The Galilee and the Golan

As we leave the city of Jerusalem, we leave behind the fragile fabric of the diversity here. Tze-tze and peyes blend with young men in t-shirts and jeans, long-skirted women with scarves about their heads push their strollers past young women in short skirts, then a woman draped in cloth from head to toe continues on her path to somewhere unknown wishing not to be seen. As the city stays behind, the hills appear, green tufts of dense bush and grass decorating the sweep of rolling sandy waves. If the city is about the complex tile work of international (or interfaith) cooperation, the landscape to the North demands attention be paid to people and their borders. The land here invites us to interact with it. “Come play, ” it calls forth with a breeze that compels one’s skin to loosen and allow for flexibility of mind body and soul. The Galilee’s verdant corridor stretches from the Mediterranean to the Kineret providing refuge to migrating birds, and all the observers of Pesach who flee to the parks for the holiday of Kol Ha’moed. Climbers attack rocky cliffs and explorers rappel into dark caves. Large groups sprawl out across picnic tables framed by a welcoming sun, deep blue waters, and stone arches; a window that allows the eyes to see far back into centuries past.
The Golan, the other side of the Galilee, is lush and busy this time of year. Thai immigrants pot mango plants. A truckload of scarved men cart bananas. The olive trees show their first fruit and the grapevines begin to stretch out toward the sun. The dark roasted earth rich with fertility spreads the scent of recycled life. Here, people take meals on their outdoor picnic tables, sip wine from clay cups, and walk for long stretches under a moonlit sky. Prickly Pear progate freely creating captivating mazes where children run and hide; even their parents come down to the grassy lawn for the chase. The green lasts only so long before the bright sky turns rosy hot and browns all the vegetation. This land begs to be farmed, grown and sown and the moshav or the kibbutz welcome all into its busy community of vacationers, workers and laborers.
Then, on a reckless trek upon any hill, but in this case Har Bental, we stop short. The borders hit us in the face with the reminder that this country is not safe. As much as the geography of fertility enlivens the Israelis of all backgrounds, the reality of the borders of nation states clamps down hard on all. Suddenly the land that invites play calls upon us to stand up tall. Many different people claim this land at their heritage. It is, however, now the state of Israel, the Jewish homeland. And the extent to which the Jewish people are under attack seems obvious when one can see the tanks of Syria, the arch of rockets from Lebanon, and the shadows of Iran from the heights of Har Bental. Yet, as one travels South again through the West Bank, the beauty of the landscape confuses the harshness of life here. Yes, it is harsh because of the extremes of weather, and the cultural clashes of the Middle East. Life is rigorous because of poverty. Yet, there can be no denying the difficulty of a modern western democracy trying to survive among totalitarian regimes. There is no way that the land that begs for every individual to touch and know it is not also an enormous threat to those who wish to cleave the relationship between humans and their nature and instead subjugate their citizens to the rule of familial and tribal law. Rolling Southward with the hills with the barely surviving current of the Jordan River, it is easy to become confused. There is no single Israel, nor one Jerusalem, but there is only one Jewish people, and their particular one God. The fragments don’t easily fit together like a puzzle. Rather, like broken glass, they come together as a mosaic – only this one depicts many stories, all of which fall under the state of Israel.

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