Friday, July 6, 2007

Jerusalem on Saturday

We concluded our Northern tour yesterday, heading back along the West Bank of the Jordan River to Jerusalem, turning east just at the northern end of the Dead Sea. The whole experience continued to be somewhat surreal -- on the way we passed Jericho -- actually, bypassed Jericho. The former main road into the city has been barricaded; our guide said he would never take us there -- too dangerous. Christian pilgrims can make arrangements to visit; but Jewish visitors, I think he said, might not make it out alive.
On Thursday, we visited the Northern Frontier, at the Israeli-Syrian border near Lebanon, and the Tel Dan nature reserve; truly one of the most unique parks in the world. It combines three elements -- an ecologically unique site with species rare in the mid-east, an ancient archaeological site (for the Jewish Dan Tribe) and (for me) the most important element -- a story of geopolitical intrigue.
I understand that when the British defined the original Northern boundaries of Palestine, they deemed the source of the Dan River (where it emerged from underground springs of the Hermon Mountain in the Northern Golan Heights) to be be Palestine's northern border -- with 10 metres added for good measure. The Syrians objected; citin a pencil drawing that extended the border right to the actual visible source of the Dan. Why is all of this important? The Dan turned out to be in 1948-67 the only water source for the Jordan River/Sea of Galilee totally within Israeli territory -- and water is no minor issue in a desert region, beset by political and military conflict.
(In fact, the 1967 Six Day War can trace its roots to a Syrian water diversion program in the mid-sixties, which Israel ended by bombing the Syrian dam construction projects. Needless to say, Syria didn't appreciate Israel's approach to the matter).
The result of all this tension of course is that Israel fortified and built military positions right at the Dan River water edge. After 1967, when Israel occupied the Golan Heights, it developed the tourist and archaeological site (the archaeological site, like many other elements in this volatile region, has political connotations -- showing that Jewish people occupied the land in ancient times bolsters Israel's modern-day claim to the territory.)
As we stood at the edge of the site, looking northeast to Syria and northwest to Lebanon, I thought about the Hezbollah positions in the hills across from me; and the barrage of rockets hitting Jewish settlements in the area last summer.
So, we returned south, stopping at Beit Hillel for some rafting on the Jordan River, which I think will turn out the highlight of the trip with Eric. I didn't know what to expect when I strapped on the life jacket, took a paddle, and found myself in the plastic inflatable boat on the Jordan River.
We arrived late as the boat company provided instructions in Hebrew, mentioning something about a bridge, to hold on during the 'rapids' and that we would be pulled ashore at the end.
Down we go, uncertain about where this story would end. I am ill-prepared, wearing my regular shoes, socks, and fears (I really am a landlubber). We aren't sure where the 'rapids' begin; after some false assumptions, we heard the noise of rushing water, then -- the rapids. By Canadian standards these were tame, indeed, but for a few seconds I really didn't know how the story would end. My shoes are still drying out.
We arrived in Jerusalem just in time to visit old friends of Vivian for a Sabbath dinner. Today, the city is quiet; in Israel, the Jewish sabbath naturally is an important break -- I really shouldn't be using this computer if I am observant. The hotel has a Shabbat Elevator, which stops at every floor and opens its doors automatically -- this is to accommodate observant Jews who will not operate any machinery on the Shabbat.
Our immediate priority -- finding laundromats. After a few weeks travelling, laundry becomes an important priority. Fortunately, they exist -- and of course the Internet is the best way to find them!

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