Yesterday, we ventured out of the new world of Tel Aviv and drove north to northern Galilee. We’ve done so much in the last two days it will be hard to explain it all.
Our first stop was Cesarea, the location of Herod’s Capitol & personal residence, and the location of the first man-made port. Herod was a Jew who betrayed the Macabee King and conquered Israel for the Roman Empire.
In return, the Romans made him King of Judea for life. Herod was quite the engineer/architect & built the impressive artificial port city of Ceasaria, the palace-fortress of Masada, and rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem.
Ceasaria was repeatedly conquered over the centuries until it was razed to the ground by the Islamic Mamluk Empire at the end of the last Crusade.
The area is stunning and a place where locals go to enjoy the beautiful coastline & antiquities. In the early 1900’s the land was purchased and redeveloped by the Baron Rothschild. Locals now enjoy the beach, music and food.
Herod built quite a nice palace as you can see by the remains of his personal swimming pool.
The whole area was supplied with fresh water from the aqueducts from Mt. Carmel. Jim particularly liked the huge circus ground where the Ben Hur-like chariot races were held with an expansive view of the Mediterranean Sea.
Much of the ancient port is now underwater (due to devastating earthquakes in the 2nd & 8th centuries), so it’s a great place to scuba dive. That’s something we hope to do another time.
From Cesarea we headed north to Acre. Acre is a large Israeli Arab city that contains a huge Crusader Fortress and underground archeological site.
Archeologists discovered 30 years ago that most of the Fortress was underground but had been filled with dirt over the ages. We walked through just a bit of it & were very impressed.
The above ground area was the site of the Main British prison during the decade prior to the Israeli Declaration of independence. Clearly, they didn’t learn from the relatively recent situation in India and although ordered not to, the local military leader hung 29 Jewish patriots before the rest were freed in a big prison break. Ari’s Uncle was one of the death row prisoners who escaped at that time (as shown in the movie Exodus).
From Acre we drove farther north to Haifa, near where Ari lives. After seeing the stunning view from both the bottom and top of the beautiful Baha’i Shrine & gardens, we stopped for delicious Falafel and Shwarma pita bread sandwiches at Ari’s favorite local fast food restaurant.
Interestingly, the Baha’i (and the Druze and others) are “latter day Saint” offshoots of the Shiite branch of Islam who are still often persecuted outside of Israel for believing in more recent “latter day” Prophets who supplemented the teachings of Mohammad.
From Acre we drove to Israel’s northwest border, where it adjoins Lebanon. This is where the Palmach originally were trained by the British to help with the fighting in Lebanon during WW2. The British built a train tunnel through the coastal hills into Lebanon that has since been abandoned but which exposed a beautiful grotto (coastal caves).
Because there are no seals or sea lions here it is clean and beautiful and filled with the echoing sounds of the surf flowing in and out of the interconnected caverns.
We walked to the border and took a picture. It really is hard to believe we were so close to Hezbollah or as Ari likes to call it “Hezbollah-stan”.
Finally, we drove along the (safe) New Northern Road vs the sniper-accessible old Northern Road. We drove past really beautiful rolling, wooded hills, with Lebanon often in sight, until we reached our destination: Pina Barosh, one of the first early pioneer settlements in Israel (preceding the first kibbutzim by more than 30 years).
We checked into our very artistic, rustic yet elegant hotel (made out of a 100 year old stone stable) with beautiful views of the Golan Heights on the other side of the green Hula Valley.
Our room has a romantic, covered outdoor hot tub. We ended our day with a soak and then collapsed in bed.
Today, we woke early for a jeep tour from a local, Ijal, who immigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union when he was just 6. Baron Rothschild also purchased land here and helped many of the early settlers. We drove through a local Kibbutz where many local immigrants from one of the “lost tribes” in Africa begin their new lives in Israel.
Ijal then drove the jeep through the farming areas of the kibbutz where I picked carrots and oranges and we saw truckloads of just harvested fresh peas. Yum Yum!
After that, we drove past the site where Deborah’s tribe of warrior women defeated a Canaanite king in ancient times, then over the Jordan River and past fields blocked by barb wire and signs marking the minefields left behind by the Syrians after the 6-Day War in 1967.
The Syrians have never provided the maps necessary to clear the mines, and the land is too steep and rocky for mechanized mine clearing techniques so much of the land immediately to the east of the Jordan river is unusable. The mines still go off occasionally when cows knock down the fences, wander in, and trigger a mine explosion.
Ijal delivered us to Ari around noon and we continued our tour on paved roads. We drove by the Naot shoe factory at kibbutz Naot Mordechai where I did my part to help the Israeli economy by buying the very comfortable Naot shoes at a nice discount to the U.S. retail price.
Before the intensity of the Golan we headed down to see one of the sources of the Jordan River: the Dan Spring. The gushing water was spectacular and the surrounding park very beautiful. Of course I had to walk in th pools where the water was cool but refreshing.
Then it was up the big hill to really get a sense of the Golan. Our first stop is in a Kibbutz that showed a movie about the 1973 Yom Kippor War tank battle in the “valley of tears”.
The myth was that Israel was surprised by the simultaneous attack by Egypt & Syria, but their there is lots of evidence now that Israeli leaders actually had lots of advanced warning. For complicated geopolitical reasons involving Russia, Egypt and the U.S., Moshe Dyan agreed with the U.S. to wait for the “surprise” attack rather than pre-empt it.
Unfortunately, it was a mistake and Israel came close to being destroyed, losing 4000 soldiers in just 3 weeks. The entire population of Israel at the time was only 2.5 million. So 4,000 casualties is equivalent to all the soldiers the USA lost in the entire Vietnam war, but over only 3 weeks. Because of the losses, Golda Mier had to resign as Prime Minister & her Labor Party was defeated for the first time in the next election.
In the tank battle on the Golan, Israel had only 40 tanks to Syria’s 800.
It was a remarkable victory that only happened because Israel had the high ground. The IDF soldiers were incredibly brave and the tank commander bluffed by sending all his tanks forward, even when the ran out of ammunition, causing the Syrians to pause, thinking Israel had a much larger force.
Standing on the view point at the top of the Golan Heights Valley looking East into Syria and North to Lebanon it is clear to us that Israel can never give up the Golan and still have defensable borders. It is insane for any American President to ask for it in any negotiations or for any Israeli Government to offer it.
While we were up there, we heard explosions way in the distance where Isis and Al Qaeda are fighting Assad and each other. As Israel’s enemies fight each other there is a brief moment of quiet here,
Our guide Ari has a strong military background and is a great source of information. It’s impossible to share it all here, but it is enlightening and thought provoking. We have a lot of reading to do when we get back home.
On our drive today we saw a fox and freshwater turtles along with beautiful flocks of storks.
This area is filled with flocks of migrating birds. Most have moved on by his time of year but some storks reman.
From there we went to Tsfat, home of Kaballa, the Jewish mysticism . It’s a hilltop old town with lots of Orthodox Jews, beautiful views and lovely art galleries.
We met a very nice couple at dinner tonight. Israel and Yehudit Coutin. He’s an American born Jew and she was born in Haifa. They now live In LA but visit the nation of Israel often.
As my sister Rachel says, this area is both beautiful and dark. It’s filled with contradictions. It feels so peaceful and bountiful, and yet it is surrounded by the “Devils in the distance” who have tried repeatedly to destroy Israel & kill the Jews living here, and will unfortunately try again in the future.
Tomorrow we get up early for a tour of an IDF tank base before heading to the Sea of Gallilee (which is actually a large lake) and other important Christian sites before heading to Jerusalem.