Palestine (Part 3 of 4)

Trip Start Jan 18, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

After arriving at Masada, I made the trek up to the museum, got some food that was extremely overpriced, bought my tickets that were also too expensive, and then started the tour.  I first watched a movie about Masada detailing the history of it, how the site was found, and the excavation of it.  Then I took a cable car to the top of the mountain that stretched out into a spacious plateau.  The day was extremely hot, plus it's right next to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, therefore the sun was a killer.  There wasn't any good signage so I just started walking to the left and found out at the end that I should have started to the right.  It wasn't a problem, I just felt like I was going to die from the heat by the time I finally got to the main attractions.
The views were amazing from up top.  The land stretched for miles, with the Dead Sea looking so small and my temporary home of Jordan staring at me from a distance.  On the other side of the plateau, impressive mountains looking very rough, deserty, and jagged took in the view.  The ruins were alright...there were remnants of towers, the wall that encompassed the plateau, hammams, temples, cisterns, and storage units. 
After walking around the plateau for probably two hours I headed back down, ready to catch the bus.  As I was buying water at the museum I saw the bus coming in the distance so I bought my much-needed water and then started running down the long, steep slope.  Unfortunately, the bus came too quickly and my flight down the mountain went too slowly so I missed it.  I was sopping wet from how much I had been sweating and the sun was not letting up so I wasn't in the mood to sit in the sun for another hour.  There was a little office at the circle where busses and cars come so I asked if I could sit in there with them until the next bus came. They thankfully said yes so I slumped down on the broken couch and we hung out.  Turns out one of them spoke Arabic and the other a bit of it, plus they both spoke a little English so we got along alright. 
Then the bus came, I boarded, slept almost the whole way, and didn't have to pay (long story...but it was a nice break since I had already spent so much money that day.).  When I got to Jerusalem I was completely beat so I found my way to the bus station and returned to Ramallah to rest. 
That night Mohammed and I went out to a place called Snobar.  It's a bar in Ramallah that is located in the woods, has a campfire, and wooden furniture everywhere.  It reminded me of the Black Hills of South Dakota.  We had one drink there and then headed to his friend's apartment. He deals with all agreements made between Palestine and Israel...kind of a big deal.  We had interesting conversations and he was extremely nice and amiable.  Then we headed out and I went to bed. 
On Monday I woke up at the crack of dawn again to take a bus from Ramallah to Jerusalem, to the central bus station, to Tel Aviv.  When I arrived in Tel Aviv I took a city bus to Jaffa, located just fifteen minutes away, and heard some old women speaking Arabic which was nice to hear.  Once there, I toured the town.  I saw the wishing bridge which supposedly grants you a wish if you hold your zodiac sign, I saw a beautiful view of Tel Aviv, the clock tower, the souq, and ate lunch at an old famous restaurant. 
Then I decided to walk back to Tel Aviv instead of take the bus.  I started walking on the road that shouldered the Mediterranean Sea and came upon a public beach that didn't have many people so decided to put on my bathing suit and finally relax on my trip, or so I thought.  As I walked on the sand to find a spot to set my stuff and get into the water, a group of young guys in the guard booth asked me to come up and join them, in English.  I declined and instead headed towards the water. Announcements were being made over the loudspeaker the whole time I was there, but in Hebrew, so I had no idea what was being said. I disregarded them as I thought if there was a real emergency they would surely inform me and any other tourists who were there in English. 
When I got maybe hip-deep in water, my hand suddenly felt something rub up against it. I looked down, and there was a jellyfish!  So I got out of the water as quickly as possible and decided to just sit on the beach close enough so I could at least feel the end of the waves.  As I looked out onto the Mediterranean I saw two jellyfish floating along.  One was quite big and kept getting closer to where I was so I completely got out of the water at that point. 
There were two guys hanging out on the beach so I asked them what was being said over the loudspeaker.  They told me it was a warning, informing us that there were a lot of jellyfish in the water.  So I packed up and left.  And as I was leaving, the young guards asked me again if I would like to come up for a drink.  I kindly told them no, but inside I was thinking, if you can speak English, then why wasn't the warning in two languages, even three if you account for the Arab population that lives in Israel but doesn't understand Hebrew!  I guess that would be going too far.
One thing that was frustrating in Israel, especially in Tel Aviv and Haifa, is that most of the signage is in Hebrew only.  There is no Arabic or English, even though they have Arabs living there and many tourists visiting.  It was as if they are trying to spite everybody and make it known that this land is Israel and if you want to be here, learn Hebrew.  If they don't want to put up English signs, that's really fine by me.  But to not put up signs in Arabic when they have residents who do not speak Hebrew and were there before they were is too bad. 
After my beach experience I walked towards the center of town, went to another souq, then found a bus to the central train station as I was now headed to Haifa.  When I got there I had to go through security, but the lines were moving very quickly so I didn't think there should be any problems.  I put my bag on the table and walked through the scanner.  A woman security guard said something to me in Hebrew, but I didn't understand so I didn't say anything.  Then she asked me in English, in a very rude manner, what nationality are you?  I said American.  She said, rudely again, let me see your passport.  So I showed her my passport and my visa that is on a separate sheet of paper (so I can go to other places in the Middle East again).  She disregarded that and started flipping through my passport, then asked in a harsh tone, "I don't see your visa, where is it?"  So I told her, it's right there on the paper I showed you.
Then she started looking through my bag.  If I had a bag in a bag in a bag, she would open them all....this has never happened to me anywhere-not even at the Israeli border.  Then she found my Arabic flashcards that I always carry with me.  She said in her now-familiar rude tone, "What are these?  I don't understand this language.  What is this?"  So I told her they are my Arabic flashcards.  "Why do you have Arabic flashcards?"  Because I study Arabic.  "Why do you study Arabic?"  I was starting to get annoyed because of this woman's disrespectful attitude and demeanor but especially because of the questions she was starting to ask, so I replied, "What is the problem here? Why are you asking me all these questions and searching through my bag?  I was checked at the border very thoroughly already, so why are you doing this again?  You're wasting my time, I just want to take a train to Haifa."  She made faces at me but stopped with the Arabic questions and search through my bag.  She asked what I was going to do in Haifa and for how long I was staying and then let me go.  After being the only one to hold up a line, I reorganized my bag that she had completely destroyed by her "search" and then was on my way. 

