Thursday, March 27, 2008

Reflections on Israel

For about 15 minutes on Tuesday afternoon I wondered whether we'd make it back home at all. Stu and I stood a few metres apart, each being interviewed questioned interrogated by a shaven EL AL security agent who seemed to consider us very much guilty until proven innocent. Where did you stay? How did you get there? What did you do? Do you have a guidebook? Show me where you went in Bethlehem. Did you talk to anyone in Bethlehem? When did you buy the guidebook? But you only booked the flights 3 weeks ago. How are you paying for this trip? Why did you decide to come to Israel? How do you know each other? What does your brother do? Do you know anyone who's been to Israel? What are their names?

After 20 minutes of that, 10 minutes of bag-swabbing and then the check-in queue, we were good and ready to come home.

As the last post may have made clear, Israel is an extraordinary country. If it weren't for the fact that they get attacked quite regularly, the security they - or the Americans, $3bn a year - pay for would be paranoid and ridiculous. You can't enter a bar, shopping centre, museum or bus station without having your bag searched or x-rayed and walking through an x-ray machine. Everyone who does these searches is packing heat - in fact, we saw a young man out for a date with his girlfriend with one arm round her and one round his M16!

Graffiti at Bethlehem
The Palestinians have it rather different, of course. Faced with an 8m high wall through their territory, economic sanctions, limited power and water and even airstrikes, it's perhaps not surprising that they feel aggrieved. In saying this I'm not by any means justifying the jihad posters we saw in Bethlehem. After 6 days I'd hardly consider myself an expert on the Israel-Palestine conflict, but it seems to me that the answer lies in reconciliation, not retribution. Who was that guy who said he was the Prince of Peace...?

Anyway, back to the travelogue. Photos from the trip are here and here.

In the pools at En Gedi
At 6:30 on Easter Day, we joined thousands of other believers at the Garden Tomb to celebrate Jesus' resurrection. That is going to be hard to top until the Second Coming! By 9:00 we'd hired a car for two days and had hit the road to Galilee. We wandered around Capernaum, ate broiled fish in Tiberias, watched the sunset from Mt Tabor and had a drink on Mt Carmel (now part of Haifa). That was one long day, but the next was slightly shorter: hiking around and swimming in the pools of En Gedi, floating in the Dead Sea, and wandering around Herod's fortress at Masada.

On Tuesday we had just enough time to get the bus to Tel Aviv, find the beach and swim in the Mediterranean for an hour or so, before heading to the airport for the ordeal described above.

This has been one of the most interesting trips I've ever taken. Quite apart from the awesome experience of seeing the places where Jesus walked and the Bible was written, experiencing a culture that is a mixture of the Middle East, Western Europe, the USA and the Second Temple Period was a blast. Thankfully not literally.

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