The land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea, known as Palestine, is one of the most fought over in human history. Anthropologists believe that the first humans to leave Africa lived in and around this region and that all non-African humans are related to these common ancestors who lived perhaps 70,000 years ago. At first glance this interest seems odd, because as bits of territory go it's nothing special. These days it's mostly desert and semi-desert. Somewhere back-o-Bourke might look similar, if a bit redder.
Yet since humans have kept written records, Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, Ancient Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, early Muslims, Christian Crusaders, Ottomans (and other later Muslims), British and Zionists, have all fought to control this land. This has sometimes been for strategic reasons alone but often partly for affairs of the heart, because this land is steeped in history and myth.
Perhaps the most enduring cause for this conflict is that about four thousand years ago this was the land of a semi-nomadic war lord who came to be called Abraham and who's god Yahweh became the 'One God' of Moses then, in due course, the single, universal, all-encompassing, deity shared by all three 'Abrahamic' religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Once-upon-a-time this land was far more attractive to human habitation, lush and welcoming. Along with adjoining Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, the eastern shore of the Mediterranean was said to be a land of milk and honey. But climates change and expanding populations over-graze and cut down trees, as we have seen in desertified and deserted Petra, nearby in Jordan, that was a populous city in a green and pleasant landscape in the time of Herod. Now much of the Palestinian countryside varies in appearance from cultivated farmland, dependent on irrigation, to absolute desert.
In many ways this is vast improvement since the end of the nineteenth century, when it was most frequently described by visitors from more verdant Europe as desolate, poor, backward and diseased. Malaria and malnutrition were endemic and Western aid focussed on the provision of hospitals.
Today modern parts of Israel are a like resort areas of southern Europe or perhaps California. Many private houses are large and well appointed. There are many new high rise apartment blocks and more under construction. The use of a more or less standard colour scheme with light sandstone walls, and even raw concrete, gives the cities and towns a uniform clean or sandy look. The roads and other public infrastructure are of a high standard and prices are similar to those in southern France or Spain.
Israeli Jerusalem - A Modern City
Some parts of Jerusalem, Israel's largest city, remind me of Amman in Jordan or Damascus in Syria, before the recent destruction.
Although not nearly as rundown as those in neighbouring Egypt, Arab areas are not nearly so wealthy in appearance as the up-market, mostly European, Jewish areas. But not all Jews are rich or live the high-life either. Around half of the Jewish population is ethnically middle eastern, from poorer backgrounds. The late model cars of the wealthy mix with the not so grand. If you are interested Google Street-view is worth a look. Try clicking this link to see a not so wealthy area.
Physical appearance is where the similarity to Europe or California ends. This is a Jewish homeland, in many ways a theocracy.
Very orthodox groups abound and we were told by a cab driver when driving us on Saturday that some areas are out of bounds as cars moving on the street are stoned. Almost all official public signage is in Hebrew. English is widely understood which is good as otherwise it would be a difficult place to visit. This is complemented of replaced by Arabic in the Arab areas. Comprehensible to us, English/Latin signage is reserved for commerce, like shop and restaurant names and advertising displays.
About 20% of Israeli citizens are Arab, both Muslim and Christian, and they are in a strange coalition with each other in contrast to the Jewish majority. We found the Muslim Arabs almost universally friendly, but not necessarily adverse to ripping-off tourists. People of unknown religion we interacted with on public transport and and in street cafés particularly outside the old city were usually polite and helpful and might have been in a major city anywhere in the world. But Jews who were self-identifying by their mode of dress were frequently aloof to rude to us tourists, except when they seeking contributions to various causes like the Synagogue or the defence of Israel. One exception was an elderly German man who went out of his way to talk to us and had, he told us, come to Israel as a young adult.
I'm meeting Wendy, who arrived in Jerusalem two days ago, at the Damascus Gate of the old city. The mini-bus from Tel Aviv airport agreed to drop me there for US$20.
I offer Shekels and driver 'rips me off 'on the exchange rate. I should've just handed over a $20 note. The difference is less than a dollar but it's annoying and when he drives with the rest of my change my mood blackens. And where's the blasted Gate? Ok, across the main road and down through the car park where he could just as easily have dropped me and my bag.
There's Wendy, that's a relief! But she's not happy either. She's apologetic about our accommodation. Our already paid for hotel is in the Muslim quarter of the old city. She didn't realise when she chose it using Trip Adviser and she's disappointed.
On top of that the room is small and dingy and on trying the remote we discover that the TV doesn't work. I'm trying hard to see the bright side. The hotel has a pleasant shaded roof garden with one of the best views in the old city.
Night view from the Hashemi Hotel
We are going out exploring and the manager/concierge says he will have the TV fixed. But when we get back it turns out that the whole floor is affected. The Hashemi Hotel is being renovated.
Would we like to move to a larger recently renovated room with a view and a brand new en-suite bathroom, with their compliments? 'Is the Pope a Catholic' seems an inappropriate response in a Muslim establishment that proclaims, on a large notice over reception, that it is alcohol free and couples sharing a room must be married.
Now the view from our room is almost as good as that from the roof. And who needs TV anyway when there is free WiFi? My mood brightens. Having seen more of the City I'm now quite pleased with the location too.
About half of the old city is Jewish and the other half is Arab, Muslim and Christian.
It's Yin and Yang. The Jewish part is very ordered and institutional. Clean and very neat. All pale stone or blocks like most of the buildings in the country. It’s quite beautiful, in a sterile way, if you ignore the occasional whiff of sewerage. There are numerous black suited men with black hats and ringlets moving determinedly from one place to another. The business of being Jewish.
Yin and Yang
This other part is is predominantly markets, all rough stone pavements and shops and food and spice smells and butchers and lolly sellers and hawkers and big veiled or scarfed women with shopping baskets and people trying to ride motorbikes and delivery trucks through narrow, precipitous lanes and the milling bodies. Anything but sterile.
The nearest cross street to ours is the Via Dolorosa where it is alleged Jesus carried his cross. There are eight of the stations of the cross along it and groups of Christians singing and chanting their way up the hill to Calvary at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Specially on my second day, Friday.
One of the Stations of the Cross
Interestingly many fall victim to their imaginations and some think that they have actually become Jesus or a disciple.
But is not just Christians who suffer. Jews and Muslims also fall victim to Jerusalem Syndrome: having their religious feelings amplified by the significance of this place. It’s similar to the way that some find a house that they have been told is haunted ‘spooky’. For some, so intense is their imagination that that it manifests as a temporary or even permanent psychosis requiring hospitalisation and ongoing treatment. It has been observed in religious adherents for many hundreds of years and is so common that Jerusalem Syndrome is a classified mental illness. To learn more click here.
Wendy said that she was watching for symptoms of Jerusalem Syndrome in me but then claimed that it would be difficult to distinguish from my normal demeanour.
There is a link in this to our last overseas trip to the UK. In York we discovered that Constantine the Great, the founder of Roman Christianity, had served in the legion commanded by his father there.
The first British Christian, St Alban, was martyred a few years earlier and Constantine would certainly have known of it as his mother was a Christian. When later he became Emperor he resolved to stop the infighting and schism within the Christian Church at the Council of Nicaea. It was he who then institutionalised Christianity as a new Roman religion and thus ensured its perpetuation. As a side benefit, a lot of competing 'pagan' temples lost patronage and their revenues flowed into Constantine's coffers.
It was Helena, Constantine’s mother, who upon hearing of the finding of three crucifixions (presumably three crosses and two bodies) during modifications to a temple to Aphrodite on the hill just above here, decreed that this was Golgotha (Calvary) and ordered the construction of the first basilica here.
One of the first chapels was here
Since then thousands of pilgrims have claimed this hill. There are a couple of half size crosses to carry if you would like.
A moment's consideration is all that it takes to realise that you are not actually walking in the footsteps of Christ, no matter what your imagination and Jerusalem Syndrome might suggest.
In Roman times the streets were a good ten to fifteen feet lower as several excavation sites around here demonstrate.
Remnants of the Roman Cardo, or Main Commercial Avenue, of Jerusalem in the time if Christ
And how has it escaped those who see this as other than an entirely symbolic and imaginative observance, that they are now walking through a Muslim market?
This route was first defined some 300 years after the crucifixion is said to have occurred and it is very likely that it was quite arbitrarily chosen.
There is also the problem of the probable mislocation of Golgotha. Many religious scholars have doubted Helena's choice of location, in part because it is unlikely that Jesus was crucified at a temple to Aphrodite that may have predated the event and no one thought to mention it. Instead the Gospels mention the place of a skull. Scholars have identified other locations in particular Skull Hill and the Garden Tomb outside the walls and thus more in keeping with the story. But this city has been besieged so often, and so many have been massacred here, that I imagine that you'll find a skull or crucifixion or two almost anywhere you dig, so take your pick.
In due course Christianity based on Constantinople, Constantine's new capital (Byzantium now Istanbul) became known as Byzantine Christianity. With the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire became the most powerful Empire in the world and remained so for over a thousand years until conquered by the Ottoman Turks (Muslims) in 1453.
Actually the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is very interesting. Remnants may go back to around 260 but most is high Byzantine a hundred years later. Writing is in byzantine Greek.
Byzantine elements in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Services mainly Latin and Greek but we heard one in English they may be in numerous languages. This shrine has been expanded several times from it's consecration in 335. It has been damaged by fires, earthquakes and conflicts on numerous occasions. Its virtual destruction in 1009 became a motivation for Crusades.
Its dome was replaced as recently as 1870
For almost a thousand years there has been tension between Roman, Latin speaking, Western Christianity and Greek speaking Eastern Christianity, heightened by an attack on Christian Constantinople by Western Christian Crusaders in 1204, and this schism became even more complex after the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 16th Century. Eastern Christianity is still the predominant Christian faith everywhere from Egypt (Coptic) through the Middle East to Greece and Russia (Orthodox).
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Thus Christians have been fighting each other for supremacy in this basilica almost since it was built. As a result the keys have traditionally been held by a local Muslim family who are charged with keeping the peace.
A friend in Germany told us that during his visit to the Basilica violence erupted between Greek Orthodox and another group of Christians, presumably Roman, resulting in a running fist-fight that he likened to a bar-room brawl in a wild west movie.
The faithful praying in the Basilica, mostly women, are certainly intensely engaged and are matched only by the Jewish women in the tunnels along the western wall. More of that later.
A number of Protestant Christians have been more inclined to the view that the Basilica is misplaced. There is a large Lutheran church a few hundred metres away that is quiet and pleasant inside, if a little too sterile to be interesting, and makes no special claims about its location.
The third Abrahamic religion is in the majority in this sector and the call to prayer is heard at intervals during the day and men disappear from their shops.
There is a tramway (tight rail) in Jerusalem that joins the Palestinian/ Arab East Jerusalem and the Jewish remainder.
Jerusalem Light Rail (Wikipedia Commons)
The Trams were designed and built by a French company and are very modern. The tramway features an architectural suspension bridge that has come to symbolise it.
We needed to use it to to get to the Bus Station to go to Nazareth and had a trial run to other places of interest to work out how to buy tickets and so on. A helpful secular man showed us how to negotiate the ticket vending machine that appeared to have instructions only in Hebrew and Arabic in order to reach instructions in other languages. We might have expected French at least!
But like almost everything here the Tram is steeped in controversy. A Muslim woman we talked to at some length told us that it used to be possible to use unexpired tickets to travel to work because other Muslims would give them to each other when they got off the tram. But this has been stopped by inspectors and heavy fines. So now she has to buy two full price tickets each day, whereas Jewish Israelis can purchase a weekly or monthly ticket and travel for a fraction of the price. To do that too she would need a credit card and/or ID Card that Muslims are reluctant to have as it makes them vulnerable to the Israeli authorities. Perhaps she is here illegally as a result of her religion? She sounded as if she is hiding-out somewhere - a bit like Anne Frank in her garret.
I looked the tram up on the Web and this is what I found:
|Wall Street Journal, 2009 Reporting on the Tram's construction:
In Jerusalem, Arabs and Jews Finally Agree ...
The PLO fumes against an "illegal Zionist project" it says is designed to consolidate Israeli control over Arab districts seized after the Six-Day War in 1967.
Ultraorthodox opponents have their own set of complaints. They worry about easy mingling of the sexes at tram stops and on the tram and say the light rail system will disturb a network of so-called "kosher buses," a privately run service that keeps male and female passengers separate. In a letter to city hall last year, seven rabbis complained that their followers will have to pass through secular areas "where a God-fearing person would not set foot."
In Arab quarters of Jerusalem, meanwhile, supporters of the PLO raise more concrete issues: Will it be safe to get on a tram used by Israeli settlers? Nabil Issa, a shopkeeper whose store looks out on a heap of tram-related rubble, curses the project for disrupting his business and thinks that riding with Israelis will be "too risky."
Some Jewish settlers, he says, can be aggressive but he's more worried that the tram will become a target for Palestinian militants. "It is not safe for my family to ride with Israelis," says Mr. Issa.
Since then we have returned to Sydney only to see on television a car careering along the platform of the Ammunition Hill tram stop, where we stood, killing a child and injuring eight. The Palestinian driver was shot 'trying to escape'.
The previous day (October 22), a few hours apart in real time, a car was backed through a Neutral Bay coffee shop in Sydney injuring seven people. When the TV cameras arrived the shaken driver was being commiserated with by some of the victims of the terrible accident. They were all taken of to hospital for observation.
A tale of two cities.
Since that time the Jerusalem driver has been identified as a Palestinian terrorist, as well he may have been, and the city was in lock-down as recriminations fly on both sides.
This was the news on ABC Radio on the morning of October 28
The Israelis say Abdul Rahman Shaloudi was a terrorist who deliberately drove his car into a crowd of at a tram stop last week. A baby and a 20 year old woman were killed. The driver was shot at the scene by police and died later.
"Thank God. Thank God that my son is a martyr," his mother says at his funeral. "He had a smile on his face; finally he is happy now. Thank God."
There've been nightly clashes in Jerusalem and the West Bank ever since last week's incident. In one demonstration, a 14 year old Palestinian boy was shot and killed by Israeli forces. In this environment of anger and unrest, Israel's prime minister has reportedly moved to advance plans for 1,000 new units in two different settlements in East Jerusalem.
"There is a public consensus that Israel has the full right to build in the Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem and in the settlement blocks," Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset. "All the governments of Israel in the past 50 years have done so. It is also clear to the Palestinians that these places will remain under Israeli sovereignty in any future arrangement," he said. "The French build in Paris, the English build in London, Israelis build in Jerusalem."
As he was speaking, the Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah was making a rare visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's old city: the site the Israelis call the Temple Mount.
"All the Israeli violations, all these settlements, everything that the occupation is doing in this area is illegitimate", he declared. "It is confirmed by the judgement of history that any occupation in the world has to end. God willing this occupation will end and there will be an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital."
After I wrote this, running down Israelis with a car has become a new fashion among Palestinians in Jerusalem and has happened twice again, in the street and at a bus stop, an iron-bar wielding perpetrator being shot on the spot.
We asked the Muslim woman we befriended what she thought the resolution to the obvious tensions might be. She told us God will bring peace. Later our Christian cab driver/guide said exactly the same thing. A lot of people here believe in prophecy or in the will and ultimate plan of God, as obscure as that seems here. A lot of people seem to be very scared.
