Monday, October 27, 2008

Israel Diary: Day 1

I'm so tired I can hardly type, so we'll see how far I get with this. Today was spent travelling through northern Israel in a huge American nine seater 4x4. We set off from Tel Aviv just after 8am. The traffic congestion heading out of the city was New York-esque in proportion. We ended up making a detour to avoid a huge traffic jam not far from Nazareth, as we made our way up to the Golan Heights. The further north you head, the more spectacular the scenery becomes. We headed for a Kibbutz just over the fence from the South Lebanon border village of Addaisseh. If you look on the map (click to enlarge) it's right at the northern tip of Israel. Looking over into Lebanon I felt in a timewarp, as I remembered the first time I had been to the East/West German border 31 years ago. As our guide told us all about the history of the area, we suddenly heard distant gunfire. We were told it could be cross border gunfire or it might be a wedding. A few minutes later there was a huge bang not that far away. Our guide told of a cross border attack by Hizbollah terrorists who, one night, attacked the Kibbutz and kidnapped several children. A three month baby was shot in the head. The baby's twin brother is now a friend of our guide. It was from Addaisseh that many of the rockets were launched in 2006, which did so much damage to Israel.

From there we travelled across to the Syrian border (pic). The Golan Heights were annexed by Israel in 1967 and have remained a bone of contention ever since. There are very few settlements in the area as there is great uncertainty over its future. Rabin was apparently ready to hand the Heights back to Syria as part of a wider middle eastern peace deal, but he didn't live to take it further. Looking down over the border, there are many villages and towns visible in the valley below. Again, memories of East Germany came back to me.

From there we travelled south to the Sea of Galilee. It was this part of the day that told me what the expression 'Holy Land' means. All of us were truly humbled by what we saw and experienced this afternoon. We visited three holy sites, which figure prominently in the Bible - all of which were within a stone's throw of each other on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. First on the agenda was the site of the feeding of the five thousand - then to the point where Jesus is said to have walked on water and finally - and most memorably for all of us, the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. On the site of the feeding of the five thousand it almost appeared to us that there were five thousand German tourists there expecting a reprise.

We all know these stories from the bible, and I suppose I have always considered each of them a work of fiction. But when you actually stand on the very ground that Jesus was said to have stood on, it makes you reevaluate some very long held views. I have to say, though, that bearing in mind its historical significance, the Mount of Beatitudes is a rubbish dump. Literally. Look at the picture (right) of our guide, as he read from the Sermon on the Mount and you will see rubbish by his feet. It's astonishing that the Israeli government doesn't seem to worry about the upkeep of many of its historical gems.

This evening we went out for a meal on the beachfront in Tel Aviv. It was in a restaurant not far from Mike's Bar, which was the bar bombed by two Britons not long ago. Perhaps I should not have been hugely surprised to be security swept as I walked into the restaurant. But I was.

Tomorrow, the more political parts of our trip get underway. We're meeting the British Ambassador to Israel for breakfast, then going to Tel Aviv university for briefings on the peace process and counter terrorism policy. On Wednesday we are spending the day in Jerusalem, including a tour of the Holocaust museum and a meeting with the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister who is a Druse member of the Knesset. Then on Thursday we're travelling to the West Bank to meet the Chief Negotiator for the Palestinian Authority Saeb Erekat.

It really is true to say that the only way of properly understanding the problems of the Middle East is to visit it and hear first hand from those at the sharp end. We're not just hearing the Israeli side, we're meeting with Druse and Palestinian representatives too. It's a real education and a privilege.

42 comments:

london jew said...

When you are there you get to see why it is the greatest, most beutiful country in the world.

It is just sad that because of hatred, people can't live normal lives, like not having to be scanned when you go to a restaurant or go shopping.

Laurence Boyce said...

"But when you actually stand on the very ground that Jesus was said to have stood on, it makes you reevaluate some very long held views."

Just give yourself a big slap Iain - you'll be fine.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

It seems to be making quite an impression on you. Godspeed.

norman said...

Very interesting journey on the first day in Israel. I still remember 1967 war and how Israel bravely fought off the enemies.

I believe Jesus story and particularly the Sermon on the Mount more than what Lord Sleaze says about his relationship with the Russian Oligarch!

norman said...

Very interesting journey on the first day in Israel. I still remember 1967 war and how Israel bravely fought off the enemies.

I believe Jesus story and particularly the Sermon on the Mount more than what Lord Sleaze says about his relationship with the Russian Oligarch!

Johnny Norfolk said...

This is very interesting Iain please keep it comming. Do you remember the days when we used to get proper reports from the BBC before they lost the plot and became brain washers for Labour.

