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Published: April 5th 2008
Sea of Galilee
This is the famous sea of Galilee where Jesus fished, fed the masses and walked on water
Crossing the border from Jordan into Israel, again proved a frustrating experience, but after another long interrogation we finally made it outside and rejoined Dvir, our Israeli guide with whom we would spend the remainder of our time in the country. As we had lost several hours due to the delayed border crossing, we immediately left for Beth She-An an ancient Roman city built in the Byzantine era, though the area has been occupied for the last 5,000 years.
This is where we had our first introduction to the concept of "Tels" - a tel is a large mound or hill of significant archaeological importance because there are several "layers" of civilizations built one on top of the other. Israel is dotted with hundreds of these tels due to it's long history of civilization, but unfortunately there are not enough funds or archaeologists to excavate them all - who knows what secrets and treasures are waiting to be uncovered!!
After a very brief stop at Beth She-an (it was just closing when we got there), we headed off to the famous town of Nazareth to visit the Church of the Annunciation. According to Christian tradition, this is the site
Priest at Capernaum
Capernaum was the home of Jesus and several of his disciples, including the one who would become St Peter
where the Angel Gabriel told Mary that she would have a son and that it would be the son of God. Today, the site is occupied by a large, very modern church with little character, though in its basement there are ruins of a 1st Century B.C era house that is said to be the home of Joseph (Jesus' step-Dad). Nearby we visited another church, St Joseph's, which is built on the remains of what is thought to be Joseph's workshop (though it could have been any carpenters in reality).
Then it was off to Kibbutz Ginosar on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where we would stay for the next couple of nights. Kibbutz were created in the early 20th Century when Jews began returning to Israel (Palestine at that time) and wanted to create communities that would be self-sufficient, understanding and egalitarian where every community member works towards the common good. The first Kibbutz was established in 1909 in Degania and today offers a stark reminder of how a group of people can stand together and win against aggression - a damaged Syrian tank lies outside the front gate, the only remainder of an armored column
Jesus' Fishing Boat
The remains of this 1st Century AD fishing boat were found in the Sea of Galilee near the Ginosar Kibbutz - it is the same type used by Jesus and his disciples and could possibly have been theirs.
destroyed by the Kibbutz whilst they were under attack.
Over the next couple of days we visited many famous religious sites, including the Mount of Beatitudes, the site of the "loaves and fishes" miracle, the town of Capernaum where Jesus lived with his disciple Simon Peter (St Peter), the baptismal site on the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee where Jesus fished and walked on water - all of these places were filled with pilgrims and church groups which created an atmosphere of reverence in otherwise unremarkable locations.
With so much history, tradition and myth wound around these places, there is almost an expectation that visiting them will be a euphoric experience - unfortunately, the reality is that the locations are unremarkable except for the fact that important events took place in them thousands of years ago (and they are now filled with tourists of both a religious and non-religious persuasion).
After visiting the sites around the Sea of Galilee we headed up into the Golan Heights to view the Syrian border - along the way Dvir shared many tales that provided further illumination into the conflicts that Israel has had with her neighbours over the
This old tank pointed towards the nearby Syrian border is a stark reminder of Israel's wars with its neighbours
years - while difficult to understand the conflict fully, you have to admire the tenacity of a people that continue to thrive while surrounded on all sides by aggression.
On our final day in Israel, we visited Megiddo the ancient city that was the site of so many battles that the New Testament states that it is the place where the final battle between the forces of Good and Evil will occur - otherwise known as "Armaggedon" (derived from Har Megedon or mountain of Megiddo). Little remains of the city except for some ruined walls, stables and an ancient circular altar - excavation of the tel has revealed 20 layers of settlement each built one on top of the other. Seeing Megiddo atop it's tranquil hilltop and seeing the lush, green fields of the Jezreel Valley spread out below (where the battle is supposed to take place) it is hard to put credence in the story that this is the site of the "End of Days".
Moving on from Armageddon, we headed to the coast to visit the Crusader era fortress of Akko captured by Richard the Lionheart from Sal ah-Din in 1099 A.D to be their principal
The aqueduct in Caeserea is part of the ancient city built by Herod during the reign of Emperor Augustus
stronghold and main supply route back to Europe. Then it was off to the Roman city of Caesarea built by Herod the Great to honour the Emperor Augustus. Caesarea is very atmospheric and wandering through the remains of Herod's Hippodrome you can almost hear the horses snorting as the chariots race around the track.
With our whirlwind tour of Israel drawing to a close, we got on the road back to Tel-Aviv and within no time were back at Ben Gurion airport suffering through another interrogation before boarding a flight to our next destination - the chaotic, cosmopolitan and capitalist city of Hong Kong.
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