Galilee, Golan and Rosh HaNiqra

(9th September 2003)

Dear friends,

by now, I have been four weeks in Israel and I have almost get used to certain things like opening my bag for the security check whenever entering the university or a big building/shop. The temperatures outside have dropped a few degrees and it's not so very humid any more. Also I think I have get used a little to the temperatures so I now really enjoy the climate here. In the weekend, I have even experienced the first few raindrops since I came to Israel.

But let's go back one week. My third weekend in Israel was used to see a little bit more of the center of Tel Aviv and of Jaffa. Unlike last time when I was in Jaffa, I took spare batteries for my digital camera so this time I could take a lot of pictures. One of the most exotic places maybe was the flea market in the streets in one quarter of Jaffa. People seemed to have brought everything they want to get rid of and presented it in a huge chaotic pile on the pavement. An untrained (German) eye would have taken it for trash but it was really ment to be sold (you can see this picture on my homepage

Unfortunately, the museum I wanted to visit in Tel Aviv was closed on fridays. The two museums in Jaffa were both closed for a longer time; probably due to the very low number of tourists these days in Israel. Jaffa is really very nicely renovated and one would expect it to be filled with tourists. But like in other places, the main attractions are very empty since tourism suffers a lot from the unstable situation these days in Israel.

Saturday I slept long and then went to the beach for some swimming. In the afternoon, my Israeli friends took me to the Caesarea archaelogical excavation site. Halfways between Tel Aviv and Haifa, King Herod built a large and splendid city directly on the shore with a big arena and a theatre. Covered by sand, many details of the city were found after kibbuzniks had discovered the first pieces while ploughing the fields. The wall of the big arena used to be painted with colorful drawings of animals and hunting scenes. And still today one can see these paintings although the sun and the humidity take their toll on it. Afterwards we went to the village of Zichron Ya'akov in the hills north-east of Caesarea. In the midst among many vineyards and orchards, this village features little neat houses that are kept in very good shape. The main street with a lot of restaurants was quite lively with a number of tourists (the largest number I have seen so far in Israel) and the whole setting reminded me of villages in southern France.

The next week was very quiet at university since everybody was very busy preparing for a big conference in Japan. So I had an easy time and could even invest some time in the things going on at my institute in Germany and start planning for the winter measurement campaigns. In this respect I was very successfull since I initiated an application for travel funds but at the same time found someone to write the application so I didn't have to do the work myself. On the other hand, many things are piling up on my virtual desk (and probably my real desk as well) and I know already that I will be very busy as soon as I get back to Kuehlungsborn.

Thursday one of my friends took me took the Etzel museum in the city center. "Etzel" was a small secret underground organisation in the time of the British mandate in Palestine who fought against the Arabs and the British and later became part of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). It was very interesting to learn more about the Israeli history and the many difficulties that finally led to the State of Israel in 1948. Since I didn't learn much about this during school, I'm glad I can fill this gap while being here.

Towards this end, I also visited the Haganah museum this sunday. The "Haganah" started in the 1910s as armed guards of the Jewish settlements and evolved later into a very strong underground military force that comprised several 10000 men under weapons, armoured vehicles and even airplanes by 1948 when it was united with the other underground armed groups to form the IDF. What surprised me most was the fact that the "Haganah" all the time remained a secret underground organisation since the British troops would not allow a Jewish military force to be formed in Palestine. They must have had a very tight organisation and melted into the life of the settlements. Only few times the British arrested some of Haganah fighters. It was impressive how much effort and innovation the Haganah invested to get money, support but also weapons for their fighters to Israel from all over Europe.

Last thursday my friends took me to the supposedly best "Humus" place in Tel Aviv. It's a small restaurant close to the harbour in Jaffa. Run by a family, it is very renown in whole Tel Aviv and all kind of people come to eat "Humus" there for lunch; the simple workers as well as business men in suits and with ties. With its 35 seats, the place is not very big but as there is only "Humus" on the menu, it doesn't take more than 2 minutes from the time you sit down until you have your dish. And as soon as one is finished, one leaves the restaurant to make place for new people who are already waiting in a queue in front of the restaurant. It was a very special experience and I'm thankful to my friends that they show me these places which I would most probably never find on my own.

Last weekend I rented a car again to visit the North of Israel. Together with two other trainees from Turkey and Mexico, we started our visit of the North in Zefat/Safed, a small city situated on the top of a little mountain north-west of the Sea of Galilee (dt: See Genezareth). The village once was an important place for Jewish scolars who went here after the were driven out of Jerusalem. Later, it was the main center of the Jewish Kabbala mysticism tradition. Today it's a lively town with a very nice artist's quarter where many local artist present their works. As in many other places, this part of the town which certainly should attract many tourists was more or less empty. We had a very good and cheap falafel lunch before continuing northwards to the Banias National Park. Unfortunately, on friday the park closes already at 3pm (due to shabat) and we arrived at 5 to 3pm. So we decided to come back the next day and used the rest of the afternoon to drive up the Golan heights, passing the Nimrod castle and quite extended forests and big orchards when coming up on the plateau of the Golan heights. Some 30km further south, we visited the Gideon stream and Devorah waterfall which, although classified as Natural Reserve, were not guarded and thus open all day. It is quite amazing to see the very dry soil and fields nearly everywhere and then descend down some 20m to the stream which fosters a very rich and dense vegetation.

