Today was an early day, I got up around 7 am to get ready for the West Bank Tour organized through my hostel. I had to check out of my hostel room, I was moving rooms today, there was a line when I got to the reception desk about five minutes before the tour's scheduled departure time. When I got to the front of the line, the receptionist told me I needed to bring my linens to the front desk, some hostels require this others do not, I did not see any guidance on this from this hostel, so I left the linens in my room. By the time I put my luggage in the luggage room, got my sheets, it was 8 am, the buses for the tour had arrived and were loaded.
The hostel's tour organizer came in and told me I was the last one not on a bus, he knew I was checking out, the woman at the reception sped up a little. I finally finished checking out, got on the bus and apologized to the occupants for being late. They said no problem, everyone was in good spirits, we introduced ourselves, they were law students from Canada studying in Haifa.
We sat on the bus, waiting for the tour to start. The tour did not start, we started questioning when we were going to leave, one of the drivers said we were waiting on one person. I told the people on the bus, they told me I was the last person. We sat, a few people got out and went to the bathroom, I followed a few minutes later. Finally, one of the women went and talked to the hostel staff, asked when the tour would start. Shortly after, the buses left, headed for the Israeli West Bank border.
As we approached Bethlehem in the West Bank, the first thing I noticed was the bright red sign instructing Israelis not to enter, that it was a danger for them to travel to there and against the law. In addition to the sign warning Israelis, there was a large security presence, checkpoints, and look out towers. Israel's security wall also dominated the landscape, reminiscent of the Berlin Wall before it was torn down.
Our first stop was Israel's security wall, my first thoughts when I saw it was the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Germany for almost 30 years. I was just in Berlin a few weeks ago and saw the remnants of the Berlin wall, it was sad to see another wall separating two countries. Another thing I noticed, the Israeli wall is much taller than the Berlin Wall, like the Berlin Wall it is has watchtowers every few meters for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to keep an eye on Palestinians in the West Bank. The Palestinian side of the Wall has graffiti, including artwork by UK artist Banksy.
|Me at the Israeli Security Wall on the Palestinian Side|
|Lynnae in front of Banksy Mural in Bethlehem|
|Man Shot in the Head by the IDF|
|Lynnae in front of the Church of Nativity|
|Lynnae in Cave where Jesus was born, Korean Nuns having Service in Background|
|Lynnae at Church in the Shepard's Field|
|The Shepard's Field, Bethlehem|
|Warning at the Jordan River Baptismal Site|
|Lynnae dipping her feet in the Jordan River|
|Mount of Temptation Monastery, Jericho|
|Me & Mountain where Jesus Healed Blind Men|
After Jericho, where it was very hot, we left for Taybeh to visit the West Bank's only microbrewery. I am not a beer drinker, this was the only part of the West Bank Tour I was not especially looking forward to, but it was good to see Palestinian entrepreneurs. I tasted the beer, tasted the same as all beer does to me, unappetizing. We went on a tour of the small brewery, several of the people on the tour bought beer to bring back for tonight, supporting the Palestinian economy. Taybeh is exported to Japan, and a few other countries, they are working on the US and UK now.
|Taybeh Brewery, Palestinian Beer|
|Traffic as President Abas' motorcade passes in Ramallah|
|Lynnae at Yasser Arafats Tomb in Ramallah|
We spent the last part of the West Bank Tour walking around Ramallah, some people went to a restaurant for an hour instead of walking around the area. I never felt in danger while in Ramallah, despite the State Department's warning for the area. The fact that Israel/West Bank are volatile areas was visible everywhere in the West Bank, from the multiple Israeli checkpoints to the signs at the Jordan River warning it was a military zone. Every step in this land with so many historical, sacred sites of importance to Judaism, Christianity and Muslims are disputed, the area is a big military zone. I am happy I got to see this part of the world, but it was sad to see this region, marred with conflict, poverty and little hope for a resolution anytime soon. I hope I am wrong and the Israelis and Palestinians settle this conflict soon and are able to live side by side in peace.
After Ramallah we headed back to our hostel in Jerusalem. The bus I was riding in was stopped for several minutes at the Israeli checkpoint, I wished my camera was working. I was once again in awe of the Israeli Security wall, the checkpoint, Israel's security apparatus. I am not going to pass judgment on the Israelis or the Palestinians on this blog, I am happy I did not visit Israel without seeing the West Bank, at the same time, seeing the West Bank made the conflict more vivid than it was before.
After I got back to my hostel, I changed rooms. I moved to the room next door, I added a night to my stay in Jerusalem, part of that was changing rooms, I did not mind. I met one of my hostel mates, a middle-aged man from Munich, Germany. I think my other roommate is a woman, but I have not met her yet. After I settled into my new room, I went out to find dinner, I knew things would be open, Shabbat ended today at sundown. I got my Israel favorite, Falafel on Laffa bread, it was delicious as always.
I am blogging from the lobby of the hostel, I leave Jerusalem for Eilat tomorrow morning. I do not have any big plans for Eilat, it is a beach town, I am going down there because that is where the tour to Petra, Jordan begins on Monday. Now it is time to get some much needed sleep.
Day 4 in Jerusalem Photo Album: