
About a fifth of the West Bank, mostly in the Jordan Valley, is designated a ‘closed military area’. Once you add this to the settlements and the Israeli declared ‘nature reserves’, it turn out that 90% of the West Bank’s fertile, water rich Jordan Valley is off limits to Palestinians.
The Oslo Accords in the early 90s divided the West Bank into three temporary administrative zones. Meant to be an interim measure while final status negotiations took place between the two sides, and a deal reached on the transfer of power from the Israeli Civil Authority to the Palestinian Authority. It never happened.
Approximately 61% of the West Bank, including the 90% of the Jordan Valley, falls within Area C (total Israeli control). Israeli government figures show that between January 2000 and September 2007, over 94% of building permit applications in Area C submitted by Palestinian were refused.; 1,600 Palestinian buildings were demolished and a further 5,000 demolition orders issued.
In 2012, there were 350 children in Israeli prisons often in ‘prolonged periods of solitary confinement, in inhumane and degrading conditions’. Their familes are often unable to get the permits for access into Israel to visit them. Israel treats its won population as minors until 18, whereas Palestinian children are charged as adults from 16. Most offences are for stone throwing, which carries a maximum 20-year sentence. Nearly all convictions are as a result of a ‘confession. Over 300kms of roads in the West Bank are off-limits or restricted to Palestinians.
The UN and the International Court of Justice argue that as Israel is the “Occupying Power’, the settlers are Israel’s ‘civilian population’ and the ‘territory it occupies’ is the West Bank, therefore they deem Israeli settlements to be illegal under international law, a view held by the entire international community except Israel.
There are four legal points that Israel develops against this global view.
Israel argues that the West Bank cannot be ‘occupied’ as they say it wasn’t anybody’s to begin with. It is, therefore, ‘disputed territroy’ and hence not covered by the Fourth Geneva Convention. Ergo their behavior is legal.
Israel goes on to argue that even if that isn’t the case, the treaty means forcible transfers of the civilian population and as nobody forced the settlers to mve to the Wes Bank, Israel isn’t in contravention.
Even if that isn’t the case, the treaty was only created because of WWII, and was only meant to deal with simiar circumstances. So, unless there is again a global conflict involving a small man with a mustache, then the Convention doesn’t apply.
And finally, evne if that inturn isn’t the case, they advance the legal invocation of ‘bollacks to you’.
The Israeli settlers are a significant part of the problem. There are 121 illegal settlemets on the Wes tBank housing some 300,000 settlers (one in nine people). When it’s finished, the Barrier will encircle 69 illegal settlements binging 83% of the settlers on the West Bank into Israel – a process that is causing enormous hardship for Palestinians.
Settlers are portrayed as religious zealots defying the rule of the law, not dissimilar to American ‘surivalists’.
Israelis constantly say that this is one point of view and that you need to talk to everyone to understand the situation. Settlers and soldiers are at one end of the spectrum. The other end are political activists. In the middle is all the rest of Israel. These people aren’t near the wall, they don’t live there and it barely intrudes on their consciousness. 70% of Israelis live on the coast in places like Tel Aviv, with their croissants and small dogs. And they want a nice life. They don’t want to live next to the Occupation and the Wall. If they knew what it was like for the Palestinians, they would not allow it. But most Israelis don’t want to know. They don’t know and if they do, they don’t care. The crazies do not represent all Israelis.
But this is not good enough. It is no good saying “we are not like them,” if no one takes responsibility for them. The settlers are de facto government policy: they build and expand into the West Bank unless stopped. All the Israelis have failed to stop the settlers and control them. And until they do, Israel will allow the settlers to create facts on the ground.

BETHLEHEM (pop 28,000)
The preconceived image of a small stone village with a manger and shepherds in their fields is actually a normal modern Israeli town. Christians now make up 19% of the town, down from 85% in 1948. The shops have all but closed down (the town couldn’t be visited between 2000 and 2008) and most travellers come on a short day trip to see the two significant sites. The center of town is Manger Square, basically a large parking lot.
I went here with a tour (expensive at 190S). A taxi took us to the famous checkpoint. Expecting heavy security, we didn’t even have to show our passports. On the other side, we were met by our Christian Palestinian guide (neither are allowed to cross the Wall). He gave a great tour with lots of information. When we left, we met the taxi at the wall again and simply drove through – totally underwhelming and disappointing – I wanted to experience the heavy security.
Church of the Nativity. Commissioned in AD 326 by Emperor Constantine, this is the world’s oldest continuously functioning church (in contrast to Jerusalem’s churches destroyed by the Persians, this one was spared as the mosaic had 3 wise men dressed in Persian clothes). Two of the original 3 doors have been closed by subsequent construction and the middle door has been reduced 3 times with all the previous entrances easily visible in the stone work. Part of the original 326 mosaic floor is exposed. The inside was in the process of a total restoration with scaffolding everywhere but the significant places were available – the underground Grotto of the Nativity, where Jesus is said to have been born, and the Manger, an actual cave. The spot is marked by a 14-sided star with a worn stone in the center. A parade of tourists streams by to kneel at the sacred spot. But the day we were there, we had virtually no wait, usually the line is hundreds of meters out the door. The Grotto is actually under a Russian Orthodox church donated by Russia with classic icons and elaborate wood carving. The exit of the grotto is into an Armenian Orthodox church that is adjoined by the Roman Catholic St Catherine’s Church, from which Bethlehem’s famous Catholic Midnight Mass is broadcast on Christmas Eve.
Milk Grotto Chapel. Mary and Joseph stopped here to feed the baby during their flight to Europe. Two depictions actually show Mary breast feeding. Touching the chalk wall reputably brings about miracles.
Banksy Graffiti. This British graffiti artist is world famous. Nobody knows his face or name for sure. And he has done a lot in Palestine. We saw one of his most famous on the side of a building: a man throwing a bouquet of flowers. His technique looks stenciled and apparently, he produces much of the art from elaborate stencils prepared beforehand to save time on the final product. A huge amount of his art has been destroyed as all of it makes controversial statements. And the stuff that is for sale sells for very high prices.

