From the Suez Canal to our destination at Ashkelon was only an overnight sail but since the direct line runs close to the Gaza strip the Israeli military had given us a waypoint to steer to that would keep us farther offshore and out of danger. Then shortly after 3 am in the middle of the dark night our world was lit up like high noon as an Israeli gunboat roared up out of the darkness and focused 10 million candle power of lights on us. When the shock wore off and our hearts settled down we confirmed to them who we were and they waved us on our way. By 10 am next morning we had arrived at the marina, dealt with the thorough but very pleasant check in and been greeted by Mikhail and her boss Hillel- by far the friendliest marina managers on planet earth. We were finally back in a first world country where both our language and values were more understandable.
Rob's brother Marty and his wife Barbara were visiting Israel at the same time so were able to travel with them. Marty and Barbara who live in Colorado had previously hosted a Palestinian girl as an exchange student and they enjoyed visiting her and meeting her family who showered them with hospitality. Later the four of us visited a Kibbutz where Marty and Barbara knew a family and again we experienced unbelievably warm hospitality and saw a bit of Israel as the locals live.
Learning of the Kibbutz life was fascinating. Today most families own their own homes and they work like a farm co-op but originally they were set up as complete collective farms where everything was done as a group. The infants did not even live with their parents but slept in dormitories watched over by two or three women whose job that was.
Israel of course has no end of fascinating history and our base at Ashkelon provided an excellent place from which to explore Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Massada and onwards to Petra in Jordan.
Our favorites were the Old City of Jerusalem and the fascinating Herrod's palace atop the cliff at Masada. Also in Jerusalem was the very moving museum of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem. Touring Yad Vashem is a heart rending experience. 7,000,000 million is a statistic but the museum brings the holocaust to focus with individual personal stories sometimes too difficult to hear. Trying to understand how so many people could stand by and watch such evil made me embarrassed to be of the human race.
Dee and I had previously spent over a month in Israel making three documentary films and this trip like the last one 20 years ago reminded us how little we understand about the issues here despite how much we read in the newspapers. We are also reminded how life here seems to be much more momentous than elsewhere.
Everyday we were treated to another fascinating vignette of life in the Holy Land.
During our first week there we had the honor to meet Avigdor Khalani a very famous Israeli General who had been fighting for Israel since its inception in 1949. It was very moving to hear how after winning the War of Independence which was only 4 years after the Holocaust he thought he could finally raise his children in peace and security. Then came the war of 1967, then the Yom Kippur war in 1973, now the intifada.
After witnessing the Holocaust and birth of Israel he thought his kids would know only peace. It was not possible for his kids or his grandkids. Now he doubts that peace will be possible for even his great- grandchildren.
Hearing his story one can understand truly what it means to have your back against the wall. Part of General Khalani's story was that he was a Yemeni Jew but had left Yemen as an child and never been allowed back. Because Dee and I had just come from there a few months previously we were able to share with him stories and the many photos we had taken. Yemen once had a very large Jewish population but in 2009 when we were there it was said there were only about 230 Jews still left. By 2010 I think they had all been driven away.
At the marina in Ashkelon we were only 7 miles from the Gaza border. Mikhail the woman who ran the marina office was just like any suburban working mom in America. But we realized her life was different when she told us how the year before she had parked her car in the marina lot and walked about 200 feet away from the car to enter her office when a rocket from Gaza landed on the car blowing it to bits.
Another day last year rockets from Gaza landed on the shopping mall in Ashkelon. Regardless of whether you think the Palestinians are justified or not, guess how long the average American would put up with worrying about the local shopping mall being bombed before they want to "nuke" the perpetrators.
Rob's brother Marty stayed with the Palestinian family they knew and learned first hand the difficulties the daughter deals with on a daily basis just to go from home to the Hospital where she works as a doctor. Each day she has to go out of her way to an open border checkpoint and wait in a long line while each car is searched. Hours and hours of wasted time added to a simple commute to work.
It seems most people realize the only solution here is a two state solution. Not only are there ideological gaps miles wide but practical ones as well. Generally you hear about the fight over Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been the ancestral home of the Jews for a thousand years before the birth of Islam. The wailing wall which was part of the destroyed temple in Jerusalem is really the only site in the world holy to Jews. Moslems have many sites they claim to be holy and Jerusalem is not even mentioned in the Koran, but the Dome of the Rock Mosque which towers over the wailing wall is built on the spot from where they say Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse.
Only a few miles from these sites is the spot where Christians claim Jesus was resurrected and rose into heaven.
