Monday, 4 June 2012

Beehives and barbed wire. Mosaics and minefields

Where do you start with such a long list of things to recount?

Maybe with more praise for Khalil! His background is archaeology but he also has an extensive breadth of knowledge that includes geology and theology. Pretty obvious for a guide here I know but its the depth of his insights that we are all enjoying. Today he has also added quite a bit of modern politics to his repertoire. Its a tricky line to take because you must be careful to put over all aspects of the arguments. He managed well though there was one issue about which you could sense the struggle to remain balanced. Water...

But let's start at our first site - Korazim. One of the three villages where Jesus performed miracles and then 'cursed' them because they failed to recognise what was in front of their eyes. The other two were Capernaum (we went on the second day) and our next stop Beth Saida. However, before I leap ahead of myself, Korazim was incredible. Barely anyone else there - it was even the first visit for Fr Brian and he's been a pilgrim 16 times! - the site was remarkable for its synagogue. It had the most beautifully carved "Moses chair" and the remains of lots of traditional family homes. One of the most fascinating revelations was a carving of Medusa that had adorned the temple. The Jews were heavily influenced by Hellenic culture and apparently often carved various Greek mythological creatures and gods in their synagogues. It struck that there really is nothing new in human nature - we still find other cultures attractive.
From there it was a short hop to Beth Saida. Given that it was a fishing village 2000 yrs ago it was blatantly evident how much the Sea has shrunk. It was easy to see how close it was to Korazim which stood on the top of the hill nearby. The stones that were used to construct the villages were local and a wonderful dark charcoal colour - reflecting the volcanic nature of their origin. They were full if holes - as if it had solidified while still rather hot. The excavations at Beth Saida are still in their infancy - though Khalil had worked there over 20 years ago - but it was possible to get a sense of the bustling town with its main street running through it.

Our last stop before heading off towards Syria was Kursi where it is said that Jesus cast out the evils spirits from a man and sent them into a herd of swine that then ran down the hillside and into the Sea of Galilee. Here we were treated to some stunning mosaics. If I sort out my camera I'll add in some shots from there. Symbols everywhere you looked. Fruit, flowers, leaves and baskets to name but a few as well as fabulous intricate patterns that decorated the borders. Breathtaking!

Then into the coach for a 1.5 hour journey to and through the Golan Heights. This is when we were treated to some real gems of interesting info from Khalil. He gave us more insight into the complexity of being a Arab Jewish Palestinian and quoted some famous examples of Israeli leaders who had Palestinian passports. We learnt abort the catastrophic decline in the number of Christians living in the Holy Land - Khalil said that the Holy Land has no meaning without the presence of Christians (and all three great monotheistic faiths.)

I had no idea that its not possible to convert to be a Druz and that they have nine reincarnations. Nor did I realise that there are only 752 Samaritans left and they live in or around Nabblus. They are the only group of people who speak the ancient Hebrew. The one spoken today is a modern construction aimed at bonding the many different groups of Jews who returned there in the mid-late 20th century.

Yesterday evening as we sat by the pool two Apache helicopters went by - I thought of  my son-in-law Colin and his boss George. (They manufacture foam for those aircraft!)  That sort of activity meant that there was likely to be more problems over the border.  We stood on the top of a hill looking out to the border between Syria and Israel.  It was as close as 10 metres from our bus as one point later on.  It seemed impossible to imagine that such a short distance away there is civil unrest and rebellion... Khalil told us more about the Assad regime - it was enlightening to hear his perspective, balanced and moderated as ever.  One of the great things about these sorts of journeys is that you learn far more than you ever anticipated.

The lunch at the Lebanese restaurant was yummy.  Fresh spicy pickled salads with homemade falafel, stuffed vines leaves and shish kebabs... with lashings of hummus of course.  Catherine even tried a red chili pepper - far more daring them us oldies!

After the tranquil pleasures of Baniass - one of the springs of the River Jordan we headed back to the hotel for our last night there.  Halfway through in some ways already though tomorrow is a day of transition.

From the coach I randomly saw all sorts of things that stuck in my mind.  Endless beehives that were only out-numbered by the number of signs about minefields - sadly.  Of course those areas were protected \by barbed wire.  I saw a family of wild hogs running through the tall dry grass. we saw the signs of the previous wars - shelled villages and an old tank and then the fortification at Nimrod. somethings never change...

Forgive the typos and spellings I'll check this when I have more time but I want to capture as much as poss while its still fresh.

Still takes too long to load a photo - not sure why but be warned when it does work there'll be a flood of them!!

I'm off to cool down in the pool!

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