Hebron. I didn’t go here but a German fellow visited and had a scary experience. Four young Palestinians asked if he was a Jew, and when he said no, demanded that he drop his pants and prove it.
The main site here is the Ibrahimi Mosque where, in 1994, an American-born Jewish settler opened fire on Muslims at prayer, killing 29. Built by Herod, it is the Tomb of the Patriarchs – the collective tomb of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Islamic tradition believes that Adam and Eve lived here after being exiled from the Garden of Eden. Hebron has been a flash point for religious violence. There are Jewish settlers within the city center itself and the city is divided into two with barricaded streets.
Ramallah (pop 73,000). Ramallah (the name means God’s Mountain) is the Palestine capital, largely free from dense politics and religious fervour, a mere 10km north of Jerusalem. I didn’t go here.

As NOTHING is open, you must prepare for Shabbat by 2pm Friday. I went to the large market with 2 young Germans and have never experienced anything like it in the world – packed, vibrant, everybody shopping, eating, drinking beer, a mass of people. The selection of fresh vegetables, bread and pastry was superb at great prices. The many restaurants were full.
The big occasion on Friday dusk is to go to the Western Wall for the beginning of Shabbat. In 1600, a group of Jews decided to celebrate the start of Shabbat with singing psalms and dancing. This has grown and most celebrated here. At sundown, a group of soldiers entered the area, danced in circle and sang whipped into a minor frenzy by one older man. Soon other groups started – each was dressed a little differently and are apparently slightly different sects. There was a lot of prayer with the largest concentration at the far north end of the wall, closest to the holiest sites. Many of the ultra-orthodox men wore a huge cake-shaped fur hat. On the other side of the fence, the women also sang and danced but all in one big group.
In 1948, Ben Gurion wanted the ultra-orthodox to participate in the political process and made two concessions: that they would not have to serve in the military and the ultra-orthodox would have control over religious sites. Since the Westtern Wall has been segregated into men’s and women’s sections.
I then went to the Shabbat meal at the Abraham Hostel down the street from Jerusalem Hostel. This meal celebrates the beginning of Shabbat. Jerusalem Hostel also had a Shabbat meal but I had no desire to eat it there. I was asked by the guys who prepared it if I was going to attend their Shabbat meal. I immediately said no and then (in my usual outspoken manner) volunteered why “Because you are not friendly”. I had hoped that the people at Abraham Hostel would be “friendlier, but they weren’t either. They were pleasant and nice, but not friendly. I spent Shabbat relaxing and reading – there was nothing else to do.

On my last tourist day in Jerusalem, I had a long list of things I wanted to see.
Yad Vashem (the holocaust museum) was good but I felt much less “moved” than at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.
Israel Museum. I quite enjoyed this museum as with most national museums, it shows the best stuff and are always well done. The art gallery showed all the big names. The exhibition of Dead Sea Scrolls was underwhelming, but the description of the community of Essenes at Qumran who produced them quite fascinating.
It took me 30minutes to walk from the museum to Jaffa Gate. I wanted to see the Temple Institute, a museum showing what the Dome of the Rock would look like. The plan is to extend the south end of the Western Wall, remove the old walls dividing it up and enlarge the plaza. Then the Israelis will take over the Dome of the Rock and rebuild the temple over the Foundation Stone. War will result and the elderly Jewish lady in the hostel predicted “End of Days”. The exorbitant cost of 35S dissuaded me from going. I also missed the Garden Tomb, possibly the actual site of the crucifixion (it closed at 4:55).
I walked most of the length of Mea She’arim., the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood. You see Hassidic Jews everywhere but a lot more here.

On Feb 29, after 5 days in Jerusalem, I left for the north, to Nazareth. This is the first time I have been on a bus where the driver was armed. Instead of heading north, the bus went west to almost the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and I realized we were skirting the West Bank and the Palestinian Territory. The countryside is remarkably green and fertile looking – large green fields, pine trees, vineyards, olive trees – in a rolling lovely landscape. The highway is 6-lane divided. At one point the barrier wall appears, 4m concrete slabs topped with barbed wire and an electric fence. It has lights on 24/7 and cameras everywhere. But no sooner did it disappear to snake east through a town. It probably also is cutting another chunk out of Palestine.
I realize it is spring, but the country here is surprisingly green. The road rarely loses sight of a town and the stony hillsides are covered in very attractive houses and apartment buildings.

Since deciding to include Israel in this winter’s trip, the desire has always been to do some long walk. First the 920km National Trail of Israel (far too energetic and difficult to figure out the logistics of water and food caches) and then, more recently, the 65km Jesus Trail between Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee.
But, I am doubting if I will even do that. For many reasons, I want to get Israel over with and go somewhere else. It is now over 6 months on the road, and 16 countries later, and I am tired. Israel has lots of history and things to see, but I simply don’t like Israelis, at least the Jewish ones. I have already ranted about this, but I don’t think I have ever traveled in any country where the locals keep themselves so distant – respond to questions usually with “I don’t know”, are dismissive and condescending, brusque to the point of rude, and show absolutely no interest in you. What they are doing to the Palestinians can only be described as amoral and evil. And more than anything, I want to go to China and see Anna, relax and come down after this year’s adventure.

