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Israel - Graeme Robin - Travel

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					             Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads without Lines




                                    Graeme Robin ...Travel
                                                  in Israel



                           Graeme Robin travels the world in his trusty old Fiat Tempra, and writes about his journeys.
                                         If you enjoy reading this, you should consider buying Graeme’s second book


                      ‘Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads Without Lines - Book 2

                                                                    Covering Graeme’s four month journey through:
ESTONIA AND THE BALTIC STATES, POLAND, UKRAINE, HUNGARY, ROMANIA, BULGARIA,TURKEY, GEORGIA, GREECE
                                                         - over 300 pages, with more than 600 colour photographs!


                                                                        To buy BOOK 2, visit:
                                                 http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
About Me
I was born in 1937, married Barbara in 1963, but lost her to a dreadful cancer 43 years later. I
felt as if the world had stopped. Life was suddenly not as precious as it had been. I didn’t care
that much.
                                    But a change sort of evolved. I travelled to Europe. I bought
                                    an old car. Then a GPS. Then a compass. That made four
                                    of us – Karen (the robot voice on the GPS) and Compass
                                    (just that), Phe (for Fiat - a 1993 left-hand drive diesel
                                    sedan) and Me.
                                    Suddenly it was not “I” but “We”. It was
                                    “Karen and Compass, Phe and Me”.
                                    We started to drive around Scandinavia, Iceland, the Arctic
                                    Circle and into Russia all the time on minor roads, avoiding the
                                    major roads and highways as far as possible – in other words,
                                    “On Roads Without Lines”.
We were just wandering around on winding, single lane roads often unsealed, through small
towns and villages, seeing the people at their normal everyday lives and work. Trying to get a
feel for each country – trying to put a tag on it. I took a lot of photos and kept a daily journal.
So a book evolved. Book 1.
Had this suddenly put meaning back into my life?
It felt good so instead of selling Phe at the end of the first four months I kept her for another
four months of journeying this time behind what used to be called the “Iron Curtain” and
another book evolved. Book 2.
It felt good so instead of selling Phe at the end of the second four months I kept her for
another four months of journeying this time around Spain, Portugal and Morocco and
another book evolved. Book 3.
It felt good so instead of selling Phe at the end of the third four months I kept her for another
four months of journeying this time to Italy, the Middle East and the Balkan Peninsular and
another book evolved. Book 4.
All have been marvellous experiences of discovery - so good that I would like it to continue
for the rest of my life!
How long is this old bugger going to last!




       To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
           Israel and Palestine - At least we are through the border controls
                                               15th October




                                                                                                             Israel
Oh what a difference a border makes!!!!
The Israeli border guards with their rifles slung at the ready were not in uniform but just random col-
oured tee shirts and jeans. These men are not young casual conscripts doing their compulsory service
but seasoned soldiers protecting their country’s border from the outside violent world. They were
serious, fit, and alert.
All country’s have their customs inspection which sometimes means a casual look into the Phe’s boot
and in rare instances I have had to lift the bonnet for an inspection of the engine compartment. Not
Israel! Oh no! I had to empty everything out of the boot onto two luggage trolleys and take them into
a building and load every single item through an xray machine the same as at airports. And when I say
everything, I mean everything – a big suit case, my little green back pack, dozens of maps, some books,
a tray of my little kitchen, a dirty washing bag, (empty) and even the spare vacuum pump from Phe’s
brake system that had to be replaced in Poland a couple of years ago. This one gave them a fright
because I am sure they thought it was a new style of incendiary device. While the xray machine was
doing its bit, Phe was driven away into a workshop where they went through her like a dose of salts.
She was up on a hoist and examined from top to toe, even the rear windows were wound down – a
thing I have never done – and the door cavities examined.
The whole exercise was skilful, thorough and professional – even though irritating. I was put out at
having to empty the boot because other people have homes to go to each night but I have had
only Phe for these past three months – she has been my home - and of course it was not like I was
a regular holidaymaker with a couple or four bags to lift out, I had stuff everywhere (and most of it
covered in Syrian dust). But then I got to accept that this is their country, and their borders, and their
neighbours - most of whom are unfriendly towards Israel – and it is their right to do anything they
want, to protect their country.
When they set us free it was half past six and dark so we drove for a few kilometres towards lights
– a sign to Jerusalem but that was 130 kms away so too far for today - but then a smallish town and
a posh looking guest-house with hardly a parking spot left in the car-park. The sheila on the last gate
coming out from the border wasn’t very reassuring when she asked if I had friends in Israel – I said
“No”, or do I have a hotel reservation – another “No” , and then she said it may be difficult to find a
hotel that is open so late on a Friday night!
I drove around the almost empty streets looking for someone to ask if there was more than one
hotel in town until we came across a bloke walking with his wife and kids. I think he understood the
question and I think I understood the answer that there was only one hotel in town and that was the
posh looking one we had passed.
It was expensive at 341 (I don’t even know what they are called, but I got 3 of them for every Jorda-
nian dinar) but without a road map I have no idea where we are, or where we could go for a second
choice. So to hell with the expense – throw the cat another gold fish!




                         Israel - to the North and the Golan Heights
                                          Saturday 16th October
As different as chalk and cheese – that’s a good saying and it describes exactly so much of what I have
seen and experienced over the few hours I have spent in Israel.
Firstly it was the professional and so very focused security check plus the little things like a clean and
hygienic toilet and wash-room with liquid soap (that was full) and paper towels at the border post.
Then there was the noticeable absence of litter – maybe there is only an offshore wind in Israel.
Then there was the dinner in the dining room of this guest-house.




          To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
It was a big dining room and dinner was from six o’clock (I had to wind my watch back one hour, so
the timing was spot on). The two nights in Egypt had both been at holiday resorts and dinner at six
meant just that because by twenty past six most of the food had gone. And it irritated me that at
both resorts a tea bag and a cup of hot water after the meal was not included and had to be paid for.
Last night I arrived at the appointed hour along with a few other people, but unlike the international
tourists in Egypt, the other people were just standing around and not diving into the food as if there
was no tomorrow. A waitress showed me to a table at the bottom of the room.
The table – set for one – had a carafe of cold water, a carafe of iced orange juice and an unopened
bottle of red wine.
And I did justice to the wine, orange juice and a wonderful meal. However the interesting part was
learning a little about the Israeli ways.
There was one big family group of twenty adults and children. Maybe it was an anniversary or a
birthday. The men had white shirts, black pants and skull caps, and the women were well dressed in
street clothes. Or maybe it’s just because it was a Friday. The group took a lot of time over their meal,
they said prayers before they started to eat and then sang a number of gentle rhythmic songs during
the meal. I found it to be quite beautiful the way the family was bound together as if with an invisible
thread just singing quietly together oblivious to the fact that they were in a public restaurant with all
manner of strangers looking on. Music is a wonderful thing – a great bonding agent. I wonder why this
is so?
At another table there were two couples and two children. The bread was covered with a napkin and
they all stood for a prayer before the meal. It all had the air of quiet, of gentle, of softness.
All so very gentle. But why not – they have the army at their borders looking after them.
It’s early days and maybe the first impressions will not stand up.
It was mid-day before we hit the road armed with some cash in the wallet and a proper road map of
Israel – and it’s hot. Well into the mid 30’s – well into them. And I know where we are at last! It’s the
small town of Beit Shean. It had a few shops but they were all closed – even the Mickey Dees was
closed too - and there was hardly a person on the streets, but I only needed one person to lead me
to the ATM nestled around the corner.
We were driving north along the west Bank towards the town of Tiberius which is the lowest city in
the world – in other words there is no other city that is further below sea level than Tiberius. Karen,
aroused from slumber; reckons we are 212 metres below sea level and so my guess about the slow
moving Jordan was probably somewhere about right.




