As a disclaimer, I am writing the next few posts post return to Vancouver.
Unfortunately, the last few days in Israel were too busy to set time apart to write and upload photos. As you will find out, we moved around a lot the last few days, and I wanted to spend the last moments of this crazy adventure with the people I was traveling with of course, which I think is a reasonable thing to want to do. So, without further adieu …
Haifa is a northern port city of Israel, which experienced much European immigration in the 1900s. As a result, the city’s architecture is a mix between traditional Arab, European Jewish inspired, and cheap formerly British cement construction. Unlike Jerusalem, the city is not covered in apply named ‘Jerusalem stone’, so Haifa appears more modern. It also has some more rundown areas, sadly populated by immigrants like recent Russian transplants. It is also known as the hipster Arab city.
The group’s main initiative was to meet with a socialist Zionist group who live in a modern, urban kibbutz, which we did. However honestly, the highlight of the region for me and for most who come here are the world renowned Bahá’í gardens.
These religious gardens are terraced and now open to the public. Before, they took up most of the hillside (Mount Carmel), and as space is very important in Israel and especially Haifa, the Bahá’í had to eventually open up the gardens or face some taxation from the state. They still take up a lot of hillside, but at least now, we can see them too!
The gardens are also home to the Temple of Báb, the founder of the Bahá’í faith. Bahá’í is a monotheistic Persian religion that instructs its followers to research other religions, as they believe they hold different aspects of a greater truth. The religion also emphasizes greater human spirituality. That is the abridged version to say the least; alas, the Bahá’í still face much persecution in Iran and Egypt. These gardens are host to many pilgrims yearly.
I honestly was a little underwhelmed. I thought the gardens would be grander; however, they are still an impressive site to see. They are maintained by Bahá’í followers who must do service there for a number of years there as a religious duty. A currently non-practicing Bahá’í member of the group mentioned it was two and a half years, but I think it changed recently too. So, I forget if that is the new amount of time … or the old one … Maybe it is four years?
Either way, there is no entrance free, but as this is a religious site, modest dress is necessary to enter. My recommendation is to enjoy the gardens from multiple angles. We were not able to go the lower level, but I am told that the gardens are meant to be viewed all together from below. And, stay off the grass.
After spending the day in Haifa and its surroundings, we spent the night in Metula. Metula is a tiny little municipality on the edge of Israel and Lebanon. Considering its location, it is rather quiet.
Additionally, right by Metula are the well known Golan Heights.
Currently, the UN have their hands in this region ‘to maintain peace’. Our group saw one of the soldiers at the top of the base at Mt. Bental enjoying a popsicle. You too can enjoy popsicles there! There is a coffee shop called Coffee Annan (get it?) on top of the mount as well. To downplay this area however would be wrong, as Syria did lose much of this territory here after the Yom Kippur War. It has since been annexed by Israel.
On the right, there is Syria. And to the left, there is Lebanon. The Heights have a great strategic value for both Syria and Israel, as it is the high ground. Although now, there are far more things to worry about that do not necessarily require the high ground, the Golan Heights are still important, especially for Israel who has more civilian development around this region.
The Golan Heights are also extremely beneficial agriculturally for Israel, and much of the country’s fruit and beef is produced here too.
There is also a Druze man on Mt. Bental as well who sells some goods. Israel’s Druzes generally live in this area/ the north in general. The Druze themselves are another group of people who call this region home. Some forget that it is not just Jews and Arabs.
Interestingly, the Druze pledge their allegiance to whichever country they occupy. For this reason, Druze serve in the IDF. Druze are also found in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Many in and around the Golan Heights have been immigrating to Israel as a result of the situation in the adjacent country, Syria. Nevertheless, their religious belief of reincarnation creates a bond between community members across great distances and allows the transfer of wealth and support of other Druzes who are related through this means of reincarnation.
The Druze date their ancestry back to Jethro (Moses’s father in law/ high priest) and believe for every prophet that is revealed, there is a hidden one too. Their religious texts are a secret to outsiders, they chose at the age of five to be either ‘religious’ or ‘secular’, and they have very good cheeses. Yum.
Well, I hope this post shed some light on some of the other groups that exist in Israel! The next part of our Israeli experience is about the West Bank and Jewish-Arab relations (ooh!).
We are going to at least speak to it as much as possible. It is a complicated situation, but one place we went to really has some motion and an interesting story to tell. Also, get ready for a bit of a run down on Tel Aviv, one of my new favourite cities! I am not sure if I am going to put Tel Aviv just in the summary or make it a post of its own. I say this knowing I will be back there soon. It’s an amazing place – stay tuned.