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Entered Israel 17th June 2001.

Exchange Rate: 1USD = 4.3 ILS (Israel New Shekels)
Fuel: 1 Litre = ILS 4.1 (95 Octane)
Backpackers: – ILS 60
Road conditions: – Generally very good, but plenty of dirt roads if you look.
Speed limits: – Mostly 100 kph on the highways.
Border crossings: To Egypt and Jordan only.
Food & Drink: – 1.5L Water ILS 8, 330ml Beer ILS15, 330ml Coke ILS 8, Main Meal (chicken, Falafel, salad) ILS 30.

Note: Most photos can be clicked on to see a bigger image.

Getting in to Israel was a bit of an experience. After finally getting out of Egypt and onto Israeli soil, I had to follow an armoured car through a section of ground that looked like a war zone. This was the Gaza strip of course, and the armoured car was used to shield me from any bullets. After a few kilometres, we arrived at the customs station. Every vehicle was checked for bombs, and they had sophisticated gates to stop anyone from ramming their way through. Then I had to go through customs, and as I expected, they were very efficient and thorough. All my bags were unpacked, everything opened and X-rayed. I was asked what everything was, why did I have it, and where was I going and why. The efficiency and thoroughness of the Israeli’s was impressive, and a stark contrast to the Egyptians.

Israel was always a maybe to me. I would have rather gone to Jordan and Syria, but the cost of just entering those countries deterred me. As it was, Israel is a bit of a shock with it’s expense. It costs nothing to get in, but once you do, you pay and you pay, and you pay. I would say it is more expensive than most of Western Europe. Having just come through 3rd world Africa, the expense was even more of a shock.

Expense aside, I did enjoy my time here, and I did learn a bit about the conflict with the Palestinians. I had come from the border headed straight for Jerusalem. Along the way, some roads were blocked with huge mounds of soil and rocks and smashed concrete over 10m high, with no signs of alternate routes. I just had to figure out for myself how to get through. Eventually I made it, after zig-zagging my way though a network of back roads, and a few security checks from bewildered looking Israeli security people, wondering where the hell I came from. I came into Jerusalem via Bethlehem, and I must admit thinking to myself that it truly is amazing to be riding over the very earth Jesus walked. No matter whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, animist or whatever, I believe Jesus was the most influential man to ever walk the face of the earth.. It was Jesus who introduced some very powerful concepts such as forgiveness, turn the other cheek, and put and end to barbaric sacrifices. It was Christians that staged the crusades, the colonisation of the world, the industrial revolution that now permeates every society, and the system of government adopted by the West. I’m not suggesting it was all good either. I am fundamentally opposed to missionaries and colonisation. There are few cases anyone can prove to me where the subjects actually benefited. The crusaders were a largely bunch of thieves, thugs and murderers. The industrial revolution brought about shocking working conditions, and a system that threatens to segregate the world into the haves and have nots, where the poor get poorer (3rd world) and the rich get richer (the 1st world). Of course without the industrial revolution, we would never have motorcycles, so there are some up sides! Christianity may be the religion behind all this development, but I’m sure God must be disappointed at the way we achieved it, and even more so at the way Christian churches conducted themselves in the past, and even today.

Warning: The next 4 paragraphs outline my religious beliefs, and I may offend some people with my opinions. It it also pretty boring, so feel free to skip it.

This is the same land Abraham claims was promised him by God for the Hebrew people. The same land Mohammed ascended to heaven from. A land three faiths lay claim to, and have been killing each other over. Yet we all have the same God. How can it be that three faiths with the same God can be so different? The old testament or ‘Torah’ is the bible for the Jews, and part of the first part of bible for the Christians. Jesus is a prophet in the Muslim’s Koran (bible). Abraham features in both the Koran and the Old Testament. Abraham was the first person to recognise just one God. Previously, they had many Gods, like the Greeks. A God of love, the sea, the sun, the moon, war, etc. Abraham was thought to have been born in current Iraq, in a town called Ur. The old testament tells the story that God told Abraham to go to the land of Canaan (current Israel), and the land will be given to his people. Abraham did as he was told and took his group of nomadic people to land of Canaan (between 3000 to 3800 years ago), but later he moved them to Egypt because of a drought. There he met the Pharaoh, who took his wife as a concubine, and the Pharaoh was cursed for his troubles. The Pharaoh gave Abraham back his wife and told them to get out, so Abraham went back to the land of Canaan.

The Old Testament records that Abraham was starting to get worried. His wife Sarah still had not bore him a child, and he was getting old. Sarah told Abraham to go and have a child by Hagar, their Egyptian slave. Sounds funny to us, but that was the custom back then. Hagar duly did have a son, called Ishmael. Some years later, God told Abraham he was going to have a son by Sarah, to which Abraham laughed, because he was then 99 years old. Of course Sarah did have a son, and she became jealous of Hagar and Ishmael (I’d love to know the secret of Abraham’s virility at 99). Sarah pressured Abraham into driving them out into the desert, which he did, reluctantly, and asked God what will become of his son Ishmael? God said, fear not, he too will be blessed and have his own lands. Ishmael is one of the original prophets of the Muslim religion, which was created in the 7th century AD. So, by the Christian and Jewish bible, the Muslims are every bit as valid and blessed by God as they are. I find this interesting because all religions insist they are the only way to God, yet the Bible seems clear to me that there is more than one way to God. I believe in God, but I find the Churches in general to be manipulative and controlling. The Christian Church historically have interpreted the bible to suit their own political needs, and are still at it today. Different interpretations of the bibles and the Koran have led to so much bloodshed and grief. If there is a God, I doubt he would have supported the crusades, or the current wave of Muslim Jihad or religious wars. If there is a hell, I have no doubt Osama Bin Laden will find his way there, and not to heaven as he thinks. I find nothing in the bible to support the existence of the Pope, and to me he is nothing other than a political figure. Since the Christian church is no longer involved in government anywhere in the world, I believe the concept of the Pope should be abolished. Besides, the current Pope (update 08-08-2006 John-Paul now deceased) has shown that he is completely out of touch with his people, and he suppresses all debate of Catholic policy. He surrounds himself with ‘yes’ men so he can continue to push his extremist views.

I call myself a Christian because I was raised in a Christian world, but I have major doubts about how many people interpret the old testament. There is a popular theological view that the old testament was a series of parables ,IE stories, possibly but not necessarily based on fact, on which to base our lives. The old testament is supposed to be the word of God, and I think it is possible, but to take it literally is a mistake. Few people could read, and even less could write back then. Stories were the main means of passing information on through generations. These stories had to be told in a simplistic picture form for everyone to understand. Can you imagine explaining to a simple shepherd how the world, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe was formed, starting with nuclear fusion. How evolution brought us from simple single cell critters swimming around in a boiling soup in unbelievably harsh weather conditions to where we are now?

I went to a Christian school for 5 years. I did religious instruction in school once a week, and went to Church 9 times a week. I came out a pessimist. The concept of the devil being an ‘entity’ out there is a cop-out I believe. The devil is nothing more than human weakness and selfishness. Having the concept of a devil makes it easy to say ‘the devil made me do it’, instead of taking responsibility for your own weakness. We know scientifically that evolution did, and is still taking place. If you take the bible literally, the world is only between 5,000 and 10,000 years old. That can be proved wrong beyond any doubt. Abraham living to be over 900 years old, and fathering a son at 99? I seriously doubt it, especially since we know the average lifespan back then was considerably shorter than it is now, and Abraham was just a human like you and I. The concept of the ark, and the repopulation of the world from two of each species would have been too small a gene pool. The bibles are full of references to local customs that were acceptable at the time, but don’t fit what the church would have you believe is God’s word now, such as slavery, sacrifice, attitude to Negro’s and animals, etc. I could go on, and yet despite all my doubts of accuracy of the bibles and the Koran, I look around me at this incredible universe, the Earth, the visual beauty and mechanical perfection of all the plants and animals, the complexity of the human mind, and find myself believing in the existence of a God.