         But with water, the land here on the West Bank is just as productive as across the river in
         Jordan with orchards of apples and citrus, olives, bananas, date palms and brown grass –
        the sort beef cattle would graze on, not that there are beef cattle grazing here, they will be
                         stuck away in a feed lot somewhere. And a few gum trees.




          To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
 Another photo of the River Jordan looking downstream this time. Its flowing alright but it looks as
though it is being diverted.




It’s a good road map of the country and it shows that the Sea of Galilee – just ahead of us – is all
in Israel territory whereas the bigger map of the Middle East shows the eastern side and the Golan
Heights area as being disputed territory. Not far to the east across the river and into Syria is the town
of Al Quneitra where 3 weeks ago the military would not let us pass and made us return to Damas-
cus and use the motorway to get to the border crossing into Jordan, but here on the Israel side there
appears to be no restriction on driving right up to the border.
So rather than going to Tiberius on the left of the Sea of Galilee, I reckon the road to the right side
of the Sea may be more interesting, so maybe we can follow the edge of the Sea and head straight
north to the Golan Heights and Mount Khermon, the highest point in Israel. If we get stopped we will
have to put in a U-turn.




          To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
First look at the Sea of Galilee at the southern end – but gosh it’s so misty it is hard to make out the
mountains not that very far away.
A bit further on there was access to the sea and I had to know if the water was warm and was it salty.
“Yes,” it was warm but not as warm as the Dead Sea or maybe even as the Mediterranean which is
strange, and, “No,” it was not salty – quite clear and fresh. The stoney beach was not very friendly though.




          To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
Right next to the access road to the Sea of Galilee was a big feed lot of Frisian milkers. I stopped and had a
look.The bloke said they are milking 350 cows three times a day – there would be a few litres of milk in that
lot I reckon.They were milking in a ‘herringbone’ style of bail with only 11 bays on each side which seems a
little small for the 1000 milkings every day – but it’s their business and they would know far better than me.




The cows are on a closed circuit of milking bail back into the barns for a feed of hay and in eight
hours back to the milking bails. Sure it smelt a bit but there were no flies which is surprising consider-
ing how thick they were around the Dead Sea area – ‘as thick as flies’ one could say! The complex
took up very little land space – just the 3 or 4 big open sided barns and the milking shed with a big
vat. Right next door was a banana plantation on one side and a holiday resort on the other.
I came across this beaut picnic spot on the River Jordan before it flows into the sea of Galilee. fisher-
men, picnickers and a flowing river.




        The River Jordan before it flows into the Sea of Galilee - fishermen, picnickers, a couple of
                                         canoes and a flowing river.

          To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
Around the east side of the Sea of Galilee there were many camping spots, restaurants and resorts
but after we left the lake behind us still travelling north, there seemed to be a remoteness – very few
houses and very few villages. Quite unusual because ever since Italy it has been a feature of lots of
villages close together and plenty of houses on the countryside.
Around half past four I picked up a hitcher - a youngish girl about 20 – and I am so pleased I did
because even with very little English she said she would take me to a hotel. And when we did eventu-
ally get to the ‘Hotel’ sign about an hour later, it was the only one we had passed and had she not
been with me there is no way I would have found it. She was a nice kid – finished school and now at
college, but studying what I don’t know – but with her little English we drove in silence most of the
way, although she did say that many of the people on the Golan Heights were from Syria – makes
sense because it was Syrian territory up until the 6 day war in 1967. The town with the hotel was
Mazdalsham and this was where she lived with her parents. Like so many young people these days she
had the mobile phone to her ear almost all of the way. The hotel was expensive at 250 shekels – a
boutique sort of joint for the winter snow grounds not far to the north. Expensive but at least it was
a bed for the night.




Israel - The Golan Heights on the Northern Borders and then to the Mediterranean Sea
                                         Sunday 17rd October




         To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
We are in the beautiful mountains of the Golan Heights and I am reckoning on picking up what looks
to be a beaut ‘green road’ marked on the map. It runs right up to the northern border with Syria
and Lebanon and then hugs the Lebanon border westward all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
The northern area is called the Hula Valley on the map. We are heading into the mountains first of all
and the ski resort at Mount Khermon, the highest point in Israel about 1800 metres above sea level.
Strange really, having this high spot only an easy days drive from the lowest point on the planet at the
Dead Sea.
I have a feeling we are going to get into strife today. We have just gone through a toll-gate arrange-
ment but the booms were up and there was no one around so Phe’s heartbeat didn’t falter, not even
one little rev. Maybe the gates are there only for the winter snow fields.




But then, close by, there was a helicopter pad with four choppers - three with their blades still turning
- and 20 odd men. They didn’t look like military though, more civilian, but there was a military camp
nearby with a battery of army tanks covered and parked close to the roadside.
Anyway there were no challenges so we kept going past the idle chairlifts up the mountain. There
were plenty of signs but they were all in Yiddish. It’s a very strange writing, similar in appearance to
Arabic - and they do write backwards from right to left as do the Arabs, but with the Israeli writing I
find it very difficult to work out which is up and which is down so often the docket or whatever I am
trying to decipher is up-side-down.




          To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
         Right now it is the arid mountains. Just beautiful! In a couple of months when it is snow
                        covered it will be the white mountains and just as beautiful.

We came to a fork – so I chose the road to the right. Wrong! A barrier and a sentry with a gun. Not
at all friendly, just waved his gun at me to tell us to buzz-off! Back to the fork and the road to the left.
Wrong again! Another sentry with another gun! But this bloke was bored to tears and thought it was
great to be able to spend a few minutes having a chat to practice his English, which was great for me
too. He showed me on the map the extent of the military no-go zone that covered almost all of the
north and north west of the country, including the road that I had thought would have been interest-
ing – in fact all of the borders with Syria and Lebanon are intensively guarded by the military. So we
had to backtrack it to the town of last night’s bed and turn to the west from there keeping us 50 kms
or so out of harms way of the border..
Driving in Israel so far has been great. The drivers obey the laws – don’t double park, are not aggres-
sive, and hold to the steed limit. They give pedestrians at pedestrian crossing a fair go too. The roads
are good and the road signs excellent as they most times relate to the road map. The road numbers
on the map are the same numbers as on the ground as are the town and city names. Even the white
lines are clear and distinct – first time since France I think. Also it’s a small country so distances are
short.
We were soon down from Mt Khermon and back into agricultural land again. They are getting water
up onto any land that is half way to being flat and where fruit trees and bananas can be planted
between the rocks. Most of the bananas are enclosed in a light mesh ‘house’ of sorts – and I have no
idea why this would be. Surely not insects as the full hand of bananas are in the blue plastic bag as is
normally the case. Maybe the ‘house’ conserves moisture. I have no idea.
Then the ‘green road’ leaves the Syrian border and shifts to running south along the border with
Lebanon. It winds and twists through the rocky hills but there are plantings along the way so there are
villages and towns where the farmers live. It’s going to take me a while to put a handle on this Jewish
way of living because today is Sunday and it’s like the country has been evacuated. It’s one o’clock and
my belly is touching the backbone having had no breakfast this morning and no open cafes sighted
along the way.