More observations on Israel.
Shabbat. The Torah says that the Sabbath is a day of rest. That is all, not do not use any appliance or push any button or turn on any switch. But the rabbis and orthodox have taken one giant leap further. It truly is a day where you do nothing. The light rail line started operating again at 7:30pm but almost all stores remained closed even though Shabbat ended at sun down. I walked down to the market hoping to get something to eat. Everything was closed at 6:30pm but a few of the restaurants were opening at 8:30.
Friendliness of Israelis. There are many people who live and work in the hostel – one each from Brazil, Mexico, and Russia and two from the US. And they are the least friendly people i have ever encountered in any hostel (except the Russian who talks and relates to everyone). I know the Brazilian and Mexican are Jews, but at this point don’t know about the other three. It is 4am as I write this (I have weird sleeping habits and never sleep more than 6 hours per night; I was tired and went to bed at 10 so am always up at this hour, my favourite time of the day) and Alex, the Russian guy just walked in with a Russian Orthodox monk after attending the daily midnight mass at the Russian Orthodox Church (300 attend midnight mass every night, most Russian, Romanian and Serbian). Alex (who is friendly) is Russian Orthodox. The two Americans are Jews.
At the market on Friday, it was unbelievably busy. There were many restaurants and not nearly enough tables. I was with two young Germans and we shared our “booth” with two groups of Israelis. There were only seats for 4 comfortably, but we squeezed in 6 and 7 people in the two groups. We joined two already sitting, and later 4 joined us. We thanked the two we joined for sharing the space, but the four who later joined us didn’t bother thanking us. And not one word was exchanged between the 6 Israelis we sat with – never any curiosity about where we were from and not even the ubiquitous “Do you like Israel?” These are easily the least friendly people on earth I have encountered. I asked Alex, the Russian, who he thought were unfriendly people – he said Egyptians, then Ukrainians and Russians.
I had previously mentioned the two Israelis I spent the day with in WadiRum in Jordan. I had a good day with them and I gave them my email address asking them to write me, send pictures and give me theirs. But they haven’t. This is almost the first time this has ever happened – everyone else writes. Israelis are not friendly.
When traveling you form opinions about other nationalities. Russians are the world’s least favourite, closely followed by Israelis.
I found the book Extreme Rambling – Walking Israel’s Barrier. For Fun. in the hostel and am about half way through as I write this. It is about a British comedian who walked the fence separating Palestine from Israel. It is a very disturbing book. Since the wall has been built, the Palestinian’s ability to sustain their economy has been destroyed. It cuts though previous markets and football pitches. Factories that are built on Palestinian land are often heavy polluters and not desired on the Israel side. The wall deviates from the Green Line, the formal boundary frequently, always taking Palestinian territory. It extends as “fingers” deep into Palestinian land to surround illegal Jewish settlements. Israelis love living in settlements. The main reason is economic as their houses are 1/4 to 1/3 the price of housing elsewhere. They get the land and all infrastructure (electricity, roads, sewage, garbage disposal) for free, pay nothing for the expensive fence that separates them from their Palestinian neighbours and receive supplements from the government regularly. The air is pure and they make a good living.
Since the fence has gone up, there have been no suicide bombers. Palestinians who work in Israel get up at 3am to queue at the fence that opens at 7am to try to get to work at 8am. It takes them 1-2 hours to get through “security”. Obviously the Israelis profile people who pass through – as stated previously, when we went to Bethlehem, we weren’t even given a sideways glance and didn’t have have to show passports.
There is an aquifer that passes through the West Bank. The fence deviates where possible to go over the aquifer. Beside losing their land, they have also lost their water. And if their is one thing that is scarce here, it is water.
The intent of all this seems obvious. Life for the Palestinians is made as difficult as possible. If it is too hard, maybe they will leave, as many have, especially the Christian Palestinians who find it much easier to emigrate elsewhere.
The few Israelis who might talk express unbelievably bigoted thoughts about Palestinians. “They didn’t live here before but are Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese who came when there was free land”, “They want 100% of the land – how can you negotiate with people who want that?”, “They hate us and want to destroy us.” I wonder why? They are prisoners in their own land. They put up with a huge amount of abuse at the hands of the Israelis. They have few means of making a good livelihood. And the israelis constantly complain about having to give them money, basically welfare. But they are denied the ability to make a living. And then the Israelis will say “The Palestinians left on their own accord.”
The bible says that this is the promised land and meant for Jews. There will never be peace until they have it all. And they constantly wonder why the rest of the world dislikes them and is losing patience over new settlements.

