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Israel - Graeme Robin - Travel


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A journey through Israel with Karen and compass, phe and me

A journey through Israel with Karen and compass, phe and me

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  • 1. Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads without Lines Graeme Robin ...Travel in Israel Graeme Robin travels the world in his trusty old Fiat Tempra, and writes about his journeys. If you enjoy reading this, you should consider buying Graeme’s second book ‘Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads Without Lines - Book 2 Covering Graeme’s four month journey through:ESTONIA AND THE BALTIC STATES, POLAND, UKRAINE, HUNGARY, ROMANIA, BULGARIA,TURKEY, GEORGIA, GREECE - over 300 pages, with more than 600 colour photographs! To buy BOOK 2, visit:
  • 2. About MeI was born in 1937, married Barbara in 1963, but lost her to a dreadful cancer 43 years later. Ifelt as if the world had stopped. Life was suddenly not as precious as it had been. I didn’t carethat much. But a change sort of evolved. I travelled to Europe. I bought an old car. Then a GPS. Then a compass. That made four of us – Karen (the robot voice on the GPS) and Compass (just that), Phe (for Fiat - a 1993 left-hand drive diesel sedan) and Me. Suddenly it was not “I” but “We”. It was “Karen and Compass, Phe and Me”. We started to drive around Scandinavia, Iceland, the Arctic Circle and into Russia all the time on minor roads, avoiding the major roads and highways as far as possible – in other words, “On Roads Without Lines”.We were just wandering around on winding, single lane roads often unsealed, through smalltowns and villages, seeing the people at their normal everyday lives and work. Trying to get afeel for each country – trying to put a tag on it. I took a lot of photos and kept a daily journal.So a book evolved. Book 1.Had this suddenly put meaning back into my life?It felt good so instead of selling Phe at the end of the first four months I kept her for anotherfour months of journeying this time behind what used to be called the “Iron Curtain” andanother book evolved. Book 2.It felt good so instead of selling Phe at the end of the second four months I kept her foranother four months of journeying this time around Spain, Portugal and Morocco andanother book evolved. Book 3.It felt good so instead of selling Phe at the end of the third four months I kept her for anotherfour months of journeying this time to Italy, the Middle East and the Balkan Peninsular andanother book evolved. Book 4.All have been marvellous experiences of discovery - so good that I would like it to continuefor the rest of my life!How long is this old bugger going to last! To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 3. Israel and Palestine - At least we are through the border controls 15th October IsraelOh what a difference a border makes!!!!The Israeli border guards with their rifles slung at the ready were not in uniform but just random col-oured tee shirts and jeans. These men are not young casual conscripts doing their compulsory servicebut seasoned soldiers protecting their country’s border from the outside violent world. They wereserious, fit, and alert.All country’s have their customs inspection which sometimes means a casual look into the Phe’s bootand in rare instances I have had to lift the bonnet for an inspection of the engine compartment. NotIsrael! Oh no! I had to empty everything out of the boot onto two luggage trolleys and take them intoa building and load every single item through an xray machine the same as at airports. And when I sayeverything, I mean everything – a big suit case, my little green back pack, dozens of maps, some books,a tray of my little kitchen, a dirty washing bag, (empty) and even the spare vacuum pump from Phe’sbrake system that had to be replaced in Poland a couple of years ago. This one gave them a frightbecause I am sure they thought it was a new style of incendiary device. While the xray machine wasdoing its bit, Phe was driven away into a workshop where they went through her like a dose of salts.She was up on a hoist and examined from top to toe, even the rear windows were wound down – athing I have never done – and the door cavities examined.The whole exercise was skilful, thorough and professional – even though irritating. I was put out athaving to empty the boot because other people have homes to go to each night but I have hadonly Phe for these past three months – she has been my home - and of course it was not like I wasa regular holidaymaker with a couple or four bags to lift out, I had stuff everywhere (and most of itcovered in Syrian dust). But then I got to accept that this is their country, and their borders, and theirneighbours - most of whom are unfriendly towards Israel – and it is their right to do anything theywant, to protect their country.When they set us free it was half past six and dark so we drove for a few kilometres towards lights– a sign to Jerusalem but that was 130 kms away so too far for today - but then a smallish town anda posh looking guest-house with hardly a parking spot left in the car-park. The sheila on the last gatecoming out from the border wasn’t very reassuring when she asked if I had friends in Israel – I said“No”, or do I have a hotel reservation – another “No” , and then she said it may be difficult to find ahotel that is open so late on a Friday night!I drove around the almost empty streets looking for someone to ask if there was more than onehotel in town until we came across a bloke walking with his wife and kids. I think he understood thequestion and I think I understood the answer that there was only one hotel in town and that was theposh looking one we had passed.It was expensive at 341 (I don’t even know what they are called, but I got 3 of them for every Jorda-nian dinar) but without a road map I have no idea where we are, or where we could go for a secondchoice. So to hell with the expense – throw the cat another gold fish! Israel - to the North and the Golan Heights Saturday 16th OctoberAs different as chalk and cheese – that’s a good saying and it describes exactly so much of what I haveseen and experienced over the few hours I have spent in Israel.Firstly it was the professional and so very focused security check plus the little things like a clean andhygienic toilet and wash-room with liquid soap (that was full) and paper towels at the border post.Then there was the noticeable absence of litter – maybe there is only an offshore wind in Israel.Then there was the dinner in the dining room of this guest-house. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 4. It was a big dining room and dinner was from six o’clock (I had to wind my watch back one hour, sothe timing was spot on). The two nights in Egypt had both been at holiday resorts and dinner at sixmeant just that because by twenty past six most of the food had gone. And it irritated me that atboth resorts a tea bag and a cup of hot water after the meal was not included and had to be paid for.Last night I arrived at the appointed hour along with a few other people, but unlike the internationaltourists in Egypt, the other people were just standing around and not diving into the food as if therewas no tomorrow. A waitress showed me to a table at the bottom of the room.The table – set for one – had a carafe of cold water, a carafe of iced orange juice and an unopenedbottle of red wine.And I did justice to the wine, orange juice and a wonderful meal. However the interesting part waslearning a little about the Israeli ways.There was one big family group of twenty adults and children. Maybe it was an anniversary or abirthday. The men had white shirts, black pants and skull caps, and the women were well dressed instreet clothes. Or maybe it’s just because it was a Friday. The group took a lot of time over their meal,they said prayers before they started to eat and then sang a number of gentle rhythmic songs duringthe meal. I found it to be quite beautiful the way the family was bound together as if with an invisiblethread just singing quietly together oblivious to the fact that they were in a public restaurant with allmanner of strangers looking on. Music is a wonderful thing – a great bonding agent. I wonder why thisis so?At another table there were two couples and two children. The bread was covered with a napkin andthey all stood for a prayer before the meal. It all had the air of quiet, of gentle, of softness.All so very gentle. But why not – they have the army at their borders looking after them.It’s early days and maybe the first impressions will not stand up.It was mid-day before we hit the road armed with some cash in the wallet and a proper road map ofIsrael – and it’s hot. Well into the mid 30’s – well into them. And I know where we are at last! It’s thesmall town of Beit Shean. It had a few shops but they were all closed – even the Mickey Dees wasclosed too - and there was hardly a person on the streets, but I only needed one person to lead meto the ATM nestled around the corner.We were driving north along the west Bank towards the town of Tiberius which is the lowest city inthe world – in other words there is no other city that is further below sea level than Tiberius. Karen,aroused from slumber; reckons we are 212 metres below sea level and so my guess about the slowmoving Jordan was probably somewhere about right. But with water, the land here on the West Bank is just as productive as across the river in Jordan with orchards of apples and citrus, olives, bananas, date palms and brown grass – the sort beef cattle would graze on, not that there are beef cattle grazing here, they will be stuck away in a feed lot somewhere. And a few gum trees. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 5. Another photo of the River Jordan looking downstream this time. Its flowing alright but it looks asthough it is being diverted.It’s a good road map of the country and it shows that the Sea of Galilee – just ahead of us – is allin Israel territory whereas the bigger map of the Middle East shows the eastern side and the GolanHeights area as being disputed territory. Not far to the east across the river and into Syria is the townof Al Quneitra where 3 weeks ago the military would not let us pass and made us return to Damas-cus and use the motorway to get to the border crossing into Jordan, but here on the Israel side thereappears to be no restriction on driving right up to the border.So rather than going to Tiberius on the left of the Sea of Galilee, I reckon the road to the right sideof the Sea may be more interesting, so maybe we can follow the edge of the Sea and head straightnorth to the Golan Heights and Mount Khermon, the highest point in Israel. If we get stopped we willhave to put in a U-turn. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 6. First look at the Sea of Galilee at the southern end – but gosh it’s so misty it is hard to make out themountains not that very far away.A bit further on there was access to the sea and I had to know if the water was warm and was it salty.“Yes,” it was warm but not as warm as the Dead Sea or maybe even as the Mediterranean which isstrange, and, “No,” it was not salty – quite clear and fresh. The stoney beach was not very friendly though. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 7. Right next to the access road to the Sea of Galilee was a big feed lot of Frisian milkers. I stopped and had alook.The bloke said they are milking 350 cows three times a day – there would be a few litres of milk in thatlot I reckon.They were milking in a ‘herringbone’ style of bail with only 11 bays on each side which seems alittle small for the 1000 milkings every day – but it’s their business and they would know far better than me.The cows are on a closed circuit of milking bail back into the barns for a feed of hay and in eighthours back to the milking bails. Sure it smelt a bit but there were no flies which is surprising consider-ing how thick they were around the Dead Sea area – ‘as thick as flies’ one could say! The complextook up very little land space – just the 3 or 4 big open sided barns and the milking shed with a bigvat. Right next door was a banana plantation on one side and a holiday resort on the other.I came across this beaut picnic spot on the River Jordan before it flows into the sea of Galilee. fisher-men, picnickers and a flowing river. The River Jordan before it flows into the Sea of Galilee - fishermen, picnickers, a couple of canoes and a flowing river. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 8. Around the east side of the Sea of Galilee there were many camping spots, restaurants and resortsbut after we left the lake behind us still travelling north, there seemed to be a remoteness – very fewhouses and very few villages. Quite unusual because ever since Italy it has been a feature of lots ofvillages close together and plenty of houses on the countryside.Around half past four I picked up a hitcher - a youngish girl about 20 – and I am so pleased I didbecause even with very little English she said she would take me to a hotel. And when we did eventu-ally get to the ‘Hotel’ sign about an hour later, it was the only one we had passed and had she notbeen with me there is no way I would have found it. She was a nice kid – finished school and now atcollege, but studying what I don’t know – but with her little English we drove in silence most of theway, although she did say that many of the people on the Golan Heights were from Syria – makessense because it was Syrian territory up until the 6 day war in 1967. The town with the hotel wasMazdalsham and this was where she lived with her parents. Like so many young people these days shehad the mobile phone to her ear almost all of the way. The hotel was expensive at 250 shekels – aboutique sort of joint for the winter snow grounds not far to the north. Expensive but at least it wasa bed for the night.Israel - The Golan Heights on the Northern Borders and then to the Mediterranean Sea Sunday 17rd October To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 9. We are in the beautiful mountains of the Golan Heights and I am reckoning on picking up what looksto be a beaut ‘green road’ marked on the map. It runs right up to the northern border with Syriaand Lebanon and then hugs the Lebanon border westward all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.The northern area is called the Hula Valley on the map. We are heading into the mountains first of alland the ski resort at Mount Khermon, the highest point in Israel about 1800 metres above sea level.Strange really, having this high spot only an easy days drive from the lowest point on the planet at theDead Sea.I have a feeling we are going to get into strife today. We have just gone through a toll-gate arrange-ment but the booms were up and there was no one around so Phe’s heartbeat didn’t falter, not evenone little rev. Maybe the gates are there only for the winter snow fields.But then, close by, there was a helicopter pad with four choppers - three with their blades still turning- and 20 odd men. They didn’t look like military though, more civilian, but there was a military campnearby with a battery of army tanks covered and parked close to the roadside.Anyway there were no challenges so we kept going past the idle chairlifts up the mountain. Therewere plenty of signs but they were all in Yiddish. It’s a very strange writing, similar in appearance toArabic - and they do write backwards from right to left as do the Arabs, but with the Israeli writing Ifind it very difficult to work out which is up and which is down so often the docket or whatever I amtrying to decipher is up-side-down. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 10. Right now it is the arid mountains. Just beautiful! In a couple of months when it is snow covered it will be the white mountains and just as beautiful.We came to a fork – so I chose the road to the right. Wrong! A barrier and a sentry with a gun. Notat all friendly, just waved his gun at me to tell us to buzz-off! Back to the fork and the road to the left.Wrong again! Another sentry with another gun! But this bloke was bored to tears and thought it wasgreat to be able to spend a few minutes having a chat to practice his English, which was great for metoo. He showed me on the map the extent of the military no-go zone that covered almost all of thenorth and north west of the country, including the road that I had thought would have been interest-ing – in fact all of the borders with Syria and Lebanon are intensively guarded by the military. So wehad to backtrack it to the town of last night’s bed and turn to the west from there keeping us 50 kmsor so out of harms way of the border..Driving in Israel so far has been great. The drivers obey the laws – don’t double park, are not aggres-sive, and hold to the steed limit. They give pedestrians at pedestrian crossing a fair go too. The roadsare good and the road signs excellent as they most times relate to the road map. The road numberson the map are the same numbers as on the ground as are the town and city names. Even the whitelines are clear and distinct – first time since France I think. Also it’s a small country so distances areshort.We were soon down from Mt Khermon and back into agricultural land again. They are getting waterup onto any land that is half way to being flat and where fruit trees and bananas can be plantedbetween the rocks. Most of the bananas are enclosed in a light mesh ‘house’ of sorts – and I have noidea why this would be. Surely not insects as the full hand of bananas are in the blue plastic bag as isnormally the case. Maybe the ‘house’ conserves moisture. I have no idea.Then the ‘green road’ leaves the Syrian border and shifts to running south along the border withLebanon. It winds and twists through the rocky hills but there are plantings along the way so there arevillages and towns where the farmers live. It’s going to take me a while to put a handle on this Jewishway of living because today is Sunday and it’s like the country has been evacuated. It’s one o’clock andmy belly is touching the backbone having had no breakfast this morning and no open cafes sightedalong the way. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 11. There is this town of Menara right on the border with Lebanon. It has fences all round it, and a sentrybox with a soldier and a boom at the gate, but in the town itself I could find nothing – no people, noshop, no nothing. There are cars parked on the streets that twist and wind around the top of this hilland the houses are spaced well apart with heaps of trees and tropical plants of colour like bougain-villea and frangipani – it’s a lovely place to be but I can’t find a shop or market or anything. Therewas a bloke walking and he said there may be a place for coffee and something to eat at the top ofthe chairlift. What chairlift? Then I found it - a big chairlift taking people down to the bottom of themountain where there looks to be a town of some size – maybe industrial. Perhaps the work is at thebottom of the hill and the dormitory up the top – just a cheap chairlift ride away. Very nice though!There are a number of ponds down in the valley and they keeps on going along the valley – surelynot storage – are they growing something in the water?The next village - on the right this time - was the same, high wire fences security gates, armed guards.Then a heap of grapevines – haven’t seen grapes for a long time.It has been a great drive this morning along the border with Lebanon. We are up on the top of thehills and right down below us, the valley is cultivated wherever there is a piece of land half level andwithin reach of an occasional drink of water. The river at the bottom of the valley appears to be deadstone dry – but then it is barely autumn yet.Unfortunately all good things must come to an end because we had to leave the ‘green’ roads andtake to the highway for the last stretch through the more heavily populated area around the Mediter-ranean coast and south to the port city of Haifa. There were big shopping centres along the way andmany were open and doing good business if full car-parks are any indication. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 12. But with the heavier population came a roadside cafe that still had a breakfast going at half past two in the arvo – I think he may have called it a “late lunch”. Two different breads, pickled cucumber and a green and tomato salad plus another dish that could have been chickpeas and yoghurt. It was very nice and it certainly filled a hole. Graeme Robin travels the world in his trusty old Fiat Tempra, and writes about his journeys. If you enjoy reading this, you should consider buying Graeme’s second book ‘Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads Without Lines - Book 2 Covering Graeme’s four month journey through:ESTONIA AND THE BALTIC STATES, POLAND, UKRAINE, HUNGARY, ROMANIA, BULGARIA,TURKEY, GEORGIA, GREECE - over 300 pages, with more than 600 colour photographs! To buy BOOK 2, visit: To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 13. It was just a little after four o’clock by the time we arrived at Haifa and another hour of searchingbefore I gave up and settled for another expensive bed for the night. It looks as though it is going tocost a lot of money to stay in Israel for the 7 days before my visa !They are called ‘shekels’ I had forgotten that from Sunday school – it went with the ‘money lenders’didn’t it? Israel and Palestine - from Haifa to Nazareth and an expensive bed in Jerusalem Monday 18th OctoberIt was almost twelve by the time we got away today because of the chores – first, at nine o’clock intothe Visitors Information Office just up the street and secondly get the good oil on ferries to Turkey.Well the woman at the Visitors Info office was the worst! Absolutely bloody useless. I’ll say it again justin case you missed it! Absolutely bloody useless. I reckon she had only ever travelled from her hometo the office in her longish lifetime. Where the hell do they get these people from!Then another downer at the Passenger terminal at the Port. Just a week ago the bloke at the IsraeliConsulate at Amman had said that there were lots of car ferries running out of Haifa and there wouldbe no problem getting a car ferry from Israel to Turkey – just a three hour trip he said. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 14. Well what a wasted drive it was to get that good expert advice because there are NO car ferriesrunning from Haifa in any direction at all leave alone Cypress or Turkey. There are two cargo ships andthe office of one of them said their ship sails on a Thursday or a Friday to Greece and the cost wouldbe 3000 shekels for Phe and 1500 for me. That’s an arm and a leg! 4500 shekels is $A1350 making itaround 900 euros. Just too much money so we will have to drive back to England and hope we canget through the Syrian border without their knowing about the visit to Israel – just as well the Israelisgave me a ‘loose leaf ’ visa and not a big stamp in my passport!Today it is hot again probably in the low thirties, a light breeze and clear skies – well there is no cloudbut the mist is always there, around the horizons.Where to go today – that is the question. One alternative is to head south down the coast fromHaifa through what will likely be heavily populated touristy areas as far as Tel Aviv. A second alterna-tive would be to cut back inland as far as Nazareth and then head south straight down the centre ofthe country. I would like to visit some of the biblical names that I still recall from the dim past such asJericho, Jerusalem and Bethlehem to name just a few. And from more modern history the West Bankand the Gaza Strip strike a chord too.It wasn’t a hard decision to decide on the Nazareth option. We can always double back to Tel Avivlater on if need be.Even though the rolling country between Haifa and Nazareth was bone dry, it was green with pinetrees on the hills and green with orchards, olives and crops on the flat land in the valleys – not thebrown rocky bare country that we saw so much of up to the north.Nazareth is a big city, crowded with tourist buses and tribes of pilgrims of all nationalities streaming tothe Basilica of Annunciation.The Basilica itself is recent – 1969 – but the site is believed by Roman Catholics to be the originalhome of the Virgin Mary. There was a Byzantine church on the site in 427AD and in the 12th centurya Crusade church was built over the ruins of the Byzantine church. They reckon there are the ruins offour churches under this new Basilica.We left Nazareth in the early afternoon and the stop for tonight will be at Jerusalem – I hope. Themain road heading south runs to the east through Beit Shean where we spent our first night in Israel,or, we can turn off onto this network of winding minor roads through the centre and almost on adirect line to Jerusalem. Not much of a decision really, so the minor roads it will be.We were no sooner onto this new route than there is an army post and barrier across the road.I showed him my passport and then asked him “Why are you here?” and he said “It’s the border”. Thatdidn’t make much sense to this daft old fart from the other side of the world so I said to him “But theborder with Jordan is miles away” pointing way over to the east. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 15. “No, this is the border with Palestine” and he showed me on the map this area shaded in brown thatrepresents the Palestine homeland and other areas shaded in yellow representing areas under jointIsraeli and Palestinian control. I asked him if I can go through Palestine and out the other side, and hesaid there would be no problems in me doing that.So completely by accident we have blundered into Palestinian territory and I guess at the other endwe will have a hell of a job getting back into Israel, through security checks similar to the border withJordan. But that’s for the future. Right now we can enjoy driving through another country. And in myignorance I didn’t even know it was here – but then it’s the choice I have made, to journey as theroads take us and discover what the world has to offer rather than to research and plan and thenview and pass on to the next.The cars have different number plates with a ‘P’ instead of an ‘IL’ but the money – shekels – is thesame. Suddenly it doesn’t look like Israel it looks like Syria - maybe a little bit cleaner, so maybe closerto looking like Jordan. And the road signs in English have disappeared too – that could be a problembecause the map has a whole network of roads going every way which way. The land seems to bebeing put to good use, with crops such as cabbages, and other things I don’t recognise and of courseolives – there always seem to be olives plus tilled paddocks ready for planting. There seem to be alot of men sitting around – idle at three in the afternoon. We passed through the large town of Jeninsoon after the border and after that there were a lot of small towns separated by not very much.Then the quarries. The area just short of Nablus must be rich in a granite or whatever because therewere many stonemason yards along the road and each one was sawing and grinding away at their bigslabs of rock. The dust! The dust was so thick that even the olive trees had turned white! The pricklypear, the orchards, the road, the buildings were all the same colour – the colour of the dust. Didn’t seeany bougainvillea – perhaps there was none or if there was, it was buried in dust also.I missed out on seeing any commercial olive picking which must have been happening over the lastcouple or three weeks as the crops have mostly been harvested, but there are a few trees on publicland and alongside the road where people are filling buckets and sacks with the little blighters. I tasteda couple straight off the tree once and had to spit them out because they were so bitter. Apparentlythe trick is to layer olive with salt, then olive, then salt, in jars or other containers for some monthsand as soon as the skin starts to wrinkle it is time to start eating.It was dark by the time we reached Jerusalem so the ‘Hotel’ signs were illuminated – but they allseemed to be five star – and with a five star plus price tag. It must have been an hour of talking topeople and walking from place to place that I eventually had to pay the price or go without a bed forthe night. 518 shekels! And I thought half of that price on the first night was terribly expensive. Israelseems to be a very expensive place for the tourist, food, accommodation, fuel, car insurance, parking,even the sim card for the phone – all seem to be over the top.It’s making me think that seven days may be enough in this country. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 16. Israel - And the Holy City of Jerusalem Tuesday 19th OctoberIt’s another 19th of the month and I am at the wailing wall. I have put on a skull cap and have bothhands on the wall. Why I am doing this I don’t know. The tears are welling as I think of Barb. It’s beenthree years and ten months almost to the hour and it seems just like it was yesterday. I love her sodearly and miss our not being together so badly, it hurts.And the effect of this wall.I didn’t make a conscious effort to be part of it. I just wandered down the ramp to take a photo andthere was a basket of skull caps and every one else was either wearing one or were just borrowingone out of the basket, so I did the same. Then into a short tunnel where a lot of men were prayingor reading earnestly. I sat in a spare chair and quietly watched for a while and then went back out intothe hot sunshine at the base of the wall. I thought of Barb and the day, and the wall was like a magnetdrawing me to it. There was a space, so I placed both hands on the warm smooth soft Jerusalem rockof the wall – and wept. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 17. The first temple was built here about 3000 years ago but was destroyed. A second was built by Herod in its ruins seventy years later. That one was destroyed 1900 years ago. The present Western Wall know as the ‘wailing wall’ is a remnant of the second temple making it 3000 years old. Jewish tradition teaches that the Temple Mount is the focal point of creation and is the focus of prayer for Jews from all over the world. Jerusalem is a holy city. It is holy to Judaism, to Christianity, and also to Islam. It can be looked at in three parts. There is the old city which is fully controlled by Palestine, and the rest of the city which has a major road running through it – route number 60. On the west side of this road it is Israeli con- trolled and on the east side Palestinian. It really is a hotch potch and there are a number of security check points especially around the important areas. This is the Western Wall – or the Wailing Wall. It is Judaism’s holiest site. Graeme Robin travels the world in his trusty old Fiat Tempra, and writes about his journeys. If you enjoy reading this, you should consider buying Graeme’s second book ‘Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads Without Lines - Book 2 Covering Graeme’s four month journey through:ESTONIA AND THE BALTIC STATES, POLAND, UKRAINE, HUNGARY, ROMANIA, BULGARIA,TURKEY, GEORGIA, GREECE - over 300 pages, with more than 600 colour photographs! To buy BOOK 2, visit: To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 18. Dome of the Rock.This is the site of the original temples of which the Western Wall was part, and now the site of the Dome of the Rock and the El-Aqsa Mosque – both holy to Islam.The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by all the Christian orthodox churches as it has the lastfour stations of the “Via Dolorosa”, which is the route Jesus Christ took as he dragged his cross fromthe scene of his trial to his crucifixion. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 19. The three main sites in the old town of Jerusalem were not hard to discover, and the mix of culturesall living and praying together was a surprise. From the Orthodox Jews at the Wailing Wall and thepilgrims of all nationalities at the Christian Church to the resriction at the Mosque where visitorswere welcome into the grounds but people like me had to buy a wrap-around skirt to hide my kneesbelow the shorts.It was almost two when we eventually left Jerusalem heading for Jericho for no other reason thanthat it is in the photo that I took through the arch on Elijah’s hill across the river in Jordan, but whenwe got there I got wobbly knees about going further on to Bethlehem via the Judea Desert and themountains because there had been hardly any hotels in any of the towns we had gone though inIsrael. Even in the big cities there were the expensive 4 or 5 star places but I had been unable to findthe two’s and threes – presuming that they are around. So it has to be a big – and expensive – hotelin Jericho for a night here and an early start in the morning. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 20. On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho - and the Dead Sea - there are a number of signs that tell ushow many metres we are below sea level. This is shocking country, its hot, rolling but rocky, brown,rubbish that would be worth nothing (unless there is ‘gold in them thar hills’) and why people wouldwant to fight over it I don’t know. I guess it is a matter of a homeland isn’t it.When we were in Jericho and I saw a sign to a ‘sugar mill’, and it reminded me that we have not seenany sugar beet growing hardly at all on this trip. And another strange thing is that the grape vines arestill green – it’s well into autumn and the grapes have long gone onto tables or into vats. There are nota lot of trees around but only a few have leaves that have changed colour. Even allowing for the factthat many of the trees were are pines, and therefore not deciduous, it still seems strange that autumnis still a way off.Israel and Palestine - The Dead Sea Scrolls, then Herod’s Castle and to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Wednesday 20th OctoberWhat a great day of touristing this has been!We were away from Jericho reasonably early heading down the West Bank with the Dead Sea on ourleft and the mountains on our right, towards Masada – the site of King Herod’s castle up in those hot,dry, barren mountains. That’s the aim for this morning anyway, and then this arvo we will double backto Bethlehem for a bed tonight.The road from Jericho goes across the King Hussein bridge back into Jordan or in our case, we took aright turn just before the bridge for a run south along the Dead Sea. There were a lot of date palms,and bananas in their shade houses. There is only a narrow strip of land between the mountains andthe sea and they are trying their best to make the most of it. It is not on the same scale as over theriver in Jordan as here there are the patches of palms and bananas and then nothing for a few milesand then another crop. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 21. At about half past nine we are at Qumeran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in a cave by acouple of shepherds as recently as 1967. I went to the visitors centre but I was not going walking in aNational Park in those rocky, dusty, barren hills. Need to leave something for next time.Behind the camera is flat land,mostly bare but with a few greenhouses and date palms and in thedistance somewhere there is the Dead Sea but I can’t see it. Of course I can see it, it was just that themist was so strong that I couldn’t tell it was the sea. I thought it was the sky. We are right on the edgeof the sea and across the other side I can just make out the line where the water meets the land – Iwas so lucky getting those photos a couple of weeks ago because right now there would be nothingto photograph - just mist! To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 22. So far this is the Israeli version of the five star resort – a small mineral spa with access for a dip in the sea.We stopped and looked at a very nice Hi youth hostel at Ein Gedi at less than a quarter of the priceof last nights beautiful five star, but they don’t have a map or even a listing of their hostels here inIsrael so how can work them into our plans. Then another at Masada – both noticed by accident aswe passed by.King Herod’s castle was well worth stopping for – it must be great because there were 35 tour busesin the car-park. They had an underground car-park out of the heat for Phe and a video film show tointroduce the history to the visitors, and then a cable car up the mountain to the castle itself. But, byhell was it hot! I was wringing wet by the time I got back. Herod built the castle (yes, that’s it, the little black spec right up at the top of the moun- tain) 2000 years ago as a fortress as well as a castle but it’s fame today is in the folklore surrounding the stand of the last remaining 960 Jewish rebels to hold off the Roman forces taking over the country in around 74 AD. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 23. The Jews were eventually overcome, but as a group, committed a mass suicide rather than surrenderto a life of shame and humiliation as slaves of the Roman victors.It was very hot walking around the ruins for an hour or more and I felt a degree of admiration forthose hearty souls who tackled the long walk on the winding rocky track below the chairlift. Theywere not many in number but enough to make me think about how weak I have become!We are almost right at the south end of the Dead Sea and had still not run into any big luxuriousbeach resorts – and then at the town of Neve Zohar there were a heap of them. They were muchthe same as in Jordan with beaches with imported sand, umbrellas, people in swimming.There is a strange thing down here though because opposite the resorts, there were what looks likesand-bars running at right angles from the shore almost to the edge of Jordan. They were no morethan 200 metres apart. They look to be man-made but I have no idea what they could be for.So we left the Dead Sea heading to Arad which means Phe having to climb back up 400 metres tosea level and then up into the hills again and this is the same awful country – hot, rolling, rocky, brown,dusty, rubbish I call it, it’s not land at all. There are a few tussocks of a brown weed or spinifex or smallspindly scrub, and not even much of that.I don’t know why I bother. We were at Arad and I had travelled around this country on the seat of mypants with almost no guidance on where to go and what to look out for, just picking things and roadsoff the map without really knowing, so when I saw a sign for the Arad Information Office it was likea bit of magic. I parked Phe, packed up my maps and walked around there and guess what - it was alllocked up and looked as though it had been locked up for weeks. So I ask a lady at the cultural centrenext door and she said it was not closed “Just go around the side”. Well I did, and I hit every door inthe building and other than becoming Santa Claus and go down the chimney, there was no way I wasgoing to get any info from this mob! And to think that the smart arse at the border, when we cameinto this country and I asked if there was any Tourist Information Centres and he said “Of course” asif to say “what a dick head question is that”. So this is the second one I have been able to winkle out– the first one had a woman dishing out information like a paper hanger with no arms. It’s a shamereally because Arad looks to be a nice looking town with wide streets plenty of street trees and somegreen lawns. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 24. This has to be called an oasis surely.This has to be called an oasis surely.Arad is about 500 metres above sea level and being on the top of a plateau, the land is far better –much of it has been tilled ready for planting when the rains come. Not lush not like the river valleybut not like the rocky brown of the mountains.We were stopped at yet another Israeli check point and his opening bid was“The car can’t go” but after a bit of chatting he dilluted a bit to,“Be careful – it’s a red zone.” So I will be but I am not quite sure what I should be careful of! To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 25. The sign beside the open gateway reads; Palestinian Authority Area. Area A Ahead. No Entry for Israelis. Entry illegal by Israeli law.This is a town just short of Bethlehem – Efrata. It is obviously Palestinian with high wire fences, tallsentry boxes. I really do hope this is a thing from long-gone yesterday, as the sentry boxes look tobe unmanned as is the gate into the town which is open. The wire fences are all but falling down.But I am starting to think that my wishful thinking is nothing more than putting my head in the sandbecause the more I see of this mish mash of two countries the harder it is to see a possible solution.I started to count up the number of little Palestinian islands within the Israeli borders on my road mapand stopped counting at thirty. The wife of the publican in tonight’s hotel in Bethlehem told me shehad lived in USA for 16 years but had never been to Jerusalem because she needs a permit to do so.Without such a permit she is virtually captive in Bethlehem.I saw the same sign was on the road as we came into Bethlehem – there was an army post on theroad but it was unmanned so maybe the signs are out of date too.Bethlehem is a large Palestinian city and for once I was able to find a hotel a little bit further downthe scale – 270 shekels is better tan 500 but still too expensive. However the owner Joseph and hiswife Yvonne were wonderful friendly hosts.Yvonne gave me a map and instructions on getting to the Basilica of The Nativity – the spot whereJesus is believed to have been born – but didn’t warn me that the line of pilgrims would be long andvery, very, slow moving. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 26. It took forever to shuffle inch by inch through the Basilica before eventually making it to the “grotto.”But because I was so late getting in and through, when I doubled back to get this photo of ‘Mary andChild’ the line had disappeared and I was able to re-enter an almost empty grotto.Even with only half a dozen people in the underground grotto I was still not able to get a good photoof this spot which is believed to be the sacred site where Jesus was born all of those years ago. But Iguess a poor picture is better than none at all. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 27. Israel and Palestine - Across country to the Gaza Strip Thursday 21st OctoberThis is down-town Bethlehem as I saw it on the walk home last night.I wonder what will happen today! We are leaving Bethlehem and heading directly west across thecountry to the Gaza – a knock on the door and we will see if it opens - even just a crack.At the moment the Gaza is the trouble spot with the controlling Palestinian group, Hamas, at logger-heads with Israel over all manner of things but it would be great to be able to drive the length of theGaza Strip just to get a feel for what it is actually like to be living there.Let’s talk for a moment about that term - ‘Urban Myth’. I think it means an untruth that is built upfrom one person preaching loud and strong, and a second person taking the message on-board andtelling a third until eventually the myth magically becomes a fact! To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 28. Remember back in Jordan on Elijah’s Hill, I set down a lot of detail of what could be seen through thearch? Well that was courtesy of an airline pilot who was part of our small group. He also told me thatBethlehem was surrounded by a wall and you couldn’t get in to the city and once you were in youcouldn’t get back out. Well the only wall I saw as we left this city of Bethlehem was the wall beside themotorway to reduce the noise, and last night as we came in from Israeli territory there was one singlearmy checkpoint – and it was unmanned. I wonder how many times that bloke has repeated the samestory and of course the next question is “where did he get it from”?Last