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«Oct 2012 - Israel Journey: North and South After exploring Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, we decided to travel five days in the north through ...»

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Oct 2012 - Israel Journey: North and South

After exploring Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea,

we decided to travel five days in the north through

Galilee, Nazareth, Caesarea and Acre before our week

on the Red Sea beach at the extreme south of Israel


Deciding where to go was not easy as there are so

many interesting sites in a country with such a

LOOOOONG history: Egyptian, Roman, Arab,

Christian, Jewish. But between our paper guides

(Lonely Planet and Eyewitness Travel) and the recommendations of friends, we finally established a route.

Two of the best preserved Egyptian/Roman coastal towns are Caesarea and Acre (Akko). We understand better now the succession of 3,500 years of invaders include Egyptians, Romans, the (unsuccessful) French (Napoleon) / Muslim / Turkish (Ottoman Empire) and British...

Acre really illustrates how a city is built on another:

this imposing structure dating from the Roman times (also used as an underground city by the Crusaders) has been filled with earth and served as the foundation for a new fortress built over it by the Ottomans… Hence its excellent condition. It ‘just’ took removing a little dirt to find the beautiful structures/halls pictured above.

In Acre, we tasted the best hummus in Israel (according to a young Israeli trail hiker we met).

Regine found very good but I (Tim) did not understand why people made such a fuss over and queue to eat mashed chickpea with a salad and pita bread...

Here I am at the end of the day relaxing in a Turkish bath (excellent visit showing how the men (and women in a separate area) used this place to relax and socialize). Would be fun to try it for real one day.

The apostle Paul spent time in

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On our day around the sea of Galilee, we arrived at Mt Beatitudes just 10 minutes after they closed for a 2h lunch break – must be managed by French folks! We could not believe we would have to wait almost 2 hours to get into the church/site… Bad luck or good luck? We drove to the back of the church compound, found a lovely tranquil shady high spot over-looking the Sea of Galilee (shade was crucial as we were still in the part of our trip where it was VERY hot), had our picnic lunch (we always had food with us), then a little siesta in the car. Then we took the time to read and reflect on what I (Tim) believe is one of the most beautiful and important passages in the bible “the Sermon on the Mount” – a pretty challenging message for us, in the rich west, having all we can dream of in life!..

Being on the real spot where Jesus gave this sermon was truly moving, but did not really help in our understanding I must say…. We decided afterwards that this quiet time reading was probably better than another church visit! This was one of the finest moments of our travels that will linger in our mind for a long time.

Want to meet people in any country you travel to and experience family life there or welcome travelers from afar at your home?

Join Servas as a traveler or host!

Where did we stay in Galilee? This is ANOTHER very interesting story and one that made our travel VERY special and dear to our hearts. We stayed with 2 families we had never met before. At a Xmas party last year we heard about SERVAS and joined (servas.org) this wonderful 60 year old organization dedicated to world peace. SERVAS operates in 126 nations (truly global) with 15,500+ members worldwide ofering members free access to other member’s homes for a minimum of two nights (may be longer if host ofers) with NO reciprocity or exchange of money expected. The host ofers a bed and typically a couple of evening meals will be shared with the host family as well. The mission of the organization is to foster peace by allowing people around the world to know each other by sharing a couple of nights lodging. meals and good conversation.

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The first Galilee couple were Alon and Inbal (and 4 kids). Their oldest daughter left home the week we arrived to begin her 2 years of compulsory (for all but Arab and Orthodox Jews) military service (3 years for men). Alon is a 'sherif'. Constant vigilance against theft from Bedouin's (nomadic Arab tribesmen) is needed in spite of bright security lights shining and patrols all night long around the village. His challenge is to be the peace maker and not escalate the anger when theft (cars, cattle, electronics. etc) occurs. He has for instance organized meeting between the head of the Bedouins and the villagers to see how they can live together in peace and reduce youth violence…. He has served in this role for 10 years.

Inbal’s dad was killed in combat during the 1967 war (Israeli’s count time much as we do unfortunately…by war era. For us it is WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq/ Afghanistan, for Israeli people they have 6 or so wars since the end of WWII where each generation participated in the military and their generation’s conflict and often times someone dear was injured or lost their life). Inbal’s peace work focuses on what Jewish and Arab people have in common – their love of the land and its plants. She is compiling a book of native plants and their spiritual message to us - part of her healing to bring understanding to both sides of the things they have in common.

The last major conflict between Israeli and Palestinian Arabs (Second Intifada) was in 2000 during which Israeli arab youths threw large stones at Jewish cars at the nearby intersection... A big rock in the windshield at 80km hour is death. The Jewish people on their hill top community were immobilized there for a week until the police stopped the revolt. The Arab town of Nazareth lost out: Jewish people stopped shopping there.

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All Jewish Israelis (except Israeli-Arab and Orthodox Jews - see photo) are required to do military service (males 3 years females 2 years) and be ready to take up arms to defend the country at any moment during an extended “reserve” service (reminded me of my (Tim) 4 year reserve service back in the 1970s after active duty). The two villages where we were greeted by a family are called "Moshars" - kind of village farmland cooperative community established at the time of Israeli independence - 1948. It is a pretty village with lovely homes and Israeli-planted tall trees built on a hill top (great visibility!!?)... When we asked if it was true that the Jews had planted all the trees in Israel, the answer: “of course No! Some olives trees can be 400 years old”.

–  –  –

Cana is an Israeli Arab city (as is Nazareth) close to where we stayed. When we invited our Jewish hosts to take a ride with us to Cana, they instantly replied: oh no, we're not going to Cana! So we drove there on our own wondering whether it was safe but to us it was just another city. A touching moment was when we renewed our wedding vows in the Greek Orthodox Church St George in Cana, where Jesus preformed his first miracle of Jesus changed the water (good) wine. Tim bought a bottle of wine for our hosts with a Nazareth vineyard wine label... Apparently it was not intended to be opened but only a memento!!!

The wine was horrible...

Elaine teaches English to classes of mixed young Jewish and Arab students. A conversation ensued about education - is it true that Arab schools receive less funding than Jewish ones?

Nobody knew for sure. Mira's experience is that Arabs can enter university with grades much lower than Jewish students. Indeed, Israel has an afrmative action program for Arabs (much like that for minorities in the US) to encourage a higher level of education among young Arabs – hoping that better education will help relationships. Perhaps so, perhaps not. Peaceful coexist is not always obvious or linear and people round the tables feared the impact of the Muslim priests (?) on young people.

–  –  –

Arie gets up at 5am every day and works for a high tech medical equipment company and travels a lot. Is ofce is 1.5 h drive from home, near Tel Aviv. With gas price as high as in Europe ($2+/liter = $8/gallon), this is a huge cost in time and money – but it seems that everyone travels long distance to go to work. Mira also travels over an hour drive each way (north) providing counseling for WWII Holocaust victims. It was so interesting getting to know them and their kids.

–  –  –

Eilat - holiday town – think 1/100 Las Vegas and ½ Panama City FL on the Red Sea. It seems 70% of tourists were Russian. Several years ago Israel and Russia struck a deal that allowed Russians to come to Israel as freely as Greece or Turkey and the Russians are voting with their rubles-all tourist signs are in Hebrew/English AND Russian. In recent years Russia has sent over 1 million new immigrants to Israel as well. As one of our friends said…like most historic and current Israeli immigrants… ”They arrive with NO financial resources, but significant education and ambition….” Our impression is that Israel is a mini United Nations with many languages – one predominant religion, and is one of the world leaders in entrepreneurial zeal… individuals with education and cutting edge creative energies making deals all over the world for their VERY productive nation.

Eilat – is only 3 miles from Jordan and Egypt (east and west respectively), the only two Arab nations that recognize Israel as a “legitimate” nation - achieved under Carter and Clinton Presidencies respectively. All the other Muslim/Arab neighbor states are at virtual (undeclared) war with Israel and do not allow entry if a person's passport (other than a diplomatic passport) shows any travel to Israel.

Eilat temperature: mid 90 to 100+ during our stay in late October and 110+ in summer!!

…. Attraction: exploring the coral reefs of the Red Sea, travel to PETRA in Jordan (one of the 7 wonders of the world…COOL)…… camel, jeep, horse back and hiking trips in the desert (we had had enough of the desert by then)   We enjoyed our elegant (5 Star) Eilat Club hotel with its supermarket, 4 swimming pools (surprisingly cold water)... and lots and lots of families with kids….They were plays/ lectures/games - all useless for us as all was in Hebrew!

–  –  –

The trip to Petra in Jordan was a long tiring day: You can see on the map that was not exactly a easy site to visit (2h bus side Jordan each way, after waiting long queues to cross the border. Incidentally Jordan is ruled by King Abdullah II - his father King Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel during his reign.

After in depth research, we decided that the easiest way to visit was to take a tour. SO we drove in a mini bus through the desert, this time in Jordan.

On the way, the guide talked to us about the Bedouin’s way of life - It was nice to finally have all our questions answered about these people that we see everywhere in the desert. I remember our surprise the first time we saw these basic accommodation on the way to the Dead sea, past Jerusalem.... They heard livestock (camels, sheep, goats) and live in tents (one per family) made from the wool of these animals…though many are now settling into villages. It is not obvious to see what the animals have to eat around here! Their life is, difcult, simple... and harsh. Keep moving to where food is for the herd. Needless to say that their way of life is disappearing rapidly, now only 70,000 Bedouins remain in Jordan and this generation may be the last.. the picture shows a one family tent - and the contrast below with the bedouins living in “built” houses in a small village...

We finally around noon we arrived at Petra - one of the 7 wonders of the world! We all voted to see the site first and leave ‘lunch’ for later on in the afternoon.

Petra is a city carved into the mountain rock dating from of around 2500 years ago was built by an ancient civilization thriving at the crossroads of the trading route between east and west. Here are some views of the entrance to the site - the graves with beautiful facades.

70% of Petra is still under the sand!

The ruins were inhabited by Bedouins and their animals in recent years before it became a significant tourist attraction. When the site was ranked one of the 7 'wonders' of the world, Jordan built a village to bribe the Bedouins to leave the site. A house with water, electricity and television is a pretty attractive proposition compared with a cave with a wonderful facade... Now Bedouins are on the site of Petra as traders selling horse, donkey or camel rides or gifts and tourist trinkets. Some were actually born and raised in these ancient caves.

 Here are some tourists... We still cannot help being surprised with the women clothing.

In Eilat I watched on a french TV channel a program on Qatar (small kingdom near Saudi Arabia) - a woman stated that wearing this robe is freedom: you can be in your pajamas underneath! And I would add: no risk of sunburns and free sauna in the summer...



 The first view of the best preserved facade in Petra after a long way through a narrow path between huge rocks - Town very well hidden town in these mountains....

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For 6 weeks we really enjoyed all the sweets and delights of Jewish and arab food... now time for a more frugal diet!

  We understand what it means to eat kosher - Tim wanted some butter for his bread at lunch one day and was told that there was no butter because it was not kosher as meat was on the menu. He then asked for cheese to go on his spaghetti and same answer - not available as not kosher. Kosher means not mixing dairy and meat.

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