No one Jewish has yet expressed this view but I'm sure they might. They seem to be preparing for a fight. There are Jewish kids in uniform everywhere, many of them girls, carrying weapons and live rounds.
Kids in Uniform - Ready for a Fight - if G_d wills
In the Old City weapons are more or less restricted to the Jewish quarter. In the Muslim quarter, around our hotel, there is just an occasional police person with a sidearm. At night at least one passage that we attempted to use between the quarters was blocked by gates and armed guards.
We are here for three more days then back to Germany where there is absolutely no sense of danger and no one is carrying guns. How things change!
Part of the old city is an archaeological dig and sheds new light on many of our oldest myths.
Around 950 BCE King Solomon built a Temple in Jerusalem to house the Arc of the Covenant and it became the most important Jewish shrine for around 400 years. Both Babylonian and Hebrew records agree that it was destroyed in the second Babylonian siege of the city. Babylonian records suggest that this was in the summer of 587 BCE. The secular dates differ from the rabbinical dates.
King Darius the Great completed a replacement Second Temple in 516 BCE on the hill that is now covered by the mass of the Temple Mount. This temple then served for another half millennia with minor extensions to the Mount until Herod decided to undertake its renovation.
At the time of Herod the Great Judea was very wealthy. The Romans had recently replaced the Greeks (Alexandrians - Egyptians) as overlords and Herod, the king of Judea, was a consummate builder of ports, forts and temples.
He completely rebuilt the Temple between 20 and 18 BCE. According to the Roman Historian Flavius Josephus he even replaced the foundation stones and restructured the Temple Mount.
Herod's Temple after 18 BCE - Model at the Israel Museum
The city walls have been attacked and rebuilt several times since then
Today the city wall to the right is the same height as the Mount
Temple Mount - in the middle ground - as we see it today
The golden dome is the Dome of the Rock
The long building to its left, with the smaller grey dome at its end, is the Al-Aqsa Mosque
Herod's rebuilt Second Temple was between them, slightly covered by the former
The Western wall is on the other side of the Temple Mount
As a result of Herod's new improved Temple Jews flooded in from around the Diaspora. There was a half Shekel head tax on all Jews, to be paid at the Temple, and all were expected to make an animal sacrifice there, usually a lamb or goat. Special cleansing baths can still be seen among the ruins.
Sacrifice Cleansing Baths
You went down the steps on one side carrying your sacrifice, got purified in the bath water
(more likely putrefied in what was effectively a sheep dip), and then come up the other
On the archaeology museum site today there is an audiovisual presentation dramatizing this with the story of a man coming in to the temple exchanging his money, paying his tax and buying his animal for sacrifice.
It is said that the temple featured unusually large gutters, not for rainwater but to deal with the flow of blood. There was a huge industry around providing and selling animals and, presumably, preparing the carcasses that were supposed to be cooked with the entrails still inside then eaten ritually. Money changers exchanged currencies into Shekels for these transactions with the usual degree of honesty, constrained only by marketplace competition.
It is said that a young Rabbi called Jesus was unhappy about the money changers and got martyred for his troubles. As a result some hailed him as the Jewish Messiah who would restore the Temple of Solomon. All of the major Messianic prophecies indicate the Messiah must be a descendant of King David (Ezekiel 34:23, 37:21-28; Isaiah 11:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5, 30:7-10, 33:14-16; and Hosea 3:4-5). Thus Matthew's Gospel opens (Matt 1:1) with the genealogy of Jesus in groups of fourteen generations. Luke, another early synoptic gospel, goes to similar trouble to demonstrate that Jesus was a son of David, but by a different route:
If only Ancestry.com could do this for 40 or so generations.
Many scholars believe that these Messianic Gospels were subsequently 'tweaked' to accommodate the Immaculate Conception and the idea that Jesus was conceived by God, and thus presumably sacrificing the idea that he was the Messiah.
Herod who, it is suggested, would himself have liked to have been the Messiah died in 4 BCE and was succeeded by Herod Archelaus who reigned until 6 CE until being exiled to Southern France (see my travel diary there) for inciting extreme religious unrest, that began when he put a Golden Eagle over the Temple.
Roman Ruins Vienne - Herod Archelaus was exiled here in 6 CE
'Not the comfy chair!'
He was succeeded by his brother Herod Antipas, who ruled Judea under the oversight of the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate (CE 26–36).
Thus these three kings spanned the events that are related in the Gospels of the New Testament. Herod the Great is said to have received the Magi and to have ordered the massacre of the innocents around the time of Jesus’ birth.
To escape this fate Joseph his father: "took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod" (Mathew 2:15). Most secular scholars think that this killing is unlikely to have taken place, as it is unlike Herod to be bothered and it is an obvious retelling of an earlier myth.
Similarly the reason for the family going to Bethlehem must be wrong as the Census of Quirinius was over ten years after Herod died and that story also makes Jesus too young for later chronology that has to fit with Herod Antipas the death of John the Baptist and Pontius Pilate. Also Bethlehem was the reputed birthplace of King David so it suited prophesy to allege that Jesus was born there too.
At the other end of his life, in one account, Herod Antipas is said to have refused to try Jesus and to have sent him back to Pilot, who then ordered his execution. So that was some time after 26 and prior to 36 CE. Thus the historical Jesus must have been no younger than 30 and no older that his early 40's when he was executed. This accords with Mathew's assertion that he began his ministry at about the age of 30. As this began with his baptism it must have been before John the Baptist parted with his head, thanks to Herod Antipas and Salome.
Salome with the Head of John the Baptist - Titian
Probably around 28-29 CE
This execution is reasonably certain to have happened more or less as reported in the Gospels as it is confirmed by actual contemporary sources. The execution was blamed for Herod's subsequent defeat by Aretas IV (nemesis of Paul) during the winter of CE 36/37.
All the synoptic Christian gospels began as oral history, written down after the death of Jesus and they are frequently contradictory about times, dates and places. Later Gospels are even more imaginative. For example John's Gospel doesn't even get the date of the Passover correct. The Hebrew calendar is/was Luna and there are only two dates between 26 and 36 when Friday (the Sabbath) plausibly coincided with the Passover. This gives the two possible dates for the Crucifixion as: Friday 7 April 30 and Friday 3 April 33. But there is an apparent reference, in all three synoptic Gospels, to a solar eclipse at the Crucifixion: Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.
This sounds like an eclipse not just a change in the weather, but a solar eclipse only happens at new moon and couldn't have happened at the Passover, which always coincides with the full moon. However, there was a Luna eclipse that was partially visible in Jerusalem on the night of April 3, 33 CE. This has caused many to choose the latter date.
A Luna eclipse could not account for hours of darkness during the day but its coincidence with a crucifixion would certainly have been seen as a potent omen by the superstitious. If this coincidence indeed occurred it would undoubtedly have become more significant with each retelling, like the impact of Halley's Comet on the Norman Conquest.
These various diversions from known facts illustrate, yet again, that these are works of poetry and imagination, intended for religious instruction, and should not be taken literally, as historical fact.
Today the actual, historic, Second Temple, in which Jesus is said to have attacked the money changers, and was alleged to have wanted to destroy the entire structure, the crime for which he was crucified, is gone. He had nothing to do with that. The Romans destroyed it in 70 CE.
Some stone fragments from the Second Temple in the time of Jesus
In the background an artist's impression of the Temple and the Temple Mount
The war in which this occurred had probably been brewing since around the time of Jesus.
Explanation in the Israel Museum - supporting the earlier Crucifixion Date
and a beautifully succinct description of the origins of Christianity
The people of Judea were growing economically stronger, and longed for independence.
- What have the Romans (proxy for the British) ever done for us? - well there was the aqueduct etc... -
At the same time the Emperors of Rome, after the death of Julius Caesar, were becoming increasingly unstable and megalomaniacal.
