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Category Archives: Israel

Temple Mount

The entrance plaza by the Moroccan Gate, temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel

After a full day in Jerusalem and four late afternoon/evenings I was not able to get to the Temple Mount. Either it was Friday and it was closed or it was too late and the Israeli were closing the access over the Western Wall. Each day they told me to come the next day but each day I was leaving somewhere else and came back again late in the day. So I planned for my last day in Jerusalem, before my flight, to get to the Temple Mount so at 8:00 AM I was at the Moroccan Gate.

Al-Aqsa Mosque with the Dome of the Rock in the background, Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel

Temple Mount is a thorn in the Israeli politics. It’s coming in discussion like a leitmotif and is hard to fathom its importance without coming to Jerusalem. Because Temple Mount is a large plaza extended and consolidated by Herod in 19BC on which the Second Temple of the Jews was located that was further razed by the Romans who built here a temple dedicated to Jupiter, further occupied by the Muslims that razed the Roman temple and built two magnificent mosques leaving the Jews to pray at the base of the platform, toward a collection of remaining bricks from two eras. The Build-Destroy cycle of the city.

The interior of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, Israel

Al-Aqsa, the more austere mosque, is the third holiest place for the Muslims after Mecca and Medina. Here, the Quran says, Mohamed was transported from Mecca during his Night Journey, a travel both physical and spiritual.

Dome of the Rock Mosque and the smaller Dome of the Chain, Jerusalem, Israel

Surprising the other mosque right across the plaza guarded by Israeli soldiers with machine guns, the Dome of the Rock with its most recognizable gilded dome has an agreed and deep significance for both Jews and Muslims, here being the Biblical place where Abraham heard God asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. However for the Jews the rock is the place from where the world was spun into existence and from its dust God created Adam. For the Muslims the rock signifies the place from where Mohamed raised to Heaven. But their agreement about its significance is nothing compared with the tension that emanates on this place after centuries of conflict.

Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel

I walked all over the Temple Mount and shot video on the outside of the mosques, the access to the interior being allowed only for Muslim believers. At one point I went to the Cotton Merchant Gate, an interesting old gate built in Moorish style and I just wanted to take a shot of the gate toward the Dome of the Rock so I stepped outside of it, maybe three steps. Each gate is guarded by two Israeli military and one policeman with machine guns beside one Arab guard dressed in a jalabah. They refused to let me back in because this gate, like 10 others, can be used only by Muslims and they sent me back at the Moroccan Gate. But at the Moroccan Gate somehow they saw my professional camera and they did not let me to get in anymore. However they turned out to be of great help because I did not have enough time anyhow and I already shot whatever I needed.

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel

The Jerusalem wall is surrounding continuously the old city but because the access to the temple mount is under high security the portion of the wall that is behind it is also closed. So the ticket they sell for wall access has two sections. In the first day I visited the left side of the wall but I did not have time to visit its right side. But when I went to the right side of the wall to enter the guard complained that the ticket is too old and he refused to let me in. In spite that it does not say anything about its valability it looks like they would let you only in the day it was issued and maybe the following day.

Tower of David Citadel, Jerusalem, Israel

Next to the wall entrance is the Jerusalem Citadel named also Tower of David with no real connection to King David. It was built mainly by the Mameluks and the Ottomans but on old fortifications of started by the Hasmoneans and continued also by Herod the Great and Paranoid. Of course it was destroyed repeatedly in history, mainly during the crusaders invasion who also coined its association with King David. It was repeatedly reconstructed, its last reconstruction being done for the benefit of the modern invaders, the hordes of tourists that flood daily the streets of Jerusalem.

Tower of David citadel, Jerusalem, Israel

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Posted by on October 23, 2018 in Blog, Israel

 

On Planet Jedha

Wadi Rum camp entrance, Jordan

The resort was spectacular. In Wadi Rum they were waiting us with dinner while the moon was rising over the hills. The trail of lights up the hill behind the camp are following a set of steps that bring you up the mountain to meditate in the silence of the night under full moon or at the sunrise.

Wadi Rum camp, Jordan

The tent accommodation proved to be extremely comfortable and when the moon set towards the wee hours of the night the sky filled with stars that reminded me of the magic show that we had in the Australia outback, only that this time I was watching the northern sky constellations.

Sunrise in Wadi Rum, Jordan

The morning sunrise under a sky filled with a broken blanket of clouds was inspiring so I climbed the mountain and watched till the sun came high on the sky and the Dutch girl teaching yoga in the camp started her lesson in the serenity of the desert.

After sunrise

Wadi Rum was in the thrills of “Star Wars”. Sony was filming and did some costume rehearsal and everybody was freaking out and did their best not to allow people close to their compound. Drones were banned and the regular hot air balloon rides at sunrise were suspended in order to keep the Hollywood secrets of the Planet of Jedha away from the plebeians of the other planets.

Jeep Safari in Wadi Rum, Jordan

The promised “Jeep ride” turned out to be “Toyota Land Cruiser ride” and the two cars followed each other between the weirdly shaped mountains that surround an expanse of fine sand of various colors.

Guarding the Star Wars compound, Wadi Rum, Jordan

The landscape was used as background in a number of films, most notable the Star Wars productions of “Rogue One” and “The Martian”.

Ready to shoot on Planet Jedha

The cars followed each other in the Mushroom Valley, a place with a Bedouin tent and a formation shaped like a mushroom that was marked with signs by a crew for the films guys not to get lost in the desert.

Mushroom Valley, Wadi Rum, Jordan

After about two hours of stalking the guys from the “Star Wars” compound the two car caravan made his way back to the camp and in a short while we were driven all the way to Aqaba, the Jordanian border town on the shores of the Red Sea, from where we walked again over the border reaching much faster the Israeli side.

….and the Mushroom, Wadi Rum, Jordan

What is interesting when you cross the border into Jordan is that the narratives changes. It becomes more political with strong criticism for the British who are still blamed for the poor state of the Arab states and the fact that they installed in the Middle East puppet monarchies that they were able to manipulate and extort according to this discourse. Jordan tries to be relatively neutral in rapport with Israel but they show an obvious adverse attitude against Saudi Arabia and its new prince MBS who was vilified for the killing of the dissident journalist. On the same token all hopes are placed in Erdogan, the new sultan that might be able to revive the old Muslim glory and bury the shame brought on Turkey by Ataturk whom many perceived as a traitor of the real Turkish values. Wow, a completely different point of view!

The Jordan kings and their lineage, Aqaba, Jordan

The agency that organized the tour Fun Travel is for sure not so “fun” because they abandoned us for more than an hour in the sun and after that they sent two cabs from the town to take tours and, after giving totally confusing information, they dropped us all on the Eilat promenade, a place of hotels and restaurants and a pebbly beach where the only and great thing to do is to dive into the warm waters of the Red Sea and have a beer on the shore.

Red Sea beach, Eilat, Israel

It took a lot of back and forth to understand when and where will come the bus that would took us back but eventually it happened and we were ported by a driver who was constantly fumbling with his music player and sent text and talked over the phone while driving at full speed on an empty Negev desert road. The drop off was the same as the pick up and we arrived around 1:30am at our hotels in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

Eilat and the Red Sea under full moon, Israel

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2018 in Blog, Israel, Jordan

 

Masada as a symbol

Masada is at the core of Israeli existence symbolizing their intense drive for independence. The fact that this was a fortress built around 100BC and reinforced by the paranoid Herod is less important. The king in his fear that would be deposed moved on top of this incredible cliff. almost inexpugnable at the time but accessed now by a cable car.

Masada cable car

The cliff by itself is a fortification but Herod order to be surrounded it with defensive walls and built inside two palaces with swimming pools with a very sophisticated system of collecting the rain water and many other buildings creating an impressive complex overlooking the Negev Desert. I don’t know exactly how Herod eventually died but with so much defense and scheming maybe he just slipped in the tub.

Masada, Israel

The Masada complex lasted till about 70AD when the Romans fed up with the Jewish revolts built camps and ramps toward the top fortifications attacking the fortress where about 900 Jewish Zealots made camp for a number of years. Not wanting to fall in the Roman hands and become slaves, they destroyed their property, killed their wives and children and wrote their names on small pebbles and drew lots to choose the one who would kill everybody else. The last man standing killed himself absolving all the other of the sin of suicide. Apparently killing others is OK but killing himself is “baaad”. Josephus Flavius, a Jew turned slave turned Roman historian, who was the last man standing – actually there were two men standing – in another mass suicide in Yodfat speaks eloquently about the suicide in Masada in his writings. At Yodfat where Josephus lived they drew lots and killed each other, every other third person. You can write a computer program to calculate who will be the last man standing but Josephus, either was able to do it in his head or was just lucky, survived and the problem till now is named Josephus problem (or the Roman Roulette).

Masada Ruins, Israel

Masada is close by to the famous Dead Sea, the place where the Bible talks about the punishment of Lot’s wife in the devastating destruction of Sodom and Gomora. The Dead Sea is shrinking and this can be easily seen from the top of the road, its water being saltier and saltier. Somehow I did not like its oily and extremely salty water that is so disgustingly salty/sulphury/oily/muddy that your first reaction is to spit it out if put on your tongue. I have been recently to Mono Lake, UT another salty body of water but its salinity in spite of the calcareous formation that grow from its bottom is not even close in salinity as the Dead Sea and the taste of water is palatable. So maybe the Bible was right about Sodom and Gomora…

Kalia Beach at the Dead Sea in Israel

You float on the back in the warm sea but must be very careful not to get water in your eyes. So no diving, splashing, or any creative swimming can be done. The mud on its bottom may or not have therapeutic properties but many paint themselves with it hoping in a cure. I don’t know how other felt but I was more than eager to get out and take a shower to get the slimy oily feeling out of my body.

Floating on your back in the Dead Sea, Israel

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2018 in Blog, Israel

 

Palestinian territories

St Charles monastery proved a very good place to stay while in Jerusalem. I found out about it from some of my friends who visited before and with its 20 min away walk to the Old City is a charming and quiet place run by the Germans but tended by Romanian nuns from towns in the Moldova region.
I wanted to go to Bethlehem that means, if I understood correctly, “House of Bread” for the Jews and “House of Flesh” for the Arabs. But I did not want to go by car in the Palestinian territories, and I did not even know if you could go there with a rented car.

The Nativity Square, Bethlehem, West Bank, Israel

So against my principals I took a one-day tour that stopped in the Nativity Square, the large square in front of the Church of the Nativity where is celebrated Christmas and broadcasted all over the world. The large structure of the church was commissioned by Constantine in the 4th century and heavily built and changed during the time of Justinian in the 6th century and surprisingly it was almost entirely preserved from those times making it the oldest working church in the Holy Land. This makes it the oldest church in the world.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is the oldest christian structure in the world

The crusaders made a big deal in conquering it and elevated it to the role of cathedral where they crowned their kings. But, as I said before, if other religions do not carve pieces of a place, Christianity did it to itself, so the church is divided in three parts, a Franciscan part, an Armenian small part and the large Greek Orthodox Church that has a Roman mosaic on its floor and Byzantine mosaics on its walls embellished with numerous candelas of many designs and colors.