VISITING THE WEST BANK from Nazareth
Going to the West Bank is rewarding, safe and easy. Distances are short and crossing the border checkpoint into the Palestinian Territory is easy. Exiting is not so easy. Palestinians are happy to see foreigners and eager to talk to them. Prices are much lower than in Israel. There are two completely different sets of rules and regulations for Jewish Israelis and Arabs (even if you are an American Arab).
The Oslo Accords of the early 1990s divided the West Bank into three zones: Areas A, B and C. Area A is under the control of the Palestinian Authority and includes the major cities of Ramallah (the capital), Jenin and Nablus. Area B, mostly smaller mid-sized towns is jointly under the control of Palestinians and Israelis. Area C, the rural communities, is under full control of Israel. In the mid 1990s, there were hundreds of military checkpoints but now there are only a few.
Big red signs warn Israelis to not go here because as they view it dangerous (and it might be for them). The sign reads “THIS ROAD LEADS TO AREA ‘A’ UNDER THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY. THE ENTRANCE FOR ISRAELI CITIZENS IS FORIDDEN, DANGEROUS TO YOUR LIVES AND IS AGAINST THE ISRAELI LAW”. The intent may be to simply keep Palestinians and Jews apart. But Palestinians have little hostility to foreigners and indeed are much friendlier than Israelis. However, the lack of English can get in the way of really talking to people in order to get a sense of what their life is like. Often the brief conversations end with ‘welcome’.
Transportation: There are several ways to get around.
Rental Car. This may be the most efficient way to see the most towns and things but are comparatively expensive and give you no feel for Palestinians. You also have to find your own way, easier with GPS and a good map. Rent from the local companies, not an Israeli national company who usually forbid crossing into Palestine.
Sheruts. These shared taxis are ubiquitous and the main way locals travel. Inexpensive (15-30S per trip depending on distance traveled), they leave when full and stop frequently to pick up and let off passengers. You are also traveling with the locals. Get off at the sherut stands so that you know where to catch the next one. Often the stands going to each individual town are separate. Simply ask around and the locals will happily give directions.
Border Checkpoints. Getting in was surprisingly easy. The sherut first stopped at the walk through gate and the two Palestinians got out and the van with Israelis drove around to the car entry. Everyone held up their passport or identity card and that was it. Then we picked up the Palestinians.
Getting out was considerably more difficult. The sherut stopped at the border and dropped me off. It was 2:30pm and I was told the gate would not be open until 3 but it still wasn’t at 3:20. I tried to hitchhike the whole time but didn’t have an offer until 3:20 despite there being many cars with yellow license plates (Israeli are the only ones who can cross; Palestinian license plates are white for personal vehicles and green for taxis and sheruts). A few cars were going slowly enough for me to say that I was Canadian, but they all said it was too dangerous to give me a ride. In fact it was simple to cross in a car. They only asked why I visited Jenin.
JENIN – From Old City Nazareth, catch the 8am sherut that goes to Jenin across the street from the main bus stop on the main street. Arrive at 7:30 to ensure a seat. The yellow van holds 10 people and cost 25S. Despite slow traffic before Afula, and a few detours to pick up passengers, it was only 45 minutes to Jenin. Crossing the border was easy. The two Palestinians were dropped off at the walk-through entrance. The rest of us drove through and only had to hold up our passports/identity cards. Then we picked up the Palestinians when across the border.
Ask to be dropped off at the large sherut stand in the center of town so that you know where to go to catch the next one to Nablus. Saturday is a good day to visit as it is market day. There is no main market per se but the whole center of town is a market. Carts piled with strawberries and nuts are in the middle of the streets. Tables stacked with goods cover the sidewalks and encroach out into the road. The large vegetable market is NE of the sherut stand. The quantity and quality of vegetables was impressive. I simply walked around, asked questions and got a feeling for the town. The streets were very busy with a slight sense of chaos. Roads were narrow, garbage is little more common, pavement more broken. There are no tourist sights here. By 9:30, I was off to Nablus.
NABLUS. Traveling SE, the sherut climbed high up over the rocky hills. Villages dot the hillsides and valleys. Olives seem to be the main crop and everything is terraced. We passed one short section of the barrier that dipped incongruously to the edge of the road. There was a large quarry for the yellow limestone characteristic of the area and several businesses were processing the stone.
A fellow on the sherut took me to the stand for Sebastiya. In a small falafel and coffee stand, I had a chance to talk to a Palestinian. He had worked as a chef in Tel Aviv for 15 years but could not work in Israel any more. “The wall and check points make our lives very difficult. Life is hard with unemployment and low wages. We can’t enter Israel. But none of us will leave, this is our home. We will always live here, no matter how hard it is. We hate the governments of Canada, the US and Britain but not the people. Your governments support Israel but not Palestine. We call our selves resistance, we are not terrorists. Look at all the mountaintops around Nablus – every hill has an illegal Israeli settlement or outpost. Israieli soldiers raid our houses in the middle of the night and terrorize the teenagers who often spend the night in jail.”
I visited the 800-year-old soap factory (on one corner of the main square) and the market (much larger than Nazareth’s), but not the kanafi factory or Jacob’s Well. I had two falafel sandwiches for 3S each (20S each in Israel). In the main square was a peaceful demonstration of teachers protesting the Palestinian government and their low wages (3000S or US$750 per month). They’ve been on strike for the last 4 weeks. There I talked to 2 English teachers. One has children attending university in Istanbul and Palestine, but he could send them no money. Another said that we don’t call it the barrier wall but the apartheid wall.
SEBASTIA. 12kms NW of Nablus is this village with ruins on the top of the hill (acropolis). There is evidence of occupation of the hill since the early Bronze Age (3200BC), Iron Age, Assyrians (722BC), Persians (538-332BC), and Alexander the Great (circular tower). The Romans were here from 63BC to 324AD when the city was part of the province of Syria. Emperor Octavian (who was renamed Augustus in 27BC) gave it to King Herod in 30BC to govern in the name of Rome and Herod renamed it Sebastos (or Augustus meaning ‘great’ or ‘revered’). The Romans constructed the city wall, a collonaded street with 600 columns, the basilica, forum, theatre, temples of Augustus and Kore, the stadium and aqueduct. The Byzantines (324-636AD) built 2 churches dedicated to John the Baptist, the Muslims a mosque and the Crusaders a cathedral.
I took a shurut back to Nablus, found the shurut stand to Jenin (about 2 blocks north) and had a great ride with 6 young guys. Two spoke good English and we had lots of laughs. We passed through one military checkpoint. The young, black Israeli soldier was extremely rude with a big scowl on his face. The stand for the shurut to the border is a couple of blocks north east. A young guy walked me there. I have already described my experience crossing back into Israel. The first hitch hike drove me to the highway intersection going to Afula and Nazareth and it took two more rides to get to a bus stop for Nazareth. Then I got bus 354 but it didn’t go to the Old City so needed a city bus for the final leg.
It was a wonderful day. The best experience was simply seeing the towns and countryside and talking to a few Palestinians with good English. I have huge sympathy for the Palestinians. Israel is making their lives as difficult as they can. Tourist sites per se are not great.

On March 2, I joined three other travellers to rent a car to see the north eastern part of Israel. This is the most difficult part of the country to explore by public transport and this is the only practical way to do it.

