|My experience in Israel|
|Written by Chris Perver|
|Saturday, 12 April 2008 07:05|
Monday - Day 1
On Monday morning, dad left Simon and I off at Bangor station to catch the 9:20am train to Great Victoria Street. We walked to the Belfast Institute, where we met up with some of the others who were going with us on the trip. A coach was scheduled to arrive at 11am to take us to Dublin airport. At around 4pm we were on our way to the Czech Republic. When we arrived in Prague, our luggage was transferred straight through to our Tel Aviv flight, so there wasn't too much to worry about. The Czech Republic is an interesting place. The Czech language sounds a lot like Russian and the people also have a Russian look about them. A couple of years ago, I had a dream about the Czech Republic. I dreamed I was travelling there as a missionary. I saw the country on the map, only for some reason the map was drawn in reverse, and the Czech Republic was where America should be in relation to the United Kingdom. I have no idea if this has any significance or not. I thought it was interesting when I heard we were travelling to Israel via the Czech Republic.
Around 8pm we boarded our flight for Tel Aviv. The view of the city from the plane as we came into land was quite impressive. Tel Aviv is second in size to Jerusalem, and it is home to Israel's main business sector. Israel is a very mountainous country, and looking down on the city's suburbs from the plane reminded me of that verse in Numbers 24:5, "how goodly are thy tents O Israel!". Ben Gurion airport is very modern, and the marble floors and expansive buildings were quite impressive. It was strange at first to see and hear the Hebrew language being used everywhere you go, but after a while you become accustomed to that. I tried my best to speak to the Israelis in what little Hebrew I knew. When we arrived at the bus, we discovered that two of the suitcases belonging to our group were still at Prague airport, so this caused us a further delay. Our first hotel was to be in Netanya, but by the time we arrived there it was already 5am. So we went to our rooms to freshen up, before heading downstairs again for breakfast. The view from our bedroom window was most impressive, with the Mediterranean sea on one side and the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv on the other.
Tuesday - Day 2
After breakfast, we headed further up the coast to the ruins at the Roman port city of Caesarea. We saw the Roman aqueduct that once carried water from the Jordan river to Caesarea from some twelve miles away. At the Roman theatre we had a time of singing and fellowship, and our group leader Pastor Norman Christie gave us a word from the Scriptures. After that, we saw the Hippodrome, where the Romans used to race their chariots. We also saw where the Apostle Paul would have made his appeal unto Caesar before Festus, and where Pontius Pilate's palace was located. After this we headed further north to the port city of Haifa. The view of the city is quite impressive from the nearby hills. During the Second Lebanon War some of the Katyusha rockets that were fired by the terrorist organization Hizbullah landed here. What we did notice about Israel was how safe it is. Israel is portrayed by the mainstream media as a police state that is in constant conflict with the Arabs. This could not be further from the truth. Our guide pointed out that Israel only has around 30,000 police officers for its population of 7 million people, because the crime rate is very low. You can walk through the streets without fear of being attacked, although you do still need to keep an eye out for pickpockets as you would do in any other country. Michael said that in the 20 odd years he has been working as a tourist guide he has never seen one stone thrown. By law, armed soldiers must travel on school buses to protect the children from the threat of attack, but Israel is a very safe country to visit.
After lunch we headed to our second hotel, which was on the shores of Galilee. The sea of Galilee, or Kinneret as it is called in Hebrew, is around 700 feet below sea level. The city of Jerusalem is 2500 feet above sea level. The difference in pressure not only affects the weather, but it can also affect your hearing! It can get quite warm the lower down you go, while in Jerusalem the weather is usually cooler. During the summertime, the temperature in Israel can rise into the 40s, but for us it was around 26 degrees which was just nice. The sea of Galilee is a lot larger than I imagined it to be. It's around 8 miles wide and 16 miles long. So you can just make out the mountains in the distance. When the Lord said to the disciples, "Let us go over to the other side", Luke 8:22, this would have been quite a significant journey. Once again the view from our hotel was fantastic. This hotel, the Golden Tulip, was the better of the two hotels we stayed at. Israeli food is very nice. All self-service. They had dishes of all sorts of salads, vegetables, pastries and meats. All the hotels stick by the kosher laws, which mean that you can't mix meat with dairy products. That means no milk in your tea when you are having your dinner. But the food is very healthy, and I didn't experience any problems with it whatsoever. In fact I particularly enjoyed their falafel, which is a pita bread pocket stuffed with the filling of your choice, salad, falafel (like stuffing balls) or schnitzel (bread-crumbed chicken). I tried everything that was offered, and the only thing I didn't like was the olives. They were very bitter. Around the hotel there were various stalls selling all sorts of souvenirs, sweets, ice cream and fast food. Very much like Tenerife, if you have ever been there. The only problem with the hotel was the windows, which were not double-glazed. There were stalls outside our hotel that blasted out music until 11pm. When you are getting up at 6am to start a long day's tour, it doesn't help to be kept awake until almost midnight. Daylight comes incredibly fast in Israel. At around 7am it could be pitch dark, and within the space of half an hour it is daylight. This was an interesting change from Northern Ireland, where it can take several hours for daylight to arrive. Another thing that took me by surprise was the number of trees in Israel. The Jewish National Fund has planted around 250 million trees in the land since 1948. I had expected Israel to be mostly semi-desert, but north of Jerusalem there are trees everywhere you look. Whole mountains are covered with pine trees, cyprus, olive and palms. It is like a garden of Eden (Isaiah 51:3). In Israel it is against the law to cut down trees or pick flowers. Due to the limited rainfall it can be difficult to get certain plants to grow. So the Israelis pioneered a drip system, whereby each plant is watered through a network of hosepipes, limiting water lost due to evaporation and ensuring not a drop is wasted. God's promise, that He would make the desert blossom for His returning people, is being fulfilled right before our eyes (Isaiah 35:1). The many trees are also home to many species of birds. Sparrows are as common in Israel as pigeons are here in the United Kingdom, and are much more tame than our variety. This reminds us of the value God places upon His people, when He said, "are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?", and that we are worth more to the Lord than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).
Wednesday - Day 3
The next day we went down to the shores of Galilee, to visit the 'Jesus Boat' museum. The level of the sea of Galilee has been dropping due to increasing demand on Israel's scarce water supply. Just a few years ago, archaeologists uncovered the frame of a wooden boat that had been buried in the mud at the bottom of the sea bed. The lack of oxygen in the silt prevented bacteria from breeding and the wood from decaying. The wooden boat was dated to around the time of Christ, and so was given the name of the 'Jesus Boat', after the Lord's association with the sea of Galilee mentioned in the Gospels. I didn't go in to see the actual boat, as I had already seen photographs of it on my Bible program on my computer. We spent most of the time in the shop buying presents for the folks at home. I found that many Israeli shops sell Christian and Messianic Jewish souvenirs, which I found encouraging, for it shows at least some acceptance of those who believe that Yeshua is the Messiah. After we had finished our shopping, we went down to the jetty where we boarded a wooden boat. Two Israelis took us out on the lake, and we had a time of fellowship and the Pastor gave us a word from the Scriptures. Aided by our diesel engine, we crossed to the other side where we saw the place where it is believed that Jesus Christ fed the five thousand. We also saw Gadara, where He cast the demons into the swine and they ran down the hill, and the Mount of the Beatitudes, where He proclaimed the Gospel to the people. The crew of the boat showed us how the disciples would have used nets to catch fish. They also played various Christian songs for us through the loud speakers. After we returned to land, we visited a local restaurant on the shore of Galilee. I ordered a 'St. Peter's Fish', which is a type of fish common to Galilee. It was very nice. Then we went for a paddle in the sea. The water was very warm, and our feet sank into the soft silt at the bottom of the sea. Very refreshing, and a touching to think that the Lord Himself walked by this very sea and on top of the water.
Later in the day we visited the Jordan river. The flow of the Jordan river has been greatly reduced, as Israel diverts much of its water for industry and agriculture. If Joshua was faced with the task of bringing the nation across the Jordan in modern times, it would not pose much of a problem to him. The place where it is believed John baptised Jesus is presently off-limits to tourists, for it is close to the border with Jordan and an IDF base is located nearby. So we were taken to the part of the river which runs near to Galilee. Several members of our group were baptised by emersion in the river, and a few others were rededicated, just standing in the water. The dates for our tour of Israel happened to coincide with a tour led by US Pastor John Hagee. He brought 600 of his congregation with him to Israel, so you can imagine how busy things were. I managed to snap this photograph of him in the water, baptising some of his group. I didn't ask him if he was baptising any Jews!
Thursday - Day 4
We went up into the Golan Heights today, where we stopped at an Orthodox Jewish town called Zfat. This is one of the holy cities of the Jews, for some of their most prominent Kabbalist rabbis are buried here. Many of the Jews go to pray at their graves, and believe that in doing so, God will grant them a special blessing. The town of Zfat has a distinct Spanish feel about it, with verandas overlooking the winding cobbled streets. I took a photograph of a poster on a wall proclaiming the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, as the Jewish Messiah. Even though he died in 1994, many of the Orthodox Jews still believe him to be the Messiah. We visited a synagogue in Zefat, and had lunch in a Druze village. After this we went to see the ruins of the Temple of Pan, the evil shepherd god that was worshipped in ancient Israel at the time of Christ. It is near this place where Peter made his confession that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16-18). The cave behind the Temple of Pan was also known to the locals as the 'gates of hell' because it was so deep. The Lord said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. The cave system drops down into an underground reservoir. The people used to throw their children into the cave in an effort to appease Pan. If their children drowned in the reservoir, Pan had accepted their sacrifice. But if blood appeared in the water, then Pan was angry with them. We had a time of fellowship here, and our Pastor reminded us how that Jesus Christ said He was the Good Shepherd, who unlike Pan, gave His life for the sheep. Later on, we stopped at some decommissioned tanks that were stationed in the Golan Heights as a memorial to the soldiers who gave their lives in the defence of Israel. And then we stopped at a vantage point where we were able to look across into Syria and Lebanon. That night we travelled to our third hotel in Neve Ilan, which lies on the outskirts of Jerusalem. This hotel was not so nice as the previous one. There was a lot of building work going on at it, and our air conditioning system didn't work so the room was quite cold at night. The closest shop is a couple of miles away, the staff weren't so friendly and things were a little less organized. But we had a good time.
Friday - Day 5
On Friday we went to visit the ruins of Beit Shean. These are the largest ruins in Israel that date to the Roman period. The Roman city stood in the valley, but on the hill top is where the Philistine city once stood, where the bodies of King Saul and Jonathan were hung after their defeat on the mountains of Gilboa. We then skirted down the Jordanian border and into what is presently known as the West Bank. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant owned by a local Jewish businessman. The West Bank is largely a desert area, formerly occupied by Jordan and now under Israeli control. It is mostly semi-desert, as the Palestinian Arabs are generally not interested in planting trees or looking after the environment. They are only interested in growing the olive trees, as they can make a good profit in selling the fruit to the Israelis. Travelling down the road in the West Bank, we saw many Jewish kibbutz on one side of the road and Arab and Bedouin settlements on the other side. The Jewish kibbutz were surrounded by wire fences, but they coexist peacefully with their Arab neighbours. You won't hear this mentioned in the mainstream media when they talk about Israel's 'occupation' of the West Bank. The West Bank was very quiet when we were there, and there was virtually no sign of any Israeli military presence in the area. Only when the bus driver stopped to let us off to take photos of Jericho, did an IDF soldier appear just to make sure that everything was okay. Traffic is permitted to enter the West Bank freely, but vehicles exiting the territory are stopped at checkpoints manned by the IDF. As our guide was a Major in the IDF, we got through with relative ease. I later heard that a Catholic group led by a Palestinian tour guide were delayed at a checkpoint for around half an hour. Again, the mainstream media will make out that this is injustice on the behalf of Israel, but the reason why the West Bank is so quiet is because the Israeli security is so effective. Michael said the Israeli soldiers ask the tour guides the background history of several individuals on the bus as a precautionary check to make sure there aren't any terrorists onboard. Perhaps this is what delayed the Catholic group. We bypassed the city of Jericho, just as our Lord did many years ago, for our guide is no longer permitted to enter the city since the Palestinians took control of it.
We then drove up the mountain into Jerusalem, making a brief stop at Mount Scopus, which overlooks the city and the Temple Mount. This reminded me of the time when the Lord beheld the city and wept over it (Luke 19:41), because they had not recognized His coming as their Messiah. Jerusalem is a very modern city, but right at the centre of it lies the Temple Mount, which dates back over 3000 years. It was amazing to see it, and it feels very strange to be looking at such a modern city and to see something right in the centre which remains essentially unchanged since Bible days. Another thing I found very difficult to accept is that the nation of Israel is so modern and secular. Our tour guide was not a Christian, he was a secular Israeli Jew. And I couldn't help but think, will the Lord really return here and reign from Jerusalem? And how will these secular and religious Jews accept Him? But we know that the Bible tells us that the Jewish people will have to go through a time of great trouble before they will turn to their Messiah (Zechariah 12:10).