          To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
There is this town of Menara right on the border with Lebanon. It has fences all round it, and a sentry
box with a soldier and a boom at the gate, but in the town itself I could find nothing – no people, no
shop, no nothing. There are cars parked on the streets that twist and wind around the top of this hill
and the houses are spaced well apart with heaps of trees and tropical plants of colour like bougain-
villea and frangipani – it’s a lovely place to be but I can’t find a shop or market or anything. There
was a bloke walking and he said there may be a place for coffee and something to eat at the top of
the chairlift. What chairlift? Then I found it - a big chairlift taking people down to the bottom of the
mountain where there looks to be a town of some size – maybe industrial. Perhaps the work is at the
bottom of the hill and the dormitory up the top – just a cheap chairlift ride away. Very nice though!




There are a number of ponds down in the valley and they keeps on going along the valley – surely
not storage – are they growing something in the water?
The next village - on the right this time - was the same, high wire fences security gates, armed guards.
Then a heap of grapevines – haven’t seen grapes for a long time.
It has been a great drive this morning along the border with Lebanon. We are up on the top of the
hills and right down below us, the valley is cultivated wherever there is a piece of land half level and
within reach of an occasional drink of water. The river at the bottom of the valley appears to be dead
stone dry – but then it is barely autumn yet.
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end because we had to leave the ‘green’ roads and
take to the highway for the last stretch through the more heavily populated area around the Mediter-
ranean coast and south to the port city of Haifa. There were big shopping centres along the way and
many were open and doing good business if full car-parks are any indication.




         To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
              But with the heavier population came a roadside cafe that still had a breakfast going at half past two
              in the arvo – I think he may have called it a “late lunch”. Two different breads, pickled cucumber and
              a green and tomato salad plus another dish that could have been chickpeas and yoghurt. It was very
              nice and it certainly filled a hole.




                                 Graeme Robin travels the world in his trusty old Fiat Tempra, and writes about his journeys.
                                               If you enjoy reading this, you should consider buying Graeme’s second book


                          ‘Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads Without Lines - Book 2

                                                                                Covering Graeme’s four month journey through:
ESTONIA AND THE BALTIC STATES, POLAND, UKRAINE, HUNGARY, ROMANIA, BULGARIA,TURKEY, GEORGIA, GREECE
                                                                   - over 300 pages, with more than 600 colour photographs!


                                                                                 To buy BOOK 2, visit:
                                                          http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin

                       To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
It was just a little after four o’clock by the time we arrived at Haifa and another hour of searching
before I gave up and settled for another expensive bed for the night. It looks as though it is going to
cost a lot of money to stay in Israel for the 7 days before my visa !
They are called ‘shekels’ I had forgotten that from Sunday school – it went with the ‘money lenders’
didn’t it?




  Israel and Palestine - from Haifa to Nazareth and an expensive bed in Jerusalem
                                          Monday 18th October
It was almost twelve by the time we got away today because of the chores – first, at nine o’clock into
the Visitors Information Office just up the street and secondly get the good oil on ferries to Turkey.
Well the woman at the Visitors Info office was the worst! Absolutely bloody useless. I’ll say it again just
in case you missed it! Absolutely bloody useless. I reckon she had only ever travelled from her home
to the office in her longish lifetime. Where the hell do they get these people from!
Then another downer at the Passenger terminal at the Port. Just a week ago the bloke at the Israeli
Consulate at Amman had said that there were lots of car ferries running out of Haifa and there would
be no problem getting a car ferry from Israel to Turkey – just a three hour trip he said.


          To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
Well what a wasted drive it was to get that good expert advice because there are NO car ferries
running from Haifa in any direction at all leave alone Cypress or Turkey. There are two cargo ships and
the office of one of them said their ship sails on a Thursday or a Friday to Greece and the cost would
be 3000 shekels for Phe and 1500 for me. That’s an arm and a leg! 4500 shekels is $A1350 making it
around 900 euros. Just too much money so we will have to drive back to England and hope we can
get through the Syrian border without their knowing about the visit to Israel – just as well the Israelis
gave me a ‘loose leaf ’ visa and not a big stamp in my passport!
Today it is hot again probably in the low thirties, a light breeze and clear skies – well there is no cloud
but the mist is always there, around the horizons.
Where to go today – that is the question. One alternative is to head south down the coast from
Haifa through what will likely be heavily populated touristy areas as far as Tel Aviv. A second alterna-
tive would be to cut back inland as far as Nazareth and then head south straight down the centre of
the country. I would like to visit some of the biblical names that I still recall from the dim past such as
Jericho, Jerusalem and Bethlehem to name just a few. And from more modern history the West Bank
and the Gaza Strip strike a chord too.
It wasn’t a hard decision to decide on the Nazareth option. We can always double back to Tel Aviv
later on if need be.
Even though the rolling country between Haifa and Nazareth was bone dry, it was green with pine
trees on the hills and green with orchards, olives and crops on the flat land in the valleys – not the
brown rocky bare country that we saw so much of up to the north.
Nazareth is a big city, crowded with tourist buses and tribes of pilgrims of all nationalities streaming to
the Basilica of Annunciation.




The Basilica itself is recent – 1969 – but the site is believed by Roman Catholics to be the original
home of the Virgin Mary. There was a Byzantine church on the site in 427AD and in the 12th century
a Crusade church was built over the ruins of the Byzantine church. They reckon there are the ruins of
four churches under this new Basilica.
We left Nazareth in the early afternoon and the stop for tonight will be at Jerusalem – I hope. The
main road heading south runs to the east through Beit Shean where we spent our first night in Israel,
or, we can turn off onto this network of winding minor roads through the centre and almost on a
direct line to Jerusalem. Not much of a decision really, so the minor roads it will be.
We were no sooner onto this new route than there is an army post and barrier across the road.
I showed him my passport and then asked him “Why are you here?” and he said “It’s the border”. That
didn’t make much sense to this daft old fart from the other side of the world so I said to him “But the
border with Jordan is miles away” pointing way over to the east.


          To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
“No, this is the border with Palestine” and he showed me on the map this area shaded in brown that
represents the Palestine homeland and other areas shaded in yellow representing areas under joint
Israeli and Palestinian control. I asked him if I can go through Palestine and out the other side, and he
said there would be no problems in me doing that.
So completely by accident we have blundered into Palestinian territory and I guess at the other end
we will have a hell of a job getting back into Israel, through security checks similar to the border with
Jordan. But that’s for the future. Right now we can enjoy driving through another country. And in my
ignorance I didn’t even know it was here – but then it’s the choice I have made, to journey as the
roads take us and discover what the world has to offer rather than to research and plan and then
view and pass on to the next.




The cars have different number plates with a ‘P’ instead of an ‘IL’ but the money – shekels – is the
same. Suddenly it doesn’t look like Israel it looks like Syria - maybe a little bit cleaner, so maybe closer
to looking like Jordan. And the road signs in English have disappeared too – that could be a problem
because the map has a whole network of roads going every way which way. The land seems to be
being put to good use, with crops such as cabbages, and other things I don’t recognise and of course
olives – there always seem to be olives plus tilled paddocks ready for planting. There seem to be a
lot of men sitting around – idle at three in the afternoon. We passed through the large town of Jenin
soon after the border and after that there were a lot of small towns separated by not very much.
Then the quarries. The area just short of Nablus must be rich in a granite or whatever because there
were many stonemason yards along the road and each one was sawing and grinding away at their big
slabs of rock. The dust! The dust was so thick that even the olive trees had turned white! The prickly
pear, the orchards, the road, the buildings were all the same colour – the colour of the dust. Didn’t see
any bougainvillea – perhaps there was none or if there was, it was buried in dust also.
I missed out on seeing any commercial olive picking which must have been happening over the last
couple or three weeks as the crops have mostly been harvested, but there are a few trees on public
land and alongside the road where people are filling buckets and sacks with the little blighters. I tasted
a couple straight off the tree once and had to spit them out because they were so bitter. Apparently
the trick is to layer olive with salt, then olive, then salt, in jars or other containers for some months
and as soon as the skin starts to wrinkle it is time to start eating.
It was dark by the time we reached Jerusalem so the ‘Hotel’ signs were illuminated – but they all
seemed to be five star – and with a five star plus price tag. It must have been an hour of talking to
people and walking from place to place that I eventually had to pay the price or go without a bed for
the night. 518 shekels! And I thought half of that price on the first night was terribly expensive. Israel
seems to be a very expensive place for the tourist, food, accommodation, fuel, car insurance, parking,
even the sim card for the phone – all seem to be over the top.
It’s making me think that seven days may be enough in this country.


          To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
                               Israel - And the Holy City of Jerusalem
                                          Tuesday 19th October
It’s another 19th of the month and I am at the wailing wall. I have put on a skull cap and have both
hands on the wall. Why I am doing this I don’t know. The tears are welling as I think of Barb. It’s been
three years and ten months almost to the hour and it seems just like it was yesterday. I love her so
dearly and miss our not being together so badly, it hurts.
And the effect of this wall.
I didn’t make a conscious effort to be part of it. I just wandered down the ramp to take a photo and
there was a basket of skull caps and every one else was either wearing one or were just borrowing
one out of the basket, so I did the same. Then into a short tunnel where a lot of men were praying
or reading earnestly. I sat in a spare chair and quietly watched for a while and then went back out into
the hot sunshine at the base of the wall. I thought of Barb and the day, and the wall was like a magnet
drawing me to it. There was a space, so I placed both hands on the warm smooth soft Jerusalem rock
of the wall – and wept.




          To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
            The first temple was built here about 3000 years ago but was destroyed. A second was built by
            Herod in its ruins seventy years later. That one was destroyed 1900 years ago. The present Western
            Wall know as the ‘wailing wall’ is a remnant of the second temple making it 3000 years old. Jewish
            tradition teaches that the Temple Mount is the focal point of creation and is the focus of prayer for
            Jews from all over the world.
            Jerusalem is a holy city. It is holy to Judaism, to Christianity, and also to Islam. It can be looked at in
            three parts. There is the old city which is fully controlled by Palestine, and the rest of the city which
            has a major road running through it – route number 60. On the west side of this road it is Israeli con-
            trolled and on the east side Palestinian. It really is a hotch potch and there are a number of security
            check points especially around the important areas.




                              This is the Western Wall – or the Wailing Wall. It is Judaism’s holiest site.




                                  Graeme Robin travels the world in his trusty old Fiat Tempra, and writes about his journeys.
                                                If you enjoy reading this, you should consider buying Graeme’s second book


                           ‘Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads Without Lines - Book 2

                                                                                      Covering Graeme’s four month journey through:
ESTONIA AND THE BALTIC STATES, POLAND, UKRAINE, HUNGARY, ROMANIA, BULGARIA,TURKEY, GEORGIA, GREECE
                                                                        - over 300 pages, with more than 600 colour photographs!


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                                                             http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin



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         Dome of the Rock.This is the site of the original temples of which the Western Wall was
         part, and now the site of the Dome of the Rock and the El-Aqsa Mosque – both holy to
                                                  Islam.




The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by all the Christian orthodox churches as it has the last
four stations of the “Via Dolorosa”, which is the route Jesus Christ took as he dragged his cross from
the scene of his trial to his crucifixion.




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The three main sites in the old town of Jerusalem were not hard to discover, and the mix of cultures
all living and praying together was a surprise. From the Orthodox Jews at the Wailing Wall and the
pilgrims of all nationalities at the Christian Church to the resriction at the Mosque where visitors
were welcome into the grounds but people like me had to buy a wrap-around skirt to hide my knees
below the shorts.




It was almost two when we eventually left Jerusalem heading for Jericho for no other reason than
that it is in the photo that I took through the arch on Elijah’s hill across the river in Jordan, but when
we got there I got wobbly knees about going further on to Bethlehem via the Judea Desert and the
mountains because there had been hardly any hotels in any of the towns we had gone though in
Israel. Even in the big cities there were the expensive 4 or 5 star places but I had been unable to find
the two’s and threes – presuming that they are around. So it has to be a big – and expensive – hotel
in Jericho for a night here and an early start in the morning.

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On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho - and the Dead Sea - there are a number of signs that tell us
how many metres we are below sea level. This is shocking country, its hot, rolling but rocky, brown,
rubbish that would be worth nothing (unless there is ‘gold in them thar hills’) and why people would
want to fight over it I don’t know. I guess it is a matter of a homeland isn’t it.


When we were in Jericho and I saw a sign to a ‘sugar mill’, and it reminded me that we have not seen
any sugar beet growing hardly at all on this trip. And another strange thing is that the grape vines are
still green – it’s well into autumn and the grapes have long gone onto tables or into vats. There are not
a lot of trees around but only a few have leaves that have changed colour. Even allowing for the fact
that many of the trees were are pines, and therefore not deciduous, it still seems strange that autumn
is still a way off.




Israel and Palestine - The Dead Sea Scrolls, then Herod’s Castle and to Bethlehem,
                              the birthplace of Jesus
                                       Wednesday 20th October
What a great day of touristing this has been!
We were away from Jericho reasonably early heading down the West Bank with the Dead Sea on our
left and the mountains on our right, towards Masada – the site of King Herod’s castle up in those hot,
dry, barren mountains. That’s the aim for this morning anyway, and then this arvo we will double back
to Bethlehem for a bed tonight.
The road from Jericho goes across the King Hussein bridge back into Jordan or in our case, we took a
right turn just before the bridge for a run south along the Dead Sea. There were a lot of date palms,
and bananas in their shade houses. There is only a narrow strip of land between the mountains and
the sea and they are trying their best to make the most of it. It is not on the same scale as over the
river in Jordan as here there are the patches of palms and bananas and then nothing for a few miles
and then another crop.




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At about half past nine we are at Qumeran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in a cave by a
couple of shepherds as recently as 1967. I went to the visitors centre but I was not going walking in a
National Park in those rocky, dusty, barren hills. Need to leave something for next time.
Behind the camera is flat land,mostly bare but with a few greenhouses and date palms and in the
distance somewhere there is the Dead Sea but I can’t see it. Of course I can see it, it was just that the
mist was so strong that I couldn’t tell it was the sea. I thought it was the sky. We are right on the edge
of the sea and across the other side I can just make out the line where the water meets the land – I
was so lucky getting those photos a couple of weeks ago because right now there would be nothing
to photograph - just mist!




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        So far this is the Israeli version of the five star resort – a small mineral spa with access for
                                                 a dip in the sea.

We stopped and looked at a very nice Hi youth hostel at Ein Gedi at less than a quarter of the price
of last nights beautiful five star, but they don’t have a map or even a listing of their hostels here in
Israel so how can work them into our plans. Then another at Masada – both noticed by accident as
we passed by.
King Herod’s castle was well worth stopping for – it must be great because there were 35 tour buses
in the car-park. They had an underground car-park out of the heat for Phe and a video film show to
introduce the history to the visitors, and then a cable car up the mountain to the castle itself. But, by
hell was it hot! I was wringing wet by the time I got back.




         Herod built the castle (yes, that’s it, the little black spec right up at the top of the moun-
        tain) 2000 years ago as a fortress as well as a castle but it’s fame today is in the folklore
       surrounding the stand of the last remaining 960 Jewish rebels to hold off the Roman forces
                                 taking over the country in around 74 AD.

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The Jews were eventually overcome, but as a group, committed a mass suicide rather than surrender
to a life of shame and humiliation as slaves of the Roman victors.
It was very hot walking around the ruins for an hour or more and I felt a degree of admiration for
those hearty souls who tackled the long walk on the winding rocky track below the chairlift. They
were not many in number but enough to make me think about how weak I have become!




We are almost right at the south end of the Dead Sea and had still not run into any big luxurious
beach resorts – and then at the town of Neve Zohar there were a heap of them. They were much
the same as in Jordan with beaches with imported sand, umbrellas, people in swimming.
There is a strange thing down here though because opposite the resorts, there were what looks like
sand-bars running at right angles from the shore almost to the edge of Jordan. They were no more
than 200 metres apart. They look to be man-made but I have no idea what they could be for.
So we left the Dead Sea heading to Arad which means Phe having to climb back up 400 metres to
sea level and then up into the hills again and this is the same awful country – hot, rolling, rocky, brown,
dusty, rubbish I call it, it’s not land at all. There are a few tussocks of a brown weed or spinifex or small
spindly scrub, and not even much of that.
I don’t know why I bother. We were at Arad and I had travelled around this country on the seat of my
pants with almost no guidance on where to go and what to look out for, just picking things and roads
off the map without really knowing, so when I saw a sign for the Arad Information Office it was like
a bit of magic. I parked Phe, packed up my maps and walked around there and guess what - it was all
locked up and looked as though it had been locked up for weeks. So I ask a lady at the cultural centre
next door and she said it was not closed “Just go around the side”. Well I did, and I hit every door in
the building and other than becoming Santa Claus and go down the chimney, there was no way I was
going to get any info from this mob! And to think that the smart arse at the border, when we came
into this country and I asked if there was any Tourist Information Centres and he said “Of course” as
if to say “what a dick head question is that”. So this is the second one I have been able to winkle out
– the first one had a woman dishing out information like a paper hanger with no arms. It’s a shame
really because Arad looks to be a nice looking town with wide streets plenty of street trees and some
green lawns.




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                                    This has to be called an oasis surely.

This has to be called an oasis surely.
Arad is about 500 metres above sea level and being on the top of a plateau, the land is far better –
much of it has been tilled ready for planting when the rains come. Not lush not like the river valley
but not like the rocky brown of the mountains.
We were stopped at yet another Israeli check point and his opening bid was
“The car can’t go” but after a bit of chatting he dilluted a bit to,
“Be careful – it’s a red zone.” So I will be but I am not quite sure what I should be careful of!




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The sign beside the open gateway reads;
         Palestinian Authority Area.
         Area A Ahead.
         No Entry for Israelis.
         Entry illegal by Israeli law.
This is a town just short of Bethlehem – Efrata. It is obviously Palestinian with high wire fences, tall
sentry boxes. I really do hope this is a thing from long-gone yesterday, as the sentry boxes look to
be unmanned as is the gate into the town which is open. The wire fences are all but falling down.
But I am starting to think that my wishful thinking is nothing more than putting my head in the sand
because the more I see of this mish mash of two countries the harder it is to see a possible solution.
I started to count up the number of little Palestinian islands within the Israeli borders on my road map
and stopped counting at thirty. The wife of the publican in tonight’s hotel in Bethlehem told me she
had lived in USA for 16 years but had never been to Jerusalem because she needs a permit to do so.
Without such a permit she is virtually captive in Bethlehem.
I saw the same sign was on the road as we came into Bethlehem – there was an army post on the
road but it was unmanned so maybe the signs are out of date too.
Bethlehem is a large Palestinian city and for once I was able to find a hotel a little bit further down
the scale – 270 shekels is better tan 500 but still too expensive. However the owner Joseph and his
wife Yvonne were wonderful friendly hosts.




Yvonne gave me a map and instructions on getting to the Basilica of The Nativity – the spot where
Jesus is believed to have been born – but didn’t warn me that the line of pilgrims would be long and
very, very, slow moving.




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It took forever to shuffle inch by inch through the Basilica before eventually making it to the “grotto.”
But because I was so late getting in and through, when I doubled back to get this photo of ‘Mary and
Child’ the line had disappeared and I was able to re-enter an almost empty grotto.




Even with only half a dozen people in the underground grotto I was still not able to get a good photo
of this spot which is believed to be the sacred site where Jesus was born all of those years ago. But I
guess a poor picture is better than none at all.




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                 Israel and Palestine - Across country to the Gaza Strip
                                         Thursday 21st October




This is down-town Bethlehem as I saw it on the walk home last night.
I wonder what will happen today! We are leaving Bethlehem and heading directly west across the
country to the Gaza – a knock on the door and we will see if it opens - even just a crack.
At the moment the Gaza is the trouble spot with the controlling Palestinian group, Hamas, at logger-
heads with Israel over all manner of things but it would be great to be able to drive the length of the
Gaza Strip just to get a feel for what it is actually like to be living there.
Let’s talk for a moment about that term - ‘Urban Myth’. I think it means an untruth that is built up
from one person preaching loud and strong, and a second person taking the message on-board and
telling a third until eventually the myth magically becomes a fact!




