Archive for February, 2009

Israel Trip

Later this week I am going to Israel for the first time.  Now is an exciting time, to say the least:  the violence in Gaza, Israeli elections, the economic downturn.  What?  Am I nuts?   What better time to go!

It’s my first time and I am doing a lot:

  • Private touring: (February 21-25)
    • Jerusalem:  the birthplace of Western Religion(s) (3)
    • Masada:  the last stance and suicide of Jewish defenders against Rome
    • Qumran:  site of the Dead Sea Scrolls excavation
    • the Galilee:  hills and forests
    • Haifa, Ceasarea, and Akko (Accre):  in order, Jews and Israeli Arabs co-existing peacefully and the largest Baha’i temple; Roman ruins; the most Arab of Israeli cities
  • Jordan tour (February 26-28): 
    • Amman, ancient Philadelphia and the capital of Jordan
    • Madaba (settled for 4500 years) and most important Christian center in Jordan
    • Mt. Nebo, where Moses first saw the Promised Land
    • Kerak, a crusader castle—thankfully the only one I’ll bother with
    • Petra, ancient capital of the Nabateans carved out of rock in the 4th century BCE—and one of the filming locations for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
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    Map of Israel

    Here is a map to get you oriented.  I’ll look for some others that may highlight the regions and key locations better.  In fact, I’ll find one that I can put pushpins in for each place I’ve visited.

    Reading List

    Going on a trip like this, focused so much on political tension, requires deepening one’s understanding of the history of the region and the ideas and beliefs that provide context for the conflict.  I expanded my previous readings to include more consideration for Palestinian views.

    New for this trip:

    Once Upon a Country—A Palestinian Life, Sari Nusseibeh with Anthony David

    Shared Histories—A Palestinian-Israeli Dialogue, Paul Scham, Walid Salem, Benjamin Pogrund (eds.)

    Sleeping on a Wire—Conversations with Palestinians in Israel, afterword by David Grossman

    The Accidental Empire—Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, Gershom Gorenberg

    A Tale of Love and Darkness, Amos Oz

    Lords of the Land, Zeital and Eldar

    Dreams and Shadows, Wright

    The Missing Peace, Dennis Ross

    Other books I’ve previously read to understand the longer term view of the conflict include:

    Righteous Victims, Benny Morris.  Probably the best one volume history of Jewish settlement in Israel/Palestine and the long-term emergence of the conflict.   His other books are very worthwhile, especially 1948

    Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, Shlomo Ben-Ami.  An insider’s history of Israeli politics of the peace process by Ehud Barak’s foreign minister during the Camp David talks sponsored by President Clinton.

    Islam in the World, Malise Ruthven.   An excellent survey of what Muslims believe and the many interwoven threads of Islamic belief over the years.  Much better than, “the Quran says…”

    A History of the Arab Peoples, Albert Hourani

    The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong

    And of course, the indispensable intellectual illumination to finding a way to resolve cultural conflict—the works of Isaiah Berlin, including:

    Four Essays on Liberty

    The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas

    All of Berlin’s books and essays are worthwhile and challenging.

    Arrival

    Well, I made it.  Flights on time, no problems.  Finished The Accidental Empire.  Got into Sleeping on a Wire.  Watched two free movies.  Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to watch “Body of Lies” with Leo DiCaprio.  It’s about CIA collaboration with Jordanian secret service.  Hopefully, they won’t ask about my recent movie watching when I cross over into Jordan next week.

    Miraculously, I got to the hotel driving through Jerusalem in pitch black and pouring down rain using only the Hertz map. Jerusalem is probably not an easy place to get around in broad daylight;  it’s interesting at night.  Went past lots of interesting looking theatres and museums;  maybe I’ll get to see some while I mtn. bike around Jerusalem with my guide—he made me bring my cleated shoes.

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    The Situation

    How did the situation between Israel and Palestine begin?  Where is it now and why has it remained so hard to resolve?