SEA OF GALILEE. This is the largest fresh water lake in Israel at -244m below sea level. It has beaches, camp grounds and cycling and walking trails. Jesus spent most of his ministry around this lake. This is were it is believed to have performed some of his best-known miracles (the multiplication of loaves and fishes, walking on water) and where he delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
TIBERIAS (pop 42,000)
The major city on the Sea of Galilee, it has little interest to tourists other than a lakeside strip of tacky 1970s resorts. It is one of the four holiest cities of Judaism and a popular base for Christians visiting all the nearby holy sites.
Hamat Tveriya NP. 2.5kms south of Tiberias, this is a 4th-century synagogue with a zodiac mosaic.
Ancient Boat. Discovered in 1986, this wooden boat came from the time of Jesus. It is 8km north of Tiberias. It did not look worth the 20S entry fee so we did not see it.
TABGHA. On the Sea of Galilee, Tahgha has two churches, the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves & Fishes (nice Byzantine mosaic floor) and the Church of the Primacy of St Peter (has a flat rock in front of the altar – Christ’s table – believed that Jesus and his disciples breakfasted on fish here).
MOUNT OF THE BEATITUDES. This hillside Roman Catholic church has good views of the Sea of Galilee and sits on the site where Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) whose opening lines – the 8 Beatitudes – begin with the phrase ‘Blessed are”.
CAPERNIUM. This is believed to be Jesus’ home base during the most influential period of his Galilean ministry (Matthew 4:13, Mark 2:1 John 6:59) when he recruited some of his best-known apostles. The site contains a synagogue ruin, a modern, glass-walled church suspended over the ruins of an octagonal 5th-century church obscuring St Peter’s House, where Jesus is believed to have stayed and a Roman ruin. 18kms northeast of Tiberias.

UPPER GALILEE
Tsfat (pop 31,000). This mountaintop city is the center of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) since the 16th century – home to Hasidic Jews and former hippies, many American immigrants.
Hula Valley. Once swamps notorious for malaria, the wetlands were drained destroying a crucial bird migration wetland. The Hula Nature Reserve is in the 10% of the wetland surviving.
TEL DAN NATURE RESERVE. On the Lebanese border, this forested area is fed by year-around springs (8 cubic meters per second) that feed the Dan River, the major source of water for the Sea of Galilee and thus the country of Israel.
We stopped here and hiked some of the trails (doing all of them might take an hour). There was a surprising amount of water for the small snow pack visible on Mount Hermon.

GOLAN HEIGHTS
Offering commanding views of the Sea of Galilee and the Hula Valley, the volcanic Golan plateau is a favourite destination for holidaying Israelis. Its fields of basalt boulders – and, on its western edge, deep canyons – are mixed with cattle ranches, orchards, vineyards and small, friendly communities.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War, when 90% of the inhabitants fled or were expelled. In the bitterly fought 1973 Yom Kippur War, Syrian forces briefly took over much of the Golan before being pushed back to the current lines.
Katzrin (pop 7000). The Golan’s only real town.
Gamla Nature Reserve. Has the excavated ruins of an ancient Jewish stronghold whose inhabitants leapt to their deaths rather than fall into the hands of the Romans in 67AD. Now known for its griffon vultures.
Yehudiya Nature Reserve. The star of Israel’s northern national parks, it has challenging hiking.
BANIAS NATURE RESERVE. In the NW corner of the Golan, this is the most popular nature spot in Israel. There are separate spring and a canyon/waterfalls sections separated by 2.5kms. We walked the trails up the canyon to the impressive double waterfall.
Nimrod Fortress. Built by the Muslims in the 13th century to protect the road from Tyre Lebanon to Damascus, this fortress occupies a long narrow ridge at 815m on the slopes of Mount Hermon.
Mt Hermon. This mountains 2814m summit is in Sryia; the highest point controlled by Israel is 2236m. With small patches of snow in early March, it has Israel’s only ski hill, and is visible from all over.
We had great views of Nimrod Fortress as we ascended to the top of the Golan Heights. The main town up here is Majdal Shams (pop 10,000), the largest of the Golan’s four Druze towns. Ten kms past is Odem and the Golan Heights Hostel, where we stayed for the night. A friendly place they have a nightly group meal.
As we had to have the car back in Nazareth by 9am, we were on the road by 7 for the lovely drive back. We went around the Sea of Galilee to the east and south, drove over some mountains to Afula and then Nazareth and dropped the car off (total cost was 316S (US$75), expensive but shared four ways. The #331 bus to Haifa stopped outside the car rental station and we were in Haifa by 10am. The two Argentinians continued north to Acco and I walked the two blocks to my hostel for the night, the Port Inn. I then got the train north to Acco at 11:35, a great morning with great timing.

MEDITERRANEAN COAST
Stretching for 273kms from Gaza to the Lebanese border, this coastline has fine beaches, archaeology and dynamic cities and towns.

ACCO (Acre pop 52,000)
Marco Polo passed through Akko around 800 years ago and the place hasn’t changed much since then. The city was awarded Unesco World Heritage status in 2002. The bus and train stations are roughly 2km – an easy walk – from Old Akko.
A visit to Old Akko begins by stepping through city walls – built by Ahmed Pasha al-Jazzar in 1799, right after Napoleon’s retreat – and into another century. Buy the combo ticket giving access to most sights at a reduced price.
AL-JAZZAR MOSQUE. This mosque was built in 1781 in typical Ottoman Turkish style, with a little local improvisation in parts – the columns in the courtyard, for example, were ‘adopted’ from Roman Caesarea. Around by the base of the minaret, the small twin-domed building contains the sarcophagi of al-Jazzar and his adopted son and successor, Süleyman.
Subterranean Crusader City. The Knights’ Halls, a haunting series of vaulted halls that lie 8m below street level, served as the headquarters of the crusading Knights Hospitallers. It’s possible that Marco Polo dined in the Refectorium (Dining Hall) when he visited Acre. Opposite the entrance you can see a fleur-de-lys, an emblem of the kings of France.
TEMPLAR CRUSADER TUNNEL. Near the lighthouse at the southern tip of Akko, look out for this amazing underground passageway, which connected the port to a Templar palace. You can enter at either end of the tunnel.
Treasures in the Wall Museum. With ethnographic items from the 19th century, most of them used by early Zionist farmers, this was a quaint museum in a gorgeous building part of the outside wall.
Okashi Art Museum. A gallery devoted to the works of Avshalom Okashi (1916–80), an influential Israeli painter and a resident of Akko. Most of his pieces were quite abstract and didn’t appeal to me much.
Souq. The usual stores selling lots of kitsch. I need a hat and the only ones available were well on the ugly side. But I couldn’t help having a look in several stores to hack their taste. Enter at either end of the tunnel (near the lighthouse or the Khan al-Umdan).
Khan al-Umdan. Old Akko has several large khans (an inn enclosing a courtyard, used by caravans for accommodation), which once served the camel caravans bringing in grain from the hinterland. The grandest is the Khan al-Umdan (Inn of the Pillars), built by al-Jazzar in 1785 (the pillars were appropriated from Caesarea). The ground floor housed the animals, while their merchant owners slept upstairs. The gate is locked and this site is not open but I could peer into the courtyard.
Harbour. The harbour’s marina is still very much in service and if you are around early enough, you can watch the fishing boats come in and unload the day’s catch.
Baha’i Gardens. These gardens, as well as a shrine called the Bahje House constitute the holiest site of the Baha’i faith. This is where Baha’ullah, a follower of the Bab and the founder of the faith, lived after his release from prison in Akko, and where he died in 1892. It’s situated about a kilometre north of the town centre on the main Akko–Nahariya road. I didn’t visit these as it was late in the day but intend to see the better Baha’i Gardens in Haifa. i didn’t go here.

