JIK JugendInterKult e.V.
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Am Köppekreuz 21
This hitherto most exciting and diverse Israel-
Upon arrival at the Tel Aviv airport in the morning, we then drove through the 5,500 year-
In the late afternoon we drove to the splendidly situated monastery Latrun and the neighbouring army museum, in which Israel proudly presents its weapons (of course also from Germany), which were captured in many wars. After a few kilometres we reached the peace village Neve Shalom -
In the evening we reached our quarters, a Birgitian monastery on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, where we were again very warmly greeted and received by the sisters.
Early in the morning, our Palestinian driver Husam drove us by minibus to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which however we could not visit due to clashes that had previously taken place between Jewish and Muslim extremists in recent days.
On this Temple Mount, the third largest sanctuary for Muslims after Mecca and Medina, next to the Al Aqsa Mosque, stands the Dome of the Rock , erected by the Muslims at the end of the 7th century on the site of the second 70th century Herodian temple of the Jews, which was destroyed by the Romans. Jews are allowed to visit this city but not to pray there, in order not to disturb the Muslims during their 5-
Therefore, we first visited the Wailing Wall as well as the Jewish, Arabic and Christian quarters, finally landing at the Jaffa Gate, which Emperor Wilhelm II arranged to have completely torn down during his visit to Jerusalem in 1898, because he did not want to descend from his horse and be compelled to walk with his entourage through the low gate. Emperors namely only go to the toilet on foot. The number of pilgrims is in turn very limited, particularly since the Gaza War in 2014; we were as such able to visit all tourist attractions very quickly.
After exploring the old town on our own, we drove to the Evangelical Empress-
Most Christian institutions in Jerusalem are incidentally owed to the donations of Wilhelm II, who bought the land from the Sultan for a bargain price in 1898 – one of the few sensible acts of this emperor (for his less meaningful decisions, see especially his declaration of war on Russia on the 1st. August 1914) – a model for communicative misunderstandings among the great powers of the time, as historians can now prove, which always reminds me of the situation in the Middle East.
We climbed the bell tower of the local Church of the Ascension and from the top we could view the course of the wall, which not only often separates Israelis from Palestinians, but also Palestinians from Palestinians, which again cannot be explained in terms of security aspects, nor is it legitimate under international law but falls under the simple category of land grabbing.
The next morning we passed the largest and most oppressive checkpoint in the West Bank in Qalandia, drove further to Ramallah, briefly toured the tomb of Yasser Arafat, as well as the palace in which the current Palestinian President Abbas resides, from outside and then ended up at the refugee camp in Ramallah, where we conducted together with young people among others a project about the future of our cooperation, as well as put together a large, creatively designed puzzle of the symbol "Angel of Culture".
This serves as a prime example of how much is possible, if a genuine relationship exists. For our sake, the Star of David was accepted in the strictly Muslim refugee camp. On the occasion of their return visit to us here in Germany in 2015 this group took part in a Protestant church service as well as taking a photo under the cross in the church (!) – For devout Muslims actually unthinkable.
From there we drove over to Jerusalem to Beit Sahur near Bethlehem (where the shepherds' fields from the birth story of Jesus were located), where we had an overwhelming dinner. After that, we met the host families of the youth group in Bethlehem, who welcomed us very warmly.
In Bethlehem we likewise also worked on various small projects in German-
We were very warmly welcomed by the German volunteer Paula and after a short tour through the university we were able to discuss with students about their studies and their future perspectives.
What then followed, was the most impressive part of our trip, we namely drove to Hebron to visit the Abraham Mosque or Synagogue. Until 1995, this important mosque could be entered by Jews and Muslims at the same time. After a Jewish suicide bomber killed more than 90 Muslims and has since been venerated by many Jews as a great martyr, there are now separate and militarily controlled entrances for Jews (Synagogue) and Muslims (Mosque). Muslims who want to pray there 5 times a day have to undergo this degrading check each time, which is much worse than with tourists. During Muslim festivals (e.g. sacrificial festival), the Jews are not permitted to enter the mosque for security reasons and all Muslims are likewise also locked out during Jewish festivals (e.g. Sukkot). Unfortunately, our substitute driver for this day did not know the way to the synagogue, which was very difficult to find as a result of the Israeli settlements, so we landed in the Muslim part of the Abraham mosque. Because of the Sukkot all Muslims who live near the synagogue were under curfew. However, with the help of Muslim youth we had to take an adventurous, and an in part spooky, subterranean path to get to the main road to the Synagogue.