Saturday - Day 6
We entered Jerusalem on the Shabbat and walked down the Mount of Olives and across the Kidron valley into the Old City. I feel of all places in Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives is perhaps the most significant in my mind. For this is the place where Jesus Christ ascended bodily into heaven (Acts 1:11), and this is the place to which He will return (Zechariah 14:4). And when He returns, this mountain will split in two, providing a means of escape for the Jewish people from the onslaught of the Antichrist. The fact that the Mount of Olives remains intact until this day, and the fact that Israel is now a nation in the land, shows us that the Lord's return must be close at hand. On our descent from the mount, we took photographs of the Eastern gate, through which Jesus Christ will enter as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Ezekiel 44:1-3). As the Eastern Gate was bricked up by the Muslims to prevent the prophesied return of the Jewish Messiah, we entered the Old City by the Lion's Gate, which is to the right of the Eastern Gate.
We walked through the four quarters of the Old City, which is home to some 30,000 people, a majority of them Muslims. We then had lunch in the Arab quarter, as Saturday is a normal working day for Arabs. We did visit half a dozen churches during our visit to the Holy Land, but many of these are not really worth commenting on. I feel they are merely shrines to places and events spoken of in the Bible, whereas our focus should be the Lord Himself. We visited King David's tomb, but we were not permitted to take photographs as it was the Shabbat. The Jews would be very offended if we did this. Jewish children were in the tomb on the Shabbat reciting the Psalms in Hebrew. After this we visited the Wailing Wall. Again we were not permitted to take photographs, but I did go down to pray at the wall, and I placed my prayer on a piece of paper between the stones. On our ascent from the Wailing Wall, we saw the Golden Menorah that has been manufactured by the Temple Institute, standing ready for use when the Third Temple is constructed.
Sunday - Day 7
On Sunday we visited Yad Hashmona, a Messianic Jewish community on the outskirts of Jerusalem. This is a place where Christians and Messianic Jews (Jews who recognize Yeshua as their Messiah) live, work and worship together. The name Yad Hashmona means 'remembering the eight'. Yad Hashmona was established in memory of eight Jews who had escaped from Austria to Finland during the Second World War, only to be handed over to the Nazis by the Finnish government. The Yad Hashmona community was started by a group of Finnish Christians who wanted to be reconciled with the Jewish people. I feel our visit to Yad Hashmona was perhaps the highlight of our visit to Israel. We were taken on a tour of the 'Biblical gardens', which were constructed in such a way as to bring out the truth of the Messiah through the Jewish Scriptures. For example, the Yad Hashmona tour guide showed us an olive tree in the garden which had died, but a new branch had begun to grow out its roots, just as prophesied of the Messiah in the Old Testament (Isaiah 11:1). She showed us an archway that had been constructed, and how it was necessary that an oddly shaped stone be placed at the top of the arch to keep the whole thing together (Psalm 118:22). She showed us a vineyard that had been planted and a watchtower that had been constructed (Mark 12:1), a winepress, an olive press, a threshing floor, and many other things. It was wonderful the way she brought out the truth of the Scriptures concerning the Messiah. If the Lord wanted me to go to Israel, it would be great to be involved in such a work as this.
After this we visited the Scrolls of Fire, a monument to the fallen of all of Israel's wars. On the inside of the scrolls in Hebrew and English, is written the prophesy of Ezekiel 37:12,14, how the Lord would once again bring the Jewish people back to the land of Israel. Of course verse 14 has not yet been fulfilled completely, for the Jewish people are back in their land in unbelief and God has not yet poured out His Spirit on the nation. Later that night we embarked on a tour of Jerusalem, stopping at Ben Yehuda Street for a leisurely walk and an ice-cream. We witnessed the Orthodox Jews in the town centre, blasting out Chassidic dance music from their van, hoping to attract secular Israelis to convert them to Torah. It was very sad to see this, for all they have to offer the Jews is a religion of dead works, which cannot save a soul.
Monday - Day 8
On Monday we visited the Garden tomb, which lies just outside the present day walls of Jerusalem. This site was discovered by General Gordon around 120 years ago, who, looking down from the walls of Jerusalem, saw what he thought looked like a skull in the rock face. The Bible says the Lord was crucified at Golgotha, which in the Hebrew means, "the place of a skull", John 19:17. The site is now part of an Arab bus station. The Arabs raised the level of the ground to build the bus park, covering the opening which represents the skull's mouth in the process. The two eye sockets are still visible from the garden. We also visited the tomb itself. The tomb is unfinished and has suffered some damage in an earthquake. Some believe this could be the place where Christ's body was laid, but others say the tomb dates to the First Temple period and not the Second Temple era. But it was good to be there, and we had a brief time of singing and fellowship in the garden.
Later that day we visited the Shrine of the Book, where a copy of the complete scroll of the prophet Isaiah is kept. The original scroll is kept in a vault in a bank in Israel. This was a little disappointing though, as the building which houses the scroll is kept in semi-darkness, and you are not permitted to take photographs. And if you can't read Hebrew, you don't really know what Scriptures you are looking at. Outside the main building there is a scale model of the city of Jerusalem as it was during the Second Temple era. We then visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. We spent an hour and a half walking through the main building. Unfortunately we had to rush past a lot of exhibits to get finished in time to get back on the bus. We also saw the eternal flame, and visited the memorial for the children who were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. One and a half million names are read in English, Hebrew and Yiddish, and it takes over 6 months just to complete the list. It's very sad.
Tuesday - Day 9
On the last day, we went down to what is called 'Genesis Land', which is located half way between Jerusalem and Bethel. There we dressed up in robes, and a man going by the name of Eliezer took us on a camel trek into the desert (five minutes down the road!) to meet his master Abraham. When we arrived, Eliezer bade us call for Abraham and sure enough, Abraham appeared to greet his guests who had travelled over "3800 years" to visit him. He gave us water to wash our hands, and brought us into his tent. He then told us the story of how he had left his family in Iraq to travel to the promised land. He offered us dates, figs and raisins to eat. The dates were very nice. Then we said goodbye to Abraham, and mounted our camels to travel, as Abraham put it, "back to the future". Alas, no sign of any Rebecca when I returned! The camels were beautiful animals. They didn't spit or bite, but were very tame. You do need to be careful when mounting them though, as they get up on their hind legs first, and you can fall off if you aren't holding on tight. It takes a few minutes to get used to the way they walk, but it is a very comfortable way to travel, and a very enjoyable experience.
Then we went to Qumran, which is the place were the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. We didn't have a lot of time to spend here, and to be honest it isn't really worth going to unless you are planning to take a hike up into the mountains to see some of the actual caves. After this we went to the Dead Sea for a float. There were no changing rooms to speak of, just one large room for the men and one large room for the women. Floating in the sea was an enjoyable experience once you got used to the cool temperature of the water, but you are only permitted to stay in for around fifteen minutes as the salt can affect your heart rate. The experience was not really that much different from our own sea, apart from the fact that you float better in it. But you do need to be careful that the salt water doesn't get into your eyes. Some of it got into the dry skin on my chin and it was quite stingy.
Wednesday - Day 10
We had to get up at 2am the next morning, as our flight to Prague had been scheduled for 6am. So we headed back to Ben Gurion airport. The check-in took quite a while, as our luggage had to go through the x-ray machines, and even then, many of our cases had to be opened to be manually checked by airport staff. One girl in another group complained at having to open her case again, and because of that, the airport staff went through everything that was in it. So if you are travelling to Israel, just co-operate with them and everything will be alright. We had planned to hire a bus to take us on a tour of Prague, but we couldn't find one that was big enough to the whole group. So we had to wait five hours for the next flight to Dublin. And from there we boarded our bus to Belfast. It was very emotional saying goodbye to all the friends we had made on the trip. I will miss them greatly, as we all got along so well. I think I will go back to Israel again some day. Now I know what to expect. I would probably do a few things differently though. I would spend more time in visiting the sites where we know events in the Bible took place. And I wouldn't spend so much time visiting the various Orthodox and Catholic churches, which are merely shrines to places and not to the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. But Israel is a beautiful country, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone. Shalom!