May 17

From Dan to Beersheba, was the ancient way of describing the north/south borders of the Holy Land. Today we went south to Tel Beer Sheva. Driving on what used to be an ancient Roman road, we passed through the area where Goliath was killed. We saw many trees planted by the Israeli’s. Our guide said that every baby born in Jerusalem has a tree planted in his honor. We passed Bedouin villages called “unrecognized villages”. These are villages with no water, no electricity, and no infrastructure except what they can come up with on their own.

At Tel Beer Sheva we dropped stones into a 120 foot well, that could have been there when Abraham was alive. We climbed down, down, and down rough-hewn steps to a water cistern for the city that once was located there. We saw a replica of a four-horned altar that may have been destroyed during King Hezekiah’s reform, and other ruins of the city that was once located there.

From Beer Sheva we went on towards the Dead Sea and Masada. We drove through the desert on an Israeli superhighway until we got close to Masada. We saw herds of camels in the fields.We passed by Arod, a Canaanite city, that the Bible says was conquered by Joshua. The last roads to Masada were narrow and curvy with impressive scenery. Masada is located on a large plateau near the Dead Sea. It is famous as a refuge and winter palace for Herod, then a Roman garrison, and finally a sanctuary for some of the Jewish rebels of the revolt against the Romans which broke out in 66CE. The last of the rebels fled to Masada. But the Romans came and surrounded the fortress. They built camps, a siege wall, and a ramp on the western slope. It was up this ramp that most members of our group (not including this writer) trudged to get to the ruins on top of the plateau. It was a difficult climb, but I heard that the view from there was spectacular. The top of the plateau was a huge space with ruins of the synagogue where Josephus said the rebels committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Romans. Frescoes and mosaics from that time period can stiil be seen in the synagogue. There are the remains of a church in the center and of extensive fortifications at the northern end. After a somewhat easier descent and an ice cream reward, we boarded the bus for a short trip to the oasis.

Looking across the desert, one can certainly spot the oasis green in contrast to the brown desert. This area is a tourist site where we could try to connect with the Bedouin culture. We ate a delicious meal under a tent and then heard from an authentic Bedouin who explained the culture of coffee drinking, told us some of the customs, and played a flute and rebabi (one stringed instrument) for us. We did learn that the Bedouins no longer are a nomadic people, since some of their land was confiscated, and they are not allowed to move around much on the remaining land.

The highlight of the day for some was our camel ride. First we received the “safety instructions”. Then we mounted the camels in pairs and took off into the desert. Well, that’s sort of how it went. Our camels were actually tethered to each other and plodded alongside their handlers, rather slowly, with many pauses. It was a long enough ride for some of us who wished we had stirrups to help support our weight, rather than dangling across the backs of the camels. It was an experience I’m glad I had, but not one I’d like to repeat very often.

After evening prayers and dinner (Dorothy finally got her stuffed grape leaves) we gathered to watch several videos about Musalaha (reconciliation) and listened to it’s founder, Salim Munayer. Musalaha is an organization that works on reconciliation between Israeli’s and Palestinians. They run women’s groups, trainings, and youth camps, as well as working with group or individual conflict situations. Salim talked about intractable conflict and the stages of reconciliation. There was more than we could absorb after 8:00 in the evening, but he had a book, Through My Enemies Eyes, for sale, so we can learn more from him if we wish.

Joan Kulp for the group