The train ride was uneventful and when I arrived in Haifa I took an expensive taxi ride to my friend Heba's grandmother's house.  I met Heba in Amman, as she was in the same CIEE program that I was in.  She's Palestinian American and visits her grandmother in Haifa every so often.  This time she was there for a month and extended a gracious invite to me so I took advantage! 
When I first got there her grandmother, aunt, and great aunt all warmly greeted me.  Her grandmother asked if I needed food, water, anything, and so I ate a bowl of tabouleh and drank some water.  It was refreshing to be back in an Arab home with Arab hospitality and Arab kindness.  I loved her family right away. 
Heba and I first went for a walk.  Her grandmother's apartment is located next to the Bahai gardens.  The gardens are the focal point of the city.  They stretch from the bottom of Haifa, near the Mediterranean Sea, up to the top of the mountain.  The Bahai (they are a religious group, look them up they are very interesting) have their world headquarters here surrounded by acres of magnificent gardens.  It's quite a sight to see. 
We left the apartment building near the top of the mountain and started walking along the side of the mountain going up even more.  Along the way, Heba and I had some fun conversations about old times in Amman and all the students who were in our program.  She also told me about her family's history.  Her grandmother is actually from a village near Haifa. During the war though, they left their house and lived in the mountains for weeks. After the war they had nothing and so stayed in Haifa, working and saving up money to create a life there. Eventually they bought a house in the same location where the apartment is today. They lived there for years and years until recently a big contractor told them he was taking their house, going to build an apartment complex, and give them two apartments as compensation.

This has happened many times throughout Israel. Arabs will have a house or land and big businesses and contractors will come in and take it from them. The family can go to court but it is a huge headache and the process takes years and years so they are forced to go along. This is just one example of Israel trying to push out Palestinians and assert their authority.
The view from the top of the mountain was breathtaking.  I absolutely love the combination of sea and mountains so Haifa and Beirut have been two of my favorite cities.  We took some pictures and then headed down as we were going to dinner that night at her relatives' apartment.
I had an amazing time with her family that night.  The food was great and my favorite dish was specially prepared for me, as I'm a vegetarian.  It was a little square pastry with some mushroom stuff on it and was so flavorful.  They continued to feed us with fruits and desserts and coffee and tea and I loved every minute of it.  Being away from generous Arabs and surrounded by cold Israelis (not all of them, just some of them that left a bad taste in my mouth) was taking a toll on me.  We stayed there late into the night talking about a variety of topics, including the Palestinian situation, their children and the society they are growing up in, how times have changed, etc.
It was interesting for me to meet both Palestinians living in Palestine and Palestinians living in Israel.  I don't know how either of them do it but I'm glad they're sticking it out; it definitely would not be easy.  I asked the family I was with if many Arabs here had relationships with the Jews.  They said that some Arabs have Jewish friends, some Arabs won't even talk to Jews, and some will be friendly to Jews just not be great friends with them. 
I've heard that in thirty years or so Arabs will outnumber the Jews in Israel primarily because of birthrates and a dramatic decrease in immigration to Israel.  This is going to be a huge problem for Israel in the future, especially if they are a true democracy. 
After dinner and conversation, which ended around midnight, we went to the bottom of the Bahai gardens to see it at night, and then headed to bed.  I slept so long and well but desperately needed it due to all of my early mornings and late nights.
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