night I spent some time talking to an American from Illinois – this is his eight trip to Bethlehem.He loves the place – and he told me that the Gaza Strip has a wall all the way around it - built by theIsraelis - and that inside that wall there is a 500 metres space cleared by Israeli bulldozers and peoplesighted in that cleared area are shot! Is this a fact or another ‘Urban Myth’?At that expensive five star hotel at (Palestinian) Jericho I got talking to the security guard on the gate– he had good English and wanted a chat - and when I said I wanted to go to Gaza he said “No wayman! - the Israelis will never let you go into the Strip!”I guess we will find out later this arvo!And the contradictions. The focused and hard security at the border when we entered Israel fromJordan compared with coming out of (Palestinian) Bethlehem into Israeli territory where there was acheck point with zig zags on the road and about 6 or 8 male and female army just idly chatting away– I mean they would not have looked at this car even briefly so we could have sailed merrily throughwith a load of dynamite to blow up the next poultry farm we came across – they wouldn’t have aclue. No pressure there!The Israeli town of Maher is another case of chalk and cheese really. You only have to have a lookaround at the place to work out if you are in Israel or Palestine. Israel is clean neat, tidy manicured,well laid out, - it’s a Western style of living. In Palestine there is litter , people every where – a middleeast style of living.It’s now half past nine and it has taken an hour and a half to eventually get onto the road where Iwanted to be - on route number 386. A taxi driver tried hard and so did the little van-bus driver andeventually we made it out of Bethlehem.This is a strange land because now we have left the urban areas and are down on the valley flooramongst pine trees so we really could be anywhere in the world. The hills around us are covered withnatural pines and the rock and brown dusty landscape has been left behind us – for the time being atleast. No wonder I try to find those roads highlighted in green on the map. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 29. Back to the American bloke from last night, he said he had spent time visiting the refugee camps justup the road a couple of kms from the hotel, and showed me on the map of Bethlehem the one hewas talking about plus another a kilometre or so further on. I asked him what these people wererefugees from and he said from 1948. 1948! Now, how can you be a refugee from 1948 – that’s morethan sixty years ago, almost three generations! Then he described it a bit more as a slum area withhigh unemployment and crowded conditions – the sort of thing you can find in most of the world’smajor cities, but to call it a refugee camp I think is wrong. It’s highly emotive and suggests a guilty partyand an innocent one also.I am not taking sides – just calling it as I see it. I think a number of the things the Israelis do are wrongand not helping their cause. The fact that they have so many road blocks, showing their strength, andobviously quite unaware that the casual attitude of the soldiers on duty actually shows just how stupidthe whole thing is – a weakness. Even the roadmap I have – it’s a map of Israel – has the numerousPalestinian areas shaded in a brown colour but there is hardly any detail shown in the Palestinian ar-eas, It’s as though they are not willing to give a millimetre to the Palestinians and that doesn’t seem todo much for bridge building. It’s a bloody road map for goodness sake – not a political statement! TheIsraeli road signs refuse to name a Palestinian city – they prefer to ignore it. I think we all have per-ceived Israel, as a body, as a government, that has always taken a tough hard line and it’s alright for mecoming from the other side of the world – of course I don’t understand - and when there has beensuicide bombings and rocket attacks from Palestine into Israel or whatever hell has happened obvi-ously there is a groundswell of resentment on both sides, but surely the little things are just nit-picking,itches that have to be scratched. Like the signs that say “no Israelis allowed” things like that. Surely ifthe stated policy it is not being enforced, pull the bloody sign down. Like the fences and the guardboxes – if they are not being used, then pull them down, get rid of that constant reminder of conflict.And what Yvonne said about the permits, She seemed to be a lovely lady but she may be a fully paidup member of Al Quida for all I know, but it’s another itch, a burr under the saddle as they say. Andthat American bloke last night with his story about the Gaza – how much of that was true and howmuch ‘Urban Myth’. He also said there is a rocket dropped into Palestine territory every 2 or 3 days.Is this true? And how would he know! He admitted he has become pro-Palestinian but I don’t hisbackground he may have all sorts of hangups.Bougainvillea and ripe persimmon on the trees behind. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 30. But would you believe the lousy old bastard has coils of razor wire between the roadway and his pre-cious fruit trees – even though the ground is littered with fallen and rotting fruit.Around the middle of the country the terrain levelled off and cultivation was the go again with pad-docks ploughed or tilled ready for a crop. I have seen some sugar beet for the first time with watersprayed from artesian wells I guess. It seems to be a lot more prosperous. Even fields of bright greenyoung lucerne – a sure sign that there is water available.The Gaza Strip is a piece of country, sort of rectangular, that runs down the Mediterranean coast tomeet with Egypt in the south. It is about 40 kms long and maybe an average of 10 kms wide – so it’snot a very big area. By early afternoon we were knocking on the door and as expected the youngbloke in the bullet proof glass box said“You can’t go through here!” I told him he had no right, as an Israeli to tell me, and Australian visitorthat I cannot visit Palestinian Gaza Strip, but that cut no ice. He did give me a phone number to ringto get permission to enter the territory. I thought about paying the 35 shekels needed to get thesim card moving (every other country I have been in has a certain number of calls built into the simwhen you first buy it – but not Israel, you pay 80 sheckles for the card and then another 35 to makeit work) but then realism cut in and I thought what a waste of time. I know what the answer will bebefore even asking the question. It would probably finish up like the Libyan visa debacle, so to hellwith it, lets forget Gaza and head south to get out of this country tomorrow.But I am interested in the American’s opinion about a wall running right around the Gaza Strip, so wedrove south on the road closest to the border all of the way – and there was no wall! No sign of awall at all. Sure there is a big concrete wall protecting the Israeli army barracks at the main northernentrance to the Gaza strip but nothing more than that. I wonder how many other people he has fedthe same story!There is a Hi Youth Hostel at the town of Mitspe Ramon, sort of half way between the top of theGaza Strip and Eilat at the very south of Israel, so maybe we can find a bed there tonight. Thentomorrow morning the 130 km drive and over the border back into Jordan at Aqabah. Jordan shouldbe no problem but I am worried about getting through Syria and know that just a sniff of Israel onthe passport is sudden death for Phe. Sure, the Israel visa is on a loose piece of paper and not in thepassport, but there is a gap of 7 days that an astute border guard would be able to pick up. Maybe allof those stamps between Aqabah and Egypt will muddy the waters and lets hope the astute one ishaving a day off when we are looking for that all important stamp! To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 31. Actually the only thing I got to learn about the Gaza Strip was from a hitcher we picked up soon afterthe knock back at the border – a Jewish bloke in his early thirties I suppose, maybe thirty five withonly a very little English so it was very hard to communicate, but not quite impossible. His name wasIesiz. He was a bus driver and takes one of the regular big buses from his home village to Tel Aviv andback each morning and again in the afternoon. He starts at five in the morning and finishes at five inthe evening, but only half a day on Fridays and Saturday he is off. He has a wife and four daughters. Hetook me in to two of the other four border crossings - right up to the barrier but there was nothingto see except bored Israeli soldiers lounging around with nothing to do and all day in which to do it.And certainly no wall! The last crossing to the south nearest the Egyptian border was a little different as this was lined