Northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee (aka, Lake Kinneret)
Israeli intelligence center, Golan Heights
Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles
September 3, 2009, Saturday, Thursday, Yehudiya camp ground, Golan Heights, Israel, under an oak tree overlooking a wadi
This may be the first time I’ve written my journal on a computer while “camping.” That later, first the traditional dream journal:
I met a woman (recurring theme) who initially was attractive. Tall and thin, fairly good looking, either in surmising without the aid of others or told by others, I realized she had big psychological problems. She admitted, this is not my real body; my eating habits are not healthy. I decided to stay away from her—a bad bet, a high maintenance person.
Earlier I’d dreamt about roller skating, learning there were 3 types of wheels, soft, hard, and harder. The soft were noiseless and allowed jumping. Boys taught me this.
And finally, the last dream of the night, Y or her surrogate phoned me, weeping, to ask if I’d come to her. We were in a last phase of an active relationship and I decided to honor her request.
So much for the dreams, what are the conditions of my dreaming? Slept in my car (as I’d anticipated doing at least one night), in a reasonably fine campground (but not well kept), sharing it with 2 couples camping together in separate tents and another group of 3 young men in one large tent, in central Golan (hills all around, I plan a hike later this morning), after a dinner of food I picked up in one of the central towns of the region, Katzrin, eating it on a bench near the kiosk, and paying 15 NIS or so for the accommodation (15 extra for hiking, all proceeds to the agency maintaining the park system).
One irony of this stopover was writing the first draft of my proposal to Friends General Conference gathering [the large, fun, workshop-oriented annual gathering of Quakers in North America] for another round of The question of Palestine/Israel [which I’d led in 2008]. Most ironic: sitting in a campground shared with Israelis, hearing them banter and laugh just a few meters from me, in the heart of the Golan Heights, army vehicles, including tanks on flatbeds, numerous jeeps, numerous soldiers with numerous M-16’s present, writing a workshop proposal about this region and its many issues for next year’s gathering. I decided to propose that I’d concentrate on Gaza and the Golan, along with Bethlehem and hydropolitics. I’m in the middle of gathering material for the Golan section of whatever photo presentations I put together from this trip.
~~The sun has just risen majestically over the hills opposite me, and will soon stream into my face. I’ll put on my well worn, almost in shreds baseball cap from Popular Achievement. Yesterday to avoid the late afternoon sun I found a spot to park along the small road north of the campground, beneath a tree, appreciating its shade. I now make my 2nd cup of “Nescafe,” as instant is known, despite the many brands.~~
The night grew chilly, one of the coolest. No surprise, we’re at a higher elevation. Driving from the northwest shore of the Galilean sea where I resided last night in the hostel—seems so far away, geographically and comfort wise—the ascent at times was sharp. The car labored. Looking for a gas station I stopped in the new town of Had Nes, filled with newly completed homes and homes under construction. Founded in 1986 it is another fact on the ground, equivalent to the settlements. It will establish residency and sovereignty rights for Israel, hard to dislodge. As Haifa illustrates a less well known aspect of Israeli control, what I call Occupation with the velvet glove, allowing Palestinian citizens of Israel fewer rights than those extended to the Jews, the Golan shows another form of control: creating new towns, and with that developing museums and other historical resources that prove that Jews have lived in this region for millennia. If their length of habitation is true—and I don’t doubt it at this point with my limited, newly acquired knowledge—it gives credence to their claim of at least shared ownership with Syrians. I must check histories to verify this.
Court yard of Karei Deshe guest house, near Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee
Dislodging these communities seems as far fetched as removing the settlements in the West Bank. (I also fail to understand why anyone would wish to live in such a rural area. But that is just my Chicago background speaking. Of course, many wish to move to the country and this resettlement in the Golan might be one manifestation of that wish. They don’t need cities as I do.)
One startling display in a museum in Katzrin showed the saga of Gamla, a town in central Golan that the Romans eventually, after much bloodshed, conquered, leading to the death of some 5000 people, some by fighting, some when fleeing over and down precipices. A sort of Masada without the suicide. Josephus, the Jewish chronicler, is a fascinating figure. We know much about that period thru his writings; apparently he was the leader of Jewish resistance to the Romans at that time, and ordered the hill top town of Gamla to be fortified, anticipating a Roman assault. The Jews built a wall and tower, but these did not protect them. The Roman juggernaut ran over them. I might visit Gamla on this journey.
I decided against visiting a Talmudic period synagogue since it would cost more money and I’ve seen so many ruins, photographed so many rocks, and find myself less interested in Jewish history than that of other groups. Which is a shame I suppose, but honest to my background and inclinations.
What else did I visit and think about yesterday, coming north from the lake?
Leaving the hostel I explored a Canaanite site high on a hill near the hostel, and palace ruins generated by an earthquake just outside the hostel. Unlike North America, nearly every region has its own long term history, sometimes matching in time that of the North American continent, Canaanites here some 4000 years ago, which is nothing compared to the 20,000 year history of American Indians—as far back as, quoting Wikipedia, the Pleistocene, ca. 1.5 million years ago [with] traces of the earliest migration of Homo erectus out of Africa.
Tel Kinneret, Cannonite town site overlooking Lake Kinneret
Crossing the Jordan River as it enters the lake, too far from the lake to actually see the entry—I wonder if access to this confluence point is possible. The river at this point is about 4 meters wide, swiftly flowing, and I’m not sure how deep. A rather nondescript bridge marks the river, with some signs, mostly in Hebrew, and to the north side a ramp and flat area that might be where people immerse themselves as if Jesus baptized by John. The surrounding region is flat, with many planted fields, suggesting rich earth, maybe deposits of earlier fuller Jordan River waters.
I learned that the sidewalk extending from the Church of Loaves and Fishes to the orthodox version of Capernaum (here also apparently 2 sites claimed to be holy in the same way) was constructed for the Pope’s visit in 2000. Because construction started only one month before his visit, it was finally completed in 2002. A hefty sweaty woman laboring over the path on a hot day kindly provided this information after I’d stopped to photograph the hill or Mountain of Beatitudes directly across from Capernaum. I thought this a likely spot where Jesus might have given his early, profound and enduring sermon.
Jordan River as it enters the Sea of Galilee
In Katzrin where I visited an archeological museum , I found more commercial facilities than I’ve yet seen on this Golan adventure. I finally found a replacement bulb for my flashlight, thanks to the diligence of a woman staffing the small hardware store. (Just in time for camping.) Then I tried a new food treat, French schnitzel. Apparently schnitzel means chicken (or other meat) fried in breadcrumbs, a sure sign of Jewish culture. The outdoor café offered about 10 forms of schnitzel. (I chose French because I seem to love everything French. I might have tried Polish or Chinese, etc.)
Many soldiers joined me as I ate, none speaking to me. Had they inquired about my trip, why I’m here and what I’m learning, I might have been tempted to ask them about the destroyed Arab villages, the mined areas, the explosions I keep hearing, the transport of tanks. What is all this about? But no one invited me into a conversation.
Earlier as I whizzed thru the landscape I noticed fleetingly what looked like an old rounded building remnant. Stopping I read the signs: do not enter—dangerous—mines! Glad they wrote in English and bothered to post the area. I might otherwise have explored. 2 rows of barbed wire fences sealed off the area. I did my best to show what may have been the ruins of an Arab village. This might contrast with the more idyllic photos I’m trying to make of the landscape. As I photographed, another one of those flatbed trucks roared by carrying a tank. Passing in the opposite direction, a large military tanker truck.
All this reminded me of recent history, the 1970s and the war that Israel almost lost.
Golan, site of a destroyed Syrian village
On this leg of my journey, driving, camping, I’m also reminded of 2 other similar trips: in 1982, across the Great Plains, solo, discovering that American Indians live (leading to my work with Lakota Sioux Indians), and in 1990, across the country with Y, our first long journey together, filled with joy, filled with argument. (She claims now that the trip hinted to her our basic incompatibility. Well, in this way I guess it was useful to her. But it was also a way to know the land better, our nation’s history, and ourselves.)
~~I blow heaps of snot from my nose, an after affect of my cold. Annoying but not debilitating. With this, a mild case of sore back, maybe the car seat I slept in last night. Which was actually more comfortable than sleeping on the train.~~
Offline I wrote ME from the hostel, then buying one hour of Internet access for $5 I sent the letter and did other web tasks. Surprisingly she has been one of the more responsive of my friends, relatively well tuned to this segment of my journey. Yet, she’s written virtually nothing about her own journey. So I asked again, what are you doing in Yemen? I forgot to mention to her how her reference to beauty helped inspire a photographic assignment to both my Gaza groups and a suggestion I hoped to make about reading Frederick Law Olmsted’s account of life in the south, since she wrote about her surprise when reading about slavery in the United States.
~~As I complete this entry the nature reserve staff has emerged from their homes, driven here, opened up the café, entrance station, and perhaps the information center. The region comes to life.~~
September 4, 2009, Friday, Tsfat, northern Galilee, Israel, Beit Shalom Guest House, in the dining room
With diarrhea. How did this happen, in Israel of all places, when I’ve been spared for nearly my entire 3 months, even in Jenin and Gaza? I think it was the water I accidentally drank yesterday that I thought I’d poured from my bottled water but instead may have been what I loaded up with further north in the Galilee. I’d run out of water, stopped in a roadside restaurant off some high winding highway, asked for a refill for my 2 small bottles, carried them to the car. After the man who’d done this exclaimed, oh no, you can’t drink that. I thought you wanted it for your car, I bought a large bottle, drank from that, and then, when preparing for a hike, emptied one of those suspicious bottles, refilled with bottled water, and left the first filled with what I think I drank from later. I’d mixed the two up. And now I suffer. Or so it seems. It will give me a “taste” of bad water, helping me appreciate the “good.”
But this is minor, a small setback in an otherwise mostly healthy 3 months (except for my mild cold, which transformed into some 5 days of sticky gooey nose blowing, tailing off today. Legs are fine, tho sore; back is fine, tho occasionally stiff and sore; brain seems fully functioning; all other parts as far as I know in tip top condition.)
To the vital dream journal: with “Y” (I put her name in quotes because once again it was someone playing the part of Y, she didn’t look exactly like the real Y but I knew she fit the character description) we were discussing how to share living. We decided—no surprise—to go halves, half the time at my place, half at hers, but unlike my actual experience with Y we planned to live together continually, just switching locations. I wonder now how this might have worked in reality for us. I don’t recall ever discussing it with her.
A very funny water related dream (good night for dreaming, and I’m so grateful the shits did not begin during my sleep): something about various pools of water, one which would never be filled again, the other only partially filled. As I discussed this with others—the context may have been a university like Harvard—two huge boats resembling fish pulled up underwater and surfaced. Some older men emerged and we then talked about something, as if their vehicles were ordinary. The boats resembled dragons or mythical sea creatures. No one seemed to notice how odd they were and that they carried people.
This section of my dream stream included a tour, maybe of the pools. At the conclusion I thanked the man who’d toured us, Frank someone, and while doing this a young pretty small woman thanked me for attending and expressed her wish that I’d return for more visits. She may have been the same woman I’d danced with earlier, in some sort of group circle dance. Altho I thought she was with the man giving the tour, she seemed to be flirting with me—maybe truly interested in more visits with me.
A story from yesterday that was of great importance to me, virtually none to the universe, was how I found housing for the night. A saga with humorous and absurd parts. Once again I wasn’t sure where I’d land for the night, thinking maybe Tsfat since it sounded so intriguing in my guidebook. It seemed far away, unreachable. I’d been in the northern Golan exploring the Banias river source (this is exciting, more later, the universal part of the day’s story) and decided to aim for the nearest large town, Kiryat Shmona. Checking the guidebook, no listing for the town. I drove thru hoping to discover something off the highway. Nothing. Getting late, me tired and sweaty, hungry also because I’d eaten little since breakfast (paralleling the Ramadan fast, short form), I realized another fairly sizeable town was nearby, Rosh Pina. It was on neither of the two maps I carried. It was in the guidebook. I selected a reasonably priced and appealing sounding place, Hotel Mizpe Hayamin, read in the book it would be 300 shekels and up, which is higher than my usual budget but circumstances did not allow much choice, phoned and learned 300 and yes available, so I struggled to find the place, using their spoken directions.
Arriving, I thought of Harbin Hot Springs in California, very elegant, in lush surroundings, a spa and veggie restaurant included, all of which I’d bypass just for the 300 shekel bed, shower, maybe internet connection. A porter, young and handsome, greeted me with a dolly to carry in my luggage. Wow, what service, never seen anything like this. At the desk I read the invoice: 425 dollars.
DOLLARS! 425 DOLLARS! That’s half again what I paid for an entire month of luxurious housing in Ramallah and decent housing in Gaza.
They apologized. Sorry, we know it’s listed as shekels in your Lonely Planet guidebook, a big mistake which later editions corrected. Out of my range, I said, surprisingly calm. It was about 7 pm and I had no housing. Would you like us to find you a less expensive alternative? Sure. How about … and they suggested something more in my range: for 150 dollars. Well, OK, why not, a so-called bed and breakfast. Again out of my range, but the hour was late, I was tired, dirty, sore, hungry, and growing less calm and more frustrated.