In this way, we experienced firsthand how it is to be locked out and only to be able to leave one's own area over underground paths. Increasingly, more Jewish settlers are in the meantime living in the houses abandoned by Muslims and throwing their rubbish at the Muslims living below them, who are in turn compelled to protect themselves against this with nets.
Unfortunately, these dehumanizing actions against the Muslims are not suppressed by the Israeli military. Hebron is in the meantime a ghost town. There are many dilapidated and bombed houses, hardly any jobs, so that a stay for us in this city was hard to bear. The declared goal of the settlers is to gradually expel the Muslims from Hebron, build a large wall around the town and then renovate or rebuild all the houses.
After much back and forth, we were as Christians allowed to enter the mosque and synagogue. We were as such able to experience how intensively numerous Orthodox Jews thereby performed their prayers. The Jews celebrated joyously and happily also outside of the synagogue, however at the expense of the other religious communities, which are usually kept away from these festivals.
We then drove to the international youth exchange centre Tent of Nations of the Christian Palestinian and peace activist Daoud Nassar, who has been fighting for more than 20 years in court, for the preservation of his 42 hectare vineyard. He is not allowed to build buildings on his land; he must live in caves without water and electricity. That is why he collects water in self-
All who visit him are fascinated by his charismatic nature. Some JIK members have already completed voluntary service there. JIK supports his peace project in many ways – by the way this has hitherto also been together with the late Rupert Neudeck, who unfortunately passed away on 31 May 2016 (founder of the registered association Kap Anamur Deutsche Notärzte e.V. [German Emergency Physicians] and the registered association Grünhelme e.V. Actually his plan was to arrange for the registered association Grünhelme e.V., to buy a piece of land from the Nassar family and erect a religious centre on it, which JIK would also support – insofar as it should really be realised.
Together with the artist Gregor Merten of the symbol "Angel of Cultures", the member of the Board of the Association Janni Deutschendorf has along with others formed this symbol as a 30-
This moving encounter with the charismatic Daoud was as a contrast followed by a visit to the neighbouring Jewish settlement Neve Daniel. We were very warmly received by the German-
In the course of a one-
In the morning, we drove back to Bethlehem with our host families, where we continued the small projects with Palestinian youth. In the afternoon we visited the Church of the Nativity and the Souq. Then we drove to the Caritas Baby Hospital, where we learnt about the exemplary work of this unique – funded by donations – paediatric hospital, in which children are treated even if the parents cannot afford the money for the treatment, because no statutory health insurance exists.
On the next day, we finished our projects, played table tennis and football with the Palestinians, and drove to a very warm farewell at the Shoah Memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, where we were in the course of a three-
In the evening we went to the pedestrian zone of the New Jerusalem (Ben Yehuda Street), where we witnessed many Israeli – mostly Orthodox – Jews dancing on the streets.
A German group from the Westerwald was also playing rock music but then, in the style of a sect, they wanted to bring the Jews closer to Jesus. An orthodox Jew danced and sang continuously – until the apocalypse he longed for. We however took the liberty of returning to our hotel, shortly before.
Early in the morning we continued the tour of the Jerusalem old town. We walked from the top of the Mount of Olives with breathtaking views especially of the golden Dome of the Rock, to the Zion Gate of the old town. We then entered the small church Dominus Flevit, where Jesus in the face of Jerusalem, burst into tears over this wonderful, but torn city nearly 2,000 years ago and allegedly foretold its destruction in 70 AD. Even today, one can still break into tears over this fascinating but torn city, which has since its inception been destroyed 40 times, as well as empathise with what Jesus felt back then.
After visiting the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, the Garden of Gethsemane and a walk beneath the city walls surrounding the old town, along the Palestinian district Silvan with its about 30,000 Palestinians, who due to the lack of building permits, illegally built there and now have to worry about the demolition of their homes, we came to the grave of Oskar Schindler and then to the Dormitio Abbey, where mostly German Benedictines live. Father Ignatius informed us very knowledgeably about the very eventful history of this abbey, the current political situation, the coexistence of 3 world religions in Jerusalem, his work and the daily life in the monastery.
In the evening we took part in a Shabbat celebration in the reform synagogue Kol HaNeshama with Rabbi Levi (an American Jew who is not paid by the state, unlike Orthodox rabbis), which was a very impressive experience for us all. The Reform Jews are unfortunately a small minority and politically completely without influence in Israel. In their case women can also become rabbis, since they do not recognise the strict gender segregation, which is usual among the Orthodox.
On the next day of our trip, we visited the ruins of the ancient Caesarea along the Mediterranean, to the north, bordering the Lebanese border (with a theatre and race course of enormous dimensions), which – similar to the ancient Sepphoris , which we then visited – was erected by Herod, the greatest builder of Ancient times.
There are many indications that the craftsman Joseph and his son Jesus (Hebrew Joshua), at that time worked at this huge construction site, since it is located only about 6 km from Nazareth and Jesus may perhaps have thereby come into contact with Hellenistic culture and philosophy.
From there we drove to Haifa, where one has a wonderful view of the world-
The next morning, we initially drove to the chalk cliffs of Rosh Hanikra in the north, directly on the Lebanese border. Wind and water have thereby cut deep caves in the rocks, so that fascinating coloured light reflections arise in the interior due to the surging sea. This border has been cut off by the Israeli military, since attacks by the Hezbollah militia often occur. A German warship ensures there that no rockets are smuggled by sea into Gaza. In the meantime almost all rockets from the Lebanon and Gaza Strip are now being intercepted by the Israeli defence system, Iron Dome.
The Israelis are long accustomed to this crisis situation and can take their children along with them on carefree excursions to admire these amazing chalk cliffs with its caves.
We then proceeded to Akko, the grandiose – underground – Crusader city which is currently now accessible again and which along with the tunnels up to the port, can still be admired up to today, as well as a part of the old town walls that upheld the Muslim onslaught, up to 1298. Even Napoleon was unable to take Akko. Today, the city is predominantly Arabic with a beautifully painted Mosque, a Souq and a great harbour panorama. Afterwards, we drove to the Christian Kibbuz in Nes Ammim, which was back then still headed by Dr. Stuhlmann (his successor as of September 2016 is Dr. Tobias Kriener). Earlier, avocados and especially roses were cultivated. Today, Nes Ammim is essentially an interreligious exchange centre.
On the way to the Sea of Galilee, we stopped in the picturesque town of Safed, formerly a centre of Orthodox Judaism. However, for the most inconceivable reasons all the synagogues, which we wanted to visit because of the wonderful painting and decorations, were closed after 6 pm, so that we continued to Tiberias, a foundation of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, from which however, ruins are no longer visible. Tiberias is today a stronghold for many Russian immigrants. Almost every 4th Israeli, who comes from Russia today, should actually be a Jew, but sometimes he/she is not and is instead a Russian Orthodox (sometimes even anti-
After breakfast at the Aviv Hostel in Tiberias, we drove to Tabgha, where we initially toured the dreamlike located and furnished guest house, at the Sea of Galilee, which belongs to the Association of the Holy Land. We then visited the Church of the Multiplication, where we saw pictures of the arson of Jewish extremists on this church and the Benedictine monastery. Christian institutions are repeatedly victims of these groups, who want to expel all the other believers from Israel. In Capernaum, we visited the remains of the "black" synagogue, in which Jesus most likely taught. Across the street are the ruins of Peter's mother-
Not far away is the church of the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus is said to have held the Sermon on the Mount. The beautifully designed church from the 1960s is located in a paradisiacal setting right on the Sea of Galilee. Today, it is assumed that Jesus more often addressed this central sermon to his followers – here and on other heights, in order to be better seen and heard. By the way, our fundamental rights and values can be inferred from the New Testament, so that it is no coincidence that democracy is most advanced in the Christian culture. Therefore, in the present situation, where so many refugees (mostly from dictatorial countries) come to us, we should again become aware of these basic Christian values. We Germans have survived 2 world wars, paid for the German Reunification (so far €1.6 trillion), we are nonetheless getting on very well. This is why we not only want but will also be able to master this situation (we can do it!).
Then we drove to the Golan Heights on the Syrian border, which the Israelites conquered in the 6-
Located in the vicinity of the Pan-
We then took a Lebanese snack at the geodes on the Syrian border before we proceeded to the UN blue helmet soldiers in the buffer zone between Israel and Syria. There, the IS had abducted Philippine blue helmet soldiers some time ago and even launched some attacks against Israel, which were immediately answered by the Israeli military with a large aerial bombardment. Located on a high mountain above the road is a large rocket and defence base of the Israelis, who are able to shoot their rockets up to Damascus and to eradicate this city within hours. Since all the enemies of Israel know that they do not have the slightest chance, this area to a large extent remains calm. People also in this case make picnics and curiously view this outlook on the Syrian territory. One has learned to live with this threat.
