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May 03

Dead Sea to Golan Heights

by Ninfa in Dead Sea, Israel & Palestine, Sea of Galilee

Tony floating in Dead Sea

Headed to the Dead Sea for a floating experience, we left Jerusalem. The Dead Sea is in Palestine, so driving down we got our first view of the apartheid wall the Israeli authorities have built. The size of it shocked me, as it is up to 8 meters high (Berlin wall was 4 meters high), and already 486 kilometers long; it has even split up Palestinian villages in two.

We descended more than 400 metres below sea level to Khalia Beach to take a dip in the famous Dead Sea. It was a cloudy and windy day, but the water was warm enough. Because of the wind, waves had formed so we were able to body surf in the Dead Sea. We rubbed mud on our bodies, which allegedly has many positive effects on wellbeing and we proceeded to float. The floating is instantaneous. While it’s a very fun activity, it can only be done for a while as the salt blinds your eyes and almost numbs your mouth if swallowed. I really enjoyed doing this part of the trip, as it is a unique experience.

Ninfa reading map in Dead Sea

Tony meeting other body surfers

After a rejuvenating bathe we drove up the West Bank towards the Golan Heights, via Jericho. We could not believe the enormous presence of Israeli forces in the West Bank. We saw some signs in certain parts of the road from the Israeli authorities stating Israelites cannot enter, but there were many cars with Israeli license plates. I could not understand this contradiction, as there are Israeli settlement camps neighboring these areas.

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On our way to the Golan Heights, coming out of the supposed border between Palestine and Israel we were subjected to yet another intimidating checkpoint. We were questioned many times, had our luggage and car inspected; and once again our passports were confiscated for over 15 minutes. Nowhere in the world have I gone through such intimidating controls, as if we were criminals (not even in USA, Cuba, Russia, etc). Images of Guantanamo Bay went through my mind as we had to repeat the same answers to different officers. They are worried about foreigners coming in and seeing the truth and telling the whole world, but we have more to worry about every time they confiscate our passports; as there have been serious incidents of them forging passports, the latest one including an Irish passport.

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Tony considering walking on water in Sea of Galilee

The scenic drive on the West Bank

When we entered Israel from Jordan I was well prepared for the border crossing, as I knew some form of harassment would be included in the welcome package. I saw how people with USA passports breezed through, no questions asked, luggage untouched. I will not go into further details of what we went through, but just to quote two examples: they scanned the toilet paper I had in my bag twice and looked at every single page of my diary.

Good Times!

Needless to say the excessive display of their power, portrayed by young men and women in military and civilian clothes all over the territory carrying machine guns almost as tall as they are and which they can barely manage is grotesque. For me it just shows their fear and insecurity, the same way when a person knows he has done wrong and is always on the defensive because of fear. I feel sorry for these young men and women whom from teenage age are obliged to serve for their territory and brainwashed. Their immature age and training makes them believe they have power by intimidating foreigners. I know that probably not all of them are like these, but that is my overall impression and therefore I express it as my personal opinion from my personal experience. Unfortunately at the moment the only way of accessing Palestine is through Israel, were it not for that, I would not be interested in visiting Israel.

Sea of Galilee

After being 3 weeks in the conservative Arab countries, getting into Israel was a shock! From all covered women to almost naked women, from barely seeing women in the streets to open displays of affection between men and women or men and men, what a shock! We were back in modern day. I have to add and stress that our highlight to our visit in Israel was that we did meet some great local people, who were very friendly, open and kind to us. Our thoughts about the people are completely separate and distinct than our opinions on the political regime. They are very open and friendly and one can even discuss freely with them, and not all of them are in agreement with what their leaders are doing.

Danger! Land Mines...

Once through the checkpoint, we drove through the shores of the Sea of Galilee and then up to the Golan Heights, former Syrian territory, and still the cause of bitter dispute. This part of the country is so green and beautiful, very different from the rest of the territory which is mainly dry. There were plots of burnt land with signs around it indicating “Danger, Land Mines”. We went through Zafat (Safed), the center of Kaballah religion, and continued our drive down the West coast of the Sea of Galilee, before heading to Akko, an old Mediterranean port.

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