Jeremy Jacobs said...

Excellent stuff Iain.

tbf katic said...

what's the weather like? (Having serious doubts as to whether you really are english because you haven't mentioned it!)

Sam Tarran said...

Look at the picture (right) of our guide, as he read from the Sermon on the Mount and you will see rubbish by his feet. It's astonishing that the Israeli government doesn't seem to worry about the upkeep of many of its historical gems.

You should see Fort Royal in Worcester. Nappies (used) everywhere.

rapunzel said...

I'm not speaking as a particularly religious person, but there is historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived in Palestine and was a prophet of the times before being crucified. So he did walk on the land where you have been.
I envy you your trip, having always wanted to go to the Lebanon and to the Holy Land. But I want it to be quiet and old fashioned, maybe even like it was 2000 years ago. Hard to equate the stories from the Bible with modern day life.
Enjoy the rest of your stay.

Manfarang said...

What did you have to eat at the restaurant?

Auntie Flo' said...

Laurence Boyce said...

"Just give yourself a big slap Iain - you'll be fine."


Lawrence, will you please show some respect for others' opinions and beliefs and stop this bitter sniping at Christians and everyone who mentions God or faith.

Reasoned debate is great, but that's not what you do.

You might have lost your faith, but many haven't. Would it harm you to show a smidgeon of respect for those who haven't? Our views are as valid as yours.

And you know what they say about those who protest too much. It seems to me that's what you do.

I can understand how Iain feels, a visit to Israel is very spiritually moving, even for those with no or little faith, which was my position before I went there.

Manfarang said...

Maronite and other Eastern churches are more interesting than rubbish dumps.

Laurence Boyce said...

Technically, Auntie Flo, it is incorrect to say that religious views are as valid as non-religious views. If they were, then you would never hear a religious person invoking "faith." In fact we hear this all the time, as "faith" is what is required to bridge the gap between beliefs that scale with the available evidence, and beliefs that do not.

There - was that sufficiently reasoned?

Didactophobe said...

"there is historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived in Palestine"

- the name 'Palestine' did not exist in Jesus' time - it was invented by the Emperor Hadrian who wished to erase the name of Israel. The original 'Palestinians' that it was named after were European settlers and nothing to do with the later Arab invaders.

Mrs Didactophobe and I had planned to visit the Holy Land in 2006, but were prevented because of the terrorist attacks. We are therefore very envious, Iain. Enjoy your trip.

Mr Angry said...

Wot, none of the usual suspects claiming that all attacks upon Israel are either invented or justified and that anyway dead Jews don't count??

I guess that you must have spiked those ones then Iain. Glad you're enjoying it all so far.

Caractacus said...

"It really is true to say that the only way of properly understanding the problems of the Middle East is to visit it and hear first hand from those at the sharp end."

Hope you request and get an opportunity to visit Gaza and some of the Palestinian refugee camps.

The answers to many questions lie there.

norman said...

"The Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount"

The tourist guides say there is a church there to signify this. Also, iI have read about scholars disputing the meaning of 'Mount' as there are no serious 'Mounts' in a terrain which looks flat? I can understand the spiritual experience which itself is worth the visit to these places. As well as writing about politics, my request to you is to write more about the sights and sounds particularly in the Old City.

richard said...

London Jew - ooooh, touched a nerve there buddy. I've not been over there (much envy Mr Dale) but I think we could all agree that London's an absolute dump.

I'm from Yorkshire (I'll spare the normal gibberish we drivel) but the west coast of Scotland is magnificent, truly - the Outer Hebrides are fantastic.

It truly baffles me that moderates haven't been able to come to the fore after over 60 years. Fingers crossed that calmer heads will prevail. I hate to sound nieve but i'm under the impression that there are many elements involved in the business of crime masquerading as terror - they lose their jobs if peace is bargained for.

Oh, and the east coast of Yorkshire (except Bridlington) is awesome. France is ok.

Tyranny said...

If only your public speaking skills extend far enough to turn them all into aetheists, I reckon you could have it solved in about 12 months. If not however...

Paul Burgin said...

"But when you actually stand on the very ground that Jesus was said to have stood on, it makes you reevaluate some very long held views."
I'm a believer and yet I know what you mean. When I was in Rome and saw the Collesium (sic), and what is supposedly St Peter's tomb, it did have a humbling effect on me to the point where I've wondered how much I did believe beforehand!

Man in a Shed said...

Made the same trip when I was a young teenager.

You say everyone knows these stories from the bible - I have to tell you they don't, not since the governments any and multi faith education policy came in.

