Welcoming in 2012 in Israel and Palestine

After our devastatingly exciting New Year’s Eve (note the sarcasm) we woke up very early on New Year’s Day to start 2012 with a refreshing dip in the Dead Sea. Even though I have been living in Israel, only two hours from the Dead Sea, for 7 months, I hadn’t yet visited so my first dip into the salty water was as exciting as it was for my brother and father.

It was wonderful. I didn’t want to leave and only got out of the water when my parents insisted we do so. My brother and I spent the entire time giggling and trying different ways to turn in the water, executing complicated yoga poses and trying to swim despite the current. I was so tempted to go out a long way. However, it seems the water can be quite lethal and no one wanted to accompany me, so I did not.

After a shower that didn’t manage to get the salt out of everything (I was finding dried salt in my hair and ears days later), we drove to the base of Masada and proceeded to hike up. At first, I was excited, but about a third of the way up I was out of breath and very jealous of the people in the cable car above. The views, however, were quite astounding and I felt a deep sense of satisfaction once we reached the top. My mother and I promptly picked up a map and began the journey around the ruins.

It was beautiful, but the guide we had was filled a lot more with information about the structures and the Herodian period than about the Jewish-Roman war that led to its destruction or the monks who lived on the mountain top afterward. There was a little information on those two periods of history, but a lot more of it was structural. Interesting as it was, it didn’t touch me the way other ruins and ancient structures we had seen until then did.

That evening, we headed to Kibbutz Lotan which, despite its rave reviews in the guide book and from my mother’s friends who we had met earlier at Kfar Menachem, failed to impress us. We felt it was over-priced and that the small salad bar at dinner, despite it’s delicious bell peppers, was not sufficient as a meal. The following morning, we had salad for breakfast too, after which my family went bird watching on the kibbutz. I stayed indoors and did my own thing. Supper was salad again, followed by salad for breakfast the following morning. Then we headed to Jericho a day earlier than planned.

Our drive to Jericho was the first time my family had driven into the West Bank (we took a taxi to Bethlehem). The signs were rather unclear and we ended up entering an area where we were blocked from entering or exiting. I stepped out of the car and asked some Israeli soldiers posted in that zone for directions, which they gave, and we entered the city. The soldiers checked our passports before we entered, told us to be careful, and we drove through to Hisham’s Palace, which was stunning.

Hisham’s Palace is beautiful, but the most magnificent parts of it are the mosaic of the deer and lion in the bathhouse and the reconstructed star that had been the crowning glory of one of the buildings. I spent a very long time looking at the mosaics and we were very saddened by the fact that there wasn’t enough money for the upkeep of the place and to properly display the mosaics – in situ or otherwise.

We then hopped into the car and drove to Tel es-Sultan which, despite the rave reviews, was not as exciting as I had expected. Tel es-Sultan is the site of a new type of archaeological excavation being pioneered. They do a dig that goes down vertically and over 10 civilizations have been discovered on the site. However, because of the type of archaeological excavation and due to a lack of funds, such a method means there were no ruins to explore and it was much more difficult to visualize what the site might have looked like in the past. Instead, we had a lovely view of Jericho which looked positively stunning from above with all the trees dotting the city and the like. We headed out of town and down to Tel Aviv for the night.

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