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There comes a time during every trip when a journeying soul must recognize their imminent departure and govern themselves accordingly. For most people, this involves a mixture of packing and making sure they visit the last few places they couldn’t stand to leave without experiencing and seeing. For me, this involved a fair amount of quickly traveling around, but more importantly, it involved a fair bit of planning. Not just “how will I fit all of this into my suitcases” or “how much will it cost to get to the Tel Aviv airport,” but questions of “how to avoid being essentially persecuted by the Israeli airport and El Al, again, due to my religion?” A tough question indeed: those poor individuals who work in the dehumanizing process of Israeli “security,” as many of my posts have dealt with in different ways, are not particularly nice, approachable, reasonable, or morally upstanding; remember kids: people within their shared religious group are never threats, whereas people outside always are. That faulty mindset worked out great for Rabin…

Nevertheless, I present to you now the articles needed for my planned escape from hot temperatures, hot tempers, and cold inter-religious and -ethnic relations.

Article 1a
Article 1a

The front side of the shirt I had custom-made for myself, this proudly proclaims “I Love the Israeli Supreme Court,” for reasons of putting forth an incredibly perplexing shirt to have on in public…

Article 1b
Article 1b

…and the back of the shirt featured the Lion of Judah, which is the crest of Jerusalem, as well as the word “Jerusalem” itself. Nothing like a smidge of patriotic and allied religious sentiment to potentially keep security less interested in an innocent individual.

Articles 2, 3, 4, 5
Articles 2, 3, 4, 5

In order, I had packed my handy dandy personal copy of Herzl’s The Jewish State, one of the foundational pieces of literature within Zionism. That went near the top of my carry-on, and was ideally well placed for immediately being noticed. Second, I had my complimentary Papal Visit to Israel baseball cap AND pin, which itself featured an Israeli flag beside the standard of the Vatican. To complete that part of my intended, Catholic pilgrim-ish outfit, I also had purchased rosary beads from Bethlehem featuring a crucifix, which went directly into my hand/around my wrist. To be completely frank: their racist security had given me so many troubles when I originally flew to Israel for being a Christian; I figured “why not become the caricature Christian and then continually ask them why all the folks in kippas were getting through with no problems.”

Article 6

The planned and carefully groomed appearance extended beyond simple clothing, accoutrements, and carry-on luggage. As the next image shows, my smaller suitcase featured a Haifa soccer scarf all in Hebrew, alongside a copy of the most unbelievably pro-Israel biases piece of faux “legal” briefs I have ever seen. In my larger suitcase, the top layer of packing included a big old Israeli flag, conveniently folded so that the Star of David faced upwards. I was, as far as I could possibly be, ready to go. I wished my roommates all the best, and went downstairs and out to the street, where I was able to negotiate a decent price to Tel Aviv with the first cabbie who pulled over. So prepared, I wondered to myself in a self-sure internal monologue kind of tone: “see if they can hassle me NOW.”

I assure you: the mighty soon fell.

Literally the moment after I got out of the nice gentleman’s cab (who, by the way, basically spent the hour car ride explaining to me why I should return to the United States and find and marry a nice Jewish girl as soon as possible, even though he knows I am a Christian who is considering the ministry. I commend his optimism.), the insanity and fear-based culture of the Tel Aviv airport reared its ugly head and struck. The four large Jewish families who entered the airport before me, and the collection of Hasidic Jewish folks who shuffled towards the front door behind me all got inside the building just fine. I, however, was ALREADY stopped by a security guard before I even got to the door. He asked me all manner of questions, like who my rabbi was (right… the Papal Visit hat and rosary beads were a joke…), and eventually let me pass. Having gotten over that hurdle, I got inside and was soon thereafter stopped… again, and questioned the same way… again. Nevertheless, I walked as non-suspiciously as I possibly could over the Israeli postal service shop in the airport, and deposited my Israeli phone in the prepaid envelope: my second-last commitment and responsibility had been dealt with, as I now only needed to get through security and board the plane. Easy, right?

