Two countries worlds apart
After a week or so in Malta I spent some time in Israel and in the Kingdom of Jordan – two countries that share a common border and a similar bloody history but little else, except, perhaps, for a “prophet” or two …
These countries have millennia of traditions and enmity and conflict – based, it seems on what the British map drawers and diplomats decided, on what the mullahs or the rabbis or high priests, or the cardinals and bishops have said, or on what Man has said that the Bible, the Torah or the Koran have ordained.
Three or so weeks after my short visit to these Jewish and Muslim places I am still not quite sure what to make of them. In each I encountered friendly and helpful people (including a delightful and helpful Christian couple with whom I had lunch in Amman and in whose apartment I spent several days), in each there were wonderful historical worlds to explore, and in each there were things that made me only too glad to get out of there as quickly as possible.
Perhaps the best way to reflect on my time is to recall what people said to me …
– There are police ahead – so we should slow down (from 130 kmh to the legal 90 kmh)
– This telephone call is from the company so I must take it
– Huh – they are just Bedouins. They come here and move on after a while
– Yes, there is a train line but it is mainly to take pilgrims to KSA (Saudi Arabia)
– We used to be enemies of the Jordanians but now we get on very well with them and you will see that all road signs here are in Hebrew, English and Arabic
– To get change to unlock the shopping trolley you must go to the cash register over there
– I was held up at the border for four hours while they interrogated me and searched the car and it is no wonder everyone hates the Jews
– The steam iron is in the drawer of the cupboard beside the bed
– Hey man – join me – it is OK to be naked in the Dead Sea
– No – it is not natural. He is a homosexual. That man told me
– The hotel you have booked at Petra is being renovated but we have moved you to the Moevenpick Petra Resort hotel instead. You will like it because it is only two minutes’ walk to the entry to the historical site
– We call the US Embassy here in Jordan the United States’ 52nd State because it is so big and so heavily fortified
– Sorry – the “Threepenny Opera” will not be performed while you are in Tel Aviv – it opens next week
– Do you like this sculpture? We can ship it anywhere in the world for you
– No – we do not have any natural resources and we have not copied the “know-how” from the Israelis as we should
– Welcome to Jordan!
– Where have you been? I was getting worried. (My room is now ready? Good – I was walking in the Old City for a few hours but I am now happy to check-in and have a shower.)
– OK – that is easy. You just need to email Royal Jordanian Sales on xxx and they will refund the additional ticket costs
– We have to import everything – electricity from Egypt, oil and gas from the Saudis and if we are friendly with them the price of gas is low – same as with the US. They send us wheat so when we are friendly the price of bread is low, but at other times it becomes very expensive
– Oh – they are live sheep from Australia. The price of mutton is very high
– Can you give me the number of the new flight ticket you bought for the TLV AMM flight with Royal Jordanian?
– You should go to Aqaba – everyone escapes Amman for the holidays and goes to the seaside
– Why would you want to spend three days at Petra? Just one day is enough to see the ruins
– They shoot children … don’t they?
– Can you show me where this (five-star) hotel is on the map? Nope – sorry – you will have to take a taxi. Walk? But it will take you one hour or more
– You want a pony? It is included in the price
– You want a camel to go back? Half-price now
– Sometimes in this restaurant we have lunch reservations for groups of 200 or so but today there is only you
– How much further and how many steps to get to the Monastery ruins?
– Sir – you cannot have glass bottles on Tel Aviv beaches – you must leave the beach or allow me to take the bottle
– You want mint tea AND a glass of Coca Cola?
– Jordanians wear red and white headdresses, Palestinians blue and white and Arabs plain white ones
– Because it is Sabbath I cannot check you in at Reception – you must come with me to the back office because I am not allowed to be seen to be using computers today
– During Ramadan it is estimated that 35 – 40 million Jordanian Dinars are lost because of lack of productivity
– Yes – we have a corkscrew somewhere – I think it is at the back of the drawer with the knives and forks
– The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a holy site so weapons are forbidden (except for the heavily armed security guards and policemen)
– You must cover your head – the Western Wall is one of our holiest sites
– To go to your hotel you must get off at Ben Yehuda Street – but I will show you when it is time to get off
– Ah! So you saw David Gerstein’s gallery in Tel Aviv? He is one of our greatest contemporary artists
– This is very traditional Jewish food. Do you know what shakshuka is?
– OK – I will give you mixed grill then
– Do you want shisha?
– I am Hassein. Are you Mr Chris? Today we change taxi
– I was explaining to my colleagues from Addis Ababa why the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is an important monument for the Christian religion
– Watch where you are walking in Tel Aviv – there are people on motorised bicycles, motorised scooters, motorised skateboards … and all on the pedestrian footpaths
– Do you want another gin and tonic?
– In Jordan we do not have any deserts – it is just very dry
– El Al has seized your baggage because they thought it a security risk
– There are a lot of soldiers around because we are at war
– After you come down the Nuns’ Ascent you will be in the Via Dolorosa
– This is where Jesus was flagellated and given his cross
– Welcome to Jordan! Welcome!
– I arrived on Royal Jordanian flight RJ 434 but my bags did not – can you please find them?
– Soldiers in uniform are admitted free
– We will stop at a place before Petra – where the prices are sensible. In the ruins a bottle of water will cost you five Jordanian dinars (about AU$ 10.00)
– We can give you very cheap tour
– Sorry – we do not have any big beds available but you can have the two single beds and they are quite big anyway
– You want to go to the bus station? Where are you going? It is Shabbat so there are no buses but I can take you there or I can take you to Jerusalem for $$$ …
– The “peeping” beach is ironically next to the religious beach where swimmers are usually very modestly dressed
– You must get a smart phone! I have a 76-year old Canadian client who knows how to use it – and it would have stopped me from having to wait for you for one and a half hours
– Sorry – because you do not have the original credit card you used to book this ticket you must buy another one for the flight to Amman
– The Jordanian flag is similar to the Palestinian flag but I do not know what the star on our flag means
– Do you see any trucks? No – that is because in Israel trucks are only allowed to drive at night
– I am sorry your luggage has been lost – but you can buy replacement things very easily in the market
– No – I am Sunni not Shiite. Sunnis are friendly and are allowed to marry whom they want. The Shiites are the ones who behead people
– I spent two years in Melbourne – I call it Sports City
– At the same time Jesus, the Jewish citizen, made his pilgrimage to Jerusalem and performed the Seder – the ceremonial meal for Passover – with his disciples on Mount Zion. This meal later became known as ‘the last supper’. Jesus criticised all the leadership and therefore the Great Priest transferred him to the Romans, who asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘You said that.’ Pontius Pilate viewed Jesus as a traitor to the Kingdom and gave an order to crucify him at the Golgotha in Jerusalem.
[In and about Jerusalem, Cohi Pintz-Hamburger, Cohi Publications 1914. Page 15]
– On this site snipers from the Jordanian side of the border shot at Israeli citizens in their homes
– Expensive? No – not at all as expensive as prices in Israel
– A few years ago we had deep snow in these hills leading to Jerusalem – and the only way in was with the old railway. That is why they are now building an underground railway all the way from Tel Avid to Jerusalem
– From here we go down and down until we are 400 metres below sea level
– Can you wait a bit – she is praying (of woman standing in my seat space on aeroplane to Tel Aviv)
– You will like the Tel Aviv Museum of Art – its new wing is a work of art itself
– This gallery was made possible through the support of XYZ family in Canada
– Ah! You made the mistake of rubbing your eyes after swimming in the Dead Sea!
– Go to the Dead Sea on the Jordanian side – you can easily walk into the water. On the Israel side there are boggy marshes
– Jaffa and Yafo are the same place – the old port south of Tel Aviv – but Jaifa is different. It is to the north
– No – you cannot buy alcohol and all restaurants are closed because it is Ramadan
– Jordanian Times (21 July 2015) headlines: Daesh bans Internet access. Suicide bomber kills 30 in Turkey. Israel in “abusive arrests” of Palestinian children. Loyalists battle rebel holdouts in Yemen
– There are 12000 mosques in Amman
– The candle-lit concert at Petra’s Treasury is wonderful – you should go!
– The skullcaps are to show humility and those big fur hats some Orthodox Jews wear are copied from old Polish royalty
– Why did you fly to Jordan? It is a lot cheaper to cross the border by car or bus. How much did you pay for the ticket?
– Sorry – during Shabbat our Room Service menu is very limited. In a “kosher” hotel such as this one, staff are not allowed to use computers or printers … or even to use machines to make hot meals in the restaurant or for Room Service. I don’t agree with it but I have to obey. The Room Service menu has asterisks showing what is not available on Shabbat: Hot coffee, Espresso, Hot cocoa (but tea is available), any soups, any main dishes and all the Chef’s Specialities are off the menu as well. (Cold cuts anyone?)
I enjoyed the historical sites I visited in both countries, and found that almost without exception the Arabs and Israelis with whom I had personal contacts were friendly and helpful.
I now live in a country where Buddhism dictates that alcohol cannot be purchased on certain days – and I accept this. So I am probably irrational in my feelings towards orthodox Judaism and its acquired customs and the strictures it imposes on non-Jews, and equally irrational in my dislike of having the rules Ramadan forced upon me: in other Muslim countries such as Malaysia, Ramadan is observed equally fervently by Muslims yet they allow non-Muslims to live their lives according to their rules.
Added to these no-doubt irrational feelings or beliefs were my dissatisfaction that El Al Airlines seized my baggage as a potential security threat to the nation … and that Royal Jordanian Airlines were probably the least efficient and least caring airline I have encountered since my dealings with Kabo Air in Nigeria years ago…
I would return to Malta in a flash, and to Slovenia and even Italy – the other countries I recently visited – but Israel and Jordan …? Perhaps not.
- Journey: July 2015
- Text and photographs: © Christopher Hall 2015
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