HAIFA (pop 264,900)
Israel’s third-largest metropolis is one of the most picturesque cities in the Middle East, the mixed Jewish-Arab port of Haifa offers sweeping views of the sea and one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. The bus and train stations and the trendy German Colony are on the flats near the port. Head up the hill a bit and you come to the predominantly Russian Hadar district and the Arab commercial precinct of Wadi Nisnas. High atop Mt Carmel is the stylish Carmel Centre district, home to the university, exclusive residences, and trendy bars and eateries.
Elijah’s Cave. Considered holy by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, this grotto is where the prophet Elijah is believed to have hidden from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel after he slew the 450 priests of Ba’al (Kings 1:17-19). There is also a Christian tradition that the Holy Family sheltered here on their return from Egypt, hence the Christian name, Cave of the Madonna.
Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery. This neo-Gothic Carmelite church and monastery, with its wonderful painted ceiling, was originally established as a 12th-century Crusader stronghold. A hospital for the troops of Napoleon in 1799, it was subsequently destroyed by the Turks and replaced by the present structure in 1836.
Baha’i Gardens. The stunning, immaculately kept multiple terraces of the dizzily sloped, perfectly manicured gardens are themselves alone a reason to visit Haifa. Designed by a Canadian of Iranian descent, they were finished in 2002. The centre of the gardens are formal, the immediate sides informal and the outsides forest. There are 9 terraces above and nine below the golden-domed Shrine of the Bab (there were 18 prophets). Each terrace has fountains, walkways, trees and flowers.The gardens are maintained by 100 gardeners, 2/3s professionals. Apart from the top two tiers, the gardens – declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008 – are accessible to the general public only on hour-long guided tours. There is one English tour per day (except Wednesday) departing at noon, three Russian tours per week starting at 11am and irregular tours in hebrew; be sure to arrive at 11.30am as it’s first come first served and only 60 people are allowed in daily. Meet at the appointed time at Yefe Nof St at the top of the garden. Completed in 1953, this tomb of the Baha’i prophet Al-Bab integrates both European and oriental design, and is considered one of the two most sacred sites for the world’s five million Baha’is (the other is the tomb of Mizra Hussein Ali in Akko). The best way to get here is by taking the Carmelit subway to the top stop and then walking to the top of the gardens.
The Haifa gardens also contain an International Teaching Center, the International Baha’i Archives (built in 1957, this Greek style building has classical Mediterranean architecture.

BAHA’I. Founded in the middle of the 19th century, the Baha’i faith (www.bahai.org) believes that many prophets have appeared throughout history, including Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Jesus and Mohammad. Its central beliefs include the existence of one God, the equality and unity of all human beings, and the unity of all religion. They believe in the equality of all people including men and women.
The origins of the Baha’i faith go back to Ali Muhammad (1819–50), a native of Shiraz, Iran. In 1844 he declared that he was ‘the Bab’ (Gate) through which prophecies would be revealed. The charismatic Ali was soon surrounded by followers, called Babis, but was eventually arrested for heresy against Islam and executed by firing squad in Tabriz.
One of the Bab’s prophecies concerned the coming of ‘one whom God would make manifest’. In 1866, a Babi named Mizra Hussein Ali proclaimed that he was this messianic figure and assumed the title of Baha’ullah. His declarations were unwelcome in Persia and he was expelled first to Baghdad, then to Constantinople, Adrianople and finally the Ottoman penal colony of Akko. In his cell in Akko he dedicated himself to laying down the tenets of a new faith, the Baha’i, whose name is derived from the Arabic word baha (glory).
The Baha’i faith now has an estimated five million followers worldwide. Two million Baha’i live in India, the largest community, but there is no community in Israel (other than the 100 volunteers at the gardens, it has been decided to not spread the religion to Israel to avoid conflict), site of the Baha’i World Centre (the religion’s global headquarters), whose gardens and institutions are staffed by volunteers from around the world. Tradition dictates that a Baha’i who is able should make a pilgrimage to Akko and Haifa. All prayers are directed to Akko.
Baha’i believe that you are not born Baha’i but at age 15 choose to join the religion and individually approach the local community for membership. The church is run by and elected council of 9 religious leaders and a ‘Parliament’ elected every 5 years.

My intent on Friday was to take the bus to Tel Aviv and visit Caesarea on the way. But I wanted to see Baha’i Gardens whose tour doesn’t start till noon. I took city bus 112 to Elijah’s Cave. It seems to have been converted into a synagogue. The walk up the steep stairs to Stella Maris had some lovely viewpoints with a 270° view down to the Mediterranean. Successive rows of breakers with big surf would have made putting in with a kayak exciting. Stella Maris has a gorgeous dome, paintings and marble. Then it was about 4kms along the top of the hill to the start of the tour to Baha’I Gardens.