If you thought yes, I suggest you go back and reread specific parts of my blog, including the entire thing, to get the joke.

I queued up with the rest of the folks waiting to board El Al’s crappy plane in a crappy airport, and as such got the crappy time of dealing with crappy people providing crappy “security.” To make a very, very long story short, I won’t tell you all the details. How long? I was stuck in airport security for a couple minutes more than four (that’s 4, you read it right) hours. Was there a delay in the line, or not enough personnel working? No, I assure you that 95% or more of the people around me got through security in about 15 minutes. Again keeping the details short, I ended up having all my belongings unpacked and repacked 3 times in full, due to having been in the queue SO LONG that the security personnel manager switched twice, and the new ones each wanted it rechecked. I got to flirt a bunch with the girl who kept having to unpack/repack my stuff, which made it slightly more bearable I suppose, but only slightly. Interesting enough, and as a follow-up to the various Articles pictured above as part of my “Get out of Dodge sans hassle” Plan, the shirt is the only aspect that ended up being 100% effective: multiple security personnel read my shirt, and then gave me inquisitive or agreeing or baffled looks, thus turning me from a Security Threat to a Human Being of interest. But obviously not interesting enough.

All of that said, post-security to arrival back in Newport New Jersey is an absolute blur to me; it was so very good to be free from The Police State and so on and so forth. It had been grueling, but eventually I found my way to the…

Article 7

It is far too Hollywood- and dissertation-minded to think that I should write a full-on conclusion to my 7 month experiences in Israel/Palestine in this post. I say this only because it is silly to think that somehow, in such a complex environment where I intentionally got involved and educated about a thousand thousand aspects of culture, society, history, religion, etc etc etc, I could magically come up with a concise way of deriving that all down to one parapgraph. The land there has been hotly contested and a conflict region for much of human history: it was that way during the rule of Ramses II of Egypt, it was there during Operation Cast Lead the weeks before I arrived, it was contested while I lived there, and it has continued to be unsettled in many ways since I have departed. There is really only one word to bring this blog and my journey to an end, one that is a good general indicator but not an end-all, be-all summary for my experiences:

Escape.

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Getting off of the train, and being lucky enough to find a cabbie at the station, I got in and asked him to take me to the sea, to Caesarea (sometimes “Qisariya” when rendered from Hebrew or Arabic into English), one of the places I was most excited to visit due to the very prominent layering of history, archeology, and religious significance.

I arrived, and it was HOT and HUMID. Holy smokes, I hadn’t felt that close to passing out from extreme conditions since my choice to hike down Masada, in the desert, in the summer, around noon. Nevertheless, I was there to see and enjoy everything, so out into the sweltering heat it was. The tour of the area starts by going through the mixed-and-matched ruins which are predominantly bounded in by the remains of the 1300’s Crusaders fortress walls, while within there are just piles of rubble and columns peeking through. The mounds are differing in size, because underneath the entire fortress lies multiple additional levels of historical goodness that haven’t been uncovered, but are known to be there.

After exploring that area for a while, I decided to next travel down the length of the hippodrome of King Herod, built circa 20 BC. The hippodrome was the site of many activities and entertainments, but the primary act was that of the chariot races. As such, it is shaped like a very long and skinny running track, but without a connection on one side. The racers would start on that side, go towards the ‘U’ and have to make very tight turns, in front of the excited crowd, before speeding their way back up to finish the competition. It is surprisingly well-preserved. given its lengthy existence. It is directly next to the paltry remains of King Herod’s Reef Palace, which itself is likely the place that Paul of Tarsus was tried before heading to Rome. Even more interesting, this is also the location where an ancient tablet was discovered, bearing the only actual written inscription of the named “Pontio Pilato” other than the New Testamental account; that was really cool to see the replica mounted in place on the very spot it was found, and getting my photo taken next to it).