I trust a godly person, but I think a religious person is potentially the most dangerous and evil person on earth. I think we all need to take our religion seriously, but less literally, and have some tolerance and acceptance for those who differ in their beliefs. I have a very simplistic view in what God wants of us. I believe the most fundamental will of God is that He wants us to have good relationships with our spouses, our children, our families, our neighbours, the next town, the next country, and of course the world (IE don’t shit in your own nest like we are now).

I am reminded of being in the middle of Pakistan. It was excruciatingly hot and humid, and I was trying to update my web site from a telephone office, which involved a long distance call to Karachi. The line was slow, and while I was waiting for the update to happen, I started chatting with the owner of the shop. He started to tell me how I should get to know Allah, and I will know a peace like I have never known before. I told him I already do, but we just call him God, but he is the same God as your Allah. He said,” but you are Christian”. I replied, “Yes, it is the same God as Allah, and it is the same God for the Jews too”. He was stunned.

OK, it is almost safe to read on again now, except that now I am going to have a political rave. I try not to get too involved in politics in this web site, but it is hard not to talk about religion and politics in Israel. They are fundamental to it’s very existence. Skip the next few paragraphs too if you feel so inclined.

As you will no doubt know, tension is once again at boiling point in Israel. I won’t go into a full explanation, but if you are interested in some of the history behind the conflict, click here.

This conflict really supports my frustration at the concept of religion, and how taking things literally creates wars. The Israeli’s believe it is their God given right to be in Israel, despite the fact that they have been largely absent for 1900 years. The Palestinians have lived there in the mean time, and believe it is their right to be there too. How the Israeli’s came to be back there now is irrelevant. The fact is they are there, and they are there to stay. The Palestinians have to learn to live with that fact, and the Israeli’s have to learn that they must compromise and cooperate more with the Palestinians, who have it pretty tough at the moment.

The terrorist attacks are wrong, absolutely no question. The attack of innocent people loses the Palestinians respect in the worlds eyes, and makes them appear to be nothing more than fanatical extremists, and to an extent, that is true. They can argue that they can’t take on the Israeli armed forces all they like, but terrorism is not the answer. It just galvanises the Israeli’s and the rest of the non-Arab world against them. They need to get the support of the West if they want to make a difference, which I admit can be difficult with the apparently pro-Israeli Americans. But The Americans are not the only force out there. Europe in particular could and should play the major role in settling the differences there. I think the Americans have zero chance of ever brokering a peace in the Middle-East because they have shown themselves to consistently fail at being impartial, and their naive belief that what is good for America is good for the world. Also, I can’t see any Arab nation agreeing to a US brokered settlement. I think Europe need to get more involved.

The Jews believe that they are at the front-line of an Islamic attack on the western world. They believe that if the fundamentalists succeed in wiping out Israel, America and the west in general will be next. I believe that they are right. Look at atrocities they are committing against their own people of the same faith. Just to make it clear, I NOT talking about Muslims. I am talking about Islamic fundamentalists. The majority of Muslims want peace as much as the next person. Both of the major Islamic factions, the Shiite’s and Sunni’s want to see Israel wiped off the face of the earth. The leader of Iran has publicly said so, as well as the Hezbollah. Should we worry about Iran getting the atomic bomb? Is Israel worried? Is the US worried? Am I worried? You bet, and so should you because the last thing we need is an atomic war. The fundamentalist leader of Iran would ‘press the button’ without one second thought. I don’t believe the US will allow the bomb to be finished in Iran. Unfortunately, this will probably lead to war yet again. The people to suffer this time will be the Iranians who are amongst the nicest, most considerate and generous people I have ever met.. The majority of the Iranians don’t support their fundamentalist government and are happy to live with Jews, or at the very least ignore them. I believe that most fundamentalist governments in the world do not have the support of its’ people.

1223. The West wall, or the wailing wall is the most accessible of the four walls of the Second Temple, built by King Herod around the time of Christ. This is particular importance to the Jews, who come here to pray from all over the world.

1225. The Mount of Olives, where Jesus ascended to heaven.

1227. Temple Mount. This is what all the fuss is about, where Mohammed rose to heaven and where God instructed Abraham to sacrifice his son. Now dominated by the magnificent Dome of the Rock mosque. I tried to get there, but it is impossible to get anywhere near the place unless you are a Muslim. It is protected by Israeli guards.

1226. Much of the construction in Jerusalem was done in the 16th century by Suleyman the Magnificent, a Muslim ruler who allowed the co-existence of Christians, Jews and Muslims. It was a peaceful time, in fact believe it or not, most of Israel’s history has been peaceful in spite of rule changing hands untold times.

1229. The dead sea. 410m below sea level, and it is HOT. When I left Jerusalem, it was a mild 24�C, but it must have been close to 35�C here, yet it is only a 30 minute ride. People just sit in the water and float about like they are on a floatation device, because the salt content is so great that your buoyancy so much better than in sea-water. I didn’t try it. It was too hot, and I couldn’t think of anything less enjoyable at the time. Another favourite pastime here seems to be to plaster the mud from the bottom over their bodies as some sort of beauty treatment. I’ll stay ugly thanks. The hills in the distance are Jordan.

1230. I just can’t remember the name of this Church, but it caught my eye with all the Gold on the roof. It looks Coptic Christian.
While in Jerusalem, I started talking to some young Arab guys, probably early twenties. One was a blue eyed blond, and the others I couldn’t tell from an Israeli. They had been admiring my bike. It is not often any motorcycles pass through Israel they tell me, and they have never seen one like mine. They were Muslims, and told me much about the situation from their point of view. They were born in Jerusalem, but at a time when it was a part of Jordan, so they are Jordanian citizens. When Israel took over control of Jerusalem after the 1967 war, none of the Arabs were granted Israeli citizenship, and they have become virtual prisoners in their own home town. They can’t go into nightclubs or bars like an Israeli citizen, even if they are friends. They don’t like the West Bank Arabs, because they are ‘crazy fanatics’, besides, they consider themselves European just as the majority of the Israeli’s do, not Middle-Eastern . They see themselves as stuck between a rock and a hard place.

I found them very friendly and rational. I can understand their plight. They took me for a ride around town at night to all the major sites, then bought me a piece of pizza and a coke at a friends shop. Then they took me to their motorcycle garage. They only had scooters, but they had photo’s and magazines of what they wanted. I doubt any of them believe that they would ever own a ZXR900 or a GSX1000R, but they were their dream. Then they took me through the Palestinian area, and the difference was amazing. Everything was shabby and poorly constructed. The driving was dangerous and hectic like most Muslim countries. The people loud and aggressive. The yards were dirty, strewn with rubbish and no plants growing. Finally, they took me back to the hostel. It was a very enlightening evening. I got to all these famous biblical sites, and saw Jerusalem from the several visual and political perspectives..

From Jerusalem, I went straight to Haifa to catch a ferry to Cyprus and then Greece. There is much more to Israel than Jerusalem, but I just couldn’t afford to stay. On arriving in Haifa, some of the streets were blocked because a car bomb was found. Later I was walking along, and two plain clothes police grabbed me and started yelling at me in Hebrew. I looked back blankly, and they realised I was a tourist. They told me I mustn’t go down that street because there was another bomb. There were no signs or barricades, so I assume they had just found it.

Getting through customs was an eye opener. I thought getting in was difficult, but getting out was even more so. I was thoroughly interrogated about the Muslims I was talking to in Jerusalem (I had volunteered that I was speaking to them), and they searched everything visually, with X-ray, and sniffer devices for explosives. I was asked about everything in my kit. What is the GPS for? Why do you travel with a computer? What is in here? Did you pack this yourself? Did anyone else ever have access to your luggage? etc. The interrogation lasted about 45 minutes. Finally I was on my way on the ferry. I met a group of Finnish UN soldiers going home from a stint in Lebanon. They were a great bunch, and they certainly know how to enjoy a drink to two. They gave me their phone numbers and email addresses if they had one, and then I promptly lost the list. I was hoping to see them on my way through Finland. Every one of these guys had a near new expensive car or motorcycle. It is one of the perks of being a UN soldier. They can buy a vehicle tax free, and bring it back to Finland free. Finland have really high taxes, and the tax on the car alone can come close to being worth a years salary. Motorcycles are about double the price we pay in Australia from what I can tell.

Go to Europe.