In 37 CE Gaius Caligula came to power and to gain his approval one of his underlings decided to put his statue in every temple in the Roman world. Like golden eagles or any other statue, this is strictly forbidden in a Jewish place of worship by the Biblical second commandment, against graven images and idols, and the Jews revolted. Thus the first Jewish-Roman war began.
Long story short: after a couple of ignominious defeats, as a result of underestimating the strength and resourcefulness of the Jews, the Romans applied some serious resources to putting down the uprising. The future Emperor, Titus led four legions, comprising about 60,000 trained soldiers, and surrounded Jerusalem in February 70 CE.
Attempts at negotiation failed. Although it was besieged, foragers had dug tunnels through which they were resupplying the city. Sound familiar? To prevent this, the Romans built their own outer wall around the city and in the no-mans-land between the walls they crucified any foragers they caught. Then in August the Romans finally moved in and crushed the Judean defenders, reportedly killing around a million inhabitants and sending another 97,000 into slavery.
The Arch of Titus (constructed in 82 CE) still stands in Rome commemorating these events and illustrating the sacking of Jerusalem in a surviving frieze.
Arch of Titus in Rome (foreground - photographed by me in 2005)
It is said that Titus wanted to preserve the Temple, as he wished to rededicate it to the Roman Pantheon, but it was inadvertently consumed by fire during the fighting. But the huge and impressive Temple Mount remains to this day, a tribute to Herodian (basically Roman) civil engineering.
Temple Mount Stonework
Meanwhile, Temple Mount is said to be built over Mount Moriah claimed to be the location of the Rock upon which Abraham was going to sacrifice his son Isaac, until God's last minute reprieve, and is holy to Islam. So, after Jerusalem fell to Islam, the Muslims built The Dome Of The Rock on the site (where it stands today - very beautiful) and the nearby, at the Southern end of the Temple Mount, the Al Aqsa Mosque.
The Dome Of The Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque
This supposed sacrilege, against whom, the Jews (?), was one of the motivations for the First Crusade. On 13 July 1099 the besieging Crusaders launched their final assault on the city and many Muslims sought sanctuary in this mosque. Initially they were not harmed but a day later they joined the tens of thousands massacred in the city.
I had a quick glimpse through the door of the Mosque but was quickly ejected. It seemed unremarkable compared to many other mosques I've been allowed to enter, particularly the wonderful historic mosque in Damascus, the Blue mosque in Istanbul and the mosque/cathedral in Cordoba. I hadn't expected to be excluded, Australian mosques are generally open and I had no problem going into the mosque in Nazareth where we were both made welcome. But this one is controversial. Jewish fundamentalists have recently caused riots in Jerusalem by invading it, fermenting on-going religious confrontations.
We saw a small taste of this on Shabbat when Jewish groups went out of their way to walk, several abreast, through the Muslim section of the Old City near our hotel.
For many years the Western Wall of Herod's great oblong Temple Mount on which the temple was built, provides the closest point to the ancient holy of holies of the first and Second Temples, where the Arc of the Covenant was housed, so Jews pray there.
The Western Wall and Western Wall Tunnels
Underground in archaeological tunnels you can get even nearer to the location of the Jewish Holy of Holies and this is preserved for faithful women who insert little messages in the cracks and pray vehemently, rocking back and forth. Men not allowed unless on a tour. Indeed, even above-ground, except at Shabbat when huge numbers converge, women frequently outnumber men at the Western Wall, each in their own area of course.
This mirrors the Christians up the hill at the reputed location of Calvary where women fall to their knees and kiss various venerated objects with similar passion.
The Muslims on the other hand regard religion, at least in public, to be men's business.
A short walk down the Via Dolorosa and out through the Lion Gate leads to a shrine to Mary (Tomb of Mary) and the Garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives.
Again it is more about imagination and faith than substance.
Mary did not become significant until it was first asserted that Jesus was the son of God by means of Immaculate Conception, decades after his death, and presumably her death, so it is unlikely that anyone took note of where she was actually buried. But Eastern Christians have elected this spot as her tomb. Western Christians on the other hand have long asserted that she was Assumed into heaven in bodily form, possibly before she died.
Tomb of Mary
These arcane theological issues became more important to believers during the Reformation when the 'Cult of Mary' came to differentiate Protestants from Catholics.
The location of the Garden of Gethsemane is similarly controversial and no less arbitrary. The presently publicised one is the most favoured of four possible locations, having been a place of pilgrimage for at least a thousand years. Several olive trees in the garden are very old and some once naïvely believed that they date back to the Saviour's time. This is plausible as olive trees can be very old. The oldest known living olive trees are on Crete and are believed to be 2000 to 3000 years old.
Carbon dating and genetic analysis of those at Gethsemane reveals that they were planted a little after the Norman Conquest of England, around 1092 CE, and the oldest ones are all cuttings from a single parent plant. It seems obvious that they were panted when the garden was laid out in its present form, around the time of the Crusades.
Gethsemane - Basilica and Garden - with old trees
Perhaps least controversially located is the Mount of Olives itself. Its location is as certain as the location of the city of Jerusalem, if not some holy sites within or without. The Mount has Jewish graves and burial chambers dating back over three thousand years and is referred to in numerous ancient writings. It was a significant strategic factor in the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. It is now covered in tens of thousands of Jewish graves and even features a multi-storey graveyard. We were told that many Jews want to be buried here as this will be the place of final judgement but I'm dubious that all Jews believe this.
When the area was under Jordanian administration a large number of Jewish graves were destroyed by new roadwork and the building of an Hotel at the top. Palestinian troublemakers allegedly continue to take out their frustrations by desecrating Jewish graves on the Mount.
The road to the top is quite steep and as we walked up the hill we were accosted several times by men in cars offering to give us a lift to the top. We supposed it to be some kind of scam but in any case we wanted the exercise. The view from the top is quite spectacular.
The view from the Mount of Olives
At the top you can visit the garden in which Jesus is said to have taught his disciples The Lord's Prayer.
The Lord's Prayer is said to have been taught here - now it is preserved in many languages
Nearby is the point at which Jesus ascended to heaven, leaving his footprint in a rock.
I found it necessary to suspend disbelief, particularly as there is a much more convincing footprint in a stone in the ancient footpath not far from the Holy Sepulchre. After seeing this I suggested to the nearby Arab shopkeeper selling religious paraphernalia, like rosary beads, icons, menorah and so on that he was missing a potential marketing opportunity - he looked at me quizzically.
This museum is one of the most interesting places in Jerusalem. It must be among the best museums in the world. We got a cab out on Saturday and our driver suggested he come back in an hour, we said no, two, after which I went out and told him to go away for another two. Even then we felt we had missed a lot, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. But perhaps they are better viewed on-line and we had seen a very small fraction in Jordan to get a sense of their physical reality.
The most interesting thing was, with the exception of the galleries given over entirely to Jewish religious objects and scholarship, the lack of any discernable religious bias.
As in say London, New York, Paris or Sydney religion is approached as an anthropological phenomenon. So there is a record of the evolutionary progression from primitive animism to complex transcendental beliefs as knowledge and understanding grew, technology developed and social structures evolved.
Israel Museum - Introduction to the Anthropological collection
Thus early animist religions evolved as agrarian technology led to cities; and trade; and writing; and numeracy; and money; and large scale warfare.
The oldest sickle ever found - evidence of agriculture
The development of ceramics and metal smelting led to iron and steel and glass manufacture as well as fine metalwork and jewellery.
Sophisticated Polytheism in early civilisations and gold and metal working technologies
The development of wheels machines and cranes and metalworking and rock cutting techniques led to the construction of vast, long lasting, stone structures and tombs. In the Middle East and then in Europe polytheism gave way to monotheism.