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Remember back in Jordan on Elijah’s Hill, I set down a lot of detail of what could be seen through the
arch? Well that was courtesy of an airline pilot who was part of our small group. He also told me that
Bethlehem was surrounded by a wall and you couldn’t get in to the city and once you were in you
couldn’t get back out. Well the only wall I saw as we left this city of Bethlehem was the wall beside the
motorway to reduce the noise, and last night as we came in from Israeli territory there was one single
army checkpoint – and it was unmanned. I wonder how many times that bloke has repeated the same
story and of course the next question is “where did he get it from”?
Last night I spent some time talking to an American from Illinois – this is his eight trip to Bethlehem.
He loves the place – and he told me that the Gaza Strip has a wall all the way around it - built by the
Israelis - and that inside that wall there is a 500 metres space cleared by Israeli bulldozers and people
sighted in that cleared area are shot! Is this a fact or another ‘Urban Myth’?
At that expensive five star hotel at (Palestinian) Jericho I got talking to the security guard on the gate
– he had good English and wanted a chat - and when I said I wanted to go to Gaza he said “No way
man! - the Israelis will never let you go into the Strip!”
I guess we will find out later this arvo!
And the contradictions. The focused and hard security at the border when we entered Israel from
Jordan compared with coming out of (Palestinian) Bethlehem into Israeli territory where there was a
check point with zig zags on the road and about 6 or 8 male and female army just idly chatting away
– I mean they would not have looked at this car even briefly so we could have sailed merrily through
with a load of dynamite to blow up the next poultry farm we came across – they wouldn’t have a
clue. No pressure there!




The Israeli town of Maher is another case of chalk and cheese really. You only have to have a look
around at the place to work out if you are in Israel or Palestine. Israel is clean neat, tidy manicured,
well laid out, - it’s a Western style of living. In Palestine there is litter , people every where – a middle
east style of living.
It’s now half past nine and it has taken an hour and a half to eventually get onto the road where I
wanted to be - on route number 386. A taxi driver tried hard and so did the little van-bus driver and
eventually we made it out of Bethlehem.
This is a strange land because now we have left the urban areas and are down on the valley floor
amongst pine trees so we really could be anywhere in the world. The hills around us are covered with
natural pines and the rock and brown dusty landscape has been left behind us – for the time being at
least. No wonder I try to find those roads highlighted in green on the map.




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Back to the American bloke from last night, he said he had spent time visiting the refugee camps just
up the road a couple of kms from the hotel, and showed me on the map of Bethlehem the one he
was talking about plus another a kilometre or so further on. I asked him what these people were
refugees from and he said from 1948. 1948! Now, how can you be a refugee from 1948 – that’s more
than sixty years ago, almost three generations! Then he described it a bit more as a slum area with
high unemployment and crowded conditions – the sort of thing you can find in most of the world’s
major cities, but to call it a refugee camp I think is wrong. It’s highly emotive and suggests a guilty party
and an innocent one also.
I am not taking sides – just calling it as I see it. I think a number of the things the Israelis do are wrong
and not helping their cause. The fact that they have so many road blocks, showing their strength, and
obviously quite unaware that the casual attitude of the soldiers on duty actually shows just how stupid
the whole thing is – a weakness. Even the roadmap I have – it’s a map of Israel – has the numerous
Palestinian areas shaded in a brown colour but there is hardly any detail shown in the Palestinian ar-
eas, It’s as though they are not willing to give a millimetre to the Palestinians and that doesn’t seem to
do much for bridge building. It’s a bloody road map for goodness sake – not a political statement! The
Israeli road signs refuse to name a Palestinian city – they prefer to ignore it. I think we all have per-
ceived Israel, as a body, as a government, that has always taken a tough hard line and it’s alright for me
coming from the other side of the world – of course I don’t understand - and when there has been
suicide bombings and rocket attacks from Palestine into Israel or whatever hell has happened obvi-
ously there is a groundswell of resentment on both sides, but surely the little things are just nit-picking,
itches that have to be scratched. Like the signs that say “no Israelis allowed” things like that. Surely if
the stated policy it is not being enforced, pull the bloody sign down. Like the fences and the guard
boxes – if they are not being used, then pull them down, get rid of that constant reminder of conflict.
And what Yvonne said about the permits, She seemed to be a lovely lady but she may be a fully paid
up member of Al Quida for all I know, but it’s another itch, a burr under the saddle as they say. And
that American bloke last night with his story about the Gaza – how much of that was true and how
much ‘Urban Myth’. He also said there is a rocket dropped into Palestine territory every 2 or 3 days.
Is this true? And how would he know! He admitted he has become pro-Palestinian but I don’t his
background he may have all sorts of hangups.




Bougainvillea and ripe persimmon on the trees behind.




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But would you believe the lousy old bastard has coils of razor wire between the roadway and his pre-
cious fruit trees – even though the ground is littered with fallen and rotting fruit.
Around the middle of the country the terrain levelled off and cultivation was the go again with pad-
docks ploughed or tilled ready for a crop. I have seen some sugar beet for the first time with water
sprayed from artesian wells I guess. It seems to be a lot more prosperous. Even fields of bright green
young lucerne – a sure sign that there is water available.
The Gaza Strip is a piece of country, sort of rectangular, that runs down the Mediterranean coast to
meet with Egypt in the south. It is about 40 kms long and maybe an average of 10 kms wide – so it’s
not a very big area. By early afternoon we were knocking on the door and as expected the young
bloke in the bullet proof glass box said
“You can’t go through here!” I told him he had no right, as an Israeli to tell me, and Australian visitor
that I cannot visit Palestinian Gaza Strip, but that cut no ice. He did give me a phone number to ring
to get permission to enter the territory. I thought about paying the 35 shekels needed to get the
sim card moving (every other country I have been in has a certain number of calls built into the sim
when you first buy it – but not Israel, you pay 80 sheckles for the card and then another 35 to make
it work) but then realism cut in and I thought what a waste of time. I know what the answer will be
before even asking the question. It would probably finish up like the Libyan visa debacle, so to hell
with it, lets forget Gaza and head south to get out of this country tomorrow.
But I am interested in the American’s opinion about a wall running right around the Gaza Strip, so we
drove south on the road closest to the border all of the way – and there was no wall! No sign of a
wall at all. Sure there is a big concrete wall protecting the Israeli army barracks at the main northern
entrance to the Gaza strip but nothing more than that. I wonder how many other people he has fed
the same story!
There is a Hi Youth Hostel at the town of Mitspe Ramon, sort of half way between the top of the
Gaza Strip and Eilat at the very south of Israel, so maybe we can find a bed there tonight. Then
tomorrow morning the 130 km drive and over the border back into Jordan at Aqabah. Jordan should
be no problem but I am worried about getting through Syria and know that just a sniff of Israel on
the passport is sudden death for Phe. Sure, the Israel visa is on a loose piece of paper and not in the
passport, but there is a gap of 7 days that an astute border guard would be able to pick up. Maybe all
of those stamps between Aqabah and Egypt will muddy the waters and lets hope the astute one is
having a day off when we are looking for that all important stamp!




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Actually the only thing I got to learn about the Gaza Strip was from a hitcher we picked up soon after
the knock back at the border – a Jewish bloke in his early thirties I suppose, maybe thirty five with
only a very little English so it was very hard to communicate, but not quite impossible. His name was
Iesiz. He was a bus driver and takes one of the regular big buses from his home village to Tel Aviv and
back each morning and again in the afternoon. He starts at five in the morning and finishes at five in
the evening, but only half a day on Fridays and Saturday he is off. He has a wife and four daughters. He
took me in to two of the other four border crossings - right up to the barrier but there was nothing
to see except bored Israeli soldiers lounging around with nothing to do and all day in which to do it.
And certainly no wall!




        The last crossing to the south nearest the Egyptian border was a little different as this was
        lined with semi-trailers and big trucks waiting to pass through border controls. “It’s food for
        the Gaza” he told me – and I guess by this he means not so much only food but all of the
                   bits and pieces a community needs and does not produce on its own.