    Skipping the ancient period through most of the Islamic and Turkish periods, European Jews began to settle in Palestine in the 1880s, driven by religious motivation, the oppression of Russian pogroms against Jews, and general hostility of European countries towards Jews.  But, it was just a trickle.  The first Jews generally settled in Jerusalem and bought land from Turkish landlords as Palestine was nominally under control of the Ottoman empire. 

    In 1917, the Balfour Declaration committed England, very reluctantly and tentatively, to creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine–a nation for Jews with a Jewish identity,"His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people," with the understanding that "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”  At the end of World War I with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, France and England split up Turkey's former middle eastern territories in a secret treaty.  In 1921, England received control over present day Israel and Jordan, which it then called Trans-Jordan.  Jewish settlement increased, still by purchasing land from Turks or Arabs.

    The problem of how Jews and Arabs and a few Christians would live in the land together existed from the very beginning and the earliest Jewish settlers were aware of it.  The same possible answers existed then as now, but a truly workable answer was always put off–then as now.  Jews and Arabs could live side by side in one state that recognized full rights for all.  Not clear was who would be in control of such a state:  Jews or Arabs?  The other alternative was to split the land into separate portions with each separately controlled by Arabs and Jews.  How to split the overall territory, how to determine who got what, and how the people left in the "other" territory would be protected were never figured out.

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    Lunch

    Lunch at a hummous joint in the Arab quarter souk in Jerusalem was great:

    – ground lamb in some kind of yellow-ish broth

    – awesome pita bread—way better than the bread-disks we get in the US

    – their jalapenos aren’t that hot

    – simply amazing pickles

    – lots of other things stewing on the stove

    Here is the establishment and proud owner:

    Day in Old Jerusalem

    Just a few highlights here…

    clockwise, from upper left:

    – the Dome of the Rock Mosque
    – praying and photographing at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount
    – young Hasidic man

    Big Tourist Day

    Did the tourist big 3 today:  Masada, Qumran, and the Dead Sea.

    Masada was where 900 or more Jews held out against the Romans in 73AD.  On the last night when holding any longer appeared impossible, the Jewish Zealots drew lots for who would kill whom in order, and the last man committed suicide.  It is a stirring site and the star of Israeli archaeology.   My anthropologist guide points out that the story is very unlikely to be true:  skeletal remains of only about 30 people have ever been found despite years of digging.  It’s still an impressive site that shows how advanced the Jewish culture of 2000 years ago was.

    It’s bizarre to hike up 400 meters (over 1300 feet) and only get back to sea level.  Lots of school groups with armed guards.   Lots of Uzi’s carried non-chalantly by twenty year olds.

    Qumran is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.  My anthropogist guide specializes in analyzing human remains and ancient feces.  He has a convincing account that supports the view that a cult called the Essenes certainly lived at the Qumran site until 60-70AD. It was fun to hear how much the study of poo can teach us about how early people lived (Essenes weren’t very sanitary).  It seems that present-day Christians are much more interested in this site than religious Jews.  The modern day Christian pilgrims are looking for evidence that links the Old Testament to the New Testament, though there isn’t any in the Dead Sea scrolls.  The religious Jews really don’t want to find out that there were more than one version of the Old Testament—it would be confusing.

    OK, the Dead Sea “beach” is a pit attracting some of the most unlovely specimens of humanity to don bathing suits.  You really can float.  Not only can you float on your back, but you can float feet down/straight up with your chest, shoulders and head above the water.  This is acrid water—you can sort of tolerate getting a taste of sea water when you lick your lips when you swim in the ocean.  But, the Dead Sea tastes like you are in some kind of chemical bath.  I can’t tell if my skin is more vibrant now, but it was very refreshing after the hot hike up Masada.  The other cool thing is even with the sun beating down you can’t get sunburnt.  The atmosphere is so thick at this low elevation below sea level that most UV rays are cut.

    Continue to see some pictures…

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