|Woman at Jerusalem's ancient Western Wall.|
|View from the Golan Heights.|
Along the shallow Jordan River, we saw both the Israeli baptismal site (very commercialized, with a fee for everything) and the Jordanian baptismal site (left as it was 2,000 years ago, and open to visitors free of charge, although permission to enter must be granted by the Jordanian military as it is a border area). The sites were separated by the river, which was about 12 meters across. Three meters on one side were Israeli, three meters on the other side were Jordanian, and six meters in the middle were international waters. The same countries both border the Dead Sea.
From Israel, we could see the ancient biblical city of Jericho, now part of the Palestinian Authority's lands. We crossed into the city of Bethlehem, now also ruled by the Palestinian Authority, past the
Hearing about the complicated history and political and religious divisiveness of this ancient land deepened my knowledge of the conflicts but did little to help me understand the ongoing hostilities. Jordan, one of the Arab countries that fought against Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967, now has a good relationship with its Jewish neighbor. Our Israeli guide pointed out areas captured from Arab countries during the war: the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. We saw new Israeli settlements on the West Bank, an area whose ownership remains highly contested.
|Building in the city of Tzfat with bullet holes from the 1967 war.|
A visit to a kibbutz revealed signs warning of live mines, placed in years past as defense
against possible invaders from Lebanon. Israel is not at war at the moment, but the evidence of past wars, and preparations for any future needed military actions, are never far away.
I would encourage anyone interested in ancient history and modern geopolitics to visit these fascinating countries. Not only did it make the religious stories I learned as a child in Sunday school come alive, but it gave me a real appreciation for the area as a whole.