This evolution in human thought and capability is beautifully set out and illustrated in this museum together with the sometimes bizarre religious beliefs that man's changing conception of his place in the universe spawned.
The Dawn of Civilisation
There is a well endowed pre-Columbian gallery but, as one would expect, the larger part of the anthropological content is about the development of civilisation in the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean over the past 10,000 years and illustrates the antiquity of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.
Abraham was said to have come from here but it seems certain that in his times, at around 2000 BCE, the Hebrew were semi-nomadic herders. They are mentioned in Egyptian records as wandering raiders and possibly some found employment as slaves in Egypt.
Many scholars believe that Abraham is a ' literary construct' by the authors of the Jewish Bible (J and E).
It is thought by modern scholars that the Pentateuch was mostly written by author J (called J as he named God 'Yahweh') just before or during the Babylonian exile of the 6th century BCE.
Significant parts of Genesis, for example the legend of the Flood and passages from Ecclesiastes seem to have been borrowed more or less in tact from the much older Epic of Gilgamesh, mankind's oldest known work of poetic literature, written around 1200 years earlier in Ancient Mesopotamia, that formed part of the polytheistic Babylonian belief system.
Ecclesiastes and the Epic of Gilgamesh
Thus the Pentateuch, and in particular Genesis, was a fantastical writing about a much earlier time and could be likened to Victorian romantics writing of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table.
The Egyptian, Canaanite and Babylonian records provide the only contemporary (slightly more reliable) documentation of the actual period. Although significant battles bracketing the alleged escape from Egypt are recorded in some detail (down to body count) in the Egyptian records there is no mention of an escape of Hebrew slaves or of an Egyptian army being caught in a flood. Secular scholars consider these events to be mythical.
But Egypt had a brief monotheistic period (Atenism) and it is possible that a monotheistic Egyptian prince left with followers after the reinstatement of polytheism at the time of Tutankhamen (circa 1332 BCE). We saw ample evidence for this in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo as well as in the British Museum and those in Paris, New York and Berlin and there was further evidence here.
The emergence of monotheism in Egypt
After leaving Egypt, according to the Bible, the Hebrew wandered about until God allegedly told Joshua to massacre the local inhabitants of several towns in Palestine to establish the first homeland (of milk and honey).
Around a thousand years BCE King David was born in Bethlehem and was said to have written the Psalms that are basic to all three Abrahamic religions, although at least one Psalm is Egyptian in origin tending to support the theory that the Jewish religion evolved from Egyptian theology. David's son, Solomon is said to have built the first temple in Jerusalem.
There is evidence that the the Jewish religion was well established not long afterwards. A silver amulet found in a tomb dated to 600 BCE is written in ancient Hebrew and reads:
May the Lord bless you and guard you
May the Lord make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you
May the Lord lift up His countenance [face] unto you and give you peace
Early evidence of the Jewish Religion - the amulet
This is known as the Priestly Blessing and will be familiar to any of you brought up, as I was, in one of the Abrahamic religions. But note the second line, it's straight out of Atenism, the Egyptian monotheism of Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV).
Aten Worship - circa 1350 BCE
Depicting characteristic rays seen emanating from the face of God (Wikipedia commons)
Panel with adoration Scene of Aten - Egyptian Museum
Part of the Israel Museum is a fine arts gallery with an excellent collection spanning European and North American art from the renaissance to contemporary works.
This is a small sample.
European and North American Art
By the way, David is surprisingly well preserved. Yesterday just outside the Zion Gate in Jerusalem a nice Jewish man showed me his coffin. The man (a rabbinical scholar?) gave me some lavender to smell and blessed me and my family with a passage from the old testament. Wendy had to go in the other side but didn't get blessed.
I asked several men there how we could now find the room where Jesus is said to have held the last supper. None of them would tell me or admitted to any knowledge of such a place.
A Muslim man in the street was more helpful. It's in the same building! But the structure seemed far too recent to be either the resting place of a three thousand year old king or to have been the location of a dinner party a thousand years later. I guessed it was crusader vintage and I was somewhat mystified by a Koranic script in Arabic in tiles on the wall adjacent to a Muslim niche in the upper room. But we also learned that a Pope had endorsed this as the location of the last supper - so it must be true.
I was sceptical so I looked it up in the guide book. It's called the Cenacle.
|The Gospels do not mention the exact location of the Cenacle. However, the tradition which dates to the times of early Christianity, spots the place on the Mount Zion just outside of the Zion Gate.
Epiphanus wrote: “Hadrian… [135 A.D.] found the city entirely raised to the ground and the Temple of God destroyed and trthramped upon, with the exception of some houses and a certain small church of the Christians, which had been constructed in that place, in which the disciples, after the Saviour was taken up to heaven from Mount Oliviet, betaking themselves, mounted to the Cenacle.”
The Crusaders built there a three nave edifice and named it ‘St. Mary’s of Mount Sion’. During their rule, none of the pilgrims to the Holy Land mentioned in their writings the presence of King David’s tomb there, however under the power of Saladin, who captured Jerusalem in 1187, its legend revived. The Franciscan friars, who took over the possession of the Cenacle in 1336, kept the tradition as well.
One of the rooms on the lower floor, which with time was taken by Muslims, contained the tombs of David and Solomon. On the upper floor was the place of the Last Supper as well as the Chapel of the Holy Ghost, which was actually restored only in the middle of the 15th century.
In 1928 the Upper Room was turned into a mosque and a mihrab was erected there. Since 1948 the Cenacle room is open to the visitors. However, the Franciscans are permitted to have there a mass only twice a year: on the day of Pentecost and on the Holy Thursday.
The former Chapel of David is now a Jewish shrine of the King David’s Tomb. A statue of the king decorates the entrance. The room is divided into two sections for prayer: one for men on the right and one for women on the left.
Sometimes it's most interesting to approach a place in ignorance and try puzzle it out before fact checking - I was quite pleased to see that I was quite close to arriving at the generally accepted explanation.
We left Jerusalem for Nazareth by Bus from the Central Bus Station. We had given ourselves plenty of time and before catching our bus I sat in the food hall with the bags while Wendy roamed the shops. Thin and obese men, pretty girls and young people of both sexes in uniform came and went.
A young man in uniform sat down close by with a tray from MacDonald's. He laid his automatic rifle across his lap took a magazine that I could plainly see was loaded with live rounds and inserted it into the weapon. Then he ate his meal. when he'd finished eating he removed the magazine from his weapon and went on his way. I concluded that he feared being attacked during his lunch in this place.
Sitting there I remembered my own time in the University Regiment when live ammunition was never taken into a public place and speculated that, as I well knew at the time, not all young people of that age are mentally stable, or bright, and accidents must happen from time to time. I remembered, with some amusement, a lad in our School Cadets, shooting his own toe through his boot while trying to 'ease springs'. He didn't seem to find it quite so funny at the time - fortunately it was just a flesh wound.
What happens when bystanders are accidently or deliberately shot? I suppose that in this ongoing war environment it's usually put down to enemy action.
Nazareth is famous as the hometown of Jesus. It's located about 80 Km North of Tel-Aviv between the port of Haifa and the Sea of Galilee where Jesus is said to have begun his ministry.
Nearby is the Ramat David Air Force base from which three squadrons of F16s keep the air alive overhead.
It's quite mountainous here in Nazareth and the Bus wound its way up through the hills. The town itself has some very steep streets and a large part of the old centre is occupied by a traditional souk. Our hotel, in the midst of this, seemed at first sight to be on the 'rustic' side but turns out to be very comfortable with a large airy room and modern en-suite with a view and a pleasant communal sitting area just outside for enjoying a drink or two.
Hotel View - Rustic
Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel, at around 60,000. Here most Arabs are Israeli citizens. There were Jewish people in the suburbs as we entered the town but we were told that there are no Jews living in the Old Town area - that there's nothing stopping them 'they just don't want to'. It’s mainly Sunni Muslim but quite a few are Christian and there is a sizeable expatriate Christian community in and around several churches and convents.
