A day trip to the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea, and Masada, plus political/peace musings

by ray goodlass

7 January: a day trip to historic Masada, via the hauntingly beautiful Judean desert and the fascinating Dead Sea. Details below.

As we headed due east out of Jerusalem we immediately entered the Judean desert. Very, very hilly, bone dry, not a hint of vegetation, but as I mentioned above, hauntingly beautiful. Not quite sure why I liked the sight so much, given that all my life I have been conditioned to think that lush green vegetation was the way to go, but what I saw today I really did find beautiful. Perhaps I’m becoming acclimatised to Palestine.

Via the Dead Sea (more of which below) to Masada, the old Jewish fortress that was the scene of the last stand against the Romans in the First Century CE. Because I’d booked this trip way before I left Australia and had studied it, I expected Israeli propaganda, and so wasn’t especially taken aback when I experienced it,even though the mercifully short doco we were herded in to see when we arrived was patriotism gone totally OTT.  Mind you, just about anything would be preferable to the truly awful Hollywood film of the same name, which though set in period, opened with the footage of brave contemporary Israeli soldiers.

As a history buff I got a lot out of it. The Israelis appear to have done a good job with the site, but hey, anyone can do that, and I’ve seen plenty of such sites in my time, and lets not forget that the Palestinians have done a great job with Arafat’s Mausoleum and Darwish’s Museum and Grave, both in Ramallah.

The Dead Sea is everything you’ve ever read about, and yes, you do float (I did!). It was a pity visability was so poor, as aspects that would have been spectacular, such as the Jordanian hills on the other side, where barely visible. Because of the rain around Jerusalem the wadis were flowing down from the hills into the sea – flash floods as our driver explained happen when it rains in the hills to the west, as it very rarely rains in the area of the sea itself.

And I managed to resist all the attempts to part me from my cash at the usual tourist stops, such as the shop/factory selling beauty products made from Dead Sea salts and minerals by a company that makes and flogs them world-wide. I’ll have to find out if tour companies have formal arrangements with tourist traps such as this place, as it is something I’ve often wondered.

Some political/peace thoughts today. Firstly, I now have daily access to a (small ‘l’) liberal/progressive newspaper in English, which I can buy before breakfast and read it then, which is heaven for me. It is Israeli, but is very anti-establishment and argues for justice for Palestine. Its name is Haaretz, and it includes the International Herald Tribune.

Yesterday and today it alerted me to a few useful/interesting stories. First of all, the likelihood of Obama putting Chuck Hagel forward as Secretary of Defense, which is good news, as he is progressive in his views about the Palestine/Israel situation. If he survives the nomination confirmation process it will be a welcome change.

It also gave full and positive coverage of the Fatah rally in Gaza at the weekend, which apparently had a celebratory crowd of up to one million!

Haaretz has also chastised the original left-wing Israeli political parties for becoming as nationalistic as the right-wing ones, and for losing their compassion for the under-dog.

It also has reported on Netanyahu’s call for a Security Barrier between Israel (ie the Golan Heights) and Syria, lest, as he says, what is left of the Syrian government launches an attack on Israel, as a distraction. Methinks he must have been lying abed one night and felt an election coming on, in other words, he’s doing nothing more than sabre rattling to help him win the forthcoming Israeli election. The more things change, the more they stay the same.