These are some notes I took from our Spring 2013 trip
Friday, May 3
Jericho and the Dead Sea were on today’s menu. We drove through Jerusalem and down the long drive past Bedouin encampments in the desert. Jericho is the longest inhabited place in the world, and the lowest. There is a nice little souk or market in town, the sycamore tree of fame, and a cable car up to the Mount of Temptation.
The Mount of Temptation itself is supposed to be where Jesus fasted for forty days and was tempted by the devil. I find it doubtful for a place to fast in isolation, because even in this rocky redoubt, you can clearly hear sounds from the town of Jericho, not really conducive to being a hermit. Tourists don’t need to worry about fasting anyway because the Mount of Temptation has a restaurant available for you!
Across from the bottom of the cable car, and clearly visible from the cars themselves are some of the most ancient stairs in the world, and an ancient dig site. We considered visiting it but frankly we were wilting a bit in the heat.
After we came down from the mountain, we stopped at a restaurant in town called the Green Valley, which was mentioned in our guidebook. We were greeted by the owner and shown to a table but we were the only customers. As we were perusing our menus, we heard a voice call out, “I didn’t think they let foreigners in here!”
The voice belonged to Taysir Saada, also known as “Tas,” a friendly gentleman in his 60s. wAs we got to know Tas, we got to hear some of his really remarkable story. He was waiting for a tour group to come for lunch, but in the mean time we chatted about his story. He was born a Palestinian Muslim who ran away from home as a teenager to fight with the Palestine Liberation Organization with Yassir Arafat, and who fought as a sniper, shooting Israeli soliders. Later in the 1970s he moved to the US. There he married an American woman and had a lifelong friendship with an American businessman. The short version of his story is that Tas had become successful himself, but is now a Christian and is living again in Jericho doing humanitarian work.
Tas’ organization is called Seeds of Hope. Check it out!
This was an excellent opportunity to connect with someone local who has a unique perspective on the situation in the territories.
Economic Development in Palestine: I visited Jericho for the first time in 2008. I was on a business trip in Tel Aviv and drove myself down. At the time, I had to face off against Israeli Defense Force guys and gals with big guns checking me before I entered Palestine. Once across the line, the state of the roads changed dramatically from western-Europe standard in Israel to third-world pothole city. In contrast on this trip, I was amazed that the roads were pretty much at the same level of smoothness as the rest of Israel and I was not checked at all coming back into Israel and barely acknowledged leaving Israel. This was not only a drastic change from 2008, I also expected there to be a lot more security, since we had heard that there had been shots fired not far from Jericho. I’m not sure if the signs of security and prosperity are due to Israel or foreigners, but it’s clear that someone is finally looking out for these guys!
After Jericho, we decided we needed to experience the Dead Sea. So we descended even further to the lowest body of water in the world. We decided to scope out a beach, but the first one we found charged 30 NIS (about $7.50) to enter. We convinced the staff there to let us in for free just to check out the beach.
Once past the gate, Deb commented that she was the only woman present amongst about 100 men, mostly young. They were floating, smearing each other with Dead Sea mud, showering, smoking and generally just hanging out. We took a couple of photos and back.
We had some desire to visit Masada, but it was blazingly hot and we were running out of energy to go that far south. Something else for the next trip. We headed back up with Jerusalem amongst the Bedouin shepherds and along one of the quicker routes back to Tel Aviv.
Since sundown on Friday is beginning of the Jewish sabbath, we had a couple of options. One was to visit the Western Wall again in Jerusalem since it’s the center of a lot of worship activity. The other was to watch the drumming in Tel Aviv. We opted for the drums. There is a spot on the beach where people of all walks of life get together and play their drums and dance and smoke weed. Pretty much a Woodstock moment.
After listening to the drums for a while, we walked back to the apartment, visiting a sidewalk Schwarma stand, where the proprietor was shaving meat with a circular saw instead of a long blade. Pretty innovative. I brought the meat home with some salads and we ate at the apartment again.