Day 7: Atlit, Haifa, Druze Village and Tiberias
Trip Start Feb 10, 2001
18Trip End Feb 22, 2001
We jumped on the bus in the morning, headed for Atlit. I kept thinking about how small the distances were in Israel compared to home. We passed Israel's richest area, in Caesaria by the golf course, and right next to it was an Arab village that's one of the poorest areas in the country. The contrast was uncanny.
Atlit was an internment camp for illegal immigrants during the British Mandate over Palestine. Holocaust survivors attempting to run the illegal blockade as part of what became known as the "Aliyah Bet" were caught and imprisoned at Atlit. Later, the camps overflowed and more detainees were transferred to other camps in Cyprus, but Atlit was the first symbol of what it meant for Jews to have survived the Holocaust only to find themselves back behind barbed wire, only this time in the Holy Land. After being caught, they were brought to the camp, told to separate by men and women, and enter a showerhouse. Even though these were, of course, actual showers, you can only imagine what that conjured up for the survivors, many of whom had just been released from Nazi concentration camps. This is obviously one of the darker chapters in British history. Not that Canada was much better after the war, mind you; nobody was rushing to open doors to the survivors at the time. But the symbolism was eerie.
After Atlit, we went on a hike in one of Israel's natural parks near Haifa. It was very muddy. Then, we visited a Druze village and ate lunch there. They explained how the Druze don't believe in forcing their religion on anyone, even their own kids, and how it's meant to be a choice. That I can respect. The Druze have been historically persecuted worse than anyone, especially at the hands of Muslims who believe that any religion born after Islam is a real rejection of and affront to Islam, so the Druze have been historically very secretive about their religion, which is a shame really because their history is fascinating. Okay, maybe I found the belief in reincarnation thing a bit hard to swallow, but the embracing of modernity, encouragement of equal rights for women, and identity as loyal Israelis all came as pleasant surprises. The Druze even serve in the army, and they helped Israel become a state.
From there, we went to Daliyat el Carmel, another Druze area but more of a shopping/flea market street, to do a bit of bargain hunting. People bought everything from art and clothing to shot glasses, nargila and bongs. Go figure. This is where a number of people on the bus acquired those horribly annoying drums, you know, the ones that, when played incessantly on a bus and then on a 14-hour flight, make you want to throw the drummer out the window. Yeah, those. I bought an orange. One shekel. Go figure. I'm not really big on souvenirs.
Then we drove to Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee. It's hard to understand, as a Canadian, how important this lake is to Israel. It's pretty much the source of the country's water. I remember being told by our guide back in 93 how the water regularly dips below "shortage" levels... so instead of conserving water, the government simply re-draws the line. I'm not sure how true that is anymore. Anyway, Tiberias is kind of a dump, but it's a convenient overnight stop. We had dinner and then went to sleep, because there wasn't much to do in Tiberias.