Standing on the top of Mt. Avital Bental today I gazed at three countries. With my feet on Israeli soil, I could look across the border into both Syria and Lebanon. We stood on a strategic lookout point between these three countries among the remnants of bunkers from the last time Israel fought for this soil. I could see the road leading to Damascus only forty miles away in Syria.
Philippine armed guards were present as part of the ongoing United Nations presence in the area. I was struck by the reality that this country is still on edge and perhaps always will be.
I have spent the last two days visiting ancient sites here in Israel. While we had visited sites that were 2,000 years old on our first day and had walked where Jesus walked, yesterday and today we visited sites that were 3,000-3,500 years old. The enormity of the scope of history that we covered leaves my head spinning. It feels as if I’ve signed up for a mobile class that covers not only Biblical history but also archeology and geology. It’s a lot to take in. Even the Bible scholars in our group are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information and the pace in which it’s delivered.
Sitting atop the Nazareth precipice from which the Jewish authorities attempted to throw Jesus when he first overstepped their boundaries, I could see the panorama of 3,000 years of turmoil played out in the valley below us. From this vantage point I could see the road Jesus took to Jerusalem as well as the land that many Old Testament battles were fought on. As a friend stood on the precipice and read selected passages to us, the sheer scope of what I was seeing made such an impact that my eyes welled up with tears as the wind whipped around us. I was seeing the Promised Land and a sweeping history of thousands of battles played out between various characters.
Later we visited the site of carefully excavated ruins and even saw the gate where Abraham entered the Promised Land. It took my breath away to stand before something so ancient and so historic. In the United States we say something is old if it dates back 200 years. I am not one who studies wars and battles. Living in Maryland, though, I have done my fair share of visiting sites where Revolutionary or Civil War battles were fought. I do my best to comprehend the reasons for the battles and try to understand the context in which they occurred. Today’s experience was on a whole new dimension as I gazed upon fields that have witnessed multiple battles over thousands of years. This is truly contested land.
Tzippi, our guide, is a Jewish woman with an open heart determined to build bridge between religions. She has a mind full of facts and weaves a tapestry of information around us each day that we can only try to keep up and attempt to understand. Tzippi tells us that to live in Israel means you must be prepared to defend yourself. It is a fertile land with an abundant variety of crops. We have seen fields of bananas, apples, cherries,avocados, mangos, pine nuts, almonds and, of course, olives.
As I gazed at the Syrian border I was acutely aware that they must remain vigilant even now. The relaxed freedom I take for granted in my country is not the same here.
I reflect that history is when we look back and learn for our experiences. Often we can only make sense of circumstances with hindsight. I am glad to learn the lessons from this land and I wonder what’s in store for it going forward. Shalom.