Guys With Guns

Posted by Scott Foster on

My body has no clue what time it is anymore. I'm sure that betrays this rookie "world traveler" because I'm not, obviously. I've been advised to take melatonin but it's never worked for me in the past. So what you have here is another sleep deprived blog. I was also advised not to bring a laptop, and I will take my chances next time. This is hard to do on the iPad for obvious reasons. Please excuse the typos.

So, one of the tidbits of info that I got from my cab driver on the first day going into Jerusalem has been really helpful. He said, "Don't be worries when you see guys with guns everywhere. It's normal. Police cars with flashing lights running around all the time--it's normal." Well, you and I probably aren't ever gonna be used to this, but he's right. Don't be worries, it's normal.

You can't forget that Israel is occupying most of this territory outside of what was once West Jerusalem. Some of it was claimed from Jordan during the 6 day war in 1967. Some of it is the settlements that you hear about where the Israelis keep taking territory away from the Palestinians ala relocation of Native Americans in US history. Some areas in the West Bank are administered by Palestinians, but the Israelis still control everything and there are guys with guns everywhere just so you never forget it. It's normal.

So we left Jerusalem today for the West Bank and the wilderness road between Jerusalem and Jericho. The story of the Good Samaritan is set on this road. Jesus was indigenous to the area and knew everyone could relate to the desolation and fear of traveling on foot and at night. We saw Bedouin encampments on the way, and modern shepherds and goatherds. Think tent city homeless like in Morristown and you got it. These travelers eek out a living selling trinkets and tchotchkes to tourists like us.

St. George's Monastery is a Greek Orthodox monastery, one of the five remaining active monasteries in the Israeli wilderness. There used to be close to a hundred. It's a stop-over sometimes for people who want that wilderness journey experience hiking. There are springs here and aqueducts dating back to Herod the Great who built two different palaces out here just to show everybody he controlled the territory between Jerusalem and Jericho. The ancient version of guys with guns, I guess. According to tradition, Elijah drank from one of these springs and was fed by the birds. See 1 Kings 17 for more on that.

Next, we stopped for a view of the Mount of Temptation. Yes, it's way up there and according to tradition, Satan brought Jesus here to show him the vast kingdoms he could own if only he would bow and worship the devil. The monastery on the Mount of Temptation is Greek Orthodox, one of the five, and only two monks currently live there.

The Jordan river spot where tradition says Jesus was baptized by John in the wilderness is a must. The road down to the river is lined by fences with signs warning of land mines. Not sure why, but this is a thin space on the border between Israel and Jordan. Of course, there were guys with guns smiling with all the tourists. I snapped a photo but declined a selfie, thank you very much. The river is more like a creek. Since I'm Presbyterian and so is everybody in our group, we are already baptized. But I did enjoy dipping my toes in the muddy water, and I'm praying that my bottle of water doesn't leak in my bag on the way home.

Modern Jericho is Palestinian city administered by the Palestinians but still controlled by Israel. There are 8 springs there and it's the largest oasis in the Middle East. The Israelis drill their wells deeper than the springs which reduces the available water for the locals. Again, this is occupied territory.

Ancient Jericho is an active archeological dig called Tell es-Sultan. Imagine 10,000 years of layers upon layers. While the archeology does not support the Joshua stories of the 7 trumpet blasts that leveled the walls or the story of Rahab and the spies, at some point in Jericho's history, there actually were rooms built into the walls. But there's not much historical accuracy to the Joshua stories at Jericho. We did see a huge sycamore tree but clearly it would not have been the Zaccheus one, though I love all those stories.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found at Qumran in 1948 when a young shepherd boy chasing a lost sheep tossed a rock into a cave. He heard the rock break something what sounded to him like pottery. He was afraid to go in the cave and returned the next day with a friend. Boom! One of the greatest historical discoveries validating our Bible.

The jars contained scrolls on parchment and animal skins stored away for safe keeping by the Essenes to preserve the documents in the event of ancient war. The boys sold them to a Greek Orthodox Bishop who we now know took them to the Albright Institute in Jerusalem for authentication. The Scrolls live in the Israeli and Rockefeller museums in Jerusalem.

At Qumran, of course you can see the Dead Sea. Our tour guide told us that climate change is affecting the Sea. If you check out my pictures on the church's Facebook, I took a shot of it. The Dead Sea shore used to be past a small tree line that you can see in the photo. It's the so-called Dead Sea because it cannot support any life in the body of water and now even it is dying, too. It's drying up. There is talk of channeling water from the Red Sea in order to save it in the long term.

We drove around to the Kalia Beach resort area on the shore of the Dead Sea. It was hot down there today, close to 80 degrees! The Dead Sea is 420 meters below sea level, the lowest place in the world. People were hanging out and cooking out and having a grand old time but the water is so salinated and full of minerals, it feels oily to the touch. I think it's gross but there were lots of people swimming because you can float high in the water. If you think you have friends in low places, it doesn't get any lower than this. The bar at Kalia Beach apparently takes a good deal of pride in that. And yes, there were guys with guns.

To get up here to Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee, we passed out of the West Bank into northern Israeli territory proper. Passing through the checkpoint, Uzis and AK-47s in hand, the border guards did their thing and walked onto the tour bus in the lane next to us. Expecting the same, we all sat in our little bus with passports in hand ready to go, but an unarmed female guard came onto our bus in her safety-yellow colored smock. She looked more like a person collecting parking fees at the Meadowlands. She checked one passport, looked up and smiled at all of us, and waved us through.

Our tour guide, Abraham, is a cool guy. He's a Greek Orthodox Palestinian who has been giving tours for over 20 years. There are probably 7500 Palestinian tour guides, but Abraham is only 1 of 50 who are credentialed to lead tours in both Israel and the Occupied Territories. He shared a story with us that Monday of this week he was stopped by a guy with a gun at the Western Wall. He has been personally harassed by the military before but never on the job. A 20 year old Israeli soldier would not let him go to the wall with his tour because "you are a Palestinian." They have the power to override his state credentials because if he were to argue it would be provocative and he could be arrested as a terrorist.

Tonight we're in a great hotel with excellent food, in fact all the food so far has been awesome! But this place is just off the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It's absolutely gorgeous and I'll post a picture of the view out my window for the weekend. Very sweet! Tomorrow we're taking a boat ride out on the Sea where Jesus calmed the storm, and we're going to Capernaum where Peter's house was and where Jesus lived during his Galilean ministry. We're going to the hill where the loaves and fishes multiplied. How cool is that?

I believe in God always in all ways and Jesus calms the storm, even when guys with guns are everywhere.

So don't be worries.

It's normal.

Grace and peace from the Sea of Galilee,

Sent from my iPad


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