(Still on Monday...) After Bethlehem, we embarked on what we thought would be the great adventure, where few tourists ever go...Hebron! Hebron is important because there is major tourist site there: the Tomb of the Patriarchs, also known as the Cave of Machpelah. This is where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are suppose to be buried. It's also where a couple of years ago someone went into the mosque and machine-gunned several dozen Muslims while they were praying. As a result there was an uprising and violence, and now the place has a bad name as far as tourism goes.
Finding our way to Hebron wasn't hard. There were even signs for the Cave of Machpelah, but before we got there the signs ran out, and we were still about 5 miles from the site. The funny thing is, in the tour book it says that the Mosque (where the Cave and Tomb are located) is the most prominent feature in the Hebron skyline. In reality, if you were standing right in front of it, it would be the most prominent building on the street. When we were looking for it, we were at one point only a block away and didn't see it. The whole town is very hilly and when you're driving around you just can't see very much except what's on the block where you're at.
We truly were the only tourists around. We even got lost in the downtown market area and it felt like everyone was looking at us. I don't think we asked anyone for directions. Eventually we found it by driving up and down every street.
You can see in the large version of the picture that there are several barricades and even some soldiers on the left side, all manned by Israeli, not Palestinian, soldiers. Actually, this is only one of the several check points surrounding the place. We parked and started walking around and we went to one of the check points. We were immediately stopped and asked for our passports. In fact, we were stopped and asked for our passports about 7 times as we finally made our way to the right place. Sometimes we were stopped and asked by the same people, but they had over a dozen soldiers there. We told them that we were American Christians, and that seemed to be OK. We found out later that there is some sort of prohibition against Jews visiting the site, and that was being enforced by Israeli soldiers.
Eventually when we made it to the final check point almost inside the Mosque, there were Muslims manning the check point, but they were much more casual than the Israelis. The Muslim guard asked, "You are American?" We said yes. "Christians?" We said yes again. "Then you are very welcome." I felt very disoriented because I expected so much for there to be this anti-American sentiment, but everywhere we went in the Palestinian areas we were treated very well.
We had to take our shoes off before entering. The Muslim guard who questioned us offered to show us around. Because of our experience with Ahmed (see Part 1 for that story), we recoiled at his offer and asked exactly how much he wanted to charge us. He said it was free, so we let him. Basically there is a cave underneath the mosque, but that is not open to tourists. At the mosque level there is what appears to be a tomb, but actually that tomb is dozens of feet above the actual tomb. I never was sure about the historical alignment of these marker tombs. Isaac and Jacob were next to each other, and Abraham was in the next room. The most interesting thing was a vent in the floor near Isaac and Jacob's tombs. We were encouraged to get on our stomachs and sniff at the vent. It smelled very musty and unventilated, just like a cave would smell.
There was also a Jewish section of the building, on the other side away from the mosque. We went in there too, and they had a marker for Jacob's tomb. There were a dozen or so rabbis or other Jews praying or studying. I think they were so shocked to see us that they forgot to tell us to wear a yarmulke.
We actually didn't get to go into the mosque right when we arrived. We got there at around 11:20 AM and they were preparing for the 11:30 AM prayers. So we were hanging out at this cafe right in front of the mosque.
The cafe looks pretty deserted in this shot (except for Rafael posing in the background), but it was busy most of the time we were there. It's often frequented by a group called the TIPH. We spoke with two different pairs of them while they were on their break at the cafe.
They are international observers from 6 different European nations including Sweden, Denmark, and Italy. They said that TIPH stands for "Temporary International Presence In Hebron." Here's Rafael posing with one of their cars.
We tried to leave Hebron, but had as hard of a time leaving as finding the mosque. We found a neighborhood of Jewish families and asked for directions and eventually got out. We headed back north toward Jerusalem and planned on cutting over east toward Qumran, our next destination. Rafael was the navigator on the trip while I drove, and he found this "short-cut" that would take us on some highway over the hills almost right to Qumran. Another thing we found out about Israel (or at least parts of it), there isn't very good highway signage. We were driving along this short-cut, and several times the highway would split or fork, and we couldn't tell which way was the right way. There weren't any signs at all. Often we would follow the direction of most of the traffic. Eventually we became very lost, but the scenery was very nice. We saw a lot of Israel's backroads that day.
This is an example of one of the roads between Hebron and Qumran on the now infamous "short-cut." This is one of the steeper roads. You can see the angle at which the road is declining, and the distance and depth of the road ahead.
Eventually we ended up just east of Jerusalem near some settlement towns. We asked directions from a 17 year old carrying an M-16. We then made our way over to infamous Highway 1 and headed south alongside the Dead Sea.
Here I am in an over-exposed photo driving and looking very intense. You can see the Dead Sea in the background. (It's a little hard to see the Sea, but if you look at the tip of my nose, that's where the Sea is.)
At this point it was about 3:30 PM and we had 3 things to do in this part of the country: Qumran, Masada, and the En Gedi Spa. We were worried about what might not be open during the approaching holiday season, and what we should do now or save for later. We figured that Qumran was an archeological site and would be open everyday. We stopped by the Spa and looked at their hours and confirmed that they were open on holidays and the Sabbath. So we continued on to Masada which was the furthest south of all three.
We caught the 4:00 PM tram up the mountain. We had considered (that is, Rafael had considered) walking down the mountain, but we were told that the pathway was closed for some sort of construction. We had an hour before the final 5:00 PM tram back down the mountain. In this picture (taken from the mountain top at Masada), you can see the dried up middle portion of the Dead Sea.
Even after this very exhausting day, we sped back to Jerusalem, fought through traffic, and had dinner at the King David Hotel. Then we went across the street to the YMCA and saw the extremely popular perennial Folklore Show at 9:00 PM. We decided that the next day we would not do so much driving and stay in Jerusalem.
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