Whereas most Israeli Christians are Eastern Orthodox here the two major churches are Roman Catholic. The Basilica of the Annunciation is a modern ferro-concrete church built over the remains of Byzantine and Crusader churches. It incorporates the cave in which the Virgin Mary is said to have received the news from Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus (the Annunciation).
The Basilica of the Annunciation
Nearby is a synagogue in which Jesus is said to have preached and a Greek Orthodox church with a rather reluctant man acting as guardian/caretaker. I was unable to take photos there but we were most welcome in the local mosque.
The Local Mosque in Nazareth
Muslims make up about 20% of Israeli citizens and can and do elect local government in Nazareth. People we spoke to are not happy about the recent war against the people of Gaza and get concerned when military aircraft from the nearby base fly over. We were told that Arab children from the orphanage here could no longer be taken to the swimming baths where Jewish children go because of fights breaking out between them.
I must say that it is quite pleasant here if a little quiet. We've had some pleasant meals and climbed some steep streets.
It's a tourist town and tourism is the main industry with local businesses very welcoming.
Dried and crystallised local fruit
Many tourists are Christians visiting the place where the archangel Gabriel visited Mary to announce her miraculous impregnation. But not everyone endorses the cave in the Catholic Basilica as the correct location. There is also a church on the supposed site of Joseph's workshop and one can visit Mary's Well. I'm afraid that's much the worse for garbage thrown into it, and so on.
Because of the strong Christian presence it is possible to enjoy a beer in public in a street cafe on a Saturday without anyone taking offence and on the whole the Muslims and Christians of various hues: Eastern and Roman and Protestant appear to be mutually respectful and charming.
After giving me an answer in English one elderly Arab man asked why I don't learn Arabic. My only excuse was that there are just too many languages to learn. He smiled broadly and I suppose I did too.
But there is a definite antigovernment undercurrent here, among both Christians and Muslims. People here are not happy about the recent war with Gaza. In particular because it has decimated tourism. A definite 'them and us' attitude exists between this community and the Jewish majority elsewhere.
The following two sections may not be of interest to all readers. You may wish to skip them and go straight to the photo gallery.
When I was a child Australian Newsreels I saw in Sydney before the days of Television, the Zionist Haganah in Palestine were depicted as anti-British terrorists, akin to the IRA. The bodies of hundreds of slaughtered Palestinian villagers scattering the streets, and the plight of the tens of thousands of Palestinians who fled a similar fate, are among the first terrible images I remember. Obviously not from 1948, when I was a too young, but from when they were rehashed at the time of the Suez Crisis in 1956 when the Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies attempted to mediate and I was taken to Newsreels cinemas by my parents and was beginning to take an interest.
These birth pains for the State of Israel and subsequent events have occupied the news media throughout my life. In due course I learnt of the Nazi Holocaust and soon discovered that the roots of both anti-Semitism and a longing to be 'Next year in Jerusalem' go back about seventeen hundred years.
Since Christianity split with Judaism in the first and second centuries of the common era (CE) Christians have had their differences with Jews. After Christianity gained its special status as the religion of the late Roman and Byzantine (Eastern Roman) empires in the third century hostility became persecution.
On-line you can have a look at the of Papal Bulls and Encyclicals that have either discriminated against Jews or occasionally attempted to reverse some glaring wrong that the Christian church had hitherto imposed on them. A quick count of historical Bulls since the time of the Crusades shows that 17 Popes have addressed relations with the Jews. Most of these imposed, or reimposed, sanctions on Jews, although a small number reversed or mitigated earlier sanctions. As recently as 1796, when white settlement in Australia was already established (my benchmark for modern history), Napoleon demolished the walls of the Roman Ghetto and when when the Roman Republic was formed in 1798 it annulled the requirement for all Jews to live in the ghetto. There was munch rejoicing and a Tree of Liberty was planted in Piazza delle Cinque Scole. But when the Papal States were restored in 1799 the Ghetto wall was reconstructed and all Jews who had left were compelled to return.
In scripture at school I was told that this was because of their alleged complicity in the death of Christ. This complicity was steadfastly maintained by the Catholic Church until October 28, 1965 during Vatican II, when I was already at University. It's maintained by some Protestants even to this day.
That always seemed nonsense to me as Jesus was himself a Jew. And if one follows the logic of the story, he was complicit in, and perhaps planned, his own death.
I learnt a lot of interesting things in scripture and it got quite exciting in High School when one teacher did not believe in Evolution. He was a big man and we called him 'the missing link'. But then we had an Anglican scholar, Cannon Hobart, who explained that faith was not dependent on facts. Religion was a struggle towards the Truth. Religious writings like the Bible and all the other trappings of religion were but man's feeble attempts to come to grips with the transcendent; to approach the unknowable. I didn't have to believe in virgin birth or miracles or in the power of prayer or life after death or even in the Trinity.
I was suddenly gripped with religious fervour. I became a mystic. I studied for my Confirmation and was received by the Anglican Bishop - as good as any I thought. But for me it was very short-lived. Despite me mentally assuring myself that this was all just metaphorical, a feeble attempt to put into words the un-sayable, in Church on Sunday they still recited nonsense as if it were believed literally. Reality prevailed. As puberty ended I awoke from my religious ecstasy, wondering what was the value of faith in unfounded beliefs; how faith informed the transcendent in any case; and how my transcendental rapture actually added anything to my life.
So when it came time for my own children to go to scripture classes, starting in Primary School, I didn't want to deny them the possibility of their own religious enchantment and I encouraged them to attend the lessons. This came to a sudden halt for Julia when she came home after scripture one afternoon and announced that she hated Catholics. I pointed out that a large number of our friends were at least nominally Catholic. Henceforth she went to the library for that period. But she had had one interesting lesson in scripture when one of the elderly religious instructors had a heart attack and died in front of the class. We got to talk about death. She had an early introduction.
Julia's was reminiscent of my brother's experience with Sunday school. Although we were Anglicans, my High Church mother had fallen out with the local Low Church minister and we (rather bizarrely) were sent to the Methodist Sunday School with the kids from next door. It gave our parents a welcome break to spend Sunday morning together. And we learnt some great songs about Christians marching to war and building on rock rather than sand. But that ended in a similar fashion when Peter (age 5 or 6?) was asked to sign The Pledge (against ever drinking alcohol). We never went there again.
I've always suspected the conflict with Jews was similar to the conflicts between Protestant, Roman and Orthodox Christians (or between Shi’ite and Sunni Islam). These have been much more bitter and bloody than differences with adherents to radically different religions like Hindus or Buddhists. It's actually the similarity in their beliefs that puts into stark contrast the differences and alleged heresies. For example Jews use the same Old Testament that includes the Torah, as clearly endorsed by Jesus, and they use the same Psalms in their worship of the same God. Yet their failure to accept Christ as their saviour; their dogged adherence to some Old Testament laws pertaining to food and personal practice; and their suspicious enthusiasm for scholarship and literacy, amounting to secret practices, was intolerable to some.
Perhaps it was their non-inclusiveness that caused the ill-will? When I was a young adult a friend was prevented by her family from marrying her long time partner because he was not Jewish. She ended up marrying a good Jewish boy who became my friend too but the marriage didn't work out. But then I remember Catholics and Protestants having the same problems with their families.
Looking at the list of Papal Bulls and pogroms in previous centuries it seems that historically a main cause of anti-Semitism was the Jewish preparedness to lend money at interest to Christians, also known as 'usury', and their consequent accumulation of wealth, when this practice (which today we call banking) was prohibited to Christians (as in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice).