The wife of the owner happened to be in the lobby of the Mizpe Hayamin hotel. She greeted me, gave me directions, and off I went, thinking OK, expensive but at least I won’t have to sleep in the car a second night, this time perhaps by the side of the road. Before leaving I asked the friendly porter, what sort of people stay here, it’s so expensive?
$425 is nothing, he replied, some rooms cost upwards of $1000 a night. The Israeli president was recently here, Shimon Peres, and his chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi. And rich Israelis, and lots of Europeans and Americans. Tips must be good, I offered. He smiled.
The story does not end here. I’m still without housing. Thinking about the B and B, its price, I decided too much. How would I justify this to my funders? Now what? Tsfat is not so far away, I’ll head for it, that was my earlier plan anyway, now at least I’ll be in a good spot for next day’s exploration. Checking my trusty guidebook, I found several candidates, including the Beit Binyamin hostel, the Ascent Institute of Tsfat, and the Beit Shalom guesthouse. I called each, using what I thought was the proper area code of 06. Each time I heard a recorded announcement that I’d made a mistake in dialing. I couldn’t reach any of them.
Head for Tsfat anyway (aka, Safed, Zefad,Ttzfat, Sfat), read from a sign what the correct code is, try that. At a roundabout I noticed about 5 signs for hotels, 06 preceded each number. I tried. Nothing, same recording. So I meandered, hoping once again for something to appear out of the mist that would welcome me home for one night at a price I could afford. Soon I found myself high on a winding street opposite the Carmel hotel which was in the guidebook, mid range housing. I rang the bell of this ancient building, peering thru the window at what looked like a hotel lobby, empty. No one answered. I tried the phone number, no answer.
Then somehow I saw a different area code, 04, maybe on a sign. Phoning the Beit Shalom guesthouse (I liked the name, House of Peace) I reached a recording in English and Hebrew that gave an alternate number. Phoning this mobile number I finally reached someone with decent English who confirmed availability and suggested 200 shekels. This is higher than I usually pay (from about 20 for the camp ground to about 100 for the Sea of Galilee hostel) but now I’m out of energy and time, it’s 8 pm.
I will skip the details of my struggle to find this place, but I managed, thanks to the friendly patient voice on the other end, the son of the woman who runs the place, and my mobile phone. Without it and him I’d never have found a home for the night.
Temple complex to the Greek god of nature, Pan, source of the Banias River
So much for that little adventure. Now for the real thing, the Banias River area, also called the Hermon Stream, the Banias National Reserve. The Banias is one of the main tributaries of the Jordan River, eventually flowing into Kinneret Lake (aka Sea of Galilee), then the lower Jordan, now mostly a trickle of sewage, ending sacrilegiously in the Dead Sea and either evaporating or seeping into an aquifer, polluting it. The headwaters are springs, and despite the late summer season and the drought were flowing copiously. As they had during the Hellenic period of Palestinian history. The Greeks built a temple to Pan, the god of nature, and sacrificed animals into a large cave. At the bottom of the cave were some of the springs forming the Banias. So they knew, those smart Greeks, about the connection between the sacred and the earthly, with water as a vehicle. They built other temples here as well, one about sacrificial dancing goats.
I’m slightly confused about watercourses here, reading an ambiguous statement in the park pamphlet. Either (quoting the pamphlet) the Hermon Stream receives its water from the southern slopes of Mt Hermon and the northern Golan. Its catchment basin is small—only about 150 sq km. Its main tributaries, the Sa’ar Stream (Wadi Hashba), the Si’on Stream (Wadi Asal), and the Guvet Stream, contribute about 20% of the annual flow of the Hermon Stream, which amounts to approx 125 mcm of water (1/4 of the water of the Jordan). Most of the water emerges as springs at the base of the Banias Cave…
Does this mean the Hermon Stream’s origins are the 3 streams mentioned which then become springs, or the streams are separate from the springs?
According to Wikipedia: Whereas previously the Jordan River rose from the malaria-infested Hula marshes, it now rises from this spring and two others at the base of Mount Hermon. The flow of the spring has decreased greatly in modern times. The water no longer gushes forth from the cave, but only seeps from the bedrock below it.
