Archive for March, 2009

Behind on Blogs

To all (?) my loyal readers,

I am sorry I’ve gotten behind on new items that I know (?) you are anxiously awaiting.  I got a terrible cold as the result of not sleeping because of jet lag, while still charging around unabated during the days.  For two nights I was too tired to blog.

I’m back…

Tags

I am starting a new “tag” for impressions so that I can say how what I am seeing and hearing affects me and what I think about it.

The tags in this blog are:

Chron  — updates on travels and activities, more or less in order

Map –- yes, maps

Itinerary  what we are doing, when and where

Books  recommended reading to understand the situation here

Background  historical information and perspective to help understand how the past continues to affect the present here

Driving Tour

On Tuesday and Wednesday, February 24 and 25, we did an extensive driving tour of the north of Israel.  We drove from Jerusalem to the Mediterranean coast—to Caesarea, through Haifa, to Akko (Acre), to Ein Hod (and the former but now displaced Arab village of Ein Hud) and then to Moshav Zippori for the night.

The next day we drove up Mt. Carmel, to the Galilee, to the Lebanese border, and then to the Golan Heights.  In the Golan Heights we had wonderful hummous with ground meat, along with all the Israeli soldiers, at a Druse village.  We passed the only Israeli ski area (no snow).  We then headed south to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret to Israelis), the roman ruins at Beit Shan, through the West Bank, past many Jewish settlements, and finally back to Jerusalem.

I’ll add more impressions of the trip when I get a chance to write again tonight.  For now, here a few photo highlights:

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More Driving Tour Photos

Here are more photos from our driving tour in the north of Israel, which included the Galilee and the Golan Heights.

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Jordan Impressions

We just left Jordan or “Ordan” as they pronounce it in Arabic;  it became “Yordan” in Hebrew; now it’s Jordan in English.

We drove up into the green mountains that look like Israel’s Samaria and then into the brown mountains that look like Israel’s Judea.  But, there are fewer similarities than meet the eye…

Jordan is 95% Muslim with the remaining 5% split between Orthodox Christians and Druse.  There are no Jews or Protestant Christians or Shia Muslims in any official census.  Jordanians are proud of how close their spoken Arabic is to classical Arabic.  They are proud of having the highest standard of living in the Arab middle east.  We don’t have the economic statistics but lots of people live in what appear to be physically dilapidated dwellings with not a few abandoned cars strewn about.  But, everyone on the streets seems energetic, well-dressed, and mostly bustling. 

Jordanians are incredibly handsome people—everyone of them.  They smile a lot.  They are very demonstrative in their informal social encounters.  Everyone in the tourist trade is happy to have us, though they assume that we are American Christians rather than American Jews .  I am not sure Jordanians’ welcome would change that much if they realized, but they would be reflective and consider it (later they figured it out and didn’t mean—we discussed the “situation” and water politics). 

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Big News

We are staying at the same hotel as Hillary Clinton.

The King David is the primary hotel in Israel where foreign heads of state and other international dignitaries stay.  We saw George Mitchell walking down the hall with his security detail.  The Israeli army (IDF) and Israeli policy blocked off the street in front of the hotel.

Earlier tonight we saw Bibi Netanyahu, the new prime minister of Israel, at the restaurant where we had dinner.

Today, when we visited the Knesset (Israeli parliament) we saw Tzipi Livni, the head of the largest party—Kadima—in the Knesset.  She’ll be the leader of the opposition in the Knesset.

So many other exciting things happened today that I barely know how to capture it all. 

I still need to provide highlights of our visit to Jordan’s primary archaeological sites:  the Roman city of Jerach and the fabulous Nabatean city of Petra, carved out of living rock in a narrow canyon that gradually opens into broader canyon holding an advanced city from 100 BCE.

Jordan Scenes

I am catching up with some scenes from Jordan.

We tried to cross into Jordan at the Allenby Bridge.  There was some unstated security problem, which could take hours to clear up.  We drove 1 1/2 hours to the crossing near Beit She’an.  Our Israeli bus took us to the Israeli crossing.  Then we walked across a sort of no-man’s land to the Jordanian side.  Formalities on the Jordan side were lightweight and tolerably efficient, including xraying all luggage and walking through a metal detector.   Then, we boarded our Jordan tour bus.

Our first stop was the Roman ruins at Jerash.  My eyes sort of glaze over at all of the columns, hippodromes, and coliseums and I am a bit murky on the history.  Jerash was one of the cit1es of the Decapolis—the 10 great Roman cities of the eastern Mediterranean.  Very few Roman sites are as intact or as well restored as Pompeii in Italy.  Still it is impressive to see the remains of structures from the 1st century CE.  The re-use of materials and the layering of additional later cultures is interesting in this area.  After the Romans, we get the Byzantines—essentially Greek Christians.  Roman temples are turned into churches.  Part way through Byzantium we get the Iconoclasts who did not tolerate any imagery from pagan Rome nor any representation of G-d, man, or animals.  So, mosaics and statues are defaced.  Next come the Persians followed by the Umayyad Muslims of the 8th century followed by the Mamluks from Egypt, followed by the Crusaders, followed by the Ottomans.

From Jerash, we drove to Amman, which we could only see by night.  See Jordan Impressions.

Continue to the photos:

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Seat of Israeli Government

Yesterday we visited the Supreme Court of Israel and the Knesset, or Israeli Parliament.

The Supreme Court and the overall court system is quite a bit different than the US system.  The most similar feature is that the Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal for criminal and civil cases.  The most unique feature is that any suit brought against the government goes directly to the Supreme Court acting as the High Court of Justice.  A suit can be brought to challenge a specific action by the government—say, demolishing some Israeli Arab houses—or to challenge a law passed by the Knesset.  Anyone can bring a suit against the government, even a party which has not been harmed—so, many Israeli NGOs bring suits on behalf of underprivileged residents or to challenge specific laws as incompatible with Israel’s “Basic Laws.”  You can bring the case, but the court has to agree to hear it.  Israel never completed a constitution so the 11 basic laws are the nearest thing to the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. In addition to the criminal and civil court system, there are separate religious courts for Jews, Arabs, Christians, and Druse.

Residents can enter any court room and observe the proceedings, except cases involving very sensitive state secrets (which are rare and often challenged).  We entered the High Court of Justice and heard part of any interesting case.  An Israeli NGO supported by New Israel Fund gives tours of the ultra-ultra Orthodox section of Hebron.  This is a post 1967 Jewish settlement in the occupied territories of the West Bank.  The situation of the ultra-Orthodox in Israel is worth an entire posting.  For now, the ultra orthodox or Haredim are Hasidic Jews who live like the Jews of Russia or the Ukraine of the 18th century.  They wish to minimize contacts with and influence of the outside world and fiercely resist interference.  They have extensive support from the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs.  In Hebron, the Haredim have often attacked outside tour groups.   So, the tours are accompanied by 30-50 police officers.  The police tried to suspend the tours as being too dangerous.  The NGO sued the government asserting that eliminating the tours violated basic rights and that the police should only be allowed to block tours when there were very specific risks based on specific events.

There have also been significant cases trying to alter the route of the separation barrier which Israel is building around Jerusalem, extending to many Jewish settlements in the West Bank (more about this later).

Kadima

Yesterday, we went to the Knesset.  In addition to seeing the fabulous tapestries and mosaics by Marc Chagall, we had a private meeting with one member of the Knesset (MK).

Yoel Hasson is a young hot shot in Kadima who got his start as an admirer of Ariel (Arik) Sharon.  Sharon is the tough guy who invaded Lebanon in 1982 and who goaded the Palestinians in a provocative visit to the Temple Mount and who unilaterally withdrew Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip.  When Sharon started a new political party called Kadima, Yoel joined to help organize and motivate young people (he is 35).

In the election on February 10, Kadima received the highest number of seats:  28 out of 120.  But, the slightly more conservative Likud party got 27.  A new party called Yisroal Beiteinu (Israel our homeland) received 15 votes as its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, campaigned with a demand that all Arabs in Israel take a loyalty oath. Before the elections Lieberman compelled the government to disqualify the Arab parties from participating in the election.  The Supreme Court reversed this and ordered the government to allow the Arab parties to participate.  The 3 Arab parties won 11 seats including one seat held by a Jewish member!  The point here is that despite the close outcome between Kadima and Likud, the outcome was a conservative landslide.  A second point is that Israel's democracy works, even if it is messy and can produce uncomfortable results (so can ours–remember George W. Bush?).

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New Israel Fund

I think it is time to add more impressions and thoughts to the blog with less travelogue. What is this organization, New Israel Fund, that I am traveling with?

I think that liberal Americans may be thinking that Israel, with its vast military superiority, has really become the “thug” in the Gaza conflict. There is a reflexive tendency to believe that anyone with the most guns must be the oppressor. You may wonder, “what is Israel thinking?” to believe it can act with impunity, with utter disregard for world opinion, and with unwarranted cruelty towards the Palestinians of Gaza.

First, let me suggest that there is certain hypocrisy on the part of a certain European country whose conduct with respect to its former North African colony was atrocious. While it is hard to quickly find precise data, Hamas has fired several thousand missiles into Israel in the past several years. While few have done a lot of damage, no sovereign nation would tolerate its immediate neighbor firing missiles onto its territory. You may criticize the Israeli response as disproportionate, but it certainly has a right to make a military response. I do not believe this response constitutes war crimes. At the same time, Israel’s continuing development of settlements in the occupied territory of the West Bank and its treatment of its large Arab minority are both unacceptable.

As a result of the Gaza war, Israeli citizens elected more right wing candidates to their Parliament than ever before including an openly racist anti-Arab party. You might be inclined to think that there are no progressive voices in Israel that are critical of Israeli policy and keep the ideals of justice and equality alive within Israel. You’d be wrong. New Israel Fund is one of many voices within Israel working towards a more just and equitable society within Israel, better treatment of the Arab minority within Israel, and a more productive approach to working with Palestinians in the West Bank.

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