This morning I’m thinking about the destruction in Israel and the Gaza Strip as a result of the ongoing bombings between their borders Certainly I’m thinking about the situation from a humane point of view, all of the people injured and killed, homes and communities lost, lives disrupted, but also from a personal perspective.
Half a dozen years ago I visited Israel for three weeks on business and discovered a beautiful country. It’s difficult for me to think of today’s bombings and the damage being done as I remember my time there. Yet, the possibility of real danger existed and we were reminded of that possibility by the armed military personnel we passed walking the streets of Jerusalem and the glimpse at the charred skeleton of a bus parked behind a garage.
It was daylight when our plane flew over the Mediterranean Sea approaching Ben Gurion Airport, the waters of the clear Mediterranean sparkling close below us. As soon as we disembarked from the plane I realized that my preconceived notions of what Israel would look like were light years away from reality. There was not one man dressed in flowing robes in sight. Not even one camel. Instead, a young Arab man dressed in jeans and sneakers and wearing a baseball cap welcomed us to our air conditioned tour bus as we walked out of the modern airport. Driving away on a newly built highway, passing stylish business and apartment buildings, I was struck by how clean and new everything was.
Watching the reports of the fighting there today I remember how small Israel is. In approximately five hours we traveled the length of the country, from Eilat, a luxurious resort town at the southern tip of Israel on the Red Sea wedged between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to the Golan Heights at Israel’s northern border with Syria and Lebanon. In that short period of time we traveled from the barren beauty of the Negev desert (where we did indeed see men in flowing robes racing across the sand on camels) to the lush green hillsides of the Sea of Galilee.
Before visiting Tel Aviv, I imagined a mysterious and exotic city based on stories and books from my childhood. Tall potted palm trees and streets filled with camels (there are those camels again) where merchants behind booths sold their wares were a part of that fantasy. In reality, Tel Aviv is a bustling modern city with blocks and blocks of businesses and luxurious hotels on the Mediterranean Sea. There are outdoor booths where merchants sell their wares today, but those booths line modern city streets and the merchants are dressed in summer dresses or bermuda shorts.
Old Jerusalem, on the other hand, is exotic. It’s exotic and mystical and mysterious. It’s the birthplace of the world’s major religions, how could it not be. The golden Dome of the Rock that shines over Old Jerusalem represents so many different things to millions and millions of people. Today The Dome is a Muslim shrine, its turret occupied by armed Muslim guards overlooking the Western Wall where Jews come to pray every day. Muslims believe the stone inside The Dome is the place from which Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven. The Jews believe the stone under The Dome is the same stone where Abraham prepared to kill Isaac, some believe it stands over the sites of both Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples.
For the Christians of the world, Jerusalem represents the city where Jesus taught, was crucified, died and was buried. Just outside Jerusalem’s ancient walls and across a valley is the Garden of Gethsemane and The Mount of Olives. We looked at the Palestinian city of Bethlehem in the distance while standing on the grounds of a Jewish kibbutz on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
While in Jerusalem I spent much of my very limited spare time sitting in a chair and looking out my hotel room window at the walls of Old Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock and the Mount of Olives in the distance behind them. One can feel the blessedness of the city and its surroundings.
To the north of Jerusalem is the Jordan River, Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, Tiberius, Haifa, Akko, all ancient touchstones for many of the world’s religions and all archeologically significant. Watching the week's news I feel a sense of sadness for the human loss, but I'm also fearful that these ancient places could be destroyed. Losing just one would be a tragedy.
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