In late February 2012 Sharon and I had the privileged to go to Israel for the first time. We traveled with a group from Fellowship Christian Church, our home church in Ohio. I have been wanting to blog about this since we got back but got wrapped up in farming, so now that we’ve slowed down I am going to write some of my reflections. This post will be an overview of Israel and then I will write more posts with thoughts on some of the various places we visited.
As an American one of the first things I noticed was how small Israel is. It is slightly bigger than New Jersey, and I have read that it would fit eight times inside Florida. This shows how tiny Israel is compared to the United States.
Another thing I noticed was just how much of a military presence there was. There were Israeli military walking around with machine guns all over the place. I realized that in America I don’t wake up in the morning wondering if the Mexicans or Canadians are going to send tanks over the border to attack us, but that Israel has to be on guard every day with some of the neighbors surrounding them.
On the northern border of Israel on top of the Golan Heights we were only 30-40 miles from Damascus, Syria. The Syrians are sworn enemies of Israel.
It is truly remarkable how ancient the history is in Israel. I happen to live in a house built in the 1850’s and when we have visitors they marvel at that fact. In Israel there are lots of ruins and buildings that predate the time of Christ. America has had people of European ancestry here only about 400 years, so even our oldest cities and historical sites like Williamsburg or Jamestown, Virginia, are extremely young compared to Israel.
Another thing I came to understand was how geographically important Israel is. It was right on the strip of land that was the mainland passageway from the ancient civilization of Egypt to the ancient civilizations of Persia and the Romans. Because of the vast Judean desert to the east and the Mediterranean to the west, if you were going to march an army between these various civilizations you had to go right through the land of Israel on the ancient King’s Highway or the Via Maris. You would have to march through some fairly narrow passes in the mountains so it’s easy to see how whoever controlled the pass really controlled the movement of troops and goods throughout the region.
I have lived in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area so I have been exposed to living with many different cultural groups from around the world. Israel is even more multi-cultural. Jerusalem is divided into Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian Quarters. Each section was a vastly different culture with different foods, architecture, customs and religion.
It was amazing to realize that I was in the land where many of the stories of the Bible actually happened. In Israel there are lots of traditions about where certain Biblical events took place, especially the ones talked about in the New Testament. Different groups might have very different traditions about where certain stories happened. Personally, I don’t get too hung up on who is right or who is wrong but I just appreciated the fact that this was the general area that Jesus walked and that other Biblical characters lived. Some things I don’t think there is much dispute about are where the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River are! The Sea of Galilee is larger than our local watershed lake – Clarence Brown Reservoir – but much smaller than the Great Lakes because I could see across it.
As far as the current geo-political situation, I came away with the realization that it is tremendously complex and far beyond
my ability to comprehend in a week’s trip. Our guide, Ron, was an Israeli Jewish citizen who had a great understanding of the overall situation. There were places like Bethlehem that he wasn’t allowed to go because it was occupied territories. As we drove along he would point out various countries like Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon and would explain which ones had signed peace treaties and which ones hadn’t and who could travel where and who couldn’t. There were certain lands that were in dispute from the 1967 war, and certain things that happened in the 1973 war. He pointed out a reclusive group of people in Northern Israel who were technically Syrians, weren’t wanted in Syria, but could only travel in Israel to go to the airport in Tel Aviv.
Bottom line is that I was confused who could go where and why they could or could not go because there were so many rules about it. So different than in the U.S. where if I have a driver’s license I can drive over 3000 miles coast-to-coast. As long as I obey the traffic laws no one is likely to question me or arrest me.
So in summary, Israel is a very cosmopolitan land with an ancient history and a very complex current situation. Seeing it made the Bible come alive to me in a new way. I look forward to sharing some further posts with you about our trip.