After exploring the Roman amphitheater that Herod built, which is next to the remains of the Reef Palace, and enjoying how 2 thousand year old seating was being updated and modified to accommodate modern audiences in the same venue, I began the slow trudge back to the modern, touristy shopping area for a well-deserved gelato and something like 7 glasses of water; I was extremely dehydrated, I realized after getting into the shade. They tasted so very good, though, and I was glad I had hoofed it over the whole of the national park area there; some great photos, and a very positive, enjoyable experience near the end of my time in Israel/Palestine. If you ever have the chance to visit that land, I would actually suggest going to Caesarea above many other places, just for the gorgeous and clear juxtaposition of historical periods all together and so well-preserved.

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After an extremely entertaining and interesting visit to Akzhivland, it was time for me to go further south, to head into Nahariya for a quick lunch, and then my first and (thanks be to the God of the Heavens) last experience with the Israeli train system. I had a Russian immigrant’s restaurant take on the normal shawarma, with a bunch of vegetables on the side, and it was comparable to the usual, delicious cuisine of Jerusalem Palestinian folks; maybe someone needs to tell both sides they make great food, and that shared knowledge could enable friendship (I was, and still am, out of better ideas on how to make that situation any more manageable).

I boarded the train, which at first was pleasantly empty and EXTREMELY late in arriving (at least 40 minutes). Then, as we proceeded further down the coast from our northernmost point, the train began to fill. Not in the AMTRAK sense of the conductor pleasantly warning everyone to keep their possessions off of the seats as the train is sold out. No, more along the lines of my months-earlier experience at the soccer game in Haifa, whereat “selling to capacity” meant selling tickets until the people in the enormously overfilled stadium were seated as far back as the ticket lines at the gate, and then selling about 57 additional tickets beyond that. This train packed with hundreds more people than it had the room for, and as the number of displeased patrons increased, the irritability of the same shifted in direct proportion. Quite a few yelling matches erupted, as the people who had suitcases were apparently inconsiderate for packing suitcases. Yikes. Luckily, I was able to get off the train after a few hours, at Caesarea.

Photos from Nahariya:

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Making use of the years-old wisdom of my mother, when doing errands/traveling in a very different country and exploring, it is usually best to go “from far to near.” As such, having gone all the way to Rosh HaNikron, the northernmost point I could reach on that particularly exploratory outing, at which point I would then have to start my lengthy journey back to my home in Near. Therefore, about 2 miles away from Rosh HaNikron sits the 3 acre Akzhivland. At first reading, you may assume that is a zoo or botanical park of some sort, but you’d be mistaken. No, it is indeed quite different that either of those. Eli Avivi, a gentleman in his late 70s at this point, was one of the individuals who risked life and limb as a boat captain to help smuggle Jewish people into the Mandate of Palestine prior to 1948. Eventually, in the 1970s, he decided he had had enough government intervention in his life, and did what any self-respecting Ron Paul supporter dreams of doing: he peacefully, simply, and effectively declared independence from the State of Israel, thus bringing to life his own little micronation of 3 acres, Akzhivland. As one can imagine, Israel wasn’t particularly pleased about this; after all, they had enough on their hands with expanding into other territories to have them worrying about a little plot of land up near Lebanon. That said, over time, they realized that the progressively older man living there was essentially an Israeli national hero for the actions he previously undertook, and they also (shrewdly) recognized that the novelty of his little land could provide a fair bit of tourist interest in the north of Israel, which due to its proximity to/tendency to attack northern Lebanon/be shelled, is often not on visitor’s lists to go to. As such, they let him exist as he wishes, with his wife and 2 dogs, and even promote his property via their Ministry of Tourism. An interesting story, to say the least.

The political and international relations history of the land aside, the most fascinating part of his land is how well it exemplifies the sheer levels and layers of history one can find in Israel/Palestine. Besides his personal home and the guest housing for tourists, the property is filled to the very brim with antiquities of all sizes, shapes, and sorts; he even built a large 3 story barn-like museum to house all of them. That is what you’ll find as the majority of the photos for this post: a slew of very interesting, very different artifacts, spanning from the early Bronze Age harbor which is part of his beach, to remnants of British and German war equipment from WWII. Take a look, and let me know what you think!

