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Eilat beach and resorts on the Red sea southern tip - Israel.

Heading for the hills...

...and on through the Negev Desert...

...into the huge crater of Maditesh Ramon...

.... and out the other side. This is barren country and yes, it is hot.

Tel Aviv and what a welcoming sight.

View of Tel Aviv across the beach from the old city of Jaffa

Just one of the many characters in the flee market, Jaffa, Tel Aviv.

Discussing and solving world issues no doubt.

All manner of breads can be found in the Carmel Market

A lunch of homus egg and bread, mmmm.

Making traditional flat breads in the market.


This is a small part of the huge aqua duct on the beach in Ceasarea.


One of the many narrow passageways in the ancient city of Akko.



Normal teenage girls posing for the camera while enjoying a school excursion at Akko
...

... but as the sun set, they reached for their 'book of life' and began chanting their prayers. Seems these girls are from an orthodox Jewish school where religion is taken very seriously and they swayed back and forth, mesmerised in what they were doing. Yes, very interesting people of Israel!


The Baha'i Gardens are most impressive and immaculately maintained.


Attractive German Area in Haifa


Life in a modern city, we just happened to catch this attractive couple having their wedding photos taken.


The shade huts are a good idea.


View looking down to the Sea of Galilee from the surrounding hills. This is a major religious pilgrimage centre as well as a year round relaxing holiday spot.


This is Capernaun, the centre of Jesus's ministry in Galilee and we just happened to catch these Nigerian pilgrims. Later they broke into enthusiastic gospel singing with their amazing African voices creating quite an atmosphere.





Old and new Nazareth..


Orthodox Jews. The men apparently spend their time studying the Jewish religion. They don't work and are not required to do military service. The women wear wigs and often shave their heads. Interesting!




Orthodox Jews on their way to the Wall...

...and in front of the Wall.


This is the celebration of Bar mitzvah in front of the Wall and is the entry of a Jewish boy into the adult Jewish community. When a Jewish boy reaches physical maturity, 13, he is responsible for all the observances, obligations, and prohibitions of a Jewish adult.


Almost all Israelis are required to do military service when they reach 18 years of age - even the girls.

Israel


Israel
The old city wall of Jerusalem


Bethlehem lies inside an area under the Israel, Palestine Interim Agreement and is not safe to visit.


Looking across to the Jordan river valley
.

Interesting Israel

Tel Aviv
It's always a time of anticipation when we pass from one country into another, but today we are more tense than usual. We've done our homework and checked with the border officials that it will be OK to stamp a piece of paper and not our passports on the Jordanian side but we're unsure about what to expect on the Israeli side. (Remember if there is any evidence that we have been to Israel then there is no chance that we can re enter Syria to get back to Turkey.) Our Australian friends, Matt and Nichole, were grilled for 5 hours on the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge Crossing by the Israelis when they crossed a couple of weeks ago. The Israelis seemed particularly interested (concerned) in the fact that they had been to Iran and Syria, as have we.

Anyway, as promised the Jordanian immigration officials stamped a piece of paper instead of our passports so there will be no evidence that we have actually left Jordan. Just Jack to sort out now and that also went smoothly, except... We are now told that we cannot re enter at this crossing with a motorcycle! 'Why not?' 'Don't know.' 'Doesn't make any sense?' 'That's just the way it is. You can only re enter Jordan with a motorcycle at the Jordan River crossing right in the north of the country.'

Well, a bit of a hiccup, but we can deal with that. Sometimes things don't make sense. Just hope we don't have any problems at the northern crossing in a weeks time and with that thought we rode out of Jordan and into the unknown.

The Israeli immigration and customs offices were well organised with numbered windows to indicate the sequence to be followed. First up we wanted to check that there would be no problems with Jack. 'Just go to that window and get 'green card' insurance. That's all you need', said the friendly customs official. Sadly, the lady at the insurance window wasn't quite as obliging, but eventually we did get the insurance we needed, but at a huge cost. $80.00 for one week!!!

Back to window 1 for immigration processing and after a couple of questions like 'have you got any guns, explosives etc? the friendly officer stamped an elusive piece of paper and we were in. Probably the quickest and easiest border crossing we've ever been through.

Israel is such a complex country with a complex past. It is the Promised Land of the Jews, the last place touched by Mahammed on his journey to heaven and is also the birthplace of Christ. To get an understanding click on the PDF documents below.

Israel country profile

The Palestinian conflict

Jewish history

Palestinian history

Eilat, wedged between Jordan and Egypt, is an Israeli resort city on the tip of the red Sea with flash buildings and all the usual 'western' trimmings one might expect. We stopped there to phone our friends in Tel Aviv and get directions to their unit and Dianne also found a tourist information office to get some maps. Entering Israel is like entering the 21st century after the countries we've been through and we spent some time just marveling at the sophistication and facilities.

Leaving Eilat, my trusty guide had decided to take the mountain route toward Tel Aviv through the Negev desert region. A good choice as with the altitude came cooler temps and interesting scenery and we enjoyed an easy run through changing conditions from absolute desert to the Maditesh Ramon crater, through desert scrub to quite fertile and cultivated areas especially as we neared Tel Aviv. A bit of a reality check though when we stopped at a McDonalds for a coffee hit. Whilst they served an excellent espresso, they also charged, what to us was an exorbitant amount.($4.00 each). This is Israel and along with westernisation comes higher prices. We're just not accustomed to these charges, but I guess we'll just have to get used to them especially when we enter Europe.

The instructions Dianne got from Eli were spot on and we easily found our way to their apartment. We first met Eli and Eynav in Guatemala. They were on their honeymoon and said they planned to settle in Australia. Later they visited us in Australia where Eynav discovered she was pregnant. Now here we are in Israel visiting them and seeing baby Emma for the first time. Needless to say we had lots to chat about and really enjoyed their hospitality.

We can only spare one week in Israel so we need to make the most of each day, so on day two we explored Tel Aviv (meaning Hill of Spring) trying desperately to get an understanding of the history, the people, the religion and the reasons for the conflicts Israel and some of it's neighbours continue to have. We began at Jaffa an area that dates back before Biblical times, and an important ancient port for both the Greeks and Romans, and yes this is where the oranges get their name. Excavations are now revealing Egyptian ruins dating back 3300 years! The place has been given a new lease on life and we wandered about taking in the sights. In 1909, Jewish immigrants from Europe founded a city on the sand dunes northeast of Jaffa and this is where Tel Aviv was founded. Today, less than a centaury later, it has a population of 1.1 million and is a modern, vibrant multicultural city, a result of mass immigration from all over the Jewish world.


The original settled area of Tel Aviv - the narrow streets and red roofed houses of Neve Tsedek in contrast to the modern centre.

We met our friends about lunchtime for a tour of the huge Carmel markets in the Yemenite Quarter and enjoyed a tasty local lunch at a side walk cafe.


Carmel markets with fruit and Vegetables, breads and spices. Reputed to be the biggest in the Middle East.

Dianne who has now virtually become a vegetarian has been hankering for bacon for months, and even though this is a Jewish country she is hopeful of getting bacon. Eynav too loves bacon and shows Dianne where she can get some (actually about a half a Kg).

Haifa

Our time in Israel is short so we have to keep moving and today it's north to Haifa to visit other friends that we've met on the road. We met Liz and Shamay in India and they invited us to stay with them if ever we were in Israel. They are a fun loving couple about our age so we decided to take them up on their offer.

On the way up the coast we stopped off at Ceasarea, an ancient Roman port built by Herod the Great. Here we found all the usual trappings of the Roman empire such as theatre and temple, but also an impressive aqua duct system that ran for many kilometres along the beach.

From the moment we arrived in Haifa we were on the go, which was good considering our limited time here. After unpacking and a quick drink, Shamay whisked us off for a tour of Akko, an ancient stonewalled fortress and port built next to the sea and which has a long and varied history under the Phoenicians, Alexander the Great, the Egyptians and the Romans. It was also the capital of the Crusader kingdom after the fall of Jerusalem and an important Ottoman (Turkish) port. How's that for interesting?

The attractive old port of Akko

Haifa is Israel's third largest city with a population of 270 000. It has a busy industrial port, a trendy German Colony and is a centre for the countries technological industry. It is also where the magnificent Baha'i Gardens are located and Liz and Shamay have made a booking for us to visit.

ISRAEL
The view of Haifa from the Baha'i Gardens.

ISRAE;
The attention to detail in the Baha'i Gardens is quite unlike anything we have ever seen.

We didn't know much about the Baha'i religion so it was back to the encyclopedia where we found this extract.

'Baha'is, are members of the Baha'i Faith. This religion was founded in 1863 in what is now Iraq. The Baha'i Faith has spread throughout the world.

Baha'is believe that God sent a series of messengers to teach eternal moral truths and reveal new social principles. Among them are Abraham; Moses; Jesus Christ; Buddha; and Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, the religion of the Muslims. Baha'is believe that the latest messenger was a Persian called Baha'u'llah (Glory of God), who founded the Baha'i Faith.

Baha'u'llah declared that all religions honour the same God, and that the highest form of worship is service to other human beings. He also taught that God wants all people to form a united society based on mutual acceptance. Baha'u'llah opposed discrimination based on age, race, or sex, and he favoured a federated system of world government. He emphasized the need to pray, and to read and meditate on the word of God daily.

The Baha'i Faith grew out of the Babi Faith, a religion founded in Persia (now Iran) in 1844 by Siyyid 'Ali Muhammad, also called the Bab (Gate). The Bab predicted that a great prophet would soon appear. He won many followers, but the Persian government executed him in 1850 for his teachings. In the persecution that followed, as many as 20,000 Babis were killed. Baha'u'llah was imprisoned, and then exiled to what is now Iraq. In 1863, he declared himself to be the predicted prophet. Most other Babis accepted him and became known as Baha'is.

There are about 5,500,000 Baha'is worldwide. They have about 20,000 local councils, called Local Spiritual Assemblies, including about 1,500 in the United States. National governing bodies exist in more than 170 countries. The U.S. National Spiritual Assembly has its headquarters in Wilmette, Illinois. The Universal House of Justice, the international governing body, meets in Haifa, Israel.'

The Mediterranean Ocean looks inviting and we decide to visit a supermarket, buy some cheese, cold meats, salad and wine and enjoy a swim and sunset. But... today is Saturday, the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week and a day which is observed by many Jews as a day of rest and worship. 'One of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 8-11) requires resting on the Sabbath and many Jews take observance of the Sabbath seriously. In the Oral Law, 39 all kinds of labour were forbidden. These included the procedures related to growing, preparing, and cooking food; weaving and making clothes; slaughtering animals and preparing hides; writing; building; carrying things from one location to another; and lighting fires'. Orthodox Jews won't even turn a light switch on or turn the TV on. They'll leave these switched on overnight on Friday instead. There is also no driving and Liz and Shamay said that several roads leading back to their unit will be blocked off to vehicle traffic later in the afternoon. Interesting!

Fortunately, Russian Jews have different beliefs and we found all we needed in a huge modern supermarket, which stocked much the same things as one would expect in a supermarket in Australia. This is the first time in almost 9 months that we have seen the selection of foods and produce that we can now only distantly remember. We spent at least an hour just trolling the aisles marveling at what was available - and at a price of course.

Anyway, we got our picnic items and made our way to the beach. Quite a revelation to see women wearing G strings and flaunting their wares after being in Muslim countries for so long where they are completely covered. There was some rubbish laying on the beach but it was when I went for a swim that I realised the full impact of it. After the pristine beaches of Australia, it was somewhat disturbing to feel plastic bags drifting past your legs or torso while trying to enjoy a refreshing swim. Oh well, back to the beach and we made the most of the magnificent sunset and thoroughly enjoyed our picnic. The wine was wonderful too, an Australian Red!

Time today to move on. We are only about 40km from Lebanon and today's ride takes us east to the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus calmed the stormy waters . It's an attractive area in the hills, but the temps are in the forties and that takes the edge of the experience somewhat.


Mural on the side of a wall in Tiberias which gives us a glimpse of life back in biblical times.

Then it was on to Nazareth, which today is a large city and we just didn't want to get caught up in the traffic, so after a quick look at the old sector it was on to the highway for a quick blast down to our friends in Tel Aviv.


View from the balcony of Eli and Eynav's apartment overlooking Tel Aviv

Jerusalem.

King David made Jerusalem his capital some 3000 years ago and his son Solomon built the first temple. Today Jerusalem is the ultimate destination for countless pilgrims. The old city is divided into Jewish, Christian and Muslim areas and the pilgrims of these three monotheistic religions each make their way to the various Holy sites.

No visit to Israel would be complete without experiencing Jerusalem. It is one of the world's holiest and most fascinating cities and probably the most disputed and fought over. Today Jews, Muslims and Christians inhabit Jerusalem and one can see Black clad men and boys with sidecurles hurrying to the synagogue, Monks in long robes standing in quiet meditation and Arabs working prayer beads through their fingers. It is also where one can hear the mingling sounds of tolling church bells and the Muslim calling of the faithful to prayer.


A monk standing in quiet communication!


In the old city bus loads of tourists out number the locals going about their daily business in the markets

We wandered through the markets and the Christian quarter visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which occupies the site said to be the place of Jesus's Crucifixion and where he is buried, and the old city of David with the Tower of David Museum.


In the Jewish Quarter the Western Wall or Wailing Wall, is the only remnant of Judaism's holiest shrine which was build by Herod in 20BC. Apparently the 'Wailing' is a reference to the Jewish sorrow over the destruction of the temple. Today the 'wall' is an open synagogue, the right side for women and the left for men.


A mosque in this unique city where every building in the new city must be built of stone to maintain the look and character of the old town. Jerusalem is Islam's third holiest city, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

We felt that we didn't have enough time in Jerusalem, but this is day seven and we must leave Israel this evening and there is one more significant place to visit if we are to understand the plight of the Jews. The Holocaust Memorial is located just outside Jerusalem and is devoted to teaching the history of the Holocaust. The museum, features films, photographs, eyewitness accounts, and various objects from the time. It begins with the rise of Nazism during the 1930's and concludes with the Allied liberation of concentration camps at the end of the second World War.

Suffice to say that a visit here is a very moving experience and it was in somber mood that we left Jerusalem and headed east then north towards the border with Jordan. We went through the impressive Judea Desert on the E1 which dips below sea level, then on the N90, past Jericho and up the Jordan River Valley to the border crossing. We had to be careful to stay on the highways to make sure we went around any areas under the Israel, Palestine Interim Agreement (2007). Just to add to the complexity of this country, these areas are under Palestine control and the Palestinians are responsibility for civil affairs, internal security and public order. Important biblical sites such as Jericho and Bethlehem lie inside these areas and we were told that Jericho is now a hide out for criminals and we should be especially careful not to enter this city. Just one wrong turn and we could find out for ourselves!


The Judea Desert

It was a longer than expected ride to the border and we arrived at about 7.00pm. The border closes at 8.00pm but the Israelis processed us quickly and efficiently. Our passports were not stamped at immigration but the custom officers were not so obliging. They were telling us the Jordanians were not going to let the bike through the crossing and that they needed to stamp my passport to prove that it left the country. 'Why' we had to ask? 'that's just the way it is', 'well you realise that if you stamp the passport we can't re enter Syria', 'they won't notice it', 'Well we're not taking any chances', and so it went on for some time with both of us being insistent. Haydn playing the good guy , Dianne the bad eventually the Customs guy succumbed, albeit reluctantly. When we eventually rode through the Israel border, across the bridge and into Jordan's customs it was getting dark, but most importantly there was no evidence in our passport that we had entered Israel or re-entered Jordan so there shouldn't be any problems getting back into Syria. Jordan officials welcomed us and processed our entry quickly and efficiently.

As we rode into the twilight in Jordan we had a moment to reflect on the past week. Israel is the spiritual hub of all three monotheist religions. Jews, Muslims and Christians. It has been one of the most interesting countries we have visited in terms of it's ancient and modern history. It is also one of the most turbulent countries and dynamic too and our brief visit here has given us a somewhat better understanding of the current issues and conflicts that continue to ensure Israel stays in the news headlines.

Interesting Israel

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©Haydn and Dianne Durnell 2008