The Golan Heights and Nablus and some more

An update is long overdue. I always underestimate how much time it takes to write these posts. I absolutely had to update it today or else the next update would have much too much in it. This is a long post, I’m forewarning you.

Last weekend I spent Saturday driving through the north-east of Israel with a lovely Indian guy that my wonderful (now ex) roommate introduced me to. Together, we went up to the Sea of Galilee (which, for those of you who don’t know, is the body of water Jesus walked on). We didn’t do as much Jesus-stuff as I would have liked (eg. we didn’t visit the Church of the Primacy or the sight of the Sermon on the Mount), but we did visit Capernaum and the Church of the Loaves and Fishes. I wish we had found a place to sit by the Sea of Galilee, or that I had brought a book just to sit in Capernaum and read. There was something peaceful about being right by the lake in Capernaum. And of course, me being me, I imagined what it would have been like in Jesus’ time and the like. What was also interesting about the ruins at Capernaum was how small it was!

The Church of the Loaves and Fishes is a church built around the rock on which Jesus placed baskets of loaves and fishes after he had fed the masses with only a small amount. It is not built exactly where the event occurred but rather, the rock was carried down from the mount and the church erected around it. While I was there I almost wished I had a stronger connection to Christianity and Christian history. For some reason, I don’t feel as overwhelmed with awe and appreciation as when I see Muslim historical/religious sites. Perhaps because I have studied the latter more than the former? Or perhaps because of the boyfriend? In any case, I am working consciously – and very very hard – on cultivating a sense of appreciation for ALL religious traditions and histories. After all, the power of the rock is not in the rock itself, but in what it means to people. And judging by the number of visitors, it means a lot.

My friend for the day and I, after not being able to find a place to sit and have a coffee by the lake, decided to go up to Coffee Anan on Mt. Ben Tal which had been recommended to us by a lady we asked for directions from. On the way, we passed a mosque that had evidently been destroyed by something and was covered in graffiti. We stopped to look at it and my friend pointed out the bullet-holes in the walls. We assumed that, due to the bullet holes and part of the roof caving in, a battle had occurred there. We climbed the minaret onto the roof and saw that the mosque was not an isolated building, but there was in fact the remains of a small village around it. Some of the structures were still standing, others were completely destroyed. After making our way onto the top of the minaret to look at the view we decided to explore the area a little. Upon returning to Tel Aviv, a coworker told me that the mosque and village may or may not have been the site of a battle, but that the whole area was used for practice by the Israeli army. The area is Hushniya, and it seems a battle did take place there, but I cannot tell if that is exactly what happened to this village.

We then decided to detour on our way to Mt. Ben Tal and take a little road that the map we had showed went to the Syrian border. On the way we saw some deer and went through multiple (unmanned) roadblocks. Just as I turned to my friend and said “it would be so scary if a tank or something came out from behind that” a hummer with a gun on top and four Israeli soldiers in it popped out from behind the roadblock. They smiled at us and told us we could keep going, so we did. Everything was so new and foreign to me, signs with “Danger! Mines!” and barbed wire and knowing that we were probably being observed by the army base on the hill nearby. All I could do was laugh and get excited. Looking back, it was a little inappropriate, but it was innocent excitement about being somewhere that is so politically and historically significant. We took photos by the border and then got lost trying to find the way back to the main road – finding ourselves on top of a hill at a military base. The soldiers were once again very nice, they guided us to the road and one let me sit in the hummer and take a photo!

The view from Mt. Ben Tal was incredible. 360 degrees of the Golan, which is absolutely ravishing. It was also great to be able to explore the bunkers built into the mountain. I almost wish I was on a tour though, just so I could have absorbed more information about the purpose of the site etcetera.

And here, my camera ran out of battery.

We decided to drive down Highway 90 to get back to Tel Aviv. Highway 90 goes along the Jordan River and through the West Bank. It is the longest road in Israel, going from north to south. Anyway, my friend and I decided to cut through into Nablus for supper. Keep in mind that this stop-over was unexpected. I was wearing a short skirt that could be pulled down to knee-length and a tank-top that I covered with a sarong. At the Israeli checkpoint my friend and I were asked to show our passports, which we didn’t have. We showed ID, were warned that we were no longer under Israeli jurisdiction, and waved through. I’m not going to lie, I was VERY nervous most of the drive between the highway and Nablus. We were the only Israeli car on the road, the sun was setting (and the colours were incredible, especially when we drove through small, red gorges) and people looked both bewildered and angry seeing us.

When we reached Nablus we were pulled aside by the Palestiniant police. If you remember my description in a previous post on the A, B and C zones in the West Bank, it will mean something when I say Nablus is in Zone A. It is under complete Palestinian control – both in civil and security matters. Once again, we were asked for our passports and once again we said we didn’t have them. This time, we were waved to the side and we had to try communicate with the policemen who spoke no English without Arabic. I gestured and said “ana Canadian!” a few times to little understanding. Then, a policeman who spoke English came and asked us why we were there and how long we planned on staying. My friend said “we just want hummus!” and the policeman got very excited, high-fived him, waved us through and apologized to us. I felt a lot better after such a friendly welcome 🙂

By this time, it was dark, I was in a short-skirt, and we were in a city neither of us had ever been to in an Israeli car without speaking Arabic. After much gesticulating and “hummus????” we were directed into the center of town. I was freaking out about my skirt and insisted we park right in front of a clothing store. In the first store the women gave me such dirty looks I felt uncomfortable and left. In the second store the women were lovely. I tried on a horrendous long denim skirt, to which the old lady proclaimed “ah! helwa!”, bought it, and headed out with my friend to find hummus. We ate in a tiny place that made only hummus and falafel. Both were absolutely delicious and very cheap.

Trying to find our way out of Nablus was a challenge we didn’t expect. No one spoke English, but through broken words and gesticulation we were told that the checkpoint straight into Israel was closed and we would have to go to Ramallah and Jerusalem first. Just as we were going to leave we got lucky and a well-off, English speaking Palestinian man came and told us that the checkpoint wasn’t closed and to follow his car, he would lead us to the highway from which we could easily get into Israel. He was very sweet, and we made it into Tel Aviv in less than an hour and without any problems.

Events since then have been rather less exciting but still lovely. My lovely roommate had an early goodbye party Sunday night Norman which is a cute bar here in Tel Aviv, Monday I had felafel and pita with an acquaintance/friend, and last night I had a very late supper at a bar on Rothschild Avenue with another acquaintance/friend. It was a good thing my roommate had her goodbye party early, because she unexpectedly found out yesterday that she had to pre-pone (to use an “Indianism” here) her moving date by 8 days and move out of Tel Aviv today. Luckily, I had planned to go away for the weekend and couchsurfing once again rescued me by providing me with a lovely guy willing to house me for 6 days before I can move into my new apartment!


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