With the Enlightenment and development of secularism (the separation of church and state) and modern banking in the eighteenth century such concerns seemed increasingly irrelevant and Jews became increasingly integrated into the political mainstream in Europe, the US and Australia. A number of political leaders, particularly in England, began to be sympathetic to establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine and the movement became known as Zionism. Others, including some prominent Jews, favoured ongoing social integration and bitterly opposed the Zionists.
In 1909 Zionists managed to establish a small settlement at Tel-Aviv, named after a book, 'The Old New Land - Tel-Aviv' by Theodor Herzl, who envisioned a Jewish state that combined modern Jewish culture with the best of the European heritage.
Altneuland (The Old New Land ) - Tel-Aviv
Herzl who was an atheist and friend of Karl Marx is considered to be the founder of modern political Zionism.
At that time Palestine was still part of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. But during the First World War (1914-18) the Ottoman Empire was effectively dismembered.
As a result of the Paris Peace Conference in 1920, that officially ended the First World War, The League of Nations was established. One of its jobs was to draw up 'Mandates' to be ruled by the British or the French over the previous Ottoman controlled territory, 'until such time as those lands are able to stand alone.' The British Empire already included Egypt and the Sudan and part of the Arabian peninsular and Britain now gained control of Palestine (modern Israel, the Palestinian territories and modern Jordan). Meanwhile the French gained the Mandate over Syria.
During the war the fledgling Zionist movement had forged an agreement (The Balfour Declaration) with the British to facilitate a Jewish homeland within Palestine. This was subsequently endorsed internationally by The League of Nations.
Now under the British Mandate, the new country of Palestine modernised and developed rapidly, partly as a result of the arrival of increasing numbers of European Jews.
Railways were built and factories established. Sealed roads joined growing towns and Modern cities, seaports and even airports were built. The Jordan River provided hydroelectricity and salt pans down river from the Dead Sea supplied chemicals. It began to resemble other parts of the Empire like India, Burma, Australia and Canada. Many fine buildings and other facilities from the period are still in use.
The existing semi-literate Arab population were deeply disturbed by growing social and financial inequality relative to a small but growing number of skilled migrants, particularly by land acquisition and the escalation in property prices. In 1936 the Arabs revolted against the foreigners, with the civil unrest lasting for the next three years.
The British forcibly put down the 'Arab Revolt' but in an attempt to make peace imposed immigration quotas on new Jewish arrivals. These turned out to be impossible to enforce, particularly after Hitler did a deal with the Zionists to 'transfer' 50,000 German Jews to Palestine. So by 1940, at the start of the Second World War, when the Muslim Arab population was around one million, the Jewish population had grown to 140,000.
During the war the Zionists raised brigades in support of the British, gaining military training, battle experience and a stockpile of weapons that they stored in secret caches around the country.
After the War the British and Russians went to extreme measures to stem the flood of Jewish refugees fleeing the aftermath of the Holocaust and the dreadful conditions in central Europe.
The British set up camps on Cyprus and the Russians blockaded ports then sank several ships packed with fleeing refugees.
The Zionist brigades then turned their wartime experience to a terror campaign against the the Arab population and the British, culminating in the bombing of the British military headquarters. At about the same time the sympathetic US administration applied financial pressure on almost bankrupt Britain to release 100,000 Jews who had been interned in refugee camps on Cyprus.
So in 1947 war-weary Britain 'threw in the towel' and announced its intention to withdraw from Palestine. On 29 November that year the United Nations General Assembly, with US prompting, rejected the concept of a single Palestinian state and voted instead to partition Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state, with Jerusalem becoming an international enclave.
Within days full scale civil war erupted. The Zionists were well prepared for this fight and gained the upper hand almost immediately.
On April 9, 1948 fighters from Zionist paramilitary groups massacred the population of Deir Yassin, a village of roughly 750 Muslim Arabs near Jerusalem. Over a hundred murdered bodies lying in the streets were filmed by western media and appeared in Newsreels and other media around the World. Panic gripped other Palestinian villages and hundreds of thousands of Muslim peasants fled their homes in terror ahead of the Zionist advance. There are plenty of still photos on the web if you want to look. And there is a website - Click Here sponsored by Righteous Jews that attempts to provide a balanced commentary.
These are similar to the images I remember as a young adult.
Then on 14 May 1948 the leaders of the Zionist movement in Palestine declared Israel a Jewish state in accordance with the UN resolution. The following day a combined Arab force from Egypt, Jordan and Syria, together with expeditionary forces from Iraq, entered Palestine in support of the Palestinian Arabs with the intention of immediately crushing the new State. But they were no match for the Israelis who had been resupplied with weapons and aircraft from Czechoslovakia. It was Arab League's first taste of things to come and became known as 'The Catastrophe'.
The State of Israel not only held the area that the UN General Assembly had recommended for a Jewish State but took a great deal of the area that had been allocated for the proposed Arab state, including part of the West Bank.
Transjordan (modern Jordan) took control of the remainder of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Egyptians took control of the Gaza Strip.
The proposed Arab state was suddenly a thing of dreams - if God wills - as they say.
Around 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from the area that became Israel and became Palestinian refugees.
While Palestine was still a British territory many Jewish refugees had been prevented from migrating to Israel but after 1948 the gates were opened and 700,000 new Israelis flooded in to the new State.
From the mid 50's on, tensions between Israel and its neighbours featured heavily in the new medium of TV.
When I was at University in the early 60's my friend Max, who was of Jewish heritage and was sympathetic to the Zionists insisted we go and see a truly distressing documentary movie about the Holocaust with images from Auschwitz and other Nazi camps. We argued about how that atrocity could possibly justify the forging of a Jewish homeland in an Arab country when millions of Jews lived happily integrated lives, like Roman Catholics or Mormons, in secular countries where they were not rounded up into ghettos or sent off to their deaths.
Some Jews continue to blame the Holocaust on the Christians. Contrary to convenient amnesia, almost all Nazis were practicing Christians, either members of Hitler's boyhood Catholic Church or the protestant Deutsche Christen (German Christians). Whatever he came to believe, Hitler remained highly superstitious, denounced Germanic paganism in Mein Kampf and was at pains to stay on good terms with the Catholic Church.
Wendy and I have recently visited Auschwitz in Poland to be confronted by its horrors, in which over a million Jews were systematically put to death in what amounted to a factory, some having been experimented on first.
The plaque reads: Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to Humanity.
Where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women and children, mainly Jews
from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945
The Holocaust was an horrific criminal act on a scale that relied on the complicity of a large number of people and it's easy to understand why Christians today are as upset as any caring person, when confronted by what was done to the Jews.
Yet I still have difficulty making the connection between that horror and the need for an exclusively Jewish State. They seem to me to be entirely different things.
Along with those who came up with the, UN rejected, single state proposal, I naïvely hoped that the people of Palestine would learn to live together in one country in harmony, each agreeing to practice their own religion, or not, as suited each individual. Indeed, we saw hints that this was possible in Israel, in parts of Jerusalem and in Nazareth, but we also evidence of people deliberately sabotaging this possibility.
A decade after Israel came into being, on June 5 1967, while Max and I were still at University, the Six Day War began. It was said to be a pre-emptive attack to ward off an Arab/Egyptian attack on Israel's Nuclear weapons facilities.
The war was brilliantly planned and executed. Israel launched a surprise air attack on the Egyptian air force to gain air superiority, then used land attacks to take the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria and the West Bank from Jordan. As I have mentioned elsewhere Israel also took control of East Jerusalem, previously held under the UN mandate by Jordan.
I was impressed by the Israeli strategy and military success, Max was delighted. But it may not have been a good thing for the peace of the World.
The numbers of Palestinian refugees leaving Israeli held territory swelled and eventually 300,000 fled, mostly to Jordan. As a result of the war and the ongoing and unresolved tensions between Arabs and Jews many Jewish Arabs were then forced to leave Arab countries to escape persecution, further swelling Israel's Jewish population.
