The Dead Sea is about 1300 feet below sea level. It’s amazing because when you’re driving there, you are in the mountains but the sign says SEA LEVEL….and then you just keep going down and down. If we had the kind of rain here that you guys are having there, we wouldn’t be allowed to go because there would be flash floods everywhere. With this hard clay land with hardly any trees, there’s just nowhere for the water to go. Yes, I floated in the Dead Sea. It was so strange. You actually have to force yourself not to float. It is very strange.
On the way to the Dead Sea, you can see several Bedouin camps along the hills…they look a lot like homeless camps and the people are herding sheep nearby. It’s like walking back in time and I ‘m told by our guide that they pretty much do what they want. The Israeli Govt doesn’t bother them and they keep a low profile in the remote areas.
There are also more Arabs as you head south in this part of the Country…we drove near Jericho with is a town that is entirely controlled by the Palestinian Authority…..there are checkpoints on the road on the way there. And across from the Dead Sea, you can see Jordan.
We also went to Masada which was King Herod’s summer palace…..it was built in 72 AD up on a hill about a thousand feet above the dead sea. You have to take a tram to get there….or you can hike it. We took the tram.
When I told my son I was coming to Israel, he said “Are you going to ride a camel?” I thought that was ridiculous because most of the time, I’ve been in the big city or in the country but today, we were in the desert and on the way to the Dead Sea, I stopped and rode a camel. A Palestinian man let me ride his camel for 20 shekles. I made Lars pay. It was cool!
Since we got here only 5 days ago, we’ve been doing a lot of interviews and burning up a lot of tape….but today, was more of a visual day so I plan to post a lot of this on our KXL Facebook site
I know this area is polarizing….political…but you can’t ignore the geography, the history here all the different people. It is really quite amazing.
Today, we went to the Judea Samaria part of Israel, also known as the West Bank, or the disputed territories. It’s a fairly vast area peppered with small towns. Some of those are Arab Palestinian towns…others are Jewish towns. Some of the Arab towns are really run down. Others are fancy. I’m told that’s because money from Palestinians in America and other countries is being sent in to build them up. Many of the Jewish cities are being built up fast too. You can see the cranes next to the buildings and varying levels of construction.
We toured a factory that makes plastic bathroom items and employs Jewish and Arab Palestinians…..They say both groups get the same benefits and are paid the same too. They let us talk to a Palestinian worker…but his bosses were right there…so I’m not sure how candid he was …but he did say he liked his job . We went to a small winery in the area which made excellent wine. The Jewish owner has been working the land since 1998. We ate on an organic farm that has a watchtower and round the clock guards and surveillance cameras.
Where it gets tricky is the Israelis are building a lot in this area and even building on empty hilltops and that has a lot of people mad because they think this will make it harder to have two state solution to the Palestinian/Arab conflict.
For now, these two groups seem to get along for the most part….they want to work and feed their families just like us. I talked to a 24 year old Jewish man who grew up in a settlement (don’t call it the West Bank he says). He played soccer and went to school with Palestinians and that they’re his friends. But, there are incidents that sprout up where the Jewish settlers have been killed. We went to one house where the whole family was killed by some Muslim teenagers who didn’t want Jews living there. They broke into their house during the night and killed the mom and dad and a three month old baby. That was less than a year ago. Those teens were sentenced to five life terms in prison this very week.
The journalists and citizens and government officials I talked to agree this problem isn’t going to end soon. Both Jews and Muslims say they have religious roots in this area and they’re not leaving. A few people also told me that most of the people who live there want to live in peace, but it is the Palestinian leadership that is fueling the hatred and ultimately, that leadership will be the one that makes the decision. They also use Gaza as an example. The Jews pulled out of Gaza and they are still dealing with missiles being shot over the fence into Israel.
We spent time at the Black Arrow memorial today…. It is a memorial for Israeli paratroopers killed in 1953. It sits on a hill that overlooks the valley that is between Israel and Gaza. It is about a mile from the actual border. (I forgot to put my card in my camera so I have no picture to post. However, an Israeli soldier named Libby Weiss from Lake Oswego joined us and she took pics for me. I'll post them later.) While we were there talking to an army captain, we heard a couple of loud booms off in the distance. It was cloudy and the sound seemed like it could have been really loud thunder …..I asked the captain who didn’t even flinch and he said he thought it was a sonic boom.
