Israel: Day One Maybe…
We may be here. Not sure. The last five days have been a maddening whirlwind. Having spent them living in various airports around the world, we haven’t showered, slept or changed clothes since Friday. Today is most likely Tuesday. The primary reason being that Delta Airlines had booked us on a straight non-stop flight from New York to Tel Aviv, the flight got cancelled and from that point on they just simply could not find a way to get us to our destination. I was in constant communication with Delta Customer Service via Twitter no matter where I was in the world and though they continued to inform me that they “were working on it”, they weren’t any more successful at accomplishing the task as the customer service reps standing right in front of us at the different airports we were in around the world over these last few days. After days spent in the airport in New York (they advised us that “if we left, we would be risking losing our place in line on the standby flights they kept booking us on””. Unfortunately that never seemed to work out anyway.
Eventually they got some of us off to Amsterdam. Others off to London. Others to Berlin. And some of us off to Prague in the Czech Republic. It was a bloody mess. Don’t get me wrong. A free day in Prague to see the city was a fine surprise. We just weren’t planning on visiting Prague. Of all places. Talk about a surreal mind-fuck moment. Besides the fact that we were exhausted and hadn’t washed in days. From there we managed to make it to Germany. Either Berlin or Dusseldorf, or perhaps Munich. I don’t remember. We were only there for half a day. In Germany we had a few hours to kill. I spent that time continuing to study Israeli-Palestinian relation history and Hebrew. We had plenty of time to grab an old fashioned German breakfast. Which I must say are quite scrumptious and plentiful. I had some sort of wiener-schnitzel and some pretty awesome pastry. Beer is also freely served there 24/7 as can be evidenced by the below photo of The Javelin sipping his beer –mind you it’s about 7am…
Eventually the time of our departure arrived. Mind you, each time we flew into yet another country we had to go through customs and immigration for that country, the whole time claiming — as was true — that we weren’t there to visit that country per se, but just “passing through”. So the experience was filled with a lot of waiting in lines to explain to folks that our primary purpose there in that moment was to just leave and get to Israel.
Having already gone through the main Israeli security in New York, we then passed through another one at the airport in Germany in order to get to our gate; and then we were asked to go through yet another one right at the gate before boarding the plane. The Javelin nearly missed the flight entirely because he hadn’t assumed that we would be asked to go through yet another security checkpoint after having already gone through the main one at the gate. There we are, on the plane, two of the last three of us, after four days of flying around the world…so close, and one of the main people on the trip is in the Men’s Room totally unaware that there’s this whole other security checkpoint where everything must come off yet again and all of your belongings searched yet again.
But eventually we all made it onto the plane. By this point there were only four of us left together out of the 18 that were in our group. Having traveled all over the world extensively over the last 20 years I can say with certainty that I have never seen such intense security to enter into any other country in the world. Not even as Americans entering Iran was the security as intense and thorough as it was for we as Americans in trying to get into Israel. (Which is ironic considering that not only is “tourism” the main source of income for the country of Israel, the amount of free money in the form of “donation and aid” they receive from us, the United States (from our taxes) is staggering. But this well-known fact seemed not to phase the Israelis at all as they haggled and harassed to no end in their “security checks”. (Not that it isn’t understandable, considering their circumstances in a post-9/11 world. It is. But there’s a lot they can do about that if they wanted to. Instead they live in near prison-like conditions, surrounding the Palestinians who live in total prison-like conditions. So yes, terrorist threats abound. We’ll get to that.
Eventually we arrive. In Tel Aviv. Which means “old new land” in Hebrew. This old new land is hot. That may be the first thing you notice. Either that or the men in uniform all over the place packing giant machine guns or rifles. There is a stronger military presence in Israel per square foot than anywhere else in the world. More than Washington DC. It’s awe-inspiring. And frightening. And strange. If you’ve traveled the world, you know what it looks like –there are the natives and there are the tourists. Everyone does their best to mind their business and do their thing. In Israel, one has to add this giant coalition of military personnel everywhere mixed amongst both the natives and the tourists. They guard every doorway. They roam around aimlessly in the streets. They’re stationed on bridges, at stoplights, in towers that are all over the city. They’re standing on every street corner. They man every entrance to every “site”. And seemingly every building. They’re literally everywhere.
Getting our bags and getting through customs wasn’t that bad. It’s mid-day now. Most of our ragtag group is ahead of us already, long ahead. They’re already up to Galilee, the area of Nazareth, where Jesus supposedly grew up. We on the other hand are a three hour drive from there. We flag a minibus-like taxi and begin our journey. The driver is exactly as you’d expect if you’ve already come into contact with Israeli Jews in the States or anywhere else in the world. He is friendly, jovial, likes to talk a lot. Promising us the moon and more. Offering to be our guide for the whole trip, never mind that we’ve been booked on this event-packed trip for months already; offering for us to come meet his wife and children, and telling us his whole life story and then some.
