Olive Tree, Haifa
We left Akko that hot afternoon to cool off in the lake when Adam missed the Sea of Galilee exit. By then I knew Adam didn't miss exits, he must have another stop in mind. Adam drove to the Bahai Gardens where we took in the sights and afterward relaxed in a Lebanese restaurant. We sat peacefully for hours under the shade of an Olive tree sipping hot and cold drinks while eating various cucumbers dishes. Cucumbers, cucumbers, cucumbers. I was going crazy and turning green from all the cucumbers!
Adam organized a group dinner at the Lebanese Restaurant that night. Great, more cucumbers! I had enough already of the cucumbers. “Fine by me, you guys go cucumbering all night long for all I care; my sick body is equaling last night’s performance less the shakes. It needs rest now.” I needed to eat though and the indoor seating at this place was Bedouin style. I decided I could be sick in a hotel room any night but this would be my last night in Haifa; I kept my consecutive streak of cucumber meals alive.
Adam ordered a smorgasbord of meats with cucumber and vegetables with cucumber, cucumber salads and cucumber slices for us all to enjoy as we stretched out on floor level couches and talked Intel.
Tulkarm - July 17th
Hotel Dan's breakfast buffet greeted us each morning with breads, salads, fish, sauces, fresh vegetables, cold cucumber and hot cucumber dishes. The bread was most noteworthy: familiar brown, wheat, sourdough and raisin as well as vegetable bread, bread in loaves, bread in pudding, bread circles, bread rolls, and bread pastries. Two full-length tables dedicated to bread. I looked forward to the assortment of bread and like a good Swede ate fish for breakfast every morning.
We abandoned our plan of flying to Turkey for the weekend in favor of spending two extra days in Israel to visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, the West Bank, the River Jordan and the Dead Sea.
At work, discussions of stock price and quarterly report dominated conversation. “How can you sit around and talk stock price with all the history surrounding us to think about? Wait a second, how much did you say the stock price rose? I see, in that case I can eat my soup dinners with a silver spoon!” Still, I was short with my co-workers. Anything aligning outside of my plans set me off that morning so I followed the golden rule: if you don't have anything nice to say, go sit by yourself in a traveler's workstation. I left the conference room set aside for visiting employees and finished my day in a cubical.
We left Haifa that evening to drive by the hill of Megiddo en route to Jerusalem. On the ride down I began to map out the possibilities for the weekend. ”Adam, I know we talked about spending extra time in Israel, but Jordan and Syria aren't that far away.” He suggested we proceed east. He even mentioned the possibility of reaching Iraq to see siblings he hadn't seen in thirty years.
The farther away from the coast we drove the more lush and green the landscape. We drove through valleys of farmland along a highway that continued into a town called Tulkarm. Adam recognized the name Tulkarm from his study of the Middle East conflict he had been doing by watching CNN. We suspected a militarized zone neared as more and more soldier-operated vehicles shared the road. The highway slowed to lighted intersections where armed soldiers and Israeli police directed traffic. We continued through intersections until the highway ended in a barricade.
We winded down the off ramp around cement barriers that led to tanks and armored vehicles. A soldier warned us not to proceed without an armored car. He said that with our Israeli license plates there was a good chance the Palestinians would blow up the car. He told us the story of the captured Israeli taxi driver that caused a lock down of this entrance to the West Bank. I pointed out the highway on the map then explained our intent to pass by the hill of Megiddo. The soldier assured us that what was once a highway was replaced by a battleground. He made it clear that the only direction we would be going would be the way we came.
Another soldier came to the passenger side of the vehicle to question my camera. “Of course I haven't taken pictures of military vehicles.” I didn't care how many guns G.I. Israeli had draped over his camouflage. I wanted the picture of the Lebanese border. He wasn't getting my camera. Convinced there would be no Armageddon setting to drive by that day and definitely no Iraq, we turned around. So much for my trusty map; from then on I would assume dead end for any road that led to the double black line signifying the West Bank.
Adam pointed out the Berlin style wall Israel was building to separate the Palestinians. He was convinced that we would have been fine had we been allowed to proceed through Tulkarm; I was happy to have given entry into the West Bank a chance and happier to be heading back the way we came.
Two sticking points in the peace negotiations include Israeli expansion into the West Bank and releasing the 7,500 Palestinians sitting in Israeli prisons. We drove by some of the Israeli settlements in contention and several prisons on the way to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem - Old City Wall
I was amazed that at one time people traveled to the mountainous region of Jerusalem without cars. Not that our car was a jewel. It was well traveled and the stereo would turn on untouched at different volume levels.
Even with a population of 500,000 Jerusalem has a small town feel of Christians, Jews and Muslims living in harmony, encouraged to do so by a visible police force and military presence. On a hill above the city, a thirty-foot wall surrounds the historic part of the city, Old Jerusalem. The wall surrounds a four-kilometer area that is the highest elevation in the region. Excavations in the area uncovered more than ten civilizations that this site served as the religious center.
The Jerusalem streets Adam chose to follow connected in a big circle; we drove in this circle for over an hour after backtracking from Tulkarm and the long drive from Haifa. By the time we found the old part of the city, “get me out of this car Adam!” I was tired, hungry and still blaming my coughing, aching, stuffy head condition on contagious Adam and his Asian tour.
Double parking, parking on grass and parking on sidewalks is common in Jerusalem. I was impressed with the resourcefulness the locals showed though their creative parking. Adam joined in the fun by displaying our car half on the sidewalk and half on the street.
An enchanting lighted area of shops and restaurants looked up to the walls of Old Jerusalem. I was ready for a break from Mediterranean cuisine so we decided on a restaurant that offered Italian food. Pasta and meatballs never tasted so good! After dinner we planned to call it a night and rest up for a full day inside the old city walls.