The next stop was Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee where we used the last daylight to go swimming and enjoyed it very much 'cause it's a freshwater lake and it was very calm and warm. So we played around in the water and the Turkish girl even tried to learn swimming with some success. After having found the youth hostel in Tiberias, we spent the rest of the day on the promenade down at the water and enjoyed the mild summer evening.

Saturday morning was started by a rich breakfast at the youth hostel followed by some swimming in the Sea of Galilee. Then we drove again to the Banias National Park and started the walk at the lower parking with a visit of the waterfall. The contrast between the dry planes and the rich vegetation in the narrow valley of the stram was even more striking than at the Gideon Stream. The waterfall, the stream and the vegetation in the valley could be found in a similar way somewhere in a mountain valley in Germany; just that here the green stops as soon as you ascend 10m out of the valley. We took the one hour walk up the valley, passing several old watermills for grinding flour, a Roman bridge and other remains of the Roman city of Caesarea Philippi (Baneas) before reaching the spring ponds of the stream below the remains of a Pan temple; later accompanied by several other temples.

After having gotten back to the car we drove through the Galileean mountains to the coast in the west. This region of Israel is pretty hilly and the street follows different valleys up and down until one reaches the coast. In the uppermost part of the coast, directly at the border to Lebanon lies Rosh HaNiqra with its famous limbstone cliffs and caves formed by the sea and the waves. There we stumbled into a little tourist trap because we followed the big signs and then needed to take (and pay) a 100m long (30m high) cable car to get down to the caves just to discover that one can park conveniently directly in front of the entrance. As this seems to be one of the few cablecars in the whole of Israel, the visitor's guide strengthened the fact that it is supervised continously by the Austrian producer Doppelmeyr and the Technion University (a fact that is reassuring but which I would take for granted in the German mountains). The caves itself are accessible via artificial tunnels and it is very impressing to see the waves crush on the walls of the caves and sea spray covering everything, thereby helping to disintegrate the limbstone. I got some nice pictures from inside the caves and from the cliffs outside.

Our weekend ended with a (much too short) two hour visit of Nazareth where we managed to slip into the Church of Annunciation just before it closed and had a look into the White Mosque (Al Alba). Then we headed back home to Tel Aviv. As my Israeli friends also wanted to celebrate a little my birthday, I went with them to a nice bar on the Tel Aviv beach where one sits outside in the sand, watching the sea, the waves and the moon while talking and enjoying the summer night. The comfortable thing here is, that you can sit outside in shorts and T-shirt even at 3am in the morning because it is not getting cold. Coming from the Baltic Sea, this is a big difference as there it will get cold eventually when one spends a night on the beach. So this birthday weekend was really a long one which brought many experiences and where I saw a lot of Israel.

The next morning I got up early to deliver the car back to the rental company. There I was met with some very firm but not so client-friendly computer logic: as I had rented the car for only two days, there was a 400km mileage limit (which we passed by 300km) while a three day rental would include free mileage. So I thought I could simply pay for three days. But as the computer wouldn't accept this when returning the car after two days already, I had to come back three hours later when the computer accepted a three day rental. So sometimes it's much cheaper to keep a car longer... I used this time to visit the Haganah museum (see above).

While driving the car in the cities, I often remembered what my Israeli friend told me: "In Israel, the speed of sound is greater than the speed of light: Even though the traffic light is still red, people behind you use the horn..." Another thing is that everybody seems to decide in the last second before an intersection where he wants to go. So people change lanes preferably in front of a red traffic light. Although it looks and feels pretty chaotic, Israeli drivers nevertheless take care of the other cars and stop before it crashes; although sometimes not many centimeters are left.

Yesterday I visited the last museum on my list here in Tel Aviv: the Beth Hatefutsoth Diaspora Museum at the university. It closed today due to problems with the funding and fortunately I read about it in the English Jerusalem Post online edition so I did not miss it. The museum is very big and designed with the goal to leave a deep impression at the visitor. It shows the many places where jews where living throughout the 2500 years of diaspora, tells about their traditions, life and fate in the different countries and how many of them finally found the way back to "Eretz Israel" (the Holy Land of Israel).

Now I hope you are not too tired after reading this long report about my experiences and wish all the best to you !