Israel –especially near Tel Aviv — is every bit as industrialized as anywhere else on earth. This is not your bible’s Israel. This is a thoroughly concreted thriving pulsing industrial city. The buildings all seemingly deliberately colored similarly to the surroundings, a desert sand sort of off-white or tan. Subtle. Utilitarian is the word that comes to mind. We drive through Palestinian territories on and off. Check points. But because we are with an Israeli driver, it is easy for us. No problem. One cannot help but notice the very long lines right next to us filled with cars carrying Palestinians. For them, nothing is easy. Not even passing through a checkpoint on a non-descript area of a highway.
We arrive at our hotel in “The Galilee. Near Nazareth. It is third world up here. A much lazier, slower, casual attitude is in the air. I make my way to my room. Hopefully to meet my roomate. The others are taking a boat ride on the The Sea of Gallilee, which turns out not to be a “sea” at all, but rather just a big lake. Again, not your bible’s Israel. Our room is about six feet by six feet if that. Small but adequate. I find out that my roommate is an elderly gentleman — I believe he is in his 80s! — who worked as the Music Director for a prestigious church in Manhattan for his entire career. He also served in the military, fighting the good fight for the allies in World War II. He is more than polite. Quiet. Well mannered, soft spoken. Delicate due to his age. But strong. He walks with one of those walking sticks. We will be rooming together for more than two weeks. I have never roomed with anyone so much older than I. I must confess I am a little concerned that I would simply be too much for him, as eccentric as I am, the strange hours that I keep, etc. Hell, I’m too much for my own wife, let alone someone in their 80s who’s never even met me before.
We can smell this sea that isn’t really a sea all over the little town. It’s a pleasant old world scent. The town is decorated with tourist shops and signs EVERYWHERE. It’s like the Disney World of Jesus. You can buy “Jesus” anything. Towels, plaques, welcome mats, cups, plates, trays, even Jesus beach balls if you want. Jesus has clearly created an industry in this small otherwise unimportant part of the country. Dinner. At a seafood restaurant on the shore. Hanging lanterns light up the night. Reminds me of The Florida Keys. So far, everyone we come into contact with speaks english. As each plate is served, each person is surprised to see an entire fish on their plate, head, eyes bulging out, and tail. One is supposedly meant to cut into the fish and eat around the bones. I ordered a hamburger and fries.
Much of the contents of the diary entries that follow are random thoughts that occur to me during our hectic days. Many more thoughts were videotaped. Eventually those will get turned into a documentary series for Transcendent Television. In the meantime, try to follow as best you can. It may be a little bumpy here and there. But I’ll do my best to fill in the holes when and where I can.
The Jews — meaning the Jewish population that lives in this country as opposed to the Palestinian people — seem completely unaware of, and unconcerned with, the plight of the Palestinians all around them. In a casual manner befitting having a pet perhaps, they dismiss the question of how this land was taken 60 years ago and how the Palestinian people are treated as if it is a non-issue. It is only discussed when and if they are directly questioned about it. Other than that it is not discussed.
So far, I am still keeping to myself, doing nothing but studying Hebrew and the history of Israel/Palestine. One cannot help but be bombarded by a ton of religious data in this study. Religion is so tightly tied to this land, and to these people that there is no separating them from one another. Names dates towns stories legends and myriad factoids. Looking at all the paintings — allegedly of Jesus of Nazareth, and his mother Mary, and his disciples, one is struck by how unrealistically clean ornate and fancy humankind has created them to be through the centuries… in the hundreds of thousands of images painted or sculpted, one is immediately struck by how completely different the real Jesus and Mary and disciples must have looked in real life — just from being here now in this land and with these people. The Romans and Greeks added their own ideas of how THEY wanted these historic figures to appear. They transformed them from Middle Eastern nomadic peoples into pale-skinned Gentiles. They projected their pagan ideals and their highest ideals into the visual representation of these poor simple working people. I wonder if modern day Christians would still be “worshiping” them if they saw more realistic images of what they really looked and dressed like, if they hadn’t been gentrified through the centuries. Do modern Christians have any clue as to what a real Israeli or Judean looks like? Certainly nothing like the images that are most famous of these people. All of the Jewishness has been bleached out. It is a stark contrast, between the people we see all around us here in The Galilee and the famous images we’ve grown up seeing in America or Rome or France or Germany or anywhere else on earth. Surely Jesus and his disciples looked nothing like Da Vinci’s Last Supper.