TEL AVIV (pop 410,000)
Nicknamed ‘the Bubble’, Tel Aviv (or TLV) is a city of outdoor cafes, boutiques, bistros, leafy boulevards and long sandy beaches – and a favourite with Europeans looking for some year-round sun. All over the city, classic Bauhaus buildings are getting a well-needed facelift, while nearby skyscrapers rise towards the heavens.
Tel Aviv is very easy to get around, as its bustling central area focuses on five parallel north–south streets that follow 6km of seafront.
Tel Aviv has a number of superb museums and neighbourhoods worth a wander. Most are within walking distance of the city center.
Bauhaus Heritage. Tel Aviv has more sleek, clean-lined Bauhaus (International Style) buildings than any other city in the world, which is why it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2003. The ideas and ideals of Bauhaus were brought from Germany to Palestine by Jewish architects fleeing Nazi persecution. Tel Aviv’s White City heritage is easy to spot, even through the modifications and dilapidation of the past 70 years. Look for structures characterised by horizontal lines, curved corners (eg of balconies), ‘thermometer stairwells’ (stairwells with a row of vertical windows to provide light), and a complete absence of ornamentation.
Carmel Market.
Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Temporary exhibitions of Israeli art and a great permanent collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art.
Neve Tzedek. Founded in 1887, Jaffa’s first Jewish suburb has old houses (the most expensive real estate in town, boutiques, wine bars and restaurants.
Northern Tel Aviv. The home to Tel Aviv University and Beit Hatefutsoth, a museum that tells the story of Jewish exile and global diaspora.
Beaches. In warm weather, Tel Avivians flock to the beach, a long golden stretch of sand divided into sections. There are family, religious, gay, party and chill-out beaches. Alma Beach is in Jaffa.
Transportation. During Shabbat, sheruts provide the only public transport. Buses go all over the country.
Train. There are 3 train stations, from north to south: Tel Aviv University, tel Aviv Merkaz, HaShalom and HaHaganna.
To/From the Airport. Ben Gurion Airport is 21kms SE of central Tel Aviv. From 3:30am to 11pm, it is served by at least two trains per hour (14.5S). Taxis cost 130S during the day and 150 at night.
Bicycle. The best way to get around Tel Aviv and Jaffa because of the more than 100kms of dedicated bike paths with rental bikes for 14S per day at over 75 docking stations.
On my second last day in Israel, I took one of the rental bikes all the way to the far north of Tel Aviv and then back on the beach. Rothschild Blvd has the greatest concentration of Bauhaus architecture. It was Shabbat and unbelievably busy. All the restaurants were full, stores busy, beaches crowded, surf breaks full of surfers, people playing beach volleyball, and bicycles.

JAFFA (pop 46,000)
History. It is said that after Noah and all those animals survived the Flood, one of his sons, Japheth, headed for the coast and founded a city that he named Jaffa (Yafo in Hebrew) after himself. During Solomon’s time, the city came to prominence as a port and, according to the Bible, it was from here that Jonah set sail to his encounter with the whale. A group of rocks just offshore is said to be where Andromeda, one of Greek mythology’s most beautiful princesses, was saved by Perseus.
For thousands of years, while Tel Aviv was nothing more than a collection of sand dunes, Jaffa was one of the great cities of the Mediterranean. The small port doesn’t get much seafaring traffic these days, but its hangars are being transformed into cafes, shops and art galleries. The town itself, whose residents are a mixture of Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Old City. Centered on Kikar Kedumim, there is St Peter’s Church and the excavated remains from the Hellenistic and Roman eras. To the east is Jaffa’s highest point, Hapisgah Gardens with nice views up the coast to Tel Aviv.
I went on the Free Tour given by a Canadian woman from Alberta (my home province), the same age as me and even the same name, Ronnie! We saw most of the tourist areas of Jaffa, none of which is more than 2-300 years old, even though it is all built on old foundations.