Many people would be shocked to learn that Jesus is a historical character and that his execution is documented by other sources than scripture.

Personally I found the locations to be more thought provoking than the multitude of small chapels, churches, synagogues, mosques etc that pepper the country, and remembering that I was standing where so much history took place.

The sad fact is that thanks to our government many young children have little feel for this heritage.

PS Go on with reading the New Testament - especially how Jesus answers peoples questions - puts PMQ's into the shade !

Anonymous said...

"It's astonishing that the Israeli government doesn't seem to worry about the upkeep of many of its historical gems."

But why would they ? Jesus just does not have the same significance for them as it does for Christians. It does not excuse the litter, just that the 'Old Testament' sites probably mean much more to them.

Mark Burgess said...

“It's astonishing that the Israeli government doesn't seem to worry about the upkeep of many of its historical gems.”

Or astonishing that tourists and pilgrims dump their rubbish there?

Manfarang said...

Man in a shed
"locations to be more thought provoking"
Indeed,mine fields can be very thought provoking.

Max said...

I think its a shame you are not spendng more time in Jerusalem- Tel Aviv is so boring in comparison. You say that when you are in Jersusalem you are going to Yad Vashem- although that is a must are you doing anything else as well?

I would highly recommend a visit to the Temple Mount- only there will you get a real sense of the high emotions involved in the conflict. The Dome of the Rock is possibly the most beautiful building on Earth and the Wailing Wall is the strongest demonstration of the power of religion that I have ever seen.

richard said...

Mark Burgess - absolutely spot on - unless it's blowing from somewhere else which is a admin thing.

Max - York Minster's pretty special - or Saint Peter's to the locals. Lincoln's a dump as is St Paul's - i'll get my coat!

Manfarang said...

Man in a shed
Kids don't know much about Christianity because the parents no longer send them to Sunday School.
Anyway, Israel is home to five religions.

Luis said...

Great stuff Iain.

Jesus loves us all- even Laurence Boyce :-)

Anonymous said...

Glad you are having such an inspiring time. Are you going to get the chance to look in on any multi-faith schools? I have heard these offer some intriguing possibilities for the future.

Another Day said...

"it really is true to say that the only way of properly understanding the problems of the Middle East is to visit it and hear first hand from those at the sharp end."

Maybe that should be 'better understand' rather than 'properly understand'. I'm not sure if any one could ever properly understand the problems...

never a dull moment said...

Hasn't a snap election just been called?

In which case Israeli politics will be even more lively than usual.

Anonymous said...

Iain, I desperately want to avoid getting into a 'tit-for-tat' here, but surely the whole point of such a visit is to recognise that both sides have suffered atrocities, just as in Northern Ireland. Mentioning only those on one side is hardly going to help give the impression that neither side is blameless, and it is not just a case of 'one side stops doing this $h!t' as Dubya may have put it.

Both sides need to work together on a a peace process, just as in Northern Ireland. Apart from that, fine work, and keep up the updates.

Anonymous said...

Recommended reading:

Cosmos: by Carl Sagan

Laurence Boyce said...

"Many people would be shocked to learn that Jesus is a historical character and that his execution is documented by other sources than scripture."

That's true, but those external sources are thin and patchy and add nothing to our knowledge. If you want to know about Jesus then the gospel accounts comprise the principal historical record. But how seriously you take those accounts will of course depend on whether you think it is possible to walk on water or feed 5,000 people with a tuna sandwich. The non-canonical gospels are stranger still.

I think there probably was a historical Jesus (or Rabbi Yeshua to give him his real name), but we really don't know the first thing about him. The Jesus of which most people speak is a mythical character.

Iain Dale said...

Anonymous 3.10, I quite agree. Of course both sides have to work together to achieve peace. Its for that reason we are seeing the Palestinian negotiator on Thursday.

africanmum said...

While in Jerusalem, if you call at the wailing wall, please put in a prayer for us, thanks (and for Boycie as well, might cheer him up a bit).

DocRichard said...

"The Mount of Beatitudes is a rubbish dump. Literally. Look at the picture (right) of our guide, as he read from the Sermon on the Mount and you will see rubbish by his feet. It's astonishing that the Israeli government doesn't seem to worry about the upkeep of many of its historical gems".

er... could this be perhaps because they do not value the Beatitudes to the same extent as those from a "Christian" country?

auntie flo' said...

Laurence Boyce said...

it is incorrect to say that religious views are as valid as non-religious views. If they were, then you would never hear a religious person invoking "faith." In fact we hear this all the time, as "faith" is what is required to bridge the gap between beliefs that scale with the available evidence, and beliefs that do not.

There - was that sufficiently reasoned?


