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  • Jane Wheeler

Israel Part 1

I know you are wondering about my Israel trip and how it went, what did I learn?

The best answer is that it was wonderful, too much to take in, still processing and soooo much!

I have wondered where to even begin this conversation.

Israel is a land of contrasts: the ancient to the new, the many different cultures, the modern to the nomadic (Bedouin’s), the desert, the farm land and the city, the peaceful versus the threat of war at every turn and then there are all the religions…..

There is tension inside of Israel but I would say that the big tension everyone talks about is coming from the outside of the country of Israel and it is very real. The Israeli’s are expecting a war at any moment. It was stated to me that other world powers are the ones deciding the fate of Israel.

Israel is a hospitable nation and very safe for a woman travelling alone. I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. When I got to the train platform by the airport and found all the writing in Hebrew I was taken aback as to how to find where I was going if I did not speak the language. There was a young man there who helped me and sent me in the right direction. (I learned after that if you wait long enough the writing will also appear in English).

When I got to the platform it was “rush hour” 4:00 pm and lots of people. I asked one lady if she spoke English and most do, she said to stay by her and she would help me get to the right station. She informed me how to make sure you got in the flow to get on. This is the “crush” : one door and people getting on and off at the same time, with only minutes until the train pulls away. She was getting off the train before my stop and instructed another Jewish woman to inform me when to get off the train. This new lady told me when I was 2 stops away, this sparked interest on the train in our little cabin. By the time I was ready to get off, a soldier had pulled down my luggage from the rack, 3 people had been asked to move and I was set in place by the door to ensure my departure. I marvelled at how hospitable they had been.

When I was coming back, I travelled home to Canada with a friend and we were sitting at the train platform waiting for the train and we heard the announcement that the train would arrive at platform 2. I started to look around and platform 2 was on the other side of the tracks with a huge wire fence in between. I told my friend I think we are at the wrong place. 3 soldiers had come around the corner and we asked – they said we had to run to the stairs and go underneath to the other side. We started running but heard the train come and go before we got to the other side. We were discouraged and not sure what to do to reach the airport in time. The 3 soldiers stayed right with us and all whipped out their phones had a conversation and then replied, “we will stay with you, you come with us and we will take you to the airport. If we take the next train we will stay with you until the transfer to the new train to the airport.” Wow – “we will stay with you” – can you believe that? These kids were willing to babysit a couple middle aged foreign ladies. We ended up figuring out when another train that would go direct to the airport would come and it appeared, that we would only be 10 minutes behind schedule so we said we would take that one and graciously declined their amazing offer to stay with us.

The number of military personal took me by surprise. Kids walking around casually with huge machine guns strapped around their necks. It used to be video games. In Israel it is mandatory for all young people aged 18-21 to go into the army. Boys sign up for 3 years and girls for 2. My taxi driver, an Arab told me about his kids in the army, his young son had just gone in and he was missing him, but it is the duty of Israeli’s to send your children and they are very proud to do that. He himself had been in the army and had to keep going back once a year for a short time until he was released at the age of 40.

Is there tension? Oh Yes, I heard the Israeli military flying overhead every day and on days where you heard it more than 4 time (up to 10) you knew something was going on somewhere.

We often hear about the Gaza strip here in North America. It was explained to me that the fight over this little strip of land is because of the terrorist group, Hamas. It is the gateway from Egypt to Israel and the middle east and is the highway for terrorist activity. The civilians living in Gaza 1.5 million would love to get out but Hamas needs to the civilians as protection. If there were no civilians Israel would simply wipe out Hamas. The civilians get used by Hamas as pawns and push the civilians, especially children and teens up front and then when a civilian dies in the conflict, the world blames Israel. There is a saying I heard: When Hamas starts loving their people more than hating the Jews the fighting will stop.

This tiny little county of Israel is surrounded by enemies, from my travels there I literally could see Lebanon, Syria, Jordan. On the other side of the borders, are hostile enemy countries wanting to and trying to come in.

Jerusalem is another matter – the fight for the land of the dome of the rock and this city is very real and has been contested for centuries by many governments and religions, this fight will not go away quietly or without some conflict.

Everything in Israel is “up” – the topography of Israel, hills, mountains makes all things “up”. You go up to Jerusalem. I imagine in Biblical times – wow those calf muscles would be in really great shape because you usually walked everywhere unless you had a donkey or camel (and I saw both).

Jerusalem is a huge bustling city, I loved the markets – rows and rows of stalls selling everything from food and spices to handbags and shoes. You could spend days at the market and not see everything. Boisterous stall peddlers calling out to come and see in their shop, offering the best deals, “but only for you”, truly fun. If you are a people watcher Jerusalem is the place for you to sit back and enjoy.

I was shocked at the graveyard in Jerusalem. A massive hillside that stretches out across from the Temple Mount and across from the Garden of Gethsemane, with all these cement like boxes- tombs- scattered all over it. Thousands and thousands of boxes. Of course with Canada being a relatively new country and soft ground we can dig in, I was not used to seeing boxes on top of the hard ground that is too hard to dig in and 3,000 years worth of tombs.

Sitting in the beauty of the Garden of Gethsemane, looking out towards the graveyard, hearing the loud speakers calling Muslims to prayer – I truly marvelled at the mighty contrasts of this little land of Israel.

Watch for Israel Part 2 next week...

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