On our walk back to the car, a woman encouraged us to sign a petition to revive a Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem transportation route. She was born in Portland, Oregon and grew up a few blocks from where I lived. After a week of leaching off Adam and his Arabic ties I made a connection to benefit the travel team. She invited us to stay at her home, however, we were tired and had enough of the unique for one day so we chose the familiarity of a hotel room.
The coming of the weekend (Sunday through Thursday work week in Israel) brought vacation for Adam and I. That meant minimal hours dedicated to work and the end of Intel subsided travel. We passed up the plush $200 a night King David Hotel for the more reasonably priced Crown Plaza Tower. The Crown proved to be even nicer than the Dan!
The Holy Land - July 18th
We planned to get an early start and meet for breakfast Friday Morning. I showed up eager to greet the breakfast buffet. With the exception of omelets and a squeeze your own juice bar, breakfast at the Crown Plaza was similar to that of the Dan Hotel. Dishes were intricately displayed; I wasn’t sure whether the array of food was more fitting on my plate or in a frame. I collected my favorite Israeli breakfast items then sat down to eat them.
Adam must not have shared my hunger or excitement to start his day; thirty minutes after I sat down for breakfast, I was still sitting by myself! Chatty Adam arrived and exchanged life stories with our server extending my already lengthy breakfast. I tired of skimming travel books as I waited. Walking past a collection of cucumber dishes, I made my way to the juice maker. Six oranges and four grapefruit later I had myself quite a mess and a foul tasting beverage. I drank it anyway washing down a second helping of fish.
We entered the Muslim quarter of Old Jerusalem that morning. Inside, food, clothing and souvenirs lined streets in the open-air market called the souq. Wandering the streets was a rewarding experience in itself. However, if we had been following a plan or directions beyond “let’s see what’s inside the walls” we would have been lost. “Hey Adam, I’ve seen enough watches, handbags, T-shirts, necklaces and raw meat hanging from souvenir stands. How about you fix us up with some Arabic directions to a holy place.” Adam stopped at one of the hundreds of adjoining ten feet by ten feet shops that made up the souq. Directions, free drinks and hugs later, we emerged from a shopkeepers stand on our way to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Dome of the Rock
Lined with gardens, fountains and buildings, highlighted by the golden Dome of the Rock, the entire 35-acre Al-Aqsa area is regarded as a Mosque. The Dome of the rock or Farthest Mosque is the third-holiest Muslim site after the Sacred Mosque Ka’ba in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. The Dome was built to commemorate the prophet Muhammad’s night journey where God took him from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and then on to heaven. The Dome surrounds a rock structure Muslims believe to be the altar where Isaac almost sacrificed his son Ishmael (not Isaac as Christians and Jews believe).
We learned that I must speak Arabic and have an Arabic name to proceed beyond the Al-Aqsa entrance. Years of conflict led to strict entry requirements into this sacred Muslim area. I waited as Adam plotted a story. He bought some falafel. I noticed that Adam ate best while thinking and vice versa. He decided that having me memorize a few lines from the Koran wasn’t going to fool anyone; he would do the speaking and I would remain as I had for much of the trip: speechless with a smile.
I attempted to walk through the Al-Asqa entrance passing as a Muslim Turk. However, I didn’t possess the five o’clock shadow that morning the other Caucasians posing as Turks displayed. Even with Adam as my lead blocker, sure enough, I was stopped for questioning.
Adam took the lead to champion my entrance, “He has a Muslim mother. Not all Muslim-Americans speak Arabic…” Minutes of pleading passed; Adam learned, on duty security, place their job in jeopardy should any non-Muslim be caught causing mischief. He also learned that I wasn’t going to be allowed in that day. The guard appeased Adam by telling him to return with me the next day when non-Muslims were allowed inside.
Oh well, plenty of other places to visit. The brilliance of the sunlit dome from where I stood was good enough for me. The Dome of the Rock, once built of Solid Gold, was treated with a thin coating of 24-karat gold ten years earlier to retain a golden shimmer.
We left Al-Aqsa to see the Wailing Wall portion of the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is regarded as the Biblical Mount Moriah where God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. It is also the place where King Solomon’s temple was built and later destroyed by Nebecanezar.
Jews returned from exile to build a second temple in this area of Jerusalem. Parts of the retaining walls Kind Herod built to reinforce that temple are accessible today, two thousand years later. The Western Wall or Wailing Wall is the largest retaining wall. Its name originated from Jewish worshipers who mourned the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D.
The closer we came to the Jewish area the more secure the environment. We passed through a metal detector set up in a tunnel leading to the Wailing Wall. My first glimpse of the wall didn’t compare to the pictures of it that I came across that week. Similar to other sites we visited, the Wailing Wall was more impressive and powerful in person.
Israeli buildings stood opposite the wall in the courtyard. We put on yarmulkes and proceeded toward the wall divided into male and female sections. Men must cover their heads and women their legs when approaching the wall.
Chairs beside the wall sheltered us from the sun that hot day. As we rested Adam told me that he wanted to take a pebble from the Wailing Wall. I was thinking how ridiculous and especially sacrileges it would be for him to take a piece of something so sacred to others when I spotted a rock. Adam tucked the rock in his pocket while others read aloud from scriptures in chairs and from behind pulpits. Next to us Hasidic Jews prayed passionately facing the wall. Their curly hair hung from dark hats beyond the point of sideburns on top of uniform white shirts and black suits.
We sat peacefully in the shade absorbing the atmosphere as those around us worshiped. Before we left, we reflected on the surroundings, touched the wall and felt its energy.