Golan Heights, May 2008

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Went for a road trip round the Northern quarter of Israel last Saturday. From Tel Aviv we took the freeway up to Haifa, made our little Hyundai Getz groan all the way up the hill to see the Bahai Gardens, to take a picture looking down at the port. Then we got lost trying to find an interesting way down. Finally found the road North, and headed for Akko.

Our goal in Akko was the best Hummus in the world, found at a particular restaurant in the old Arab quarter of the town. We started asking directions to his place, and indeed everyone knew where it was… but as we got closer, we were told he’s closed Saturdays. Ah well, we had great hummus at another one in the market… and the freshest most delicious lemonade I’ve ever seen, with fresh mint leaves drowning in the glass. We got lost wandering through the village, marveling at the 5-metre thick Crusader port walls, the cellphones wandering through rocky walkways thousands of years old, the mix of Christian and Muslim and Jewish cultures. The Arab who squeezed oranges to make us juice told us he speaks Italian (his wife), Arabic (his mother tongue), Hebrew and English and a few other languages (for the tourists).

While we were lost, we ran into a wedding, got 

stuck between the happy shouting clapping men on one side, and the happy, singing, beautifully dressed women on the other. The joyful tears were contagious. My camera just couldn’t capture the loud spirit, but it caught a few moments and costumes.

Finally we headed East into Galilee, starting to wander from freeways onto smaller and smaller roads, up into the hills where Jesus spent his childhood. We were curious about the Lebanese border, so we got as close as we could. It was funny to see a sign saying “Do not pass further. Border ahead.” We followed the border along a one-lane track for several kilometres. Lots of barbed wire. UN tanks patrolling on the Lebanese side. Israeli settlements edging right onto the barbed wire, as if stating a claim on the land. An old cemetery pushing a loop into the fence, to keep the graves on the Israeli side. Along the highway, an array of tanks under camouflage, a few clicks from the border.

We headed further East, climbing into the Golan. Israelis joked we should get there fast, while it’s still Israeli… they’re negotiating with Syria now for possible return. Funny again to see the mix… the Nimrod fortress from 1229 a few kilometres from Israel’s Golan Ski Hill, which is next to a military base, which is a few kilometres from a Druze village, where kids and old people sell cherries on the side of the road, and a man walks his sheep along the sidewalk, and the town is powered by wind turbines on the Syrian border. You don’t walk past the fence, because the sign warns of land mines left by the Syrian army in some past conflict. I’m told it’s cheaper to let the occasional cow find a land mine, than to sweep the whole area.

The Golan looks a lot like the Okanagan, including the cherry stands, the hot rolling hills, the pine trees, the vineyards. As we wound back down, we came into the party town of Tiberias, Israel’s Kelowna, on the Sea of Galilee. We picked up 4 hitch-hikers who’d gone camping on the Jordan. One from Russia, one from Georgia, one from Siberia, one I forget, but all Jews studying and working and hoping to stay in Israel. Aside from a few Christian-oriented tourist draws, the Galililee looks more a beach-town for locals than a repository of religious history. It’s a funny country, with these ancient names, and a young nationhood. It’s hard to find a distinctive local culture; the country’s so new… but the names and some of the walls are so old. The freeways are gleaming and growing, crisscrossing geographies that cover Western literature.