CAESAREA. (pop 3400; pronounced kay- sar -ee-ya in Hebrew) This was one of the great cities of antiquity, rivalling great Mediterranean harbours such as Alexandria and Carthage. Despite efforts by various conquerors to keep the city alive, time and warfare eventually had their way and by the 14th century most of Caesarea had disappeared under the shifting dunes. Major excavations have been made over the past 60 years and Caesarea is now one of the country’s most impressive archaeological sites.
History. Originally a Phoenician city, it really got it’s most significant start under Herod (37BC-4AD) who named it Caesarea in honor of Augustus Caesar and was populated by Romans, Samaritans and Jews. In 66AD, the Jews rebelled, Jerusalem was destroyed and Caesarea became the Roman capital of Judea in 70. During Byzantine times (4th-6th centuries), Caesarea was at its height of prosperity, a centre of Christian scholarship and its harbour the gateway for thousands of Holy Land pilgrims. The Muslims invaded in the 7th century, the Crusaders in 1101 and Saladdin in 1187 conquered it and destroyed its wall. The present fortifications were built in 1251 by the French king Louis IX. The Marmuliks conquered it in 1265 and the city was abandoned until the 19th century when the Ottomans settled Bosnian Muslim refugees here.
A visit to the Caesarea National Park starts off with a 10-minute movie dramatizing the history of the city. At the Crusader city, you can see the remains of the citadel and harbour. Beyond the walls to the north stretch the beachfront remains of an impressive Roman aqueduct. A hippodrome lies to the south, and beyond that, a reconstructed Roman amphitheatre, which serves as a modern-day concert venue. The site makes for a reasonable wander.
Caesarea is 55kms north of Tel Aviv and 40kms south of Haifa. Getting there is a pain on public transport. One method is to take any bus to Hadera then switch to bus 76. A modern, gated Caesarea of walled mansions has developed outside the archaeological area.
I caught bus #41 to the Central Bus Station and then the train from Haganna Station to Caesarea. Outside the train station, I met two young Swiss women working for 3 months as volunteers at a convent/hotel on the Via Dolorosa inside the Old City of Jerusalem. They were on a day trip to see Caesarea. They felt precisely like me about Israeli Jews and Palestinians.
At the train station we caught bus #80 to the Old City or ruins of Caesarea. It took 30 minutes to get drive the 5kms it drove a circuitous route all over the town: part was through a very posh golf resort with very posh houses, most shuttered. We didn’t pick or let off any passengers; I doubt that these people ever take public transport, but their maids, nannies and gardeners do. Also on the bus were three Jews from New York who live in Jerusalem. They were born here, migrated to the US for 35+ years and have returned to live in Israel. None of them liked Israelis either. “They have such bad manners”.
I saw everything in the site taking about 75 minutes. Compared to some of the spectacular Roman sites I have seen this trip – Dougga, Bella Regia, and Jem in Tunisia, Belbak and Tyre in Lebanon and Jerash in Jordan, this is a poor cousin. It is not really worth the trip unless you have the time and desire to navigate the ponderous public transport to get here. I also had my National Park pass so saved the 38S admission fee.
When I was waiting for the return bus #80 (every 90 minutes), 2 cars of Israelis (children, grandmothers, parents, 20-somethings) parked and got out. They all sounded American. Despite being dressed in civilian clothes, three carried open guns – an M16 and two hand guns. Two were on a day off from the army (“You can never be too safe.”) and one was a physical therapist who lived on the Dead Sea near Jericho (an illegal settlement) “You’ve got to protect your 2nd Amendment Rights and I make home visits to patients all the time. Who knows when one is going to attack me.”
On my last night in Tel Aviv and Israel, I went out for dinner with a bunch of people including 3 working for EAPPI – the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program of Palestine and Israel – funded by the churches of many countries, it sends 30 volunteers at any one time into Palestine for 3-month stints to observe the abuses of Israelis towards Palestinians. They photograph, record and write down their observations, forward everything to the UN and when they go home, talk to their politicians about their experience. They confirmed everything that I have read about and more. One got into a discussion with an Israeli and systematically destroyed all her myths fed to her by the Israeli propaganda machine. She was a lovely, bright young woman, a true polyglot, but I have never seen her so quiet.
For example, Gaza: 15,000 settlers moved in illegally (everything Israel does is illegal by international law) and nothing happened until Hamas kicked them out. It is not hard to understand why Hamas won the next election.

On March 7, I flew on Aeroflot via Moscow to Shanghai. After a quick metro trip across town from Shanghai Pudong Airport to Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, I took the high speed train 3 hrs and 47 minutes south to Shenfang, got a little red tuk-tuk and arrived at Anna’s.

SUMMARY OF ISRAEL
Except for a few things, I didn’t really enjoy this country, mostly because of the people. Simply put, Israeli Jews are not friendly people, especially if you are a non-Hebrew speaking gentile. They are brusque to the point of rude, not interested in anything about you, condescending and dismissive – and I think they could care less. Palestinians are the opposite. This in not quite what one would expect.
Their attitude to and the way they have treated Palestinians is immoral and evil – the goal is “more land, fewer Arabs”. They have illegally stolen half of all Palestinian land – with the routing of the border (or apartheid) fence and putting settlements on Palestinian land, then building more fence around those settlements. They are illegal occupiers of land that is not theirs. They constantly commit war crimes. International laws do not condone anything they do.
All the 18-year old soldiers with their M-16s are not there for security, as one would believe. They are scared, trigger-happy teenagers there only to enforce the occupation. Two weeks ago, the Israeli parliament passed a law allowing (and thus encouraging) all Israelis to carry a gun ‘for protection’. Kind of sounds like a piece of America has been imported here.
They have done and continue to do everything humanly possible to destroy any chance Palestinians have to produce a sustainable economy. Palestinians are basically prisoners behind a fence in their own country. And Israeli Jews decry how they have been treated throughout history. The fence has brought suicide bombing to zero, but I don’t believe the fence is the real reason (there are many ways to get around it). Palestinians see nonviolence as the only way to achieve their goals. They have no desire to leave their homeland and surprisingly, are optimistic about the future.
Most Israeli Jews have constructed their own version of history to justify their actions – through propaganda and erasure of history from their books. Most Israelis do not know their true history and don’t want to know it. “They deny that Palestinians were here for centuries and millennia. They repetitively say that the Palestinians want 100% of the country when that is Israeli Jew’s only goal. The Palestinians did nothing with the land.” If they did not have the American empire and military-industrial complex behind them and all the power that gives them, they could not have achieved what they have done.
I feel sad that I have left the country as an Israeli anti-Semite.

But as the centre of three great religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism (and a fourth – Baha’i), it is a must see country. Jerusalem is an incredible destination, even if all the religious sites (including Bethlehem, Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee) have a sense of non-reality, especially for a good atheist like me.
It is very expensive, especially the food and taxis. It is also very unilingual with only English spoken widely in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Apart from history, there is not much to see – the Red Sea, Negev Desert, Sea of Galilee and Golan Heights – are all very average natural destinations.
I immensely enjoyed my two short days in the Palestinian Territories. I had several chances to talk to Palestinians about their situation. It is not pretty.
I believe the only recourse of the rest of the world is heavy sanctions that hurt them where Jews would feel it the most, their pocketbook. But that would require a 180° about face from America, the great imperialist and enabler. This is the only place they have left in the world, are blindly defensive about it, and will do everything in their power to maintain it and ensure its success.
I have arrived at many of these thoughts through reading and because of my quest to understand cultural context. I purposely try to be controversial to get to the bottom of things. I ask questions they don’t like to hear. At the end of my three weeks, I couldn’t wait to leave.

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I would like to think of myself as a full time traveler. I have been retired since 2006 and in that time have traveled every winter for four to seven months. The months that I am "home", are often also spent on the road, hiking or kayaking. I hope to present a website that describes my travel along with my hiking and sea kayaking experiences.
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