Sunday, May 22, 2016

Jerusalem Hotel 2230

I went to Palestine today. No one really knows where Palestine is or where the borders are, but I was definitely in it. Almost everyone agrees that Jericho is in Palestine.

Between Jerusalem and Jericho, you pretty much have to stop at a few interesting spots. There's the nature reserve at Wadi Qelt and the historical St George's Monastery, which are probably in Israel. There's the Mount of Temptation, which may or may not be in Palestine. There's Qasr al Yahoud, which is probably in Palestine but the main river site is operated by Israel.

Getting into Palestine required crossing the infamous Israeli checkpoints. That was nothing like what I expected. On the news, a checkpoint is the worst form of human torture known to man. What I experienced was like crossing the border from the United States into Mexico. Maybe it's because I'm white and have an American passport. I'm sure that doesn't hurt. Maybe some people are just looking for trouble to further their agenda. Maybe it's not as black & white as Americans think.

My guide was Muslim Arab. He did a great job and I wouldn't trade him for anyone, but your guide pretty much has to be Arab. It's illegal for Jews to enter Jericho. Christians are allowed in because they make up 99% of the tourists.

St George's Monastery is a 1,500 year old Christian church built into the side of a cliff. It's supposed to be home to Elijah's cave, but a lot of people disagree with that. The Mount of Temptation is also built into a cliff, supposedly around the cave where Jesus was tempted. Today they're both working Greek Orthodox churches that are open to the public. Whether the caves are authentic or not, the skill required to build large churches into the sides of cliffs so long ago is pretty impressive.

Qasr al Yahoud is the point at the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. It's a big Christian pilgrimage site, and even though it's in Palestine, Israel controls the area. According to my Arab guide, Jordan asked Israel to control that side of the river. The last thing they want is a bunch of Palestinians crossing their border. If you've been there, you know how easy it would be to cross that point in the river. It's more like a calm stream. The way it is now, everyone at the river is a foreigner with either a visa for Israel or a visa for Jordan.

I asked a few pilgrims if they thought it should be controlled by Israel or Palestine. Most were either glad that it was Israel or didn't care either way. One guy told me none of us would be allowed in if it was Palestine. I don't know about that since I was easily allowed into Jericho and kept my head, but Israeli sites do seem more welcoming to a wider variety of people. If you're a Christian, this is an important place to go. But if it were under Palestine control, Christians would still be allowed in. Moral principles don't pay the bills. Jews aren't big Jesus fans, so I don't think keeping them out would make a difference to sales.

Getting into Jericho required passing through another checkpoint. There were plenty of people in front of us, but it moved quickly. Maybe it's all a matter of perspective. I'm used to how slowly lines move in China, so anytime I can creep forward, I see progress.

After the Israeli checkpoint, we had to pass a Palestinian checkpoint. I wasn't expecting that. You hear about Israeli checkpoints all the time and how they violate human rights. You never hear about Palestinian checkpoints. It was just as violating as the Israeli checkpoint, which was not at all, but less newsworthy for some reason. Airport security is more intrusive.

Jericho and Jerusalem are less than 20 miles apart, but they could be in different worlds. Both are very old cities, but Jericho shows it age. Jerusalem is modern and ancient at the same time. Jericho looks old and run down with graffiti on the walls and trash in the streets.

The streets of Jerusalem have Jews, Muslims, Christians, Baha'i and miscellaneous all going somewhere. It's kind of like New York in that everyone is always on the go. It's not what you'd call laid back, but it's a rainbow city with every race on the planet.

Jericho is 99% Muslim, 1% Christian and entirely Arab. No one seemed to be in a hurry to get anywhere. I saw a lot of men standing around and smoking in the middle of the afternoon. I also saw far fewer women and children.

Economic differences aside, the people in Jericho were just as friendly as the people in Jerusalem. Everyone was happy to see me – or at least my tourist money. That might sound cynical, but the difference between someone genuinely smiling and smiling for money is pretty obvious.

More than a few people wanted to practice their English with me. Anyone who lives in China gets used to that. But in China, a lot of teenage girls and young women approach me. In Jericho, it was only older men. Most of the girls were hidden away somewhere and the younger men only looked at me the way a dog looks at bacon.

It was a good trip, but I don't know if I ever need to go back to Jericho.

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