human behavior

Driving Israel

Posted in Foreign Impressions, Race & Ethnicity, Travel by humanb on March 27, 2012

From Jerusalem, we explored various Palestinian towns by car – including Jericho, Bethlehem, and Ramallah, as well as several smaller ones.

Ramallah, though a busy economic centre, is like most Palestinian towns: a little too grey and dusty, and in need of revitalization.

I took this picture in one of the smaller, sleepier towns, around the time that school was ending for the day.

Several Palestinian towns showed signs of American or European Union involvement in revitalization projects.

And while I saw few playgrounds, that didn’t seem to stop the local children from making their own fun.

The most striking feature of Palestinian towns, however, was the presence of the security walls which didn’t exist when I lived in Israel in 1999-2000. The walls don’t just separate Jewish and Palestinian areas…

They physically cut off major streets in Palestine that once directed traffic into Jerusalem. More than once, we found ourselves driving straight into a wall that cut off a major road I’d once travelled in 2000.

In Jewish areas, the walls remain grey and institutional-looking.

But on the Palestinian sides, the walls are often decorated with pictures of protest or hope.

If the conditions of the town didn’t give away that you were in Palestine or Israel, the wall did.

After seeing Israeli soldiers in Palestinian Jerusalem, it was novel to see Palestinian police in their own territories.

And the tranquility of Bethlehem’s Manger Square before sunset was a lovely conclusion to a day’s drive.

Women outside a souvenir shop in Manger Square, Bethlehem

Leaving Palestinian territories, we spent a day driving along the Dead Sea, all the way to Masada.

The history of this 1st century Jewish fortress is actually quite interesting. And it was all the more fascinating as told by a Jewish tour guide to a group of visiting American Jewish teenagers, for whom fact was inextricably tangled with religion and ethnocentrism.

With a rental car in a country so small, it was no trouble driving to the northernmost tip of the country next, by way of Tiberias, through the Golan.

The Sea of Galilee was serene and beautiful, and its surrounding towns, clean and cheerful.

Driving through the Golan, my husband was most intrigued by the military presence. We were stopped on our drive to make way for an armoured personnel carrier.

The (very) young soldiers were friendly enough.

This building in the Golan still wears the scars of Syrian-Israeli skirmishes.

And I’m not sure where we were when we saw this Bedouin, but you’ll find evidence of their makeshift settlements throughout Israel.

To anyone planning a trip to Israel, I’d highly recommend renting a car and leaving Jerusalem for a while. You’ll be amazed at the diversity of landscape and culture driving north, south and west of the historic capital.

Including in Palestine.

Next up: Art Encounter: Haifa

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