The headline tells you we did a lot of driving today. Before getting into the details, notice on the map how small Israel is and how it’s in a congested neighborhood. Lebanon to the north has Hezbollah elements that don’t think Israel should exist. Syria to the northeast is in shambles and its civil war can be heard from Israel. Directly east is Jordan, the most friendly neighbor Israel has.
Much of our drive today was along the Jordan River, which forms the border between Jordan and Israel. Our drive east out of Jerusalem and then north along the river was a scene right out of Lawrence of Arabia - chalky dunes and mountains for as far as you could see. Suddenly the terrain turned tropical. Miles and miles of rows of palm trees growing dates and avocado trees and banana trees. One student remarked it reminded him of Thailand.
Our first stop was Naharayim, where we got a close up look at the Jordan River. Surprisingly unimpressive, but only because both Israel and Jordan have diverted so much water to other needs. Water is the source of life in the desert and many conflicts and treaties are based on how to share this most precious resource. Israel and Jordan have come to many agreements on how to manage the water that runs from the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea. One solution has been Israel’s ability to take the salt out of sea water from the Mediterranean.
Kibbutzim (plural of kibbutz) date back to the early 1900s, when Jewish Marxists came to what’s now Israel to set up their utopias. These were communities that lived by the socialist rule - from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. That meant anyone coming to the kibbutz had to give up everything to the community. A week after arrival, one might find her piano in the house of a neighbor or his favorite hat sitting on the head of a new friend. This worked for a while, until human nature took over. When people figured out they didn’t have to do much work and still received “according to their needs,” the system collapsed under spite and recrimination. Current kibbutzim are a little more capitalistic.
On to Mount Bental lookout at the Golan Heights, a crucial strategic outpost in the ongoing tension between Israel and its neighbors. This is a high spot on the border between Israel and Syria, which means whoever controls it has the military advantage. Israel has occupied this area since capturing it in 1967. Unfortunately, today’s weather didn’t offer us dramatic views into Syria. We were stuck in the middle of a cloud.
North of Mount Bental is Majdal Shams, a city that used to be in Syria until the border moved and it became an Israeli city. The Druze live here, a group that traces it origins to Syria but is quite happy being in Israel. We learned about Druze life from Afeef Shofi and Majdy Shaer, two 26 year olds. A defining characteristic of the Druze religion is a belief in reincarnation. Like many cultures, Shofi and Shaer said there is tension between older and younger generations, with the elder Druze disappointed their children don’t continue adhering strictly to traditions.
We ended our day in Metula, looking forward to a jeep tour of the border with Lebanon in the morning.