| Entry 39 of 49
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I was up at the crack of dawn this morning, not to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but to set the table for an early breakfast as it was time to move on. Breakfast for the children consisted of packet noodles as we had no bread, cereal, milk or any of the usual items for the first meal of the day. The cupboards were bare, we were all packed and it was time to bid adieu to our apartment in Jerusalem. I certainly would not call it luxury but it was good value for Jerusalem and served as a convenient base to see the main sites.
We left the apartment at 0740hrs and dragged our cases along quiet streets to the Central Bus Station. Given the light traffic I presume that many people take the whole day off on Friday as opposed to the traditional starting point of the Shabbat. It had been useful that we had walked the route last week when buying tickets. However we were quite weary when we arrived at the station at 0820hrs. Still think of the saving on the price of a taxi!
We passed through security and proceeded upstairs to the entrance to platform No.4, from where the Egged bus No.444 was due to depart at 0900hrs. The bus station appeared unchanged, the usual mix of passengers, soldiers, and Orthodox Jews with their bits of string, which they offered to passersby. I was curious and should have asked the significance as I have seen this before in 1997. I know it has some sort of religious significance but can’t recall exactly what it is.
Our bus arrived at 0845hrs and filled up very quickly and efficiently. Passengers were responsible for depositing their own luggage underneath and the driver checked tickets from his seat. We had four reserved seats which was most fortunate because the service appeared quite full. A number of seats were taken by tourists no doubt heading the full distance to Eilat. The bus left the station at exactly 0900hrs and headed out of Jerusalem onto Highway 1 and into the West Bank. I was glad to have the opportunity to travel this route, without the stresses and strains of driving. It is my understanding that a hire car cannot be legally driven through the Occupied Territories so the bus is the best option. Our bus was able to pass through various check points with ease, occasionally picking up a soldier, complete with rifle, and dropping him off later a number of miles down the road. It would have been interesting to have spent some more time in the West Bank but I judged the tours on offer to be rather overpriced and containing a mixed bag of sights, many of which I did not want to see. It’s just a pity I missed out on Jacob’s Well and Mount Gerizim – another time!
A Song of Ascents. Of David.
1 I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go into the house of the LORD.”
2 Our feet have been standing
Within your gates, O Jerusalem!
3 Jerusalem is built
As a city that is compact together,
4 Where the tribes go up,
The tribes of the LORD,
To the Testimony of Israel,
To give thanks to the name of the LORD.
5 For thrones are set there for judgment,
The thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls,
Prosperity within your palaces.”
8 For the sake of my brethren and companions,
I will now say, “Peace be within you.”
9 Because of the house of the LORD our God
I will seek your good.
Psalm 122 (New King James Version)
Well it was good to return to Jerusalem and see the sites once more and of course take the children with us. I don’t quite know what they made of it all, especially the congested main sites (Holy Sepulchre, Nativity, Western Wall etc), but hopefully this part of the trip has been of some benefit to them. Personally I will remember the tea at St Andrews (Church of Scotland), the afternoon service at St James’ Cathedral (Armenian) and the opportunity I had to visit the Church of the Holy Cross (Greek Orthodox) and have the place to myself.
But we are moving on to another part of our adventure. And I have to say it is good to be moving again. A week in one place is rather a long time and we got out of the way of travelling! As we turned from Highway 1 to Highway 90 and headed south towards the Dead Sea I really felt we were travelling again. Firstly past Qumram where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, high up in a cave on a cliff. They were written by a Jewish sect known as the Essenes.
“The Essenes were a breakaway Jewish sect who believed that they were the ‘chosen people’ of Israel. They moved to the desert in about 150 BC to escape the liberalism of decadence they believed was corrupting their fellow Jews. The Essenes cultivated dates, tended their sheep and studied religious texts until they were disbanded by the Roman invaders in AD 68.”
Israel & the Palestinian Territories – Lonely Planet 6th Edition – Page 329
We then drove to Ein Gedi, a sort of Spa Resort and oasis in the desert, just south of the West Bank.
“One of the country’s most attractive oases, Ein Gedi (Spring of the Kid) is a lush area of freshwater springs, waterfalls, pools and tropical vegetation nestled in the arid desert landscape of the lowest place on earth...”
Israel & the Palestinian Territories – Lonely Planet 6th Edition – Page 331
The Lonely Planet guide also helpfully outlines two biblical connections.
Samuel 1:24 (not sure if 1st or 2nd Samuel - will look up later).
Song of Solomon 1:14 (again I will look up later as I am on internet cafe time).
We arrived at the Masada Centre, below the mountain fortress, at around 1015hrs.
"Masada is the name for a site of ancient palaces and fortifications in the South District of Israel on top of an isolated rock plateau, or horst, on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea... The cliffs on the east edge of Masada are about 1,300 feet high and the cliffs on the west are about 300 feet high; the natural approaches to the cliff top are very difficult. The top of the plateau is flat and rhomboid-shaped, about 1,800 feet by 900 feet.
According to Josephus, a first-century Jewish Roman historian, Herod the Great fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. In 66 CE, at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War against the Roman Empire, a group of Jewish extremists called the Sicarii overcame the Roman garrison of Masada. After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Jewish rebels and their families fled Jerusalem and settled on the mountain top, using it as a base for harassing the Romans...
In 72, the Roman governor of Judaea Lucius Flavius Silva marched against Masada with the Roman legion X Fretensis and laid siege to the fortress. After failed attempts to breach the wall, they built a circumvallation wall and then a rampart against the western face of the plateau, using thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth... The rampart was complete in the spring of 73, after approximately two to three months of siege, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress... When they entered the fortress, however, the Romans discovered that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide rather than face certain capture, defeat, slavery or execution by their enemies."
There is absolutely no doubt that the struggle against Roman power at Masada and resultant mass suicide have become central to what it means to be an Israeli Jew in the 21st century. Perhaps each nationality or race needs such an event or hero to define their common bond. The Scots have Sir William Wallace, King Robert I (The Bruce) & Master George Wishart. The English look to The Duke of Wellington, Lord Nelson & Sir Winston Churchill. The Irish have James Connolly, Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera. However these events or personalities can also hold back progress in the modern age as brave individuals try to cross traditional divides in the cause of peace.
Anyway the bus pressed on and my only experience of Masada was through the window as I looked up at the top, the zig-zag path and the cable car. This is exactly the same as I saw in 97 when we chose not to stop en route to Eilat. Well you can’t do everything and this is not Stirling Bridge or Bannockburn!
We arrived in Eilat shortly after 1300hrs. Eilat sort of appears out of nowhere along with first sight of the Red Sea (Gulf of Eilat). Firstly you see the turn off to the Yitzhak Rabin/Arava border crossing, then luxury hotels, then you are in the town centre arriving at the bus station. When we got out of the coach we soon discovered that Eilat is much hotter than Jerusalem. At least however we have a sea breeze here, what will it be like at Petra?
Passing on the opportunity to take a taxi we followed the Eilat town centre map in my Lonely Planet guide and safely arrived at the Eilat IYHA property, which describes itself as a guest house. We stayed here in 97 and I like this place because it is cheap, the rooms have all the basics, and the balcony overlooks not only Aqaba but Eilat Airport next door. The planes pass within yards of our accommodation, which makes for great photographic opportunities. There is also an old Dakota transport aircraft sitting on display near the end of the runway, which once belonged to Israel Inland Airways, sometime around 1948. This old aircraft was once the workhorse of the sky and was still used for military purposes by the Rhodesian Air Force until 1980.
In the afternoon we went on a short walk around the beach area adjacent to our accommodation and the surrounding shopping centres. Eilat is best described as ‘Israel at play’, somewhat without orthodox restrictions. Around the beach area one cannot move without being bombarded with loud music and a general party atmosphere. Perhaps I am just getting old but these tanned Israelis seem to be in better shape than myself! The kids have been promised time at the beach tomorrow.
In the evening we went to a nearby restaurant called ‘Barbis Diner & Grill’, a sort of Americana style diner, which the menu reflected. This place was recommended by a member of staff at the YHA after we reflected upon a yearning for a cheese burger. Ruth had Philadelphia type cheese steak whilst I had a special stuffed burger with bacon and cheese. Erin had a stuffed burger with mushrooms and olives whilst Ailsa had a plain burger. This is certainly the best burger type meal of the trip so far. I would never have thought it possible to get such a good non-kosher type western meal in Israel. First class, we shall return for more tomorrow.
| Entry 39 of 49
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