Besides Jerusalem there are other issues as well. Sufficient water for two countries is one problem. The other is population. The Arab birthrate is far greater than the Jewish birthrate. If Israel were to give all the Arabs inside Israel citizenship, in just a few years Arabs would outnumber Jews and the Jewish homeland would cease to exist.
Once before Dee and I were in Israel at Easter filming the sacred Good Friday procession. This is Christianity's moving re-creation of Jesus' final walk down the Via Dolorosa to his crucifixion. As the procession passed several Jewish soldiers they asked us what the commotion was all about. It seemed they were completely unaware of the significance of Good Friday and Easter to the Christians.
Twenty years ago when I drove through east Jerusalem and the West Bank 8 year old kids stole our windshield wipers and threw rocks at our car. Today those kids are throwing rockets and they know no other life. Peace is only a word to them, they have no frame of reference in their lifetimes for the actual state of being at peace.
A very large portion of Israeli Jews are non religious and only want a place to live where they are not persecuted. The Orthodox Jewish fringe though cause as much trouble as the fundamentalist fringe in Islam. We have all heard Ahmadinejad, Hamas and others deny Israel's right to exist. Yet in a bizarre twist many are unaware of, the Orthodox Jews also deny Israel's right to exist. They claim God gave the land to the Jews personally and individually and the State of Israel has no more right to tell them what to do with it than a Palestinian does.
At one point Yasir Arafat was offered about 98% of the PLO's demands in exchange for peace. He refused and that opportunity was gone forever. Today any Israeli politician trying to reach peace has a very difficult task of trying to please Palestinians who want all the land and Orthodox Jews who say the State of Israel has no right to give away an inch of it. The two sides could not be farther apart.
Christians, Jews, Moslems - all totally certain they have the one and only lock on the truth. The Old Testament, the New Testament, the Koran. None of these books can be proven to be true and all of them have countless examples of things that simply cannot be.
For thousands of years these groups have murdered each other over which book is right and even over rival interpretations of each book. Now for the first time in history science has given us two gifts. The knowledge to realize these books cannot be true and also the ability to kill millions at a single nuclear stroke if they do not believe in the same false book we believe in.
Maybe it is time we put aside our religion and look for common ground based upon objective reality.
The first three photographs below were taken in Jerusalem within 15 minutes of each other.
I believe these men are Eastern Orthodox Christians.
They are certain God wants them to dress this way.
In the foreground are an Orthodox Jew and his wife. He has long sideburns and a large furry hat. Under the hat he most likely has a smaller skull cap. Over his shoulder he has a tallith or prayer shawl. He is wearing a kind of skirt. His wife has a shawl over her head so her hair never shows. Their lives are ruled by dozens of taboos and things they may and may not do. They are certain God wants them to live like this.
In the background are two Moslem women. They are wearing burkhas and head scarves. In other Moslem countries they might be required to wear a veil. They are not allowed to let men other than their husbands see their hair. They are certain God wants them to do this.
Typical scene of shoppers at a very upscale mall near the old city of Jerusalem. Notice the young man closest to the camera with the red backpack. Your average 25 year old with his baseball hat, high top tennis shoes and automatic rifle slung over his shoulder. He is in the military and required to carry his rifle with him at all times as they never know when war will break out.
Are we really certain we all want to kill each other over different interpretations of ancient books, when the only thing we know for certain about those books is large parts of them cannot possibly be true?
Clicking on any photo below will enlarge it. The back button on your browser will return you here.
The shot on he left shows the wailing wall or Western Wall. Part of the old Jewish temple mount where both the first and second temples stood. Dates to 1,000 years before the birth of Christ and 1,700 years before the invention of Islam. The holiest site in the world for Jews.
The shot below shows the wailing wall in the foreground and the Dome of the Rock Mosque towering over it. This is the spot from where Moslems believe Muhammad ascended to heaven on a winged horse.
Massada was a mountaintop palace built by the Roman emperor Herrod about 20 BC. It later became the site of a famous Roman siege. In 70 AD when Rome ruled the land of Judea, a group of approximately 1,000 Jewish zealots barricaded themselves atop Massada and held off the attacking Roman Legionnaires for 3 years. The square stone foundations on the plain below Massada are where the Romans camped during the siege. Finally the Romans built ramps to ascend the cliffs and large wooden towers to scale the walls. When defeat was imminent 960 Jewish men, women and children committed mass suicide rather than be taken as slaves.
Today many Israeli soldiers are sworn into military service atop Massada with the oath, " Massada shall never fall again"
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