Wake up, Lawrence, there isn't one alleged scientific fact that isn't open to question and based on faith.

The science you worship, its alleged objectivity and alleged superior grasp of reality, are no less forms of religion than the more openly spiritual forms of belief.

That's why the history of science has moved through a series of shifting paradigms, each as impermanent and flawed as its predecessors.

Jeremy W said...

Must all faith related subjects on this blog be greeted by Laurence Boyce's tedious polemic against religion.

There is more to life than Richard Dworkins- at least for some of us.

Laurence Boyce said...

"Must all faith related subjects on this blog be greeted by Laurence Boyce's tedious polemic against religion."

Apparently so. But the trick is just to ignore me. Strangely, this never seems to happen.

"There isn't one alleged scientific fact that isn't open to question and based on faith."

Well the first half of that statement is correct. Science is always open to new data. It's called the "scientific method." But to say that science is all faith is a bit of a non-sequitur. Computers, the internet, modern transport, modern medicine - all based on faith? The simple fact that the NHS has not yet been shut down in favour of much cheaper healing centres following the example of Jesus, is proof of how superior science is to faith.

Science is constantly progressing. Newtonian dynamics gave way to Einstein's relativity. Darwinism gave way to the neo-Darwinian synthesis. The old science wasn't wrong, just incomplete. But religion hasn't given us anything new since the sacred texts were signed and sealed and declared to be perfect in all their parts and above contradiction upon pain of death. That is the whole problem with religion. Compared to the "impermanent" nature of science to which you refer, religion is completely permanent . . . and wrong.

That is why progress in religion, when it comes, is so tortuous. For example, going from saying that homosexuality is an abomination to saying that it might be OK, is naturally a bit tricky. It can only be done by spreading the process out over several decades, and using incredibly clever forms of words with a view somehow to reconciling the irreconcilable. It's a desperate face-saving manoeuvre, but nobody's fooled. Not really. And the press have an absolute field day.

Maybe one day science will show how it is possible to walk on water barring any form of trickery such as freezing the water or wearing very buoyant sandals. If that happens, it will be a triumph for science and somebody will be straight up for a Nobel prize. But neither of us really think that is going to happen. The problem is gravity. You know the way when you drop something it falls to the ground. It does it every single time. All based on faith of course.

When you are poorly, Auntie Flo, do you seek out the services of a doctor or a priest?

Anders Branderud said...

Reply to one blog comment:

"Historical J...."!?!

The persons using that contra-historical oxymoron (demonstrated by the eminent late Oxford historian, James Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue) exposes dependancy upon 4th-century, gentile, Hellenist sources.

While scholars debate the provenance of the original accounts upon which the earliest extant (4th century, even fragments are post-135 C.E.), Roman gentile, Hellenist-redacted versions were based, there is not one fragment, not even one letter of the NT that derives DIRECTLY from the 1st-century Pharisee Jews who followed the Pharisee Ribi Yehoshua.
Historians like Parkes, et al., have demonstrated incontestably that 4th-century Roman Christianity was the 180° polar antithesis of 1st-century Judaism of ALL Pharisee Ribis. The earliest (post-135 C.E.) true Christians were viciously antinomian (ANTI-Torah), claiming to supersede and displace Torah, Judaism and ("spiritual) Israel and Jews. In soberest terms, ORIGINAL Christianity was anti-Torah from the start while DSS (viz., 4Q MMT) and ALL other Judaic documentation PROVE that ALL 1st-century Pharisees were PRO-Torah.

There is a mountain of historical Judaic information Christians have refused to deal with, at: www.netzarim.co.il (see, especially, their History Museum pages beginning with "30-99 C.E.").
Original Christianity = ANTI-Torah. Ribi Yehoshua and his Netzarim, like all other Pharisees, were PRO-Torah. Intractable contradiction.

Building a Roman image from Hellenist hearsay accounts, decades after the death of the 1st-century Pharisee Ribi, and after a forcible ouster, by Hellenist Roman gentiles, of his original Jewish followers (135 C.E., documented by Eusebius), based on writings of a Hellenist Jew excised as an apostate by the original Jewish followers (documented by Eusebius) is circular reasoning through gentile-Roman Hellenist lenses.

What the historical Pharisee Ribi taught is found not in the hearsay accounts of post-135 C.E. Hellenist Romans but, rather, in the Judaic descriptions of Pharisees and Pharisee Ribis of the period... in Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT (see Prof. Elisha Qimron), inter alia.

To all Christians: The question is, now that you've been informed, will you follow the authentic historical Pharisee Ribi? Or continue following the post-135 C.E. Roman-redacted antithesis—an idol?