Finally, the moment many people have been waiting for, the slideshow of images. The last three images in the bunch are the passport getting stamped, and then the two stamps themselves.

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As part of the final leg of my journeys in the land of Israel/Palestine, I decided to go as far north as I could, a second time (as I had previously visited the Lebanese and Syrian border, in Professor Medzini’s class trip), this time to the Israeli/Lebanese border at a place called Rosh HaNikron. Basically, in addition to a heavily fortified, militarized “border” that only one side recognized as a national border, the site on the Israeli side features some gorgeous sea-carved grottoes, as well as one half of a World War II era British railroad tunnel. It is an EXTREMELY humid place to visit, and the majority of folks there were drenched in sweat while walking through some extremely slippery caves and grottoes. How slippery, you might ask? There is a photographic bit of evidence of the battle wound I incurred while exploring, which was cleaned out instantly with salt water, free of charge! WHAT A DEAL!

Here is a video of the very quick, VERY steep cable car ride down to the grottoes at Rosh HaNikra:

Finally, the breathtaking photographs of the view from the mountaintop, the grottos, and everything in between:

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Just as an initial point to make – although this blog is specifically labelled “Palestine,” the first half of my blog is labeled “Israel,” and this is for a reason. There are two people and lands involved here, with very unclear borders and genetic ties, and so that is part of why I refer to my “experience in Israel/Palestine.” As a result, the different names for the blogs are meant to be half-and-half, and not adhere to what is being posted – I post chronologically and not according to the overall name of one blog or the other.

That said, at the end of my day in Tel Aviv and Jafo, I wanted to check out the Church of St. Peter. Said to be built on the site of a destroyed Medieval cathedral, which in turn was built to commemorate Peter’s reputed raising of Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:36-43 and 10:1-4). The church today is the house of one of the Vatican Nunciates (official embassy-like presences) maintained in Israel/Palestine. I managed to get into the place at a fortunate time: there were very few people around making noise (as tourists and pilgrims in the Holy Land only can), and there was also a Nigerian Catholic monk returning from lunch a but early, so he was able to give me a tour pointing out some of the more interesting details of the place. As a result, the photos I took were far, far more worthwhile than if I just went in blind. There is a small slideshow here, due to the fact that this blog is running out of photo space, but as per ever: just contact me if you’re interested and I can pass them your way.

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After visiting the Jewish Diaspora Museum, the next stop on my Tel Aviv visit was actually the Old City of Jafo (sometimes render Yafo, Jaffa, and several other ways). To make a long story short, this was a thriving Palestinian city that was emptied by Israeli forces on the day of declaring their nation independent, and it was ruthlessly cleared of inhabitants, making them all refugees. Today, the area between Jafo and Tel Aviv has merged as they grew, and Tel Aviv is touted as a glorious, old city of great value, but it is really constructed from the corpse of Jafo.

That dose of harsh reality aside, I can speak to the fact that the Old City of Jafo houses some interesting archeological and historical sites. First of all, there is the ongoing under-street archeological dig going on in the middle of the town square, and it is worth checking out if you’re ever in that area. Secondly, the Biblical port of Jaffo still exists today, and it is tiny when you see it in real life, but still in use today. Finally, there is the Church of St. Peter, but that is the next post.

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There is an Israeli Spy Museum that I heard about, but was unfortunately unable to visit. This museum is located in Tel Aviv, and it has an excellent reputation from its visitors, but there is a catch; having spent more time on the phone with them than I would like to share, I found out that you not only need to have a large group prearranged to come with you (difficult to find the same day for me, given that the vast majority of the abroad students had long since returned to their home nations), but they need at least a week’s notice. Basically, its the Olympic event of museums: only trained professionals in groups are able to attend and participate.

