03 Jan 2010, Posted by Sabrina Rubakovic in News, 1 Comments
The Chronicle’s Sabrina Rubakovic is a part of a week-long trip in Israel with Project Interchange, an institute of the American Jewish Committee. She is one of many representatives from American campus newspapers visiting the Middle Eastern country to broaden perspectives of the region and explore Israeli-American relations. Rubakovic will be blogging daily about her experience.
Today, I walked on water. Well, I didn’t really walk, but I didn’t swim either. I simply floated, thanks to the unbelievably high levels of salt in the Dead Sea. This was one of the many beautiful stops my group made today. Prior to that, we went on a nature hike in Ein Gedi National Park, an oasis that contained tall palm trees, towering cliffs, deep canyons, numerous desert animals roaming around feet away from you and a breathtaking view of the bright blue Mediterranean beyond. My favorite part was the waterfall-laden ponds, where we were able to swim, jumping off a small cliff into the water and paddling against a powerful waterfall. And even though we’re in the heart of winter, the sun beat down warmly on us as we hiked up what felt like one million steep, narrow steps throughout the trail.
A waterfall in Ein Gedi National Park
The breathtaking view from Ein Gedi National Park
After taking a plethora of pictures of the gorgeous landscape of Ein Gedi, we went to Masada, the remains of one of Herod the Great‘s palaces. I thought Ein Gedi was beautiful, but this was something else. We had to take a cable car to reach the enormous fortress/palace, and I can’t deny that I was pretty nervous looking down from our high elevation (which was actually only 190 feet above sea level but very high compared to where our tour bus was parked). We walked through Herod’s “snake path” of palace management buildings, his bathhouses, and his private quarters. Almost all of the remains were only rebuilt partially to their original form, so we again experienced the warmth of the sun while touring the open-roofed ancient buildings. There were about three levels to the complex, and everything was made out of stone, blending in seamlessly with the vast expanse of canyon around it and below it.
Remains of the Masada palace
The view from the top of Masada
All of the walking certainly warranted a break, so our group ventured to the Dead Sea, one of the highest salinified bodies of water in the world. While there, we lathered up with spa-quality mud from the sea, which apparently is excellent for the skin. After jumping into the water, I was astonished to see that no swimming was required in this sea. No, the salt levels made it so that one could simply float on their back or stomach as if laying on a bed, or bob up and down as if you were on a trampoline. So, it wasn’t much of a workout, but it was, without a doubt, a once in a lifetime experience. Well, after having such a great time there today, I think I’ll be going back more during my lifetime.
Lathering on Dead Sea mud
Then, we started the educational portion of the day. But it differed from previous days because we talked with two Arabs, providing differing insights on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first speaker was Bassem Eid, the founder and director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. Eid not only spoke about the conflict with Israel, but also problems in Palestine’s internal relations. He said that there was a division within Palestinian society, and that efforts to bring out reconciliation and unity between Palestine’s two largest political parties–Fatah and Hamas–have failed. He also commented on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, sharing an anecdote about a conversation in 2007 with then-President George W. Bush, in which Bush aimed to create peace in one year. Eid said that he laughed when he heard this, mentioning a poll that displayed that 75 percent of Palestinians thought that peace would take 5 to 7 years to reach, and that a peace effort will fail if carried out too quickly.
Our next speaker, Issa Jaber, invited our group to a delicious traditional Middle Eastern home-cooked dinner at his home in the Israeli Arab town of Abu Gosh. He is the director of the education department of the Abu Gosh Local Council, and shared insights including the lack of equal opportunity for Arabs in Israel society. He spoke about the hardships faced by his son, who, despite earning good grades and passing his examinations in school, has been looked upon badly in interviews and has not been able to get a job. Even though Arabs are given equal protection under the laws, he said, de facto treatment is not so just. Jaber also commented on his opinions of media in the United States, sharing the same sentiment as Eid: American media focuses too heavily on the negative (this entails blood and sex, Eid said). He said that the media should focus less on the bad and more on the good things happening in the region.
After a very fun and educational day, I’m sad to say that it’s my last night in Israel. But the learning doesn’t stop yet: tomorrow I’ll be meeting with another six speakers to discuss topics from religious freedom to journalism to foreign affairs. Until then, laila tov (that’s goodnight in Hebrew).