This is part of the fifth section of our around the
Complete Trip Overview & Map
Coming from Syria (via Jordan)
7/4/99 After crossing the bridge we were interviewed successively by three increasingly higher ranked people particularly because we had come from Syria. The most concerning questions were, were we always with our vehicle? and could someone have tampered with our luggage? and did anyone in Syria know we intended to visit Israel? Our personal luggage accompanied us through a security screening while the motorcycle was put through its security check behind closed doors. We were not allowed to view it during checking. After payment of $US 60.00 for one weeks insurance (opting to risk the shorter time due to the expense, ($US 80.00 for two weeks)) for the motorcycle, no visas needed for Australians, and one and a half hours we were on our way to Jerusalem. While the frustration at spending time at the border and answering the same questions repeatedly is immense, there has been or is a need for tight security and like the police guides in Egypt, I guess we are safer for their efforts. We followed the Jordan River south through the West Bank with its military patrols and security razor wire and electric fencing overlooking Jordan then the Dead Sea, camped the night, rooftop, just outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City. With rooms expensive and dorm beds never preferred we asked and were allowed to pitch our tent on the roof of the building. Still part of the hostel atmosphere but away from the noise.
8/4/99 The old city of Jerusalem is divided into "four quarters" each with there own history and culture. Armenians, the first peoples to take up Christianity, Christians, Jews and Muslims. The whole area surrounded by a 16th century wall. We explored mainly the Christian quarter today with its Church of the Holy Sepulchre over the place where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. A steady throng of pilgrims and tourists fill the enormous building with church upon church built successively around each other. Distraught and weeping pilgrims queued to enter and touch these holy places, not unlike those weeping at Emam Reza's shrine in Masshad, Iran.
9/4/99 Friday is the most hectic day on the old Jerusalem's calendar and with the Orthodox Christians also celebrating Easter Friday, religious events are at a peak. Muslims holiday is all day Friday, Jewish holiday starts mid Friday afternoon and Jesus was crucified on Friday. Thousands of people move to their particular religious spot wandering through other religious designated areas dressed in traditional religious clothes without problems, watched over by Israeli army personnel with sub machine guns and bullet proof jackets. It seems to work. The concentration of the major one God religions of the world with pilgrims, worshipers and immigrants from almost every country in the world, different ethnic backgrounds and beliefs, only occurs in this one city. From the walls and narrow streets we watched and got caught up in this flow of devotion.
10/4/99 A trip to Masada via Jericho and the Dead Sea. Jericho, 200m below sea level, is in the West Bank but a small Israeli settlement just 4 km out of town was built in 1980 and heavily fortified with razor wire. Where the inhabitants are the prisoners and the "Palestinian territory" surrounds the settlement. Overlooking both places are the trenches of warfare. Having been for a swim in the Dead Sea on the Jordanian side in peaceful solitude, 390m below sea level, the contrast of interspersed security fencing and busy holiday traffic to the resorts was surprising. Masada can only be described as incredible, perched on a mountain surrounded by wadi's. The persecuted 1000 Zealots held out for seven months against 15000 Romans who eventually had to build an enormous earth ramp to capture the place only to find all 1000 had committed suicide rather than be enslaved, raped or murdered. It's all still there having been uninhabited almost the entire time, 2000 years, the ramp, Roman camps, water cisterns, granaries, even the lots to see who would kill the majority before killing themselves have been unearthed. You can still feel the terror and frustration of both sides.
11/4/99 Walked the other half of the Old City wall to "Temple Mount" (Jewish) or Dome of the Rock (Muslim) where Abraham was instructed by God to sacrifice his son as an act of faith. Where the Jewish First Temple was built and where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. This extremely important, religious, piece of ground has been fought over for 3000 years and is currently covered by a mosque which is only open to non Muslims irregularly. We were lucky to gain access to the grounds but thought the entry fee into the mosque and the stone inappropriate for such an important international site, there being no entry fee for the Western Wall or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the Jewish and Christian run holy sites in the city.
12/4/99 One of the most important finds in Jewish history was in 1947 when a Bedouin shepherd boy threw a rock into a cave, heard the chink of pottery and investigated to find the first seven Dead Sea Scrolls. Over the next ten years about fifty were found in different, but similar, locations dating back to 150 BCE . The most important of which was a complete book of Isaiah making this work over 1000 years older than any copy previously found, but both works were almost identical indicating the text had been handed down almost unchanged. We visited the Israel Museum where you can view parts of the originals written on parchment and amazingly well preserved on goatskin and pottery jars in the dry caves of the Dead Sea. The sect who wrote the scrolls is believed to have hidden them ahead of the Roman advances to eradicate the Jews.
13/4/99 Two days into a country is time for most people to feel that they have sufficient knowledge to solve that countries problems. Based on information and media from home and the sights and sounds of two days. They will expound their opinions. This common occurrence enjoyed by most travellers opens up great discussions and taking all of the two day opinions does help formulate your own. But it's odd that after years of living in your own country you can't see how to solve its problems, it's always too complicated. Leaving Jerusalem for Bethlehem and Hebron. Hebron is where Abraham and his son Isaac have their tombs and where until 1994 Jews and Muslims could pray in the same Mosque and visit the tombs. That was before a Jewish settler killed 29 Muslims at prayer. Now the area and the Mosque is divided in two and the conflict continues. We visited both sides, each with two windows overlooking Abraham's tomb, each entrance on opposing sides of the building, each heavily fortified. Rode on to Mitzpe Ramon, Israel's largest crater and camped at its base.
14/4/99 Palestine is probably only days, weeks or maybe months from declaring itself a nation. This formality seems overdue when you visit the Gaza Strip. Since 1994 this part of "Israel" has been fenced off and apart from the few Israeli settlements and their convoying residents Israel has had no control of the area. The five year agreement giving limited autonomy to Palestinians has let them manage their own "country" in Gaza and large cities of the West Bank. Security is incredibly tight to enter the Gaza Strip with only one entry point at Erez and almost no Israeli vehicles entering the area. We drove around for a few hours having lunch (incredibly cheap after Israel), riding along the sandy beach front and were stopped from visiting Yasser Arafat by the PLO near his headquarters. We also watched the thousands of workers returning through the "famous/infamous" covered gateway after their days work in "Israel". Rode to Tel Aviv for the night.
15/4/99 The modern lively city with groomed sandy beach frontage, with the outdoor population jogging, racket balling, walking, swimming in the mild spring. The ethnic mix of the worlds Jews more apparent here than elsewhere in Israel.
16/4/99 Off to the Sea of Galilee past more religious sites which you realize are incredible plentiful in this country. Passed Megiddo or Armageddon, the place of the last great battle on earth and up towards Nazareth, the home of Mary, Joseph and Jesus and to the Lake itself. We camped near Tabgah where Jesus was said to have walked on water, multiplied the loaves and fishes and preached the famous Sermon on the Mount.
17/4/99 Tension is high at "The Good Fence" separating Israel from Lebanon with shelling over the passed couple of days and deaths on both sides. It was also tense when I removed a child playing and climbing on our motorcycle when his father abused me and proceeded to place the child back onto the seat provoking an argument and almost a fight. This insistence of ones will over anothers combined with 50 years of war and skirmish, armed guards on school excursions, three years of compulsory military service, soldiers with sub machine guns on every corner, suspicion of everyone as a spy or a terrorist and the belief that all the Arab world wants to push you into the sea is sure to make even the most tolerant person aggressive. As always with nationals backing the local side retreat is best even if it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth for the whole society. We rode from the conflict with Lebanon to the conflict with Syria overlooking Quneitra in the Golan Heights. This town in the disengagement zone, patrolled by the UN, was handed back to Syria by the Israelis after it had been stripped of anything of value.
18/4/99 At 30 degrees and over 200 meters below sea level the body is demanding large amounts of fluids, the air is thick and in the morning you can't see the other side of the Sea of Galilee because of haze. Circumnavigated the lake and watched the Arabs at play today after the Jews and Christians yesterday. The obvious differences with Arab women swimming fully clothed and the others in revealing swimming costumes, along with the different foods, games and activities often governed by wealth. Both groups appearing to want to have fun, raise a family and enjoy life.
19/4/99 Our boat to Cyprus departed Haifa at 9.30 pm (8.00
pm scheduled) and after a slow start and a short visit to Safed and Akko
we waited at the port for hours while the Israeli authorities interviewed
everyone and randomly selected vehicles to be completely emptied and each
item thoroughly checked. The concern that some Israeli weapons might end up
in Cyprus in that countries conflict. It wasn't till we were on the boat that
the full effect of the 12 days of staying
in Israel, with the suspicion and military tension and presence removed,
and we relaxed, and realized how tense we had also become. Unlike other countries
like Egypt and Iran where the military are present but low profile, here
there is a regimented seriousness as if everyone in the country is at war.
A constant tension of conflict.
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Story and photos copyright ©
Peter and Kay Forwood,