The attacked countries then maintained a state of war with Israel. Tensions continued to simmer until October 6 1973 when a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israeli positions in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.
The renewed conflict dragged on for 20 days and losses on both sides were significant. The USSR and USA became embroiled on opposing sides, and the possible use of nuclear weapons threatened a major World conflict. The Yom Kippur War, as it became known, was eventually resolved by the Camp David Accords with Jimmy Carter brokering peace between Israel and Egypt. Menachem Begin (Israel) and Anwar El Sadat (Egypt) subsequently shared the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize as a result.
But it was not an agreement everybody was happy about, particularly the 'Jewish Settlers' who had already begun to colonise the oil rich Sinai Peninsula after the Six Day War. On the other side, several resistance groups formed among Palestinian refugees. Prominent was the PLO, and subsequently Hamas and Hezbollah. These have launched numerous attacks against Israel, as has Israel against them, at one stage resulting in an Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
Most recently, from July 2014 until less than a month before our visit, Israel carried out a series of attacks on Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip to remove rockets and tunnels under their border defences, collaterally killing around 2,000 civilians and injuring and leaving homeless many tens of thousands. 17,200 Garzan homes were totally destroyed and three times that number were seriously damaged.
People we spoke to, particularly in Nazareth, described this as 'the recent war'. But the Government of Israel still describes it as nothing more than an operation in retaliation to Hamas rocket attacks. These rockets were in retaliation for mass arrests of Hamas leaders during which five Hamas defenders were killed. The arrests were said to be in response to the kidnapping and murder of three teenage hitchhikers. These turned out to have nothing to do with Hamas or its leadership.
469 Israeli soldiers lost their lives during the 'operation'. By comparison less than twice that number, 776 Israeli soldiers, lost their lives during the Six Days 'War'.
Since the Six Days War I've found that Jewish friends are often sympathetic to the continued existence of the State of Israel but not to the hard line position taken by extreme Zionists like the 'Settlers' and I have generally agreed.
Israel as a State is obviously here to stay. But I can't see why it can't have a secular constitution like most other democracies.
It has been said that the 'Jewish race' needs a homeland but that is an idea from the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the late 18th century, the same culture that gave us the 'master race'. A 'Jewish race' may have been plausible then but is evidently nonsense in today's Israel where hardly anyone conforms to the racial stereotype. There are people of every ethnicity visiting the Western Wall at Shabbat. Only about half the population are Middle Eastern at all. The other half is distinctly European in appearance. It might as well be Australia or England or Germany or the USA or Russia. Tall blonds, short blonds, redheads, blue, green, hazel eyes slim, grossly obese all shapes and sizes, hardly a Jewish nose or even a Woody Allen in sight.
So, if there is no distinct Jewish race we are left with the proposition that it is the religion that needs a special country where it can be practiced. Perhaps this is a desire of all religions? Catholics have Vatican city (and Malta), Buddhists Tibet.
Even that seems problematic. As in most advanced cultures 20% are, like Herzl himself, secular atheists. At the other end of the spectrum no one seems too keen on the antics of the stone-throwing mosque-crashing ultra-orthodox Haredi or Hasidic activists, except presumably some in their own communities.
In the early days, much of Israel was developed by kibbutzim (agricultural collectives) based on socialism (pure communism) in which women famously took an equal part with men and traditional religion was distained. Jewish traditions were still valued, perhaps by replacing traditional ceremonies with dancing and avoiding work on Saturday, but often kibbutzim were atheist and styled themselves 'Monasteries without God'. When I was at University in the 60's I met people who had been to Israel to work on a kibbutz and had friends who were planning to.
A Kibbutz Guard 1936 (Wikipedia - public domain)
Had Jews and Arabs been forced to make Palestine work as a mixed and integrated country or as two states, living in harmony, things might have been different. But now there is no going back. Israel is a country in which several generations of young Israelis have been born. What was once potentially soluble, had the British mandate survived; or the UN decided another way; or the Arabs had gone along with the UN resolution; seems to be a lost cause.
Since 1948 there have been just over 3 million immigrants to Israel yet the population of Israel in 2014 has grown to approximately 8.2 million with 75 percent (6.15 million) being Jewish Israelis. Almost exactly half of this number are native born.
Of the immigrants almost a third arrived from Europe in the first decade and another third from Russia and the Ukraine in the 1990's. Around 800 thousand are from predominantly Muslim countries, many fleeing persecution as tensions with Israel grew. The balance is from across the globe with the United States, Argentina and South Africa significant contributors.
It has been argued that expelled Palestinians have a greater right to the country that recent immigrants but not so their children. The argument goes that native born children of any religion have every right to live in the country of their birth. Correspondingly, foreign born children of Palestinian refugees should not have the same right to the country as native born Jews or Arabs. So in due course all the refugees in Jordan and Egypt and Lebanon will be dead and their children will be natives of those countries.
I'm sympathetic to this argument. I don't believe that I have a right to claim ownership of part of Scotland on the grounds that it is the land of my ancestors. But it's a bit more complex. I would want to say that ones roots, patriality, family origins and traditions do stand for something. This is particularly the case when families are forcibly expelled from their homeland.
At the moment Israeli Jews and Arabs are trying to out-breed each other in a competition for the country in the future. A few years ago the Arabs were ahead but now the Jews have overtaken them and the Israeli population is growing at about 1.8 percent a year.
There is no easy solution. Either a homeland must be found for the Palestinians or a single state must evolve in which the walls are removed and everyone becomes a citizen. Neither of these appears likely any time soon.
Despite the huge numbers of arrivals and native born, Jews still do not outnumber the combined non-Jewish Arab populations in Israeli controlled Palestine if in addition to those living in Israel proper and East Jerusalem are added those in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, that are effectively walled-off Arab ghettos. It is therefore probable that if the walls came down on both of these, and truly democratic elections were held, an Arab party would win government and promptly change the constitution and/or dramatically overhaul the Jewish State.
One would like to think that they could put their religious and cultural differences aside but everything I've seen suggests that these differences are getting worse. Civil war would certainly reignite.
The internationally accepted two state solution is equally problematic for both sides. The west Bank and Gaza Strip are geographically separated and have quite different objectives and priorities and solutions offered by Israel seem to be deliberately unacceptable.
The actual Israeli solution seems to be to eat away at the potential Palestinian State by degrees, first by allowing and even encouraging the Settlers to annex parts of the less populous West Bank and east Jerusalem.
At the same time Israel is systematically making the more populous but agriculturally richer Gaza Strip less and less viable. It is hard not to see the Gaza Strip as a besieged ghetto within which the population is periodically and devastatingly attacked for daring to fight back. It is surrounded by a wall and in-depth defences and blockaded from the sea. Many have likened it to Berlin during the blockade of that city. But unlike West Berlin it's not a place anyone would want to escape into.
A similar, less fortified, but much longer, wall separates the Jewish State from the Palestinian West Bank: the West Bank Barrier. It runs along the 1949 Armistice Line, a total length of approximately 700 kilometres. It's a truly impressive engineering feat but not one calculated to improve Israel's relationship with the walled-off Palestinians.
The West Bank barrier wall
The West Bank wall - the other side - (from Wikipedia Commons)
Unlike the unification of Germany, celebrated with beer and fireworks this week, I can only conclude that it will all end in tears, which is a pity as most of the people we met are very nice.
Like people everywhere, everyone we met desperately wants to live their life in peace and harmony. But for many, in this land of uncompromising beliefs and ancient enmities, their colourful myths and traditions, and very real memories, get in the way of extending this desire for peace and harmony to others.
This was previously a slide show but that option has been removed by Google Photos giving me a lot of work to fix the broken links. But you can now go to an external link and choose the slide show option; or simply view the album. Click on the image below: