A Travellerspoint blog

The Map

It's Complicated. Really Complicated.

sunny 101 °F
View Israel and Jordan on paulej4's travel map.

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All of Israel, including the Golan Heights officially claimed just two months ago, measures but a mere 8,500 square miles—slightly smaller than the State of New Jersey. There are fewer than ten million people living here, three quarters of them Jews. One in five is Arab. Fewer than five percent are Christian.

Israel comprises a great portion of “The Holy Lands.” These are of specific importance to Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze and Bahá'í. The City of Jerusalem is of major importance to the first three groups in particular. After a quick check-in at the Tel Aviv Hilton and an even quicker breakfast, we join a portion of the wedding party for a trip to that very city.

We get an initial overview from Mount Olive.

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Our licensed guide is Arnona Ariely, the aunt of someone who works for Nicky. She's great as she gives us the bird's eye view of the four quarters of the city. Beneath us are tombs of one hundred thousand, many here for a thousand years or more.

Descending into the throng to walk this historic array, we first enter the Jewish Quarter.

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Columns recovered during archeological digs revealing the 17 times this city was destroyed and the 18 times it was rebuilt reveal columns from a Roman Cardo--"a grand main thoroughfare." This one bisected the city from north to south and was the city's main commercial street for five centuries. Nearby a frieze with a touch of whimsey; can you spot the thing that doesn't belong?

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Here, we are standing outside a synagog viewing a mosque in the near background and a Christian church on the far away left. Coexist? Yes; here.

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Soon, we arrive at the Wailing Wall where throngs await their chance for a closer experience. There are many Bar Mitzvahs happening today; these feature men separated from women as the boys join the former. Music reverberates. Closer inspection reveals men in a wide section praying without crowding and women separated into a narrow section jostling for position to do the same. Can you spot B4? She's in a red and white horizontally striped top.

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Moving on to the Moslem quarter we pay respect at a mosque and stop for a typical local luncheon feast. Just outside the restaurant is the Fifth Station of the Cross. We follow the path it is said Jesus walked to his crucifixion ending up at the Church of the Sepulture where many of the faithful anointed themselves or their belongings on the stone that was said to be where Christ was anointed after his crucifixion.

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It is hot; over 100 degrees. It is crowded. B4 is ten time zones removed from where she was working a mere 36 hours ago and is running on very little sleep. It's time to call it a day and return to our hotel. But that's not the only return to be discussed as we think about Israel. We spot many participants in Birthright trips. Wikipedia says it well: "Taglit-Birthright Israel (Hebrew: תגלית‎), also known as Birthright Israel or simply Birthright, is a not-for-profit educational organization that sponsors free ten-day heritage trips to Israel for young adults of Jewish heritage, aged 18–32. Taglit is the Hebrew word for discovery."

The country’s “Law of Return” grants all Jews and those of Jewish ancestry the right to Israeli citizenship. Three quarters of the Jews living here were also born here. Half of Jews here boast ancestors from Europe and the former Soviet Union.

It is a mere 263 miles from the northern border with Lebanon and the southern-most border with Egypt—about the distance from Kansas City to St. Louis. At its widest point, it is 71 miles from Mediterranean Sea to Jordan; at its narrowest it is only 9.3 miles wide from the sea to the West Bank (about the same as B4’s daily commute to work). They drive on the right side of the road and the currency is the Shekel which is divided into 100 agora. One shekel is a little more than 25 U.S. cents. Today's 100+ degree weather is an anomaly. High temperatures in June range around 80; lows just under 70 degrees F. Israel is eight hours ahead of Kansas City time so when it is noon in KC, it is 8:00pm here.

Israel shares national borders with Lebanon on the north, civil-war torn Syria on the northeast, Jordan on the east and Egypt on the southwest. And, of course, in the mix there are the Palestinian territories of the West Bank on the east and Gaza Strip to the west.

At Israel’s southernmost point lies the city of Eilat. One step east is the Jordanian city of Aqaba. One step further south from there is the northeastern corner of Saudi Arabia, home to 33 million people, the majority of whom are under 30 years of age and 13 percent of whom are unemployed. Saudi Arabia’s fiscal health waxes and wanes with the price of oil which is the lifeblood of health for Aramco, the world’s most profitable company. Should the price of oil fall—because of a long-term shift away from fossil fuels perhaps—the fate of Aramco and Saudi Arabia may fall with it.

Next door then is Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—a seemingly close ally of the U.S. president and his family, the presumed decision maker behind the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the man who temporarily placed under house arrest hundreds of Saudi businessmen and princes and the man who ordered the arrest of a dozen women for campaigning to gain equal rights to men. That geographic feature, less discussed, impacts Israel’s longer term future as well.

Despite its small size, it boasts the 32nd-largest economy in the world by gross domestic product. It is among the world’s most educated countries and boasts a highly skilled workforce who enjoys the highest standard of living in the Middle East with one of the highest life expectancies anywhere in the world; Israelis live, on average, about three years longer than do we Americans.

The official language is Hebrew and is primarily spoken; Arab residents speak Arabic; Hebrew is taught in Arab schools. English was once the official language here, is taught in Israeli schools and is widely spoken along with Hebrew. You see it on road signs everywhere.

The weather varies widely. Along the Mediterranean, cool rainy winters are bookended with hot summers. From May until September, it rarely rains. There is desert on the south where summer is very hot and winter is mild. There are mountains of nearly 2,500 feet where snow occasionally falls. Lots of sun has led Israelis to be one of the world’s leaders in per capita solar energy use; nearly everybody uses solar for hot water.

The term “Israeli Occupied Territories” is often used. Officially that now includes the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It recently also included the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem—where 200,000 Israelis already live—but that is no longer true as they have now been fully incorporated into Israel by Israel law. The United Nations Security Council has declared these annexations to be “null and void” and, unlike the United States, still considers both to be occupied territories.

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The Golan Heights, a 500 square mile windswept strategic plateau captured from Syria during the Six Day War of 1967, is home to 20,000 Israelis and 30,000 others, mostly Druze Arabs with Syrian roots. Syria attempted to reclaim this territory by force in 1973 but was defeated in that effort. Prime Minister Netanyahu recently asked his government to approve naming a new Golan Heights Jewish settlement for President Trump. It has been reported that the government wants to increase the population here to 250,000 by 2048, effectively rendering moot any “land for peace” deal that was formerly a decades-long accepted goal for the region.

Still called “Occupied Territories,” are: The West Bank (400,000 Israelis live here now) and The Gaza Strip (7,800 Israelis once lived here but all were evacuated in 2005).

There are four major metropolitan areas: Tel Aviv (Gush Dan) with just under 4 million inhabitants, Jerusalem with 1.25 million, Haifa with just under 1 million and Beersheba with just under 400,000.

We are staying in Tel Aviv at the 167-room Hilton Hotel, snug against the Mediterranean Sea with the beach and parkland just beneath our balcony. It is 15 miles and just under a half-hour from the airport. Later, we will move to Eilat to facilitate a visit to Jordan. More on that later.

One absolute truism for the map—and all other things Israeli: “It’s Complicated.”

Tonight we join the wedding party for the "Welcome: dinner. If we can stay awake.

Posted by paulej4 22:50 Archived in Israel

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Comments

It's very complicated...indeed

by ToddP

Just got logged in! As usual ....your blogs and pictures are great! It may be complicated but we appreciate your sharing the trip! The Jews have the best Weddings ...so get ready to dance and hold up a chair!
All the Best,
CC & JC

by Chuck Connolly

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