The area is lush with fig trees, willows, and other emblems of a happy earth. Someone created pools to briefly hold the springs as they course downward toward their eventual destination and demise in the Dead Sea. I wonder what sort of temple the Greeks might have built at the Dead Sea had they realized the connection between the springs and the sea. Many visitors here, contrasting with some of the other historic and nature sites I’ve visited. This is part of a large complex which includes the palace of King Agrippa II, the grandson and successor to Herod , a cardo or main street, synagogue, shrine to a Muslim holy man, and other remnants of local history. Most of these at least partially reflect the Banias. Now we tourists come to pay homage to the waters, or at least that’s what motivated me to visit.
Maybe not all of us. Among the visitors yesterday was a group of about 30 young men, all in fatigue pants, some in boots, huffing and puffing up and down hills and thru the ruins shouting to each other, and then by the falls photographing each other. 4 women with rifles seemed to be leading them. I learned they were new army soldiers, filled with health, as my informant put it—heaps of youthful energy. May it continue to go into exercise and excursions such as this rather than maintaining the occupation.
Earlier at the Yehudiya Nature Reserve and campground, I’d hiked to the Sheik Hussein ruin (knowing nothing about its history, who inhabited it, when it was founded, who last lived here, why they left, altho I can guess some parts of this story), and then further to the Zavatin waterfall in the black gorge. A hike of about 3 hours for me, with all my stops to photograph. The ruins are huge, with many buildings made of basalt stones not mortared. Some buildings had mortar. Several had window frames, no roofs survived. In the fields, piles of rocks everywhere suggested attempts to clear fields for cultivation. No cellar holes that I saw. Possible effects of war in wide-open walls.
Sheik Hussein village ruins
The gorge is deep with precipitous walls, showing the effects of water on basalt. Volcanoes some 3 million years ago deposited the basalt, and at times, when slowly cooling, created the signature hexagonal rock structures. The contrast between the ruins and the falls is vast, one showing human effects, the other nature’s effects, but both proving the truth of the Buddhist teaching: impermanence, all is temporary, nothing remains the same. This too shall pass.
~~Including my intestinal condition which at this point is still unknown. So I’m going easy on the eating, nothing that will require much work from my stomach, and I’m cautious with my gas, preparing to dispel it while sitting on the john, to test my condition. Should I eat the hard-boiled eggs I just cooked, and drink a second cup of coffee? Big questions of the morning. Along with how I will find an Internet connection?~~
Finding the Banias was a major coup for me, since I’d read about it for so long, wondered how it looked, and with no idea—never heard this part of the story—about the connection with sacred sites. I suppose I could devote more time to finding other Jordan River sources, but shall content myself with this one—this one big dramatic one.
I had one minor camera scare yesterday when in reviewing my most recent photos I noticed the thumbnails looked fuzzy and the cameras zoom function wouldn’t work. Oh shit, another corrupted file problem?! And this set contains my Banias photos.
Zavatin River falls
Removing and reinserting the card cleared up the problem. They downloaded successfully and in the review they all looked OK. Apparently just a little trick the camera played on me to keep my alert.
Weather has been hot and feels muggy at times, despite the altitude of the northern Golan.
I wandered very far north yesterday, to a few km north of Mas’ada, thinking I might reach or at least see Mt Hermon. The road became narrower and rougher, I was passing thru Druze villages, stopping in one to photograph children at school running races (was this El Rom or Mas’ada or somewhere else? Druze it was from the women’s clothing, the Arabic writing, and the mosques.), running out of water, and not sure where I’d stay for the night. I turned around and headed west out of Mas’ada down a steep road alongside a stream which I couldn’t see well, discovering the Banias reserve (near the Dan reserve which Beny had suggested I visit), thru Kiryat Shmona, a very large town, and to where I am writing now.
Mas’ada, a Druze village in the northern Golan
A short note about this guesthouse in Tsfat: I’m the only resident, paying 200 NIS. On my floor, the 2nd, are 4 bedrooms, each with about 2-3 beds and a separate toilet, a middle shared room which combines dining and cooking, a fridge which I guess I can raid at will, a porch that encircles the interior on at least 2 sides, with many tables suggesting at one time this guest house may have been more used, an upper story that I think I read about in the book with more rooms and a veranda or patio. Where the woman I met last night resides is a mystery to me. Also who is the younger woman on the phone last night, who disappeared, and the photos on the wall, suggesting family, one large portrait of a man looking very traditionally Israeli.
This building is opposite another with the same name. Are they associated? We are on a narrow street with old and new buildings. I hope to explore the neighborhood more fully later today.
Druze villages near the border with Syria
“Sea of Galilee Dropping; Bathers and Fish in Danger,” by Gil Ronen, May 30, 2008