By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 20, 2017
Rosh HaNikra, the northernmost point of Israel, borders Lebanon. On Saturday, June 10 (the Israeli Sabbath) I found myself at the entrance gate to Lebanon discussing the intricacies of Israel-Lebanon relations with a junior commander of the Israeli army. As I looked up at the darkening clouds that were enveloping the sky I thought of a world of so much beauty that is blemished by the suffering caused by the many wars that are fought in the name of peace.
I thought I would have seen more frenzied activities at the border since the claim has been made that Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, is Iran’s proxy in Lebanon and the two countries may be heading for “a new, devastating war” (Independent, April 6, 2017.) To my surprise there was little activity. We drove up to within 100 yards of the checkpoint, alighted from our vehicle and walked to the gate.
There was one guard at the gate. However, complex electronic devices are used to monitor the movement of everyone. I began an easy, friendly discussion with a 23-year old commander. His parents are from the United States and he has embraced Israel where he was born. He was the embodiment of professionalism.
The Israel-Lebanon border may have been quiet since the Hezbollah fighters joined the fight to support President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Apparently religion has trumped ideology. Supporting the Shia of Syria is more important to Hezbollah than contesting the wrongs, apparent and real, that were/are inflicted on the Palestinians. Hundreds of Hezbollah fighters have been killed in the on-going onslaught in Syria.
I had no intention of visiting this border post. I wanted to see the northern part of Israel which I did not see when I visited Israel two years ago. We began our two-hour journey at about nine in the morning. Midway along the way, we stopped at the Yoqneam Kibbutz shopping centre to treat ourselves to an Israeli breakfast.
We arrived in Nazareth about noon. The narrow winding roads had the feel of an ancient trading town built for the pastoral activity of the first three centuries. Today, it is overwhelmed by motorized vehicles. The few animals that were visible reminded us of the mystical/religious aura that characterized this village (it is now a large town) from the beginning of the Christian era.
We visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, the site at which the Angel Gabriel announced that Mary would give birth to the son of God. In the first and second centuries, the site of the Annunciation was turned into a place of worship. In 427 AD the Byzantine people built their church on that spot only to be superseded by the Crusaders who, in the 13th century, built their church on the ruins of the Byzantine Church.
The modern Basilica was consecrated in March 1969. It consists of a Lower and Upper Church. The former is built around the grotto of the Annunciation (the original shrine where Mary received the good news); the latter was grafted onto the walls of the remains of the Crusader’s endeavor. Some of the noblest sculpture, contributed by artists from around the world, graces the walls of the Upper Basilica.
From the Basilica of Annunciation, we drove to the Mount of the Beatitudes, where Jesus performed his miracles using two fishes and five loaves to feed thousands of his followers. This miracle was performed against the backdrop of the Sea of Galilee which was in walking distance from where we stood.
From the Mount of the Beatitudes, we drove down to Tiberias then circled back to the other side of the Galilee. From there we climbed Mount Tabor where it is believed Jesus’s Transfiguration took place. On that mountain, James, Paul and John saw Jesus surrounded by light as he conversed with Moses and the prophet Elijah.
Next, we stopped off at Rama, a Druze Village where we enjoyed a hearty dinner at the Al Anwar Restaurant. The Druze, an ethnic and religious group, is an easy-going people. About a million of them live in Israel. Their religion, a mixture of Islam, Hinduism and Greek classical philosophy, places a heavy emphasis on philosophy and spiritual purity. At a certain age they go through a religious ceremony through which they pledge absolute secrecy about their religious habits. From Rama, we drove to Rosh HaNikra where everything was quiet.
On Sunday, I drove to East Jerusalem where Palestine is located. We passed through Ramallah where Daniel Barenboim, the Argentine-born Israeli master conductor, was performing at a concert for a foundation that he set up with Edward Said to provide music education for young Palestinians.
This concert coincided with the 50th Anniversary of the Six Day War in which Israel captured Palestinian lands. A fierce critic of the Israeli’s government, Barenboim warned that Israelis “are losing ‘all sense of decency and humanity’ because of their country’s occupation of lands earmarked for a Palestinian state” (Financial Times, June 13).
I enjoyed being in Israel and admire its technological and scientific achievements. How I wish they could heed Barenboim’s warning and set up the necessary conditions for peace.