The land we have been travelling through down the edge of the Gaza has been quite flat and al-
though sandy looking and bordering on desert in some places, it had water enough for many of the
shade cloth houses which produce bananas, tomatoes, potatoes and many other crops so Iesiz told
me. Even lucerne being spray irrigated in places. I asked him why the shade cloth house but he could
not answer that – he either didn’t know or didn’t understand the question. I can only presume that
agriculture on the Gaza Strip would be very similar to what we have been travelling through.
Then I worked out that he and his wife had, five years ago, lived in the Gaza Strip but were re-located
into one of the purpose built village settlements in the Israeli territory when the Gaza was turned
over to the Palestinians. This is down in the south-east corner of the Gaza Strip. A nice friendly bloke.
He was on the phone to his wife and passed it to me to speak to her because her English was a lit-
tle better than his. I introduced myself to her but I am not sure just how much she understood. It is
doubly difficult on the phone. But then he asked me if I liked lamb? “Does that mean you are inviting
me home to lunch?” I said, and he nodded.
His wife’s name is Sharma and their youngest was barely a toddler. The other three are at school until
one thirty – they started at eight, just the one (morning) shift in the schools in Israel. To say that their
house and the area they live in was “basic” would be overstating the case.




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It was poor, it was depressing, it was a trap. There are about 500 people in their particular village and
there is a cluster of seven villages fairly close together. Shama is looking forward to being allocated a
new home in a new village in a year or so – a bigger home, one with five rooms. Their present home
and the new one also is owned by the government and they pay rent. I can’t tell if they are poor,
struggling, or well off. The furniture was basic but there were three newish looking kids bikes outside
the back door – but nothing else. There was no car and I didn’t see Mum and Dad push bikes. I was
made very welcome, given a plastic cup of water and a steak of crumbed lamb with some chopped
tomato pieces in a very nice dressing. They know a little about Australia because Sharma’s married
sister is living in Perth – another case of chalk and cheese!




Iesiz loves his job as a bus driver – he gets to know his passengers as they are all regulars. “He knows
more people than I do” Sharma told me, and I felt sad for her in this tiny little white concrete box
with the heat and the sand all around, only her feet for transport and four kids under six to care for
and to nourish.
For me it was a great experience to just get a tiny snapshot of life with a real Jewish family of battlers
– who probably know no better.
Soon after saying goodbye to these two lovely people, and the Gaza area, we were heading further
south-east and into a desert of sand, saltbush, spinifex and scrubby little trees. It doesn’t have the hard
crusty shale surface of the Sahara around Morocco, this is just loose sand and there is no way Phe
would get far on it. But then on the left of the road there was a huge paddock of bright green lucern
and on the right of the road a large olive grove. So there are spots where water is available here and
there.
This is my last night in this strange and complicated country of Israel and maybe it’s fitting that it
should be in this town with a beaut youth hostel - Mitspe Ramon. It’s not a big town but it does have
a nice restaurant where I managed a couple of beers and a nice Israeli farewell dinner. While sitting
there I got to thinking about today’s experiences and particularly about Iesiz and Sharma
I wonder what that couple are thinking about now. I just blew into their lives for an hour and then
blew right out again, doing something they could not even shape in their minds leave alone put into
practice. I wonder if they ever think of shifting away from their village to a better life. Maybe I have got
it all wrong. Maybe they are happy and contented in their poor and narrow existence – but it’s too
foreign to anything I have ever had to consider as a fulfilling life




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        Mitspe Ramon sits right on the very edge of a huge crater – these little blokes are called Ibex




                                Israel & Palestine - Down and out!
                                            Friday 22nd October
A simple plan today – go south, cross the border, go north!
And that’s how it worked out - but simple it wasn’t!
We were away from Mitspe Ramon around ten o’clock and down into this fabulous crater – that’s
what they call it, a crater – and that’s exactly what it looks like, a giant crater. An area of flat com-
pletely surrounded by hills. I would have learnt more had the information office been open yesterday
afternoon – Thursday about half past four – but it wasn’t and looked as though it hadn’t been open
for yonks. What’s new pussy cat!




           Just out of Ramon there is a national park – very inhospitable country around here!




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This seems to be the pattern - mountains and then a crater. This is the third – will there be more?
Absolutely no life. Nothing is happening out here at all – not even a shepherd. We have passed over a
few river beds and they were all as dry as a bone.




        Then an oasis called Shittin. It must be a very sleepy little town or village as there was not
       one soul around. I drove half way in and then got embarrassed and reversed back out again.
                                   I wondered if it was a Bedouin camp?

Nearby to the oasis there was a huge oil tank with power coming to it. Looks as though it has electric
pumps and on the opposite side of the road to the oasis there are these ‘tap’ things sitting up out of
the ground with a wire cage around each of them. It is either water or oil. My bet is that it’s oil and
the tap things are there to bleed air or impurities or something else out of the oil line buried under-
ground. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it!



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Then a few more kilometres along the road there was another compound and this time there was
some English words on the signs warning of “Sulphuric Acid.” This place must be for sulphuric acid –
but where the hell does sulphuric acid come from, not out of the ground surely! But that’s what the
sign says ‘Sulphuric Acid’. Beats me. Then there was a big army base! Who said there was nothing hap-
pening out here in the desert?




         What would a real professional photographer give for a clear mist-free day - a clear hori-
         zon – wouldn’t it be magnificent scenery out here? The pink colour is the reflection from
                                             the desert sand.

I am starting to wonder about my call of an oil field because diesel in Israel has been around 7 sheck-
les a litre which is about the same expensive price as in France and Italy but three times the price as
in Jordan and a hell of a lot more than in Syria. So maybe Israel produces very little oil of it’s own. But
it does desalinate water down at Eilat so maybe it is water in the pipes and not oil after all.
Eilat is a thoroughly modern western town. It has all of the good things like an Imax theatre, super-
markets, brand stores, wide streets, trees, park lands scuba diving in the Red Sea, and a hell of a lot of
tourist hotels.
Then there was the border – Israeli style! Gone were the tough guys and enter centre stage a pen
pushing bureaucrat who wanted to plaster his big black Israeli stamp in my passport because I was
one day late. One day late! I entered the country last Friday around six in the evening and it’s now
just after noon on the following Friday. How in the name of hell can that be one day over a week. But
nothing would shift this bastard so I yelled at him and grabbed all the documents back from him and
then drove Phe to block the “Out” gate and demanded to see the manager of the joint.
Cranky old bugger! But I was really fired up because an Israeli stamp on the passport would mean
no entry to Syria and if Phe can’t go through Syria she will be in jail and can’t pass ‘Go’ so won’t even
collect her 200! I am laughing now but I wasn’t laughing then, but when the boss cocky fronted up and
I explained my dilemma he kindly held my hand through the process – gate after gate until we were
eventually released to the Jordan side of the fence.
So it’s Bye Bye Israel from all four of us.




