Tuesday Day 6 - 21/5- with apologies for the somewhat curious punctuation left behind from writing this while in Israel and which so far I haven't been able to alter
We set out from Galilee, 213 metres below sea level and head for the Golan Heights. First we see that Galilee is very full which is evidenced by trees on the shore being submerged up to their foliage - and from a distance they look to be sizeable trees. Saeed regards this as good news as Galilee is effectively the major reservoir for much of the country. We are climbing for a long time and notice that although uncultivated land is green scrubland, there is a considerable amount of horticulture for a long way up into the hills. The distant views are spectacular in all directions and every now and then we are accompanied by flocks of 20/30 egrets or small herons, none of them affected by the border issues that we will note as the day wears on.
Our destination is Mount Bental, well to the North of the country in the Golan Heights where we look in one direction to the Syrian border and in another across to Mount Hermon. Here, amidst a collection of sculptures fabricated from weapons that a have been destroyed, we reflect on the Transfiguration, The Bishop speaks of Peter's need to domesticate the moment of glory in the presence of the principal characters of salvation history by building booths! The booths on 'our' viewpoint were to mark a war and the bullet holes, twisted metal and silhouettes of armed men take one again to the likelihood of Jesus continuing to weep over his land.
It 's a downhill run to Caesarea Phillipi and we are reminded by troops and military personnel on some sort of exercise that we are in a country that is still on a war footing (Later in the day we hear that Syria claims to have destroyed a military vehicle that strayed across the border near where we were but Israel tells a far more anodyne story of a car being fired on with no-one hurt). On arrival at Caesarea Philippi, I get embroiled in a conversation with some Israeli youths about football as soon as they heard we were from England. I managed to shift the conversation to where each if us came from: they would have liked us to come from Manchester, Liverpool, Tottenham or Chelsea but Cambridge was a mystery to them. They could not believe I didn't know the names of any footballers at all, at which point I was of no further interest to them.
Our purpose in Caesarea Philipi was two-fold. First we reflected on Peter's great recognition of who Jesus truly was and then renewed our Baptismal vows, being signed and Anointed with water from a tributary of the Jordan which flowed out from the rock face in several different places to merge into a delightful foliage-flanked river running beside a host of columns and artefacts from the ancient township where Pan was worshipped a long time before the encounter between Peter and Jesus. The modern name of Banias reflects the Palestinian difficulty in pronouncing a 'P'
As we make our way to lunch in a hotel Which has grown out of an early Kibbutz, our attentIon is drawn to an isolated village in the hills which has the unenviable situation of lying on the spot where Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet - and no-one will take responsibility for providing it with any services. In a very poignant way it is a reminder of just how unimportant individuals become when States are at enmity.
Also in the distant hills is the remnant of the Nimrud Crusader Castle. The history was lengthy but in essence boiled down to abandonment because the fortification was too far from supply lines.
Last visit of the day was to the Huleh Nature Reserve. First we had a 3D film showing the importance of this reclaimed wetland to a deal of wildlife but especially to birds migrating both south and north in spring and autumn. The seats in the theatre moved, throbbed, blew mist and air and even sprayed water to add to the 3D effect. The emulation of a rat running up the leg was unnerving. We then walked the swamp walk seeing swamp turtles, large catfish and an aquatic creature that might have been an otter or a beaver but turned out to be a coypu, as far as I could ascertain from the warden. Introduced for their fur (a project unlikely to succeed in a very hot country) they had become a nuisance by damaging watercourses and eating important plant roots.
There were enough birds to interest the ornithologists among us but obviously nothing like the migration populations which must be wonderful to witness. The idea of putting this visit into the
itinerary was to celebrate the wonders of creation.
,You will find a short poem
about our experience on Mount Bental in the Golan Heights at Transfiguration