Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Wrapping Up The Holy Land

Some final thoughts and notes on Israel that I didn't get to in my abbreviated posts:
  • The biggest thing I have to mention is how weird this whole war thing feels. I can't stress enough that it's just not that big a deal over there. It's isolated to a very small part of the country, the people are overwhelmingly behind the government's actions, and Hamas hasn't yet shown that they can affect anything outside of their missile radius (i.e., they can't touch Tel Aviv). Here, we're holding rallies and trying to raise money. There, they're turning reservists back because they don't need as many soldiers as they called up.
  • That being said, it's a little freaky to be in a country when there's a chance that protests in some areas could turn violent. On our last day there, the U.S. State Department advised that no Americans go near the Old City in Jerusalem because of the chance for protests. We were planning to spend the day on the Mount of Olives (in East Jerusalem) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. After some tear gassing in East Jerusalem and some violent protests in the West Bank (through which we had driven the day before on the way to Masada and the Dead Sea), we stayed away and decided instead to go to the Israel Museum. After we were done there, we strolled over to the Knesset building to take some pictures and enjoy a relatively warm day. Along the way, there was a boom so loud that it shook my clothes. I immediately tensed up, listening for sirens (which I thought I heard), and someone checked cnn.com on their phone to see if there was any breaking news. As best I can determine, it must have been just a sonic boom; apparently they're known to happen over population areas in Israel. Relieved in the end, it just wasn't a very good feeling at the time.
  • Apparently, most of the visitors to Israel are actually Christian groups. Someone threw that out at some point and, while I have no proof, I can't totally discount it. There are obviously a lot more Christians than Jews in the world and there did seem to be a lot of Christian groups everywhere we went. A lot of people with tags that had something to do with "the Holy Land" (you won't ever hear a Jew refer to Israel as "the Holy Land" unless they're doing it as a joke). You can also tell the Christian groups by just the look and the feel of them. They just seem very pleasant. And maybe this is offensive or prejudiced, but I think Christians (or I guess the Christians who make pilgrimage to Israel) are just nicer on a whole than Jews. I don't know if that's good or bad, considering my love of sarcasm and cynicism, but I do think it's true.
  • There's something very humbling about being in the presence of Canaanite ruins from the 5th millenium B.C.E. or Egyptian ruins from the 2nd millenium B.C.E. We love to think about what the Civil War was like or what life must have been like at Mount Vernon in the late eighteenth century, but come on! Any of the Herodian works in Jerusalem or Masada or Caesaria are amazing for their artistry, considering they are from just before year zero. And the Canaanite stuff in the Tel at Bet Shean or below the Byzantine village next to the Temple Mount is older than that than Herod is older than us? Beyond comprehension, to some extent.
  • Which is another great thing about Israel -- the archaeology is a work in progress. You can walk the street that was right outside of the second temple and see where it's damaged from the Romans pushing the walls down on top of it in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. They're still digging around that area. They just opened up a staircase to the majestic Northern Palace at Masada -- you climb down the mountain and see the columns and colorful mosaics that you couldn't see from the angle at the top of the mountain. The part of Bet Shean that is uncovered, and still being worked on, is estimated to be as small as ten percent of the total city.
  • In the end though, it's really all about the country continuing to survive and to thrive. Other than the driving, it doesn't really feel like the Middle East. It's a democracy, it's an open and self-critical society, it's truly a haven in the middle of a horrible area of the world.

No comments: