Sunday, November 11
Today was a very strange day for me. It started out pretty much like a lot of our days with packing up, having breakfast, and heading out on the bus.
Our first stop was Megiddo which is also known as Armageddon. It's a city at an important crossroads through the area. There were anywhere from 20 to 25 different cities and fortifications built on this site through history. Solomon and Ahab built fortress cities there. A really interesting feature is a shaft and tunnel leading to a spring outside the city. We walked down through and out the other end where the bus picked us up.
From there we drove to Caesarea by the sea. There was a large theatre, a harbour, a hippodrome, and an aqueduct built by Herod the Great. It was impressive. The Mediterranean was very choppy from a lot of wind. Some of us walked on the beach. A few were surprised by some waves and got wet shoes.
From there we drove through Tel Aviv, through Jerusalem, and into Bethlehem. We were just going for lunch and to a store. I was quite disturbed seeing "the wall." I'd seen some pictures and heard reports in the news but didn't know if we'd see it. Bethlehem is in the Palestinian Authority's area of the West Bank and a concrete wall about 30 feet high separates the Palestinian and Israeli areas to keep them each on their respective sides. Within the city of Bethlehem is "Rachel's Tomb," a special site for Israelis, so a wall surrounds it as well. We passed through an Israeli checkpoint first, and then a Palestinian checkpoint, and then went for lunch. It was such a strange juxtaposition. After lunch we went to a souvenir shop right across the street from the wall surrounding Rachel's Tomb. Our guide had been talking about this shop since we met him 3 days ago. Only thing was this was no mere souvenir shop. Here they were selling antiquities, jewelry, and olive wood carvings that were very pricey. I couldn't get in the mindset of spending one or two hundred dollars on pretty things with that wall across the street still on my mind so I wandered around with my hands in my pockets.
I'm getting tired. I'm looking forward to seeing some of the "supposed" sites where things happened in the life of Jesus but I'm tired of riding the bus, tired of living out of my suitcase, tired of being herded from one place to the next, especially tired of being away from my family, tired of eating hotel food. I can't wait to go home.
Monday, November 12
Today we did some touring in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It's so hard not to be cynical about a lot of this. We started from a hill that overlooks the old city of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, then we drove around to the Mount of Olives. This is an important place in Jesus' life. He would always come from the Mount of Olives when he came to Jerusalem, the Garden of Gethsemane is at or near its base, and his Ascension happened there.
We started at the church of the Ascension, actually a Mosque, where, believe it or not, his footprint can be seen. I took a picture but there were a whole bunch of women down on their knees kissing the rock. From there we headed down a road that may have been part of the procession of palms or the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Along the way we stopped at the church of the "Pater Noster." Now Matthew says Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount in Galilee but in Luke it comes after a visit to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany which is just over the Mount of Olives. So the story is that Jesus would come to a cave within the property of this church to pray and once the disciples asked him to teach them to pray. This church has panels with the Lord's Prayer in dozens, maybe over 100, different languages on various walls inside and outside the church and in the courtyard. I took numerous pictures but didn't get inside the cave. It was too crowded.
From there we continued down the Mount to the "Dominus Flevit" (The Lord Wept) Chapel. Supposedly here Jesus wept over the fate of Jerusalem. We walked further down to the Church of All Nations also known as the Church of the Agony because in front of the altar is the exposed rock on which Jesus prayed on the night of his arrest. Outside is a remnant of the Garden of Gethsemane with some really old olive trees, centuries old. Samir claimed that at least one was there when Jesus was. I have my doubts.
Next we did something completely different. We went to "Yad Vashem," named after a Hebrew phrase from Isaiah 56:5 that means "a name and a place" or "a monument and a name." It is a Holocaust memorial and museum. It's a huge complex, a modern complex, and it is beautifully and well done. You could spend a whole day there. I took my time going through and didn't have time to see everything in the main section and there were other areas I didn't even see. It was very sad but also ironic. There were descriptions of the Jewish ghettoes where they were walled in and denied their freedom to move from place to place or make a living. Now Israel is doing something similar to Palestine. Certainly not along the lines of a Holocaust or genocide but I saw some parallels.
From Yad Vashem we went to Bethlehem. I was really looking forward to visiting the "Christmas town," but someone said I'll be disappointed and I was. It's certainly not "O Little Town of Bethlehem." It's a crowded and busy city. A lot of the churches we've visited so far have been quite beautiful. The church over the supposed birthplace of the Saviour of the world is a dingy kind of decrepit looking place. It's very old, very empty, not particularly beautiful. We climbed down some steps to a little room under the main chancel where, under an altar, is a silver star set in a marble slab with a hole in the middle that reveals the rock where Jesus was born. We saw more caves/grottoes and heard some preposterous stories from Samir about what they were supposed to be that I don't even want to mention anything about it. Oh, and up in the Church of the Nativity, to add to the ugliness and cheesiness, there were tacky Christmas balls hanging from all of the lights and chandeliers.
From there we went to the "Shepherds' Field." We saw some caves where the shepherds were apparently watching their sheep when the angels appeared. One couple who toured the Holy Land 10 years ago said they're different fields and caves then they saw back then.
People always want to shop and so we went to another store just like the one yesterday. I was hoping to get a little something more but this place didn't have anything I wanted.
Tonight some people went to a music and dancing show of local Israeli and Palestinian folk music and dancing. I stayed behind in the hotel room and watched TV.