Holy Land Day 13

We spent an entire day in Petra. The place is huge. We walked in 3 miles, but didn’t make it to “the Monastery” which was a further mile or two (we had to walk out the same way we walked in). Local Bedouins offered donkey, mule, horse, camel, or horse cart rides to save you the walk, but we didn’t partake.

Petra was built by the Nabataeans, who first came to the area around 400 BC. The city flourished from around 150 BC to 200 AD when it was absorbed by the Romans. It’s decline started around 550 AD due to a massage earthquake, and was mostly abandoned around 750 AD when another earthquake struck. At it’s peak, the city population was 25,000 – 30,000.

One of the major challenges for the city was water. There was too little most of the year, and then major flash floods during the rainy season. They carved trenches along both sides of the canyon to bring water from springs several miles away and also to catch any water running down the canyon walls. They also built a series of dams, water basins, and tunnels to handle the flash floods. They managed to irrigate large farms and provide all the water needed. I think there was a Nova program on PBS about the water system.

The walk to the city is through a narrow, beautiful, canyon passageway, about a mile long, until you get to the “Library”, made famous by Indiana Jones. As you walk through, you pass a number of carvings in the walls and beautiful rock formations.

After the Library, the remaining walk to the city passes one incredible, carved, entrance after another. All of these impressive entrances were made to adorn tombs. There are no big rooms inside, just areas for the bodies and small ceremonies. The hillsides are covered with smaller tombs with less impressive carvings, or none at all, for the middle & lower class folks. The people lived in houses built of stone which have all been destroyed by successive earthquakes.

Petra is a wonderful place, partly due to the impressive tomb entrances, but also due to the size and scale of the city and the technology they developed to cope with the water issues.

Tomorrow we visit Jerash, then back home on Friday


Holy Land Day 12

Yesterday we flew from Tel Aviv to Eilat at the bottom of Israel. We took a boat ride on the Red Sea, then made the crossing into Jordan. A little different than your average crossing, you have to get off your bus a few hundred feet from the border, drag your luggage to the Israeli passport/custom control and get processed (costing $25/person to get out), then drag your luggage a few hundred feet across no-man’s land (required to walk through the Duty Free store along the way), then get processed into Jordan and get on a Jordanian bus.

Next stop, Wadi Rum, a beautiful area of sandstone cliffs and the location for several movie sets (including Lawrence of Arabia, Red Planet, and The Martian). It was a very hazy day due to blowing sand, so the vistas weren’t completely clear, but they were still great! We took a jeep ride through the cliffs where we met up with a group of Bedouins.

Holy Land Days 9-11

Here is a quick wrap-up of the last three days. We stayed in Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee, which is inside the 1947 borders of Israel. No more visits to the West Bank for the rest of this trip.

We visited the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where the angel Gabriel told Mary she was to have Jesus. The cave where Mary and Joseph lived is inside the church. We also visited Capernaum on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, the center of Jesus ministry, and where Peter lived. We took a boat ride on the Sea during a beautiful afternoon and saw the location where the Sermon on the Mount was given.

Traveling north into the Golan Heights, territory that was part of Syria until the 1967 war, we saw the archeological site of Dan. Along the way we passed within a few hundred feet of Lebanon, and could see villages across the border. Dan was founded around 4500 BC. There exists a gate into the city built of mud bricks from around 1700 BC, and also one from about 700 BC, as well as a synagogue and other structures. At this site was found the oldest writing that mentions the House of David, from around 800 BC.

If I understand it correctly, there are at least three main categories of Arabs living in Israel, those born within the 1947 borders. They are Israeli citizens and carry Israeli passports. The second group are those born in or close to Jerusalem (but outside the 1947 boundaries). They are not citizens but have the ability to travel relatively freely. Finally, the people born in the rest of the West Bank that do not have the right of free movement, must get special permits to travel to Jerusalem or other areas, and are not citizens of any country. The Israeli government can decide for any reason to deny anyone travel permits thus restricting movement of Palestinians. During the recent violence, Israel has threatened to take away the special status of certain neighborhoods near Jerusalem as retribution for some of their people being involved in stabbings or demonstrations.

In the past week, we have had Palestinian speakers from the West Bank and from the Jerusalem area. In these final days we heard from two speakers, one an Arab Israeli citizen, and the other a Druze Israeli citizen. The first speaker, who’s brother was was working for peace but was killed by Israeli soldiers when he was 18, finds herself more aligned with the Palestinians, is not happy with the Israel government, and would like to move to a one-state solution with Palestinians having equal rights to Jews. The second speaker, a retired policeman living in a Druze village, had two sons who served in the Israel army that were both killed during their service, one in the invasion of Lebanon. He is working for peace and for understanding between Arabs and Jews. The Druze split from mainstream Islam about 1000 years ago. Among other things, they believe in reincarnation.

We had a great lunch prepared by the Druze family, then travelled on to Tel Aviv. It was good that we saved Tel Aviv till last, since is seems like a totally peaceful, booming, thriving, western city. None of the tension, issues, gnawing questions are apparent here. As one of our guides commented, it’s just a normal city until the rocket sirens alert the people of possible attacks.

For our last day in Israel, we visited Caesarea Maritime up the coast. Herod built a magnificent city here, on the site of past Greek (and older) towns and settlements. Our guide was Beverly Goodman, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer who has been working here since her college days. She and her students have made a number of important discoveries over the past 20 years. Her specialty is diving off the coast to learn more about the ancient harbor and the portions of the city that have been lost to coastal erosion and a series of tsunamis that have struck over the years. She discovered one tsunami that did considerable damage to the city in 115 AD.

This ends the Israel portion of our trip. Tomorrow we leave for Jordan where we will visit Petra and other sites before coming home.

Holy Land Day 8

First stop, Masada. This fortress-palace complex was built by Herod the Great around 35 BC. The site was picked because it is on an isolated mesa, nearly impossible to attack. There is no evidence that Herod ever came to the place after it was built, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t sneak down for a weekend at one of the three palaces he had built hanging on the cliff edges. Following the revolt of the Jews against the Romans in 66 AD, Masada was the last outpost of the rebels as the Romans re-conquered the area (destroying the Second Temple in Jerusalem). In 73, the Romans sieged Masada, built a ramp up one side, brought a battering ram up and knocked a hole in the wall. According to Josephus, (the only source), that night the Jews decided to commit mass suicide rather than be taken slave to the Romans. Archeologists and historians today have doubts about this story. It seems that Josephus had commanded a Roman squad early in his career that did commit mass suicide just as his Masada story, but he had chickened out as the last man and did not kill himself. So he may have thought it was a good story. Also, no bodies or bones or ashes have been found that should be there if no one was alive when the Romans entered.

In the afternoon we drove up the Jordan Valley, passing the caves of Qumran, to the sight where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

On to Beit She’an, to see the archeological digs of a huge Roman city. The site had been occupied since 5000 BC, and was subsequently occupied by Greeks, Romans, and later Byzantines, Moslems, etc. 1 Samuel 31 says the victorious Philistines hung Saul’s body on the walls here.

Then on to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee to spend the night.

Holy Land Day 7

We started the day with our second trip to the Israel Museum. This time we focused on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Amazing to see the earliest written copies that have ever been found of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) from about 100 BC.

Then we drove from the Jerusalem area at an altitude of around 2500 feet to Jericho at -1300 feet along the Dead Sea in about 1/2 hour. One of the structures there has been dated to about 10,000 BC, one of the oldest human structures ever found.

Then on to the Dead Sea for a dip in it. We all bobbed like corks for 20 minutes before we decided to shower off and have a beer!.

We spent the night at Ein Gedi, a kibbutz started in 1956. They have a beautiful garden of plants from around the world that can thrive in this environment (dry & hot, but water available for irrigation from local springs).


Holy Land Day 6

We started the day visiting the Jewish settlement of Efrat just south of Bethlehem. We met with the mayor who gave us the history of their settlement and their relationship with the surrounding Palestinian towns.

Next stop was a refugee camp in Bethlehem housing Palestinians that were displaced by the 1947 war of Israeli Independence.

We visited the Church of the Nativity, originally built in 326 over the cave in which Jesus was born. The church was destroyed and later rebuilt by Justinian in 565. Much of that church still remains. Recent renovations revealed mosaic floors from the original church!

After lunch, we went to Herodium, a hill top fortress and palace built by Herod around 20 BC. He added to the hill to make it the highest spot in the area. Amazing views to the Dead Sea and beyond into Jordan to the east, and Jerusalem to the north.

Holy Land Day 5

We spent the morning at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. A very moving experience!

We lightened things up in the afternoon with a trip to the Machane Yehuda Market, a great place to wander around and sample some great food.