Saturday, October 28, 2006

Northern Tiyul

As I mentioned at the end of last week, the past week was spent on tiyul (excursion) in the North. To the uninitiated mind this conjoured images of long hikes in the scorching heat, with poor food and worse hygeine. Happily this was not the case. We (meaning the entire Machon group) stayed in the hotel on Kibbutz Giladi, one of the older Kibbutzim in the North Eastern part of the country, very near the Lebanon border. The hotel was very comfortable with TV's and baths (both luxuries that are always relished) and to top it off the food was wonderful.

Owing to the fact that far too much happened on Tiyul and I do not have the time nor space to go into each and every detail and so here is a brief summary. On our first day we arrived very late in the day and so only had time to visit a beautiful cemetry by the Kinneret where many of the early Zionists were laid to rest. The second day began with a hike, not particularly challenging and most people had done it on tour. This was followed by a brief trip to Tsfat a small religious town, where we spent at least half the time there looking for a toilet. In the afternoon we went canoeing/rafting down a tributary to the Jordan river. This was as you can imagine rather manic, as all rules about splashing, getting out of the raft, pushing people off were all speedily broken as the journey turned into a huge fight between nearly all parties. I was in a two man canoe with Richard Sarsby and we pushed quickly towards the finish. Realising we probably had missed all the fun we decided to lie in wait just before the finish line for about twenty minutes to join the fray which had been battling down river.

The following day, Tuesday I shall deal with separately for reasons that will become apparent. The first half of Wednesday was spent in the Golan Heights a mountainous area on the border with Syria. We began with a gentle hike, in a nature reserve at the bottom of the heights before going up into the heights themselves. We visited a former military position on the top of the heights where we could look down into Syria and the Valley of Tears, a sight of several major battles throughout Israel's history, the heights being a key military position. After lunch we visited a newly opened film about the Golan, it was essentially a tourism pitch asking you to smell, feel, hear and see the Golan, complete with wind and rainfall during the showing. This was followed by a 'model' of the Golan upon which there was a projection, which was designed to illustrate the history of the Golan, highlighting different areas at different stages as well as the battles that occured in the Golan. It is virtually impossible to describe just how propaganday and pro-Israeli it was, and the tank movements illustrated by images which belonged in a 1980's video game only heightened the hilarity. Following this we went to a leisure centre where we went swimming and ice-skating.

Thursday was the last day of Tiyul and we began by visiting the Rosh Hanikra Caves, which is on the Northern most part of the Mediterranean coast and on the border with Lebanon. Before going into the caves themselves there is an introductory video to the caves. The video talked about the love affair of the sea and coast, the carressing movements of the waves and the massaging of the rocks crevices, never has erosion sounded so sexaul. In my opinion the Rosh Hanikra caves is one of the most beautiful places in Israel, the sea is of the richest blue, the caves themselves are a tranquil tunnel looking onto the deep azure of the Meditteranean, and the gentle sounds of the sea are only marred by the soft screech of bats that populate the heights of the cave, the perfection is only ruined by leaning out over a railing and looking out at the Med. when you realise it is the birds bathroom and some of their business has been transferred to your arms.

After the caves we drove back towards the Haifa, and without actually entering the city we drove up into the mountains above it to visit a Druze village. The Druze is an offshoot of Islam, which rebelled against the way Islam treated women. Druze is an exclusive religion meaning you have to be a born a Druze, however they are a very friendly people and live by the laws of the land, meaning they are entirely loyal to the state of Israel. We began by going to a Druze market where I bought a backgammon set something I had long been meaning to do, as well as sampling Druze coffee (very interesting) and being told by a shopkeeper that a man should respect his wife but always keep a strong whip in his hand 'not for his wife but for self-defence.' Following the market we went to a Druze house where we were served one of the most delicious meals I have had since coming to Israel, it included spiced pittas, houmous, lentils from the heavens, salad, rice and more. This array of food was presented to us in groups of five on a huge platter and we had to keep going back for refills.

To finish off the day we went across the bay to the historical town of Acco, not mark you to learn the important and exciting history of the town but to go to a MASA event. MASA was an organisation set up by Ariel Sharon to bring young people to Israel on long term programs. Therefore a MASA event is where almost everyone who is on Year Course in Israel congregates in a small area to be told how wonderful Israel and Masa is. The event had infact been going on for the whole day but we only came for the end. The end of which I speak was a concert complete with abysmal MC, cheesy music, high ranking officicals saying what a wonderul job Masa was doing.

Er I should apologise for the last few paragraphs, I appreciate I did say I would be brief and clearly failed, and if you think that was bad I am about to talk about Tuesday and be warned its heavy. Tuesday was a day reserved for the war in Lebanon, the day was run by the UJIA, a British charity, who includes as part of its work helping to establish education projects in Northern Israel. We began by visiting a car park just outside our kibbutz where 12 reserve troops were killed, in the car park there lay rubble as well as pictures of the soldiers to serve as a temporary memorial. From here we went to a Moshav (non-Socialist Kibbutz) on the Lebanese border, because of its proximity the Moshav was used as a military base, whilst its community was moved down South. The leader of the Moshav was himself a victim of an attack in 1970 when his school bus was attacked by his militants, several young children were killed during the raid as well as his father who was acting as a guard. It was amazing to see this man who had endured so much emotional hurt in his life standing strong and being able to talk about his experiences. Following a talk from him we went all the way down to the Lebanese border and were able to see building which served as entry points for Hezbollah tunnels.

Next was the most moving point of the day as we visited a man who was in his living on a Friday night when a Katusa rocket came through his living room, his wife and grandaughted died in the blast, he survived because the rocket entered just above his head and went right through the room. A small miracle in a total tragedy, however what was startling was the fact that he could talk to a group about his experiences and appear with strength and resolved. The day was concluded in the small Northern town of Shelomi, a town with strong connections to Britain and particularly the town of Radlett. Here we were given a talk about the town and then had a discussion about Jewish relations throughout the world. What struck me about all the people we heard speak on this most intense day, was their strength resolve and ability to look to the future, for no matter what trouble they had encountered and what difficulties they had been through they showed a determination to survive and continue to go from strength to strength, and that is living in Northern Israel (essentially a frontier area) does to you.
I hope everyone can take someone from that

P.S. I am well aware that what is expressed here is very pro-Israeli and I know there was suffering on both sides of the border, I am just relating to you what I saw that day, please dont take offense.


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