with semi-trailers and big trucks waiting to pass through border controls. “It’s food for the Gaza” he told me – and I guess by this he means not so much only food but all of the bits and pieces a community needs and does not produce on its own.The land we have been travelling through down the edge of the Gaza has been quite flat and al-though sandy looking and bordering on desert in some places, it had water enough for many of theshade cloth houses which produce bananas, tomatoes, potatoes and many other crops so Iesiz toldme. Even lucerne being spray irrigated in places. I asked him why the shade cloth house but he couldnot answer that – he either didn’t know or didn’t understand the question. I can only presume thatagriculture on the Gaza Strip would be very similar to what we have been travelling through.Then I worked out that he and his wife had, five years ago, lived in the Gaza Strip but were re-locatedinto one of the purpose built village settlements in the Israeli territory when the Gaza was turnedover to the Palestinians. This is down in the south-east corner of the Gaza Strip. A nice friendly bloke.He was on the phone to his wife and passed it to me to speak to her because her English was a lit-tle better than his. I introduced myself to her but I am not sure just how much she understood. It isdoubly difficult on the phone. But then he asked me if I liked lamb? “Does that mean you are invitingme home to lunch?” I said, and he nodded.His wife’s name is Sharma and their youngest was barely a toddler. The other three are at school untilone thirty – they started at eight, just the one (morning) shift in the schools in Israel. To say that theirhouse and the area they live in was “basic” would be overstating the case. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 32. It was poor, it was depressing, it was a trap. There are about 500 people in their particular village andthere is a cluster of seven villages fairly close together. Shama is looking forward to being allocated anew home in a new village in a year or so – a bigger home, one with five rooms. Their present homeand the new one also is owned by the government and they pay rent. I can’t tell if they are poor,struggling, or well off. The furniture was basic but there were three newish looking kids bikes outsidethe back door – but nothing else. There was no car and I didn’t see Mum and Dad push bikes. I wasmade very welcome, given a plastic cup of water and a steak of crumbed lamb with some choppedtomato pieces in a very nice dressing. They know a little about Australia because Sharma’s marriedsister is living in Perth – another case of chalk and cheese!Iesiz loves his job as a bus driver – he gets to know his passengers as they are all regulars. “He knowsmore people than I do” Sharma told me, and I felt sad for her in this tiny little white concrete boxwith the heat and the sand all around, only her feet for transport and four kids under six to care forand to nourish.For me it was a great experience to just get a tiny snapshot of life with a real Jewish family of battlers– who probably know no better.Soon after saying goodbye to these two lovely people, and the Gaza area, we were heading furthersouth-east and into a desert of sand, saltbush, spinifex and scrubby little trees. It doesn’t have the hardcrusty shale surface of the Sahara around Morocco, this is just loose sand and there is no way Phewould get far on it. But then on the left of the road there was a huge paddock of bright green lucernand on the right of the road a large olive grove. So there are spots where water is available here andthere.This is my last night in this strange and complicated country of Israel and maybe it’s fitting that itshould be in this town with a beaut youth hostel - Mitspe Ramon. It’s not a big town but it does havea nice restaurant where I managed a couple of beers and a nice Israeli farewell dinner. While sittingthere I got to thinking about today’s experiences and particularly about Iesiz and SharmaI wonder what that couple are thinking about now. I just blew into their lives for an hour and thenblew right out again, doing something they could not even shape in their minds leave alone put intopractice. I wonder if they ever think of shifting away from their village to a better life. Maybe I have gotit all wrong. Maybe they are happy and contented in their poor and narrow existence – but it’s tooforeign to anything I have ever had to consider as a fulfilling life To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 33. Mitspe Ramon sits right on the very edge of a huge crater – these little blokes are called Ibex Israel & Palestine - Down and out! Friday 22nd OctoberA simple plan today – go south, cross the border, go north!And that’s how it worked out - but simple it wasn’t!We were away from Mitspe Ramon around ten o’clock and down into this fabulous crater – that’swhat they call it, a crater – and that’s exactly what it looks like, a giant crater. An area of flat com-pletely surrounded by hills. I would have learnt more had the information office been open yesterdayafternoon – Thursday about half past four – but it wasn’t and looked as though it hadn’t been openfor yonks. What’s new pussy cat! Just out of Ramon there is a national park – very inhospitable country around here! To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 34. This seems to be the pattern - mountains and then a crater. This is the third – will there be more?Absolutely no life. Nothing is happening out here at all – not even a shepherd. We have passed over afew river beds and they were all as dry as a bone. Then an oasis called Shittin. It must be a very sleepy little town or village as there was not one soul around. I drove half way in and then got embarrassed and reversed back out again. I wondered if it was a Bedouin camp?Nearby to the oasis there was a huge oil tank with power coming to it. Looks as though it has electricpumps and on the opposite side of the road to the oasis there are these ‘tap’ things sitting up out ofthe ground with a wire cage around each of them. It is either water or oil. My bet is that it’s oil andthe tap things are there to bleed air or impurities or something else out of the oil line buried under-ground. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it! To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 35. Then a few more kilometres along the road there was another compound and this time there wassome English words on the signs warning of “Sulphuric Acid.” This place must be for sulphuric acid –but where the hell does sulphuric acid come from, not out of the ground surely! But that’s what thesign says ‘Sulphuric Acid’. Beats me. Then there was a big army base! Who said there was nothing hap-pening out here in the desert? What would a real professional photographer give for a clear mist-free day - a clear hori- zon – wouldn’t it be magnificent scenery out here? The pink colour is the reflection from the desert sand.I am starting to wonder about my call of an oil field because diesel in Israel has been around 7 sheck-les a litre which is about the same expensive price as in France and Italy but three times the price asin Jordan and a hell of a lot more than in Syria. So maybe Israel produces very little oil of it’s own. Butit does desalinate water down at Eilat so maybe it is water in the pipes and not oil after all.Eilat is a thoroughly modern western town. It has all of the good things like an Imax theatre, super-markets, brand stores, wide streets, trees, park lands scuba diving in the Red Sea, and a hell of a lot oftourist hotels.Then there was the border – Israeli style! Gone were the tough guys and enter centre stage a penpushing bureaucrat who wanted to plaster his big black Israeli stamp in my passport because I wasone day late. One day late! I entered the country last Friday around six in the evening and it’s nowjust after noon on the following Friday. How in the name of hell can that be one day over a week. Butnothing would shift this bastard so I yelled at him and grabbed all the documents back from him andthen drove Phe to block the “Out” gate and demanded to see the manager of the joint.Cranky old bugger! But I was really fired up because an Israeli stamp on the passport would meanno entry to Syria and if Phe can’t go through Syria she will be in jail and can’t pass ‘Go’ so won’t evencollect her 200! I am laughing now but I wasn’t laughing then, but when the boss cocky fronted up andI explained my dilemma he kindly held my hand through the process – gate after gate until we wereeventually released to the Jordan side of the fence.So it’s Bye Bye Israel from all four of us. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 36. My Impressions of Israel and Palestine after Seven NightsThis is going to be a hard task as Israel is a very complicated country and the few days I spent driv-ing around could no more than scratch the surface. Physically the country is not large being around450kms from north to south and 75kms east to west. The west coast runs down the MediterraneanSea from Lebanon in the north to Egypt to the south. To the East is Syria and Jordan. A simple rectan-gle.Not so simple though because much of the country is Islamic Palestinian and it is the Palestinian’squest for a “homeland” that in recent years has created much of the violence and unrest. My roadmap shows the areas which are under “Full Palestinian control” shaded in brown – I stopped count-ing at 30 separate areas – and the areas under “Joint Israeli-Palestinian control” shaded in yellow – Istopped counting at 40 of these – and the rest of the country is in Israeli control. Each of the Palestin-ian areas are like little islands in the sea of Israel and it’s army.Another complication that seems to have come off the boil in recent years is the area in the north-east – the Golan heights – where the population is another mix of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam butthis time much of the population are Syrian because the Golan Heights was Syrian territory up untilthe 6 day war of 1967 when Israel seized it all but offered it back in return for a lasting and meaning-ful peace agreement. This agreement never came about with Iran and radical groups like Hezbolahmuddying the waters.Just at the south of the Golan Heights is the Sea of Galilee with the River Jordan running through it asit wends it’s way for another 100kms southwards to eventually dribble into the Dead Sea 400 metresbelow sea level. This section of the River Jordan between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea is theboundary between Jordan and Israel. West of the river has become know as the “West Bank” and is adifficult area - most of it in Palestinian control with high unemployment and poverty.Then over on the coast in the south west corner of Israel there is the Gaza Strip – a piece of landno more than 40kms long by less than 10kms wide. It is under full Palestinian (Hamas) control. I wasrefused entry into the Gaza strip – not by the Palestinians but by the Israeli army which has borderposts with razor wire and armed sentries and tanks and stuff at every road entry into the Strip. Thereare 6 entry points and we rattled the gates at 3 of them. In this case I guess the hard line of the Israeliarmy is to do with the equally hard line Hamas, the group which, I understand, controls the Gaza Strip.Cities that I recognise from Sunday school, like Nazareth, and Jericho, and Jerusalem, and Bethlehem,are all cities under full Palestinian control but in each case the roads into the city are blockaded by anIsraeli army post, so it’s almost as if each of these places are under siege. In Bethlehem I stayed at ahotel with very friendly husband and wife (Palestinian) owners. She, Yvonne, had lived for 16 years inthe USA so language was not a problem, told me that she had never visited Jerusalem just 10kms upthe road because to leave Bethlehem requires an Israeli army permit – a big hassle!Am I painting a pro-Palestinian picture? I hope not.We entered Israel from Jordan on a Friday (late) afternoon. The border guards with their rifles slungat the ready were not in uniform and just wore random coloured tee shirts and jeans. These menwere not young casual conscripts doing their compulsory service but seasoned soldiers protectingtheir country’s border from the outside violent world. They were serious, fit, and alert. All countrieshave their customs inspection which sometimes means a casual look into the Phe’s boot and in rareinstances I have to lift the bonnet for an inspection of the engine compartment. Not Israel! Oh no! Ihad to empty everything out of the boot onto two luggage trolleys and take them into a building andload them through an xray machine the same as in airports. While the xray machine was doing its bit,Phe was driven away into a workshop where they went through her like a dose of salts. She was upon a hoist and examined from top to toe, even the rear windows were wound down and the doorcavities examined.The whole exercise was skilful, thorough and professional. I was put out at having to empty all of mybelongings out of the car but then I got to accept that this is their country, and their borders, and theirneighbours - most of whom are unfriendly towards Israel – and it is their right to do anything theywant, to protect their country.That’s the Israel I met in the first hour and a half.Then there was dinner in the dining room of the guest-house I lobbed into just a few miles from theborder. As different as chalk and cheese !It was a big dining room and dinner was from six o’clock. A waitress led me to my table – set for one– which had a carafe of cold water, a carafe of iced orange juice and a bottle of red wine. And I didjustice to the wine, orange juice and a wonderful meal. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 37. However the interesting part was learning a little about the Israeli ways. At one table there were twocouples and two children. The men had white shirts, black pants and skull caps, and the women werewell dressed in street clothes. They covered the bread with a napkin and then they all stood for aprayer before the meal. At another table there was a big family group of twenty adults and children.Maybe a wedding anniversary or a birthday. The group took their time over their meal, said prayersbefore and sang a number of gentle rhythmic songs during the meal. It all had the air of quiet, ofgentle, of softness.Why not – they have the army looking after them.It was another 19th of the month and I am at the wailing wall in Jerusalem. I have put on a skull capand have both hands on the wall. Why I am doing this I don’t know. The tears are welling as I think ofBarb. It’s been three years and ten months almost to the hour and it seems just like it was yesterday. Ilove her so dearly and miss us not being together so badly, it hurts. And the effect of this wall. I didn’tmake a conscious effort to be part of it. I just wandered down the ramp to take a photo and therewas a basket of skull caps and every one else was either wearing one or were just borrowing one outof the basket, so I did the same. Then into a short tunnel where a lot of men were praying or readingearnestly. I sat in a spare chair and quietly watched for a while and then went back out into the hotsunshine at the base of the wall. I thought of Barb, and the day, and the wall was like a magnet drawingme to it. There was a space, so I placed both hands on the warm smooth soft Jerusalem rock of thewall – and wept.We were refused entry into the Gaza Strip area and soon after picked up a hitcher – a Jewish bloke,Iesiz, maybe in his early thirties. One thing led to another and he asked me if I liked lamb and I said“Yes – does that mean I am invited home to lunch?”His wife, Sharma, and he have four daughters under six, the youngest barely a toddler. Iesiz drives abus to Tel Aviv and back from 5 in the morning until five in the evening with just half a day on Fridayand Saturdays off. The lunch was a glass of water, a crumbed lamb steak and some chopped toma-toes with a tasty dressing. Five years ago this couple had been living in the Gaza but were re-locatedby their government maybe 10kms into a specially built village of around 100 houses outside of theGaza and into Israeli territory. Their village is one of seven in a small cluster. This family of six wereliving in a tiny little concrete box with a living room and two other rooms. Outside is hot desert sand.Hardly a tree. Almost desolate. I saw not one other person in the village while I was there. They haveno car and even though there were small kids bikes outside I saw no Mum and Dad bikes. He has hisjob, which he loves, but all Sharma has to look forward to is that maybe, in a year or so, the govern-ment may get them into a bigger house with five rooms in another village. They pay rent to the IsraeliGovernment.Another face of Israel. At the depressing end.It is just too easy for me as an outsider to cast judgement on a situation that according to the worldpress is a tinder box, and I must resist. However I really hope that a long-term and lasting solutionis found because the people affected are nice people and be they Moslem, Jewish or Christian theydeserve better out of life than they are getting! To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit:
  • 38. Graemes BOOK 2Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads Without Lines - Book 2 is available to buy both in print and online BOOK 2 covers Graeme’s four month journey through: Estonia and the Baltic States Poland Ukraine Hungary Romania Bulgaria Turkey Georgia Greece To buy BOOK 2, visit: To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: