Trip to Israel chapter 1
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englandís mountains green?
And was the holy lamb of God
On Englandís pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear: o clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariots of fire!
I will not cease from metal fight;
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In Englandís green and pleasant land.
As Iím writing this, Iím in Herzliya, Israel, which is about 10 km north of Tel Aviv, right on the coast. Itís a wonderful town, with a nice mall, a great marina, a beautiful view of the Mediterranean, as well as skull-and-crossbones signs planted up and down the beach that read ďSwimming ForbiddenĒ in 4 languages. That hasnít seemed to stop the surfers and jet-skiers, however, who are falling all over themselves to get a 3-foot wave. Yesterday afternoon I counted 21 of the former, and 5 of the latter. They were all in wetsuits, of course, because it is still winter here.
Today is Saturday, and itís beautiful. My balcony door is open and I can hear the gentle crashing of the waves, the voices of the beachgoers and an occasional barking dog. Fortunately, since itís Shabbat, the holy day, the 6 or 7 men that have been rebuilding the pool directly outside my window have the day off.
Iíve been here now for about 12 days, and Iím leaving Tuesday. What am I doing so far from Denver? Why here? Well, it has to do with work. I came to do some validation work (which is what I always do) for a company that is run from the U.S., but the factory and research departments are here in Israel.
Those of you who know me well know that I am fairly well traveled. I have been all over the U.S., through many places in central and western Canada, and have taken 8 trips to Mexico in my lifetime, 6 of which have been in the last 5 years. That covers North America. I have also been to Japan, Spain, France, Greece, Egypt, and Italy, where I lived for 3 years while I was in the Navy. My daughter was born in Naples, Italy, in fact.
So, here I am trying to put the pieces together so that this client can get their product to market. Iím here with a co-worker, as well as three people from another consulting company based out of the U.K. One of the consultants is a local who happens to speak perfect English, which is really nice for us since there is an enormous language barrier.
One of the consultants from the other company is a wonderful (though a bit limy) Canadian. It took all of about 2 or 3 minutes for us to become friends, even before we knew how much we had in common. Heís a funny guy with a good-natured manner, an easy smile, and quick wit, and a lot of great stories. Youíll be hearing from him in my next Israel post, as he likes to write also, and though Iíve only read excerpts from some of his essays, heís got a great style and I look forward to his contribution. He wanted a nom de plume, so I will hereafter refer to him as Monsieur de Plume (but his real name is Blake). digress.
Last Friday we had the opportunity to go to Jerusalem, which is about one hourís drive from here. The director of operations (from the US portion of my clientís company), as well as a good friend/consultant from his neck of the woods were here also, and they hired a guide named Rafi to take the 4 of us around.
The tour guide really knew what he was about, and he gave us oodles of historical facts all the way there. He told us of some of the causes for the tensions between the Muslim and Jewish populations, about the Palestinian views on things, how the Israelis are basically surrounded by potentially hostile factions, etc. He also explained a lot of the religious history of the three main western religions, how they all intertwine, and what their specific differences and commonalities are. He was a fountain of knowledge, and it was very clear to all of us just how deep his passion for history and religion actually ran. Truly he was a scholar, and his English was perfect also. 27 years of being a tour guide will do that, I suppose.
When we got to Jerusalem (to the new city, that is), Rafi took us through the city pointing out various sites, including the Prime Ministerís house, the United Nations, the Supreme Court, and other official buildings. We then went to a wonderful overlook of the city, where Rafi pointed out various sites, including the Temple of Ascension, Mount of Olive, the Old City, a few temples inside it, Gethsemane and the Church of Agony, and the wall that is being built on the east side of the city separating Jordan from Israel. A lot of walls are up or going up on the borders. I have photos of most of this stuff in my photo album that you can look at. Itíll be easier that way than embedding photos into this blog entry.
Our first stop was to be the garden of Gethsemane (where Judas betrayed Jesus like the little snitch that he was). From our overlook this was across town and traffic was atrocious due to a number of factors, including road construction. Rafi ducked into an Arab section of town though and the shortcut proved to be mostly successful. I took a number of photos of some Arabic graffiti while we jostled and bounced our way down the narrow streets.
As we approached the Old City, there were bunches of roadblocks, and it was clear that they were expecting trouble. Friday is the holy day for the Muslims, you see, and there have been a lot of tensions in Jerusalem recently because of a bridge that the Jews are building to connect their portion of Jerusalem to the Muslim section. The Muslims donít want them to dig because they are afraid that the digging for the bridge will unearth some things that should remain secret or some such. Iím not entirely sure, but it's a sticky situation. Anyway, the Israeli police and military were EVERYWHERE, and as we approached Gethsemane, Rafi explained that the police were only allowing Muslims age 45 or above to worship in a certain Mosque up the hill from Gethsemane. Their hearts were in the right place; and their logic for this was basically that the younger Muslims are more prone to violence since youth and hot-headedness go hand-in-hand. We went through another roadblock then parked up the road - in the opposite direction from the Old City - before we went into Gethsemane and its temple. There were Muslims all around, some going through the police blockade, others being turned away.
We spent a good 30 minutes in the garden and temple, where Rafi continued to demonstrate his vast knowledge of all things Jewish and Christian. We saw olive trees is the garden which were purported to be nearly 2000 years old, and saw some wonderful mosaics inside. We each even bought a cool poster of Jerusalem from one of Rafiís buddies there, which has a panoramic shot on one side and the other has the same photo with all of the buildings and stuff labeled.
When we left the garden and were heading back to the car, there was one older Muslim who started yelling at the police. I couldnít understand what he was saying, of course, but the fire in his eyes and his shaking fist made his meaning quite clear. Iím sure he was old enough to go to the Mosque, so Iím not sure what specifically caused his ire. I turned to speak with Monsieur de Plume and said quietly: "This place is a powder keg.Ē We got to the car and turned again towards the crowd, since we had to go through the blockade to get back up to the Old City. As we passed, many others started getting worked up by the first guy's rantings, and the crowd began to swarm and swell.
The police ran in droves to this newly-seething mass of people and it looked like there was an imminent riot. There weren't more than 40 or 50 people in the whole area, however, and there were at least 20 M-16-laden police, so I'm sure it was quelled in no time. There were no shots or tear gas fired, but it was clear to me from that single event just how tenuous the balance of politics and religion actually is here.
End of Part 1.