Later we drove along the border to the south and one of two major checkpoints or passage ways into Gaza. It was here I saw black smoke in the sky off in the distance. I still didn’t put it together but when we went to Be’er Sheeva….a large city not far from the border we learned that two Palestinians were trying to plant a bomb along the fence of the Gaza border and were hit by Israeli air forces. What we heard was the detonating of the bomb by the strike. Palestinian medical officials said one man was killed at the scene and a second man later died of his wounds. The fence has been targeted a couple of times this year already.
We drove further south along the border of Israel, Gaza and Egypt. We saw the place where Gilad Shalit…the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped and taken into a tunnel and into Hamas 5 years ago. He is like a local folk hero. People still follow his every move since he returned. He is about to undergo surgery again to remove shrapnel in his body. He also just signed up on Facebook which was mentioned in the local newspaper.
On our way down, we also saw a Brigadier General from Washington DC…he’s there touring the area in uniform and having talks with the Israeli government about Iran. …that was strange to see. We also just heard that the Joint Chief of Staff is here visiting the Israeli Govt. He flew in today.
More to come!
We covered a lot of ground today. Lars and I were guests of the Israeli government. It was a televised panel addressing the perception of Israel around the world. It was interesting to hear what the different people from Israel say about how the world media covers their country. They want to see the government do more to better their image. They also had me speak to the panel. I told them it was my first time in the country and what I had expected to see compared to what is really here. Jerusalem is a city of 800,000 people. It has buses and cars and even light rail. After the hearing, I was surrounded by journalists and PR people and others handing me their cards and offering to take me on a separate tours.
Later in the day, we toured the ancient City of David. I talk more about that in my story on FMNEWS 101 so I won't go into it much here. Let's just say it is a beautiful place and it's amazing to walk on stairs and in buildings that are thousands of years old.
It seems every day I feel really out of place. It's not just the language but the culture. Example: I order my coffee black. Every time I do, the person raises his or her eyebrows or smirks or throws a knowing glance to another person in the room. Finally, I asked a young man: "Is it wrong that I order black coffee?" He said: "No, but black coffee is associated with Israeli soldiers...so it is funny that I order it."
So, don't mess with me Portland. :)
PS. The security screening building is 100 yards away from the Government building in Jerusalem and across a courtyard. An added protection for lawmakers, I guess.
I'm working on a series of stories for FM News 101 but I have to share my observations with you in the meantime. El Al security is so different from our security. Lars and I were asked a series of questions by a man who looked like a young Telly Savalas (Kojak). He was polite, no nonsense and wanted to know where we were going and why. He also thought it was strange we didn't know there were other people joining the same group that we were on.
Later when we drove to meet the mayor of Jerusalem, the trunk of our car was searched. Another strange moment.
The people have been very kind so far, I have yet to open my own door, carry my own bag or be interrupted (except by Lars...LOL).
They do seem to like to honk their horn a lot when they're driving. I keep expecting someone to be mad at us, but they just honk as if to say: "I'm right here."
Most people are bilingual here but they speak primarily in Hebrew. That means I miss a lot of what people are saying around me. I hate that! Is it too late for Rosetta Stone?
I've had two meals here and they have both been fantastic! I'll have more on the food later on FM News 101.
Beautiful in the day here....COLD at night and a storm is expected to move in later this week.
Check out the view from my hotel room in Jerusalem on our KXL Facebook page.
I have lived in Portland all my life and have been riding MAX since I was about 12. Mostly my friends and I would take the train to go shopping or to concerts or to another friend's house. (Sometimes I'm surprised by the things my parents let me do alone but that's a topic for another blog!) In all my years of riding, I never encountered any sort of dangerous situation, and I've never felt unsafe. But those are just my personal experiences. Have you encountered dangerous situations while riding public transit? What did you do? Did it change your riding habits? Feel free to leave your comments below.