Our trip then took us back to the Sea of Galilee – past the large, sun protected banana plantations of the Kibbutz En Gev, up to a small sandy beach, where we bathed in the lake, before we drove to the tourist baptism site Yardenit and bathed in white robes in the Jordan.
Since the return trip to the Birgitian monastery on the Jerusalem Mount of Olives lasted almost three hours, we unfortunately had to drive back very early in order to arrive there in time for dinner.
On the next morning, we visited the Arab-
We then decided to drive to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, in the hope that we could perhaps in the end be able to visit it. Fortunately, it was not closed off for tourists. However, a very aggressive mood on the part of Muslim security forces prevailed in the square, which was directed against tourists. Since my shorts were supposedly not sufficiently covering my knees, I had to buy a cloth at another outlet, in order to chastely cover my legs. Afterwards, I was denied access to the Temple Mount on the grounds that only Muslims were permitted to enter the Temple Mount from there. Only after a long discussion, was I again allowed to enter the Temple Mount, before it was again closed for tourists because of the next prayer. I was able to gain a close insight on how tense the situation on the Temple Mount currently is. In the evening, some of us visited the only Jewish-
Early in the morning, we first drove to Jericho, the oldest and deepest city in the world – about 250 metres below sea level. Upon reaching it we first visited the ruins of the huge Hisham Palace, which was destroyed by an earthquake shortly before its completion in 794 AD. Then we took the cable car to the Mount of Temptation (where Jesus was tempted by the devil, but naturally resisted this, he is after all the Son of God), where we visited the Greek Orthodox monastery, which is built directly on the rocks. Afterwards, we visited a large, modern and wonderfully painted Romanian Orthodox church, which was erected, as there are in the meantime quite a few Romanian workers in the place of the Palestinians, in Israel.
One of the highlights of our visit to Jericho, is traditionally a visit to the 2-
Behind Jericho, we visited the real baptismal site of Jesus, Qasr El Yahud, which is actually located in the military high security area, but has again been accessible for 2 years. There the Jordan is very narrow – perhaps 15 meters, the Jordanian border runs in the middle – and one could easily enter Jordan, if it were not for the attentive Israeli soldiers with their machine guns. Here at this real baptismal site we felt the spirituality of this place, especially as Russian-
We thereafter at long last drove on the road southwards to the Negev desert up to the big camp in Kfar Hanokdim, where we first rode on camels before we settled in the large common tent for the night and enjoyed an overwhelming Bedouin dinner. In the evening, we sat together at the campfire, played cards and chatted excitedly with each other, before some set out for their night walk through the desert.
On the next day we drove to the Timna-
We set off early in the morning on the following day and drove to Masada, to the gigantic Winter Palace of Herod, on a high mountain-
With this fate in mind, the insurgents decided to collectively commit suicide, today a national symbol for Israel, such as the Shoah Memorial in Yad Vashem. Never again should Jews be destroyed and be compelled to collectively commit suicide. In order to prevent this from happening, the Israeli army always prefers to be the first to attack. Without the trauma of Shoah and Masada, today's Israeli policy cannot be understood. Whether these events can be used to adequately cope with the future, however, remains highly questionable. Israel is namely surrounded only by non-
After Masada we visited the Kibbutz Ein Gedi, with its unique, paradisiacal botanical garden with very exotic trees, which the Israelis have with great technical effort wrung out of the desert. Thus our entire tour program was finally completed and we could take a bathe in the Dead Sea near the caves of Qmran, where a shepherd boy found the world famous scrolls, in 1947 (salinity about 30%, as such dilute muriatic acids) and fully rub ourselves in with the very therapeutic mud. We then celebrated our Farewell Party at the Al Hakoura Restaurant in Beit Sahur.
On the last day, we discussed in Jerusalem with the German-
Although an increased military presence could be observed in the old town, we arrived at the Austrian Hospice at noon, an oasis with palm trees and cactuses in the middle of the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's old town, where one can speak German, order a beer and even eat Sacher cake.
Late in the afternoon, the young and highly committed British Israeli Ruth Edmonds gave us a lecture on their organisation against house demolitions – so far 60,000, since most Palestinian homes have been illegally erected due to lack of building permits. Apart from many insights into the internals of Israeli politics, which she often rightly criticised, she dovetailed left-
In the evening we took a small snack at the Damascus Gate, the Muslim entrance to Jerusalem's old town, before sorting out our luggage and hand luggage for the return flight from Tel Aviv to Cologne.
Gregor Schröder – Trip Head and Chairman of JIK
Trip report revised and updated on 4 July 2016