          To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
                 My Impressions of Israel and Palestine after Seven Nights
This is going to be a hard task as Israel is a very complicated country and the few days I spent driv-
ing around could no more than scratch the surface. Physically the country is not large being around
450kms from north to south and 75kms east to west. The west coast runs down the Mediterranean
Sea from Lebanon in the north to Egypt to the south. To the East is Syria and Jordan. A simple rectan-
gle.
Not so simple though because much of the country is Islamic Palestinian and it is the Palestinian’s
quest for a “homeland” that in recent years has created much of the violence and unrest. My road
map shows the areas which are under “Full Palestinian control” shaded in brown – I stopped count-
ing at 30 separate areas – and the areas under “Joint Israeli-Palestinian control” shaded in yellow – I
stopped counting at 40 of these – and the rest of the country is in Israeli control. Each of the Palestin-
ian areas are like little islands in the sea of Israel and it’s army.
Another complication that seems to have come off the boil in recent years is the area in the north-
east – the Golan heights – where the population is another mix of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam but
this time much of the population are Syrian because the Golan Heights was Syrian territory up until
the 6 day war of 1967 when Israel seized it all but offered it back in return for a lasting and meaning-
ful peace agreement. This agreement never came about with Iran and radical groups like Hezbolah
muddying the waters.
Just at the south of the Golan Heights is the Sea of Galilee with the River Jordan running through it as
it wends it’s way for another 100kms southwards to eventually dribble into the Dead Sea 400 metres
below sea level. This section of the River Jordan between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea is the
boundary between Jordan and Israel. West of the river has become know as the “West Bank” and is a
difficult area - most of it in Palestinian control with high unemployment and poverty.
Then over on the coast in the south west corner of Israel there is the Gaza Strip – a piece of land
no more than 40kms long by less than 10kms wide. It is under full Palestinian (Hamas) control. I was
refused entry into the Gaza strip – not by the Palestinians but by the Israeli army which has border
posts with razor wire and armed sentries and tanks and stuff at every road entry into the Strip. There
are 6 entry points and we rattled the gates at 3 of them. In this case I guess the hard line of the Israeli
army is to do with the equally hard line Hamas, the group which, I understand, controls the Gaza Strip.
Cities that I recognise from Sunday school, like Nazareth, and Jericho, and Jerusalem, and Bethlehem,
are all cities under full Palestinian control but in each case the roads into the city are blockaded by an
Israeli army post, so it’s almost as if each of these places are under siege. In Bethlehem I stayed at a
hotel with very friendly husband and wife (Palestinian) owners. She, Yvonne, had lived for 16 years in
the USA so language was not a problem, told me that she had never visited Jerusalem just 10kms up
the road because to leave Bethlehem requires an Israeli army permit – a big hassle!
Am I painting a pro-Palestinian picture? I hope not.
We entered Israel from Jordan on a Friday (late) afternoon. The border guards with their rifles slung
at the ready were not in uniform and just wore random coloured tee shirts and jeans. These men
were not young casual conscripts doing their compulsory service but seasoned soldiers protecting
their country’s border from the outside violent world. They were serious, fit, and alert. All countries
have their customs inspection which sometimes means a casual look into the Phe’s boot and in rare
instances I have to lift the bonnet for an inspection of the engine compartment. Not Israel! Oh no! I
had to empty everything out of the boot onto two luggage trolleys and take them into a building and
load them through an xray machine the same as in airports. While the xray machine was doing its bit,
Phe was driven away into a workshop where they went through her like a dose of salts. She was up
on a hoist and examined from top to toe, even the rear windows were wound down and the door
cavities examined.
The whole exercise was skilful, thorough and professional. I was put out at having to empty all of my
belongings out of the car but then I got to accept that this is their country, and their borders, and their
neighbours - most of whom are unfriendly towards Israel – and it is their right to do anything they
want, to protect their country.
That’s the Israel I met in the first hour and a half.
Then there was dinner in the dining room of the guest-house I lobbed into just a few miles from the
border. As different as chalk and cheese !
It was a big dining room and dinner was from six o’clock. A waitress led me to my table – set for one
– which had a carafe of cold water, a carafe of iced orange juice and a bottle of red wine. And I did
justice to the wine, orange juice and a wonderful meal.




          To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
However the interesting part was learning a little about the Israeli ways. At one table there were two
couples and two children. The men had white shirts, black pants and skull caps, and the women were
well dressed in street clothes. They covered the bread with a napkin and then they all stood for a
prayer before the meal. At another table there was a big family group of twenty adults and children.
Maybe a wedding anniversary or a birthday. The group took their time over their meal, said prayers
before and sang a number of gentle rhythmic songs during the meal. It all had the air of quiet, of
gentle, of softness.
Why not – they have the army looking after them.
It was another 19th of the month and I am at the wailing wall in Jerusalem. I have put on a skull cap
and have both hands on the wall. Why I am doing this I don’t know. The tears are welling as I think of
Barb. It’s been three years and ten months almost to the hour and it seems just like it was yesterday. I
love her so dearly and miss us not being together so badly, it hurts. And the effect of this wall. I didn’t
make a conscious effort to be part of it. I just wandered down the ramp to take a photo and there
was a basket of skull caps and every one else was either wearing one or were just borrowing one out
of the basket, so I did the same. Then into a short tunnel where a lot of men were praying or reading
earnestly. I sat in a spare chair and quietly watched for a while and then went back out into the hot
sunshine at the base of the wall. I thought of Barb, and the day, and the wall was like a magnet drawing
me to it. There was a space, so I placed both hands on the warm smooth soft Jerusalem rock of the
wall – and wept.
We were refused entry into the Gaza Strip area and soon after picked up a hitcher – a Jewish bloke,
Iesiz, maybe in his early thirties. One thing led to another and he asked me if I liked lamb and I said
“Yes – does that mean I am invited home to lunch?”
His wife, Sharma, and he have four daughters under six, the youngest barely a toddler. Iesiz drives a
bus to Tel Aviv and back from 5 in the morning until five in the evening with just half a day on Friday
and Saturdays off. The lunch was a glass of water, a crumbed lamb steak and some chopped toma-
toes with a tasty dressing. Five years ago this couple had been living in the Gaza but were re-located
by their government maybe 10kms into a specially built village of around 100 houses outside of the
Gaza and into Israeli territory. Their village is one of seven in a small cluster. This family of six were
living in a tiny little concrete box with a living room and two other rooms. Outside is hot desert sand.
Hardly a tree. Almost desolate. I saw not one other person in the village while I was there. They have
no car and even though there were small kids bikes outside I saw no Mum and Dad bikes. He has his
job, which he loves, but all Sharma has to look forward to is that maybe, in a year or so, the govern-
ment may get them into a bigger house with five rooms in another village. They pay rent to the Israeli
Government.
Another face of Israel. At the depressing end.
It is just too easy for me as an outsider to cast judgement on a situation that according to the world
press is a tinder box, and I must resist. However I really hope that a long-term and lasting solution
is found because the people affected are nice people and be they Moslem, Jewish or Christian they
deserve better out of life than they are getting!




          To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
                                                                     Graeme's BOOK 2
'Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads Without Lines - Book 2'
                      is available to buy both in print and online

               BOOK 2 covers Graeme’s four month journey through:
                                            Estonia and the Baltic States
                                                                  Poland
                                                                 Ukraine
                                                                Hungary
                                                               Romania
                                                                Bulgaria
                                                                   Turkey
                                                                 Georgia
                                                                  Greece
      To buy BOOK 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin
         To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin

				
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Description: A journey through Israel with Karen and compass, phe and me