That said, I still wanted to go to Tel Aviv at least once; everyone I knew while in Israel/Palestine went on and on about how great the nightlife and beaches can be in Tel Aviv, and how different the city is from Jerusalem, as the liberal yin to Jerusalem, the conservative yang. I got onto the Egged bus going to the Tel Aviv central bus station, and settled in for the long ride. Upon arriving, I was struck by the enormous difference in scale – the Central Bus Station of Jerusalem looked tiny by comparison; the number of shops and departing city buses was also much higher. I found the proper bus going generally towards the Tel Aviv University, the site of the Jewish Diaspora Museum I wanted to see, and asked the driver to tell me where to get off.

He lied like none other. He stopped and called me forward, saying “ah yes, this is where you want to get off the bus for the museum.” I then proceeded to walk in the late morning sun for about 3 miles, up to the hill where the University is located, and then 2/3 of the way around its impregnable walls. This may have been some sort of ploy: the moment I arrived, dehydrated and tired, their overpriced cafe suddenly appeared irresistible. I paid the entrance fee, and started going through the displays.

To make a long story short, the presentation of the facts was at times COMPLETELY at odds with reality, but at other times came dangerously close to uncomfortable truths. The entire idea of a forced Jewish Diaspora, which is the focus of much the museum, is not even proved to be entirely true; this was one of the most interesting lessons of the class “Conflict Dialogue: Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages” revolved around his discussion of this fact. On the other side of the spectrum, one of the pieces of art on display was a 7-canvas set of charcoal renderings of Anne Frank. As one progressed from right to left (in the Hebraic way), the clearly-recognizable image of Anne Frank known across the world became more and more distorted and chaotic. This is a very, very strong commentary on the state of education regarding the Holocaust, perhaps rendered more incisive by the fact that a classroom of Jewish students devised and composed the canvas set. The end of the whole museum, with its various displays and exhibits, was one discussing Christianity and Judaism. It is telling that a reproduction of “Ecclesia and Synagoga,” Medieval-era paired statues of the Church Triumphant and a humbled Judaism, confront visitors near the end of the museum. It is a strong message to send, one that dwells in the past, but that is the general timbre of the place.

Due to running out of space to post photographs on this blog, this post and several others will be very sparse in terms of what I post. If you’re interested in seeing more of what I have from this Museum, let me know.

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This is a difficult post to write, even over a year later as I force myself to sit down and do it. What I saw in Hebron was amongst the nastiest instantiations of human behavior I have ever seen anywhere in my life, and while I have plenty of photographs of specifics, words still do not easily lend themselves to the situation. I really am only willing to give the background that the oft-mentioned Hashem in the photos is a Palestinian gentleman whom some of my friends found when they visited, and he offered his contact info to them for future visitors. I called him, and told him I would come meet him for a tour. I got a cab in Bethlehem and made the drive there, and met him near the split between H1 (the Palestinian Authority-controlled part of Hebron) and H2 (the illegal Jewish settler-dominated part of the city). With that information in mind, take a look at the slideshow below.

In order to make it clear that the problems there are not exactly one-sided in their presentation, there is even an organization of Israeli soldiers who want to speak out against aspects of their duty which went against their moral foundations. The group, called Breaking the Silence, has a lot to say and show, and mentions Hebron consistently (it is one of the worst areas for settler marauding and attacks). Perhaps worth checking out, for those interested parties.

Here is a video I took after finally being allowed to just walk down the street by the IDF; the settlers out on their weekly Shabbat visit to the Old City, with soldiers in tow to make life miserable for the local Palestinians to move or get anywhere by foot:

And here are the difficult-to-see photographs I took of the horrible reality there:

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The first stop on my visit to Hebron was at the glass factory owned by a buddy of my cabbie. We pulled in, and the place was about as open as could be – to even reach the glass shop itself, we had to walk past the extraordinarily hot glass furnaces and cooling conduits for the molten glass. Here is a video of the brave guys working the forge, as they remove the molten glass using only a water-cooled piece of metal. It was SO HOT in there:

I ended up purchasing a few traditional Hebron blue glass vases, and a set of four decanters. Unfortunately, only 1 vase and 3 glasses made the trip home; yet another reason for my burning hatred for the Evil Ones; El Al. And now, the slideshow:

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