The West Bank

No trip to Israel would be complete without going into Palestine.  In 2002, Israel started resurrecting a wall around the West Bank which basically runs separates some parts of the suburbs of Jerusalem from Jerusalem.  There are certain entry and exit points in and out of the West Bank.  All Palestinians must have permission to enter Israel.  They have to go through check points which can take hours to get through.  People line up at 2am in the morning in order to get through so that they can reach work in time.  I was there during Shabbat, so I didn’t see the lines.  Palestinians are not allowed to fly out of Israel from Tel Aviv.  There was a man we met who was Palestinian who had a Canadian passport.  In order to use his passport, he has to go into Jordan.  The first time that he did that, they stamped the passport saying that he was Palestinian so that he cannot enter Israel on that passport.  Within the walls of the West Bank, there are Israeli settlements that are growing which means Israel is continually taking their land.
Basically, imagine that in Toronto, a wall was built around its boundaries separating the GTA from Toronto and everyone who lives in the GTA would have to get special permission to enter Toronto and then have to face line ups worse than rush hour on the 401 everyday to get to work.  Have to travel 1.5hrs to visit family that once took them 10 minutes to get to because they can’t take the most direct route because the wall blocks that route.  That is Israel and the Palestianian Terriorities.

The Pilgrimage

Old Jerusalem is a city full of history, a city meaningful to 3 different religions, a city conquered 38 times in history.  Walking through the narrow streets of Jerusalem was amazing to see the Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and Christian quarters mix so fluidly.  For the Muslims, it’s the third most important site for them; the Jewish people the most important site and for the Christians it is a meaningful spiritual journey.  The most famous walking tour is the Via Dolorosa, the path that Christ walked before being crucified.  This is not THE ACTUAL PATH, but it is a spiritual journey that most Catholics and Orthodox believers partake in.  I walked the path, which was interesting and it ended at the Holy Sepulchre Church, a church originally built during the Byzantine Empire over what was believed to be the site of the crucifixation.  What I saw in that church perplexed me. 
When you enter, you go up these stairs and this is supposed to be Golgotha, where the cross stood.  There pilgrams lined up to crawl into a box with a picture of Jesus and they kissed it.  Then you return back down to where you enter and what I saw bewildered me.  I stood with my mouth open for 10 minutes in awe.  There was a stone on the ground and people were bowing down to it and placing their souvenirs (crosses, candles, keychains) on the stone.  One man placed his child on the stone.  We went to find out what people were doing…The stone is where Jesus was annointed after he died, but this isn’t the original stone.  People place their souvenirs on it so that they may become holy.  Therefore that man made his son holy by placing him on this stone. 
Then we went to see the tomb.  It was a proper tomb with ordornments inside.  Obviously not the real thing.  But did I really expect to see the real thing?  I would have preferred so much more to see a hole in a mountainside rather than what I saw in the Holy Sepulchre.  Actually a hole in a mountainside exists at the garden tomb.  Not the actual site because it’s not old enough, but for me, a much more spiritual journey.

Israel- The Interrogation

Going to Israel on a passport with a Lebanese stamp and a Visa from Iran, I knew that I would have problems getting in.  Passport control said to my mom "you can go through" and to me "you can go to the room back there."  First, I met with one guy who just took information from me.  He asked me if I planned to go into Gaza Strip, Jericho, Bethlehem…  So I said, no to Gaza, yes to Bethlehem, and possibly to Jericho. 
He said Why? 
Well I’m Christian and….
You’re what???  Are you Christian on your mom’s side?
Well you need to tell your parents to change their name!
Then he passed me onto three people…one to record everything I said, a good cop and a bad cop…we’ll call the bad cop, the bitch. 
So the bitch led the interrogation.  She started by trying to figure out my father’s roots.  She was astonished that I lacked all knowledge of my family backgorund.
"How do you not know where his origins are from (yet she didn’t know where Trinidad was)?  How do you not know any information on your grandfather?"
"He died before I was born."
Then she got into my middle eastern travels.  The bitch tried to trip me up with Lebanon after I had told her where I had visited.
"So you didn’t just go to touristic places in Lebanon?"
"You went to Baalbek"
Baalbek is where hezbollah is based, but it is also where one of the best preserved Roman ruins in the middle east are. (but there is a hezbollah souvenir stand in front of the ruins where you can get your hezbollah t-shirts, key chains, and mugs)!
When I told the bitch about the ruins, she said Oh I didn’t know.  Yeah right.
They grilled me about how I moved around in Iran and Lebanon, how I communicated, who I met, if I’m still in touch with them now.  I even had to give names. They couldn’t believe I went on my own.
Finally after an hour, my ordeal was over and the good cop welcomed me to the country and wished me good travels. 
Next time, if there is one, I’ll get a second passport so that I don’t have to go through that again.