The pilgrimage groups mob the interior of the church forming a five hour line in order to be able to enter the Greek Orthodox Cave of the Nativity

And to bring the division to the brink, even the cave where the legend says that Jesus was born was divided by a wall, yes like the Berlin Wall, between the Franciscans and the Greeks, with two peep holes through which you can see some atmospheric movement in the Greek cave. And the reason you do this is because the line to get into the side of the caves owned by the Greek Orthodox where the legend says that the Jesus was born is about 4-5 hours long, with multiple groups leaving Jerusalem at 4 am to be there at the opening and queue happily for hours. It’s probably very obvious that the entire church is completely crowded by pilgrims that make it hard even to find your own body so the meditative and spiritual atmosphere that you may have expected is just a devoured dream.

The Franciscan division of the Cave of Nativity represents half of the entire cave located under the church in Bethlehem

A little bit out of town is another church build like e tent also intensely visited, on the place where the Shepherds saw the star that announced the birth of Christ. Of course, the Roman Catholics built one and the Greeks built another and all were built close by to a place described in the Old Testament in the book of Ruth.

More churches and ruins there are in Jericho, an oasis town full of palm trees and running waters from springs, in the oldest town in the Holy Land, whose ruins date since 9000 BC. The ruins are for sure not too picturesque but the site is at a cross roads passed by Moses with the Jews when they were wandering through the desert for 40 days, as well as for Jesus who stopped here in his roaming of the Holy Land. The background of the old city is the Mount of Temptation, a tall peak connected now by a cable car where the legend says that Jesus was tempted by the devil to convert stones to bread and satisfy his hunger after his 40 days fast. A Greek Orthodox monastery is built on the mountain slope in the location where the legend happened.

Mount of Temptation, Jericho, West Bank, Israel

The weirdest thing in Jericho is the Sycamore tree where the legend tells about a crooked tax collector who climbed that tree to watch Jesus preached and that turned him to the right track. The tree was bought by President Medvedev of Russia in one his rokade schemes with Putin and they enclosed it in a garden where they build a museum dedicated to Russian orthodoxy, another way of influencing the politics in the region and extend their muscle. But the bottom line is that they were able to buy and appropriate a symbol of the Bible.

The old walls of the oldest city in the Holy Land, Jericho

The Palestinian territories want to become a state but it’s no apparent economy happening there. All access is controlled by check points and surrounded by barbed wire and a tall fence as you enter. According to the arrangement, in the Palestinian territories the Palestinians control the towns being responsible of their security, they also control the villages and the area in between but they share the security concerns with Israel, while Israel is fully in control and responsible for all roads. However it is not too safe to drive on side roads as signs indicate that “Israeli citizens are not safe if they drive on this road”. In Bethlehem and Jericho the stores where foreigners were brought do not accept shekels but sell in US$. If the Christian store in Bethlehem had relatively interesting religious items made out of olive wood, the large store in Jericho run by Arabs was full of items whose prices were astronomical and the result was that absolutely nobody was in the store. At the same time it felt like the owner could not care if he sells or not. Along the road there are lots of plaques showing the projects done with various funds coming from outside Israel.

Walls and barbed wires are the borders with the Palestinian Territories

“What solution? There is absolutely no solution” told me an Israeli guide whom I asked about the peace process with the Palestinians. “We can give them all the territories back but is no guarantee that it will be peace and based on what is happening in Gaza is a guarantee that it will not be. Or we can annex the territories and we get with them 2.5 million Palestinians that will change forever the political texture of Israel and will defeat the existence of the state. So it’s no solution and nobody can do anything about it. But the current situation is untenable”

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2018 in Blog, Israel

 

The holiest wall in the world

Talking to God at the Western Wall

When the dark settles over Jerusalem and all places close the best place to be is at the Western Wall of the Temple. This is all what remained of the holiest of the Jewish religious place, the Temple Mount, on which now are standing tall two impressive mosques. All Jews come here to pray in a spirit of profound devotion, the more orthodox praying inside a library/synagogue that is enclosed inside the men’s praying area. The wall area is divided between an area where the men pray and another where the women pray separated by a fence from whose top some men are peeking inside the women quarters instead peeking to God.

After Sabath at the Wailing Wall

The people stand or sit in front of the wall and talk and explain God all their problems and argue for Him to make it right for them and if all fails they write on small pieces of papers their wishes and stuck them in the wall creases in order for God to read them in His spare time. I guess in the future they may build a Holy Server and send tweets directly to Paradise receiving in return e-blessings.

Groups of youth at the Wall

The Western Wall is for sure the most alive place in the Jewish Quarter and most probably in the entire Jerusalem, especially at night. And beside being a place of worship is a place where Israeli youth come and launch in patriotic songs and dances.

Whirlwind at the wall

The Jewish Quarter, razed to the last brick by the Arab forces in the Independence war, was re-conquered in the Six Days War and in order not to have a reprieve in the traditional cycle of building and destruction that the city knew for its entire history, Israel razed all the old Arab houses that were built around the Western Wall and created a very large plaza that is alive at any time of the day and spectacular in the flooding light of the night.

The Western Wall; men to the left women to the right

Most of the orthodox Jews are for sure not well regarded by the Israeli society. “They just pray and do not work, do not pay taxes and do not serve in the army” to the chagrin of the youth, in a country where all youth have to serve in the army and train for two years. Besides, the most radical of the Orthodox Jews do not even recognize the State of Israel because according to their tradition, Messiah did not return to give the Jews their land so what the fighters and politicians did is a blasphemous preemptive attempt to occupy a land that was not devoutly given to them.

Praying to the Western Wall, Jerusalem, Israel

Security is high and the Western Wall area is accessed only by a security clearance like in an airport. And to make things even worse, the access for non-Muslim to the Temple Mount, the old platform of the temple where are now the two main mosques, Al Aksa and Dome of the Rock, is done through the Golden Gate that is accessed by a bridge built on top of the women section of the Western Wall. So the Israeli control the only access for non-Muslims to the most holy Islamic religious shrines built on their beloved temple. Way, way too complicated….

Torah

The Jewish quarter was completely rebuilt, in the original style, but still looking new and sanitized in a city where ages creep on its wall and pavement. The cement of its arches are in stark contrast with some slabs that were used on Via Dolorosa that were discovered while digging to repair the sewage pipes. The slabs were laid down by the Romans as pavement and were reused 2000 years later by the Israeli for the pavement on the famous Christian street. The same slabs…

Huerva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem, Israel

In the Jewish Quarter, Huerva Synagogue was finally rebuilt as an exact replica of the one destroyed during the Independence war, a large, white and highly attractive building sided by a minaret who remained there because some misunderstanding with the Muslim community. In front of it is a large gold menorah, an original symbol and emblem of the Jewish State, replace politically by the Star of David. With so much destroyed history it is way less to be seen and felt in this section of the town.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2018 in Blog, Israel

 

The city of our history

The symbols that dominated Jerusalem for centuries

Jerusalem! The holiest of the holy for all religions. And being so holy all coveted it along history and ecumenically killed each other for conquering the spirit of the city trying to avoid mentioning its spoils. Blood was pouring on the Jerusalem streets for centuries and all conquerors were convinced that they did it in the name of their Lord, whatever Lord they imagined. War was the norm and business and commerce came with it. Everybody killed and made money in this city and the city thrived, because all who invaded it wanted a piece of it.

Arches holding walls, Jerusalem, Israel

So they carved it and separated their areas based on their religion and when the carving was finished they started to carve within their own religion sections. The Christians got a big slice, divided between an Armenian smaller sector, a part fro the Franciscas and the large area of the Latin Patriarchate and the Greek Patriarchate that holds the Golgota, Via Dolorosa, the road on which Jesus carried his cross to reach his sacrificial place.

Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem, Israel

On top of the Golgota was raised a large, unappealing and dark church that has inside many chapels including the Holy Sepulcher that has inside Jesus’ holy tomb, where a huge line of pilgrims wait every day, morning to night, to get inside and pray in front of the Tomb. Via Dolorosa with its 10 stops, was relocated in time based on the whims of the all powerful of the day. If Jesus ever walked these routes inside the city of Jerusalem more probably took a different route than the current walk done daily by the numerous groups of pilgrims.

2000 years Roman slabs discovered and reused to pave Via Dolorosa

The pilgrimage walk starts from outside walls of the city, at the base of Mount of Olives, where is located Mary’s tomb, an important pilgrimage place and the garden of Gethsemane with its church. You enter the town through the Lion’s Gate and continue to St. Mary’s birthplace chapel and the place where Jesus was judged by Pilat that has relatively nearby the chapel of Flagellation and you follow His steps on His Calvary where He was caring the heavy cross and kept falling.

Damascus Gate, Jerusalem, Israel

With a detour to Damascus Gate, the most spectacular of the town’s gates heavily guarded by Israeli army and police you continue and enter the dark interior of the Holy Sepulcher church where Christian believers from the entire world lay down their objects and prostrate themselves on the center slab on which the Son of God body was laid to rest before being entombed in an atmosphere of profound devotion .

The slab where Jesus was laid before being entombed, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem, Israel

The top of the Golgota, not a very tall location after all, has a chapel split ecumenically in half by the Franciscans and the Greek Orthodox, the last ones considering themselves to preserve the pure religion of Christ all others being considered schismatic.

The chapel of the Golgota fresco and candels in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The long line is winding along the Byzantine mosaics to reach the fresco painted chapel decorated in the Greek style covered in golden candels where pilgrims kneel and touch the hole through which the rock may radiate to them still the spirit of Christ. The Greek monks usher and manage the long line of pilgrims stopping it occasionally to scold the new tech believers for taking too many selfies with the Holy spirit that for some unknown reason does not show in the picture. Underneath in a crypt is the split rock of the Golgota.

Pilgrims at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem, Israel

On the other side of the large interior the long line that surround the chapel of the Holy Sepulcher passes by a Coptic chapel that is right behind the tomb whose monks wear some interesting funny hats.
The holy tomb chapel was rebuilt after a 19th century fire as the exact replica of the original and it looks like a tall street corner newsstand. The best is to come and visit it almost at the church’s closure when most groups left to eat and is a better chance of not spending your entire day in line. The tomb’s interior is surrounded completely by golden icon carved walls but chances are that you may not spend a lot of time inside being rushed by the bearded Russian monk that guard its entrance and try to manage the flux of pilgrims.

The Holy Sepulcher chapel, Jerusalem, Israel

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2018 in Blog, Israel

 

The beach

The beach promenade in Tel Aviv

I did not plan to go to Tel Aviv more than stopping on the way but after parking around the beach I could not but be impressed by this city looks and the fact that it feels like a beach resort. The elegant and well-maintained beaches and promenade skirt the Mediterranean shore and I was sorry that I did not have the bathing suit with me and several more hours to spend laying in the sand.

Pomegranate

Few blocks behind the promenade is a market, maybe the best market I was able to visit in the entire Israel. Alive, colorful and diverse, the market is a magnet for all travelers who come to Tel Aviv and is worth spending there at least one hour. Unfortunately my exploration got entangled with some rent-a-car return issues that killed probably around an hour of my stay and in the end I forfeited the idea of dropping the car on the promenade and drove in the evening all the way to Jerusalem.

My light blue Cinquecento

I loved my “cinquecento”, a small car that you feel that you can take under your arm, a liberating experience from the large cars we drive in the US. To deter the high level of car theft, the rented cars in Israel have a device with a security code in order to be able to start them. Also,  you can drop the car in any city in Israel with no additional drop fees, except a $50 fee at the Ben Gurion airport, regardless if you rented the car from there….

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2018 in Blog, Israel