Holy Land media visit starts with a long travel day
At Denver International Airport, I saw the controversial statue of Horus (below), a complicated ancient Egyptian god whose statue has been placed right outside the main terminal in honor of the upcoming King Tut exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. I’m missing the media preview this week because I am en route to Horus’s part of the world, very broadly speaking, to visit Palestine — the West Bank of the Jordan River under Israeli occupation for decades. The media trip is under the auspices of USAID to help promote religious travel to ancient Biblical sites. I am the token secular journalist in a group of faith-based journalists.
Easy flight to Newark, long layover and then comfy transatlantic flight. I used miles and money to upgrade to Continental’s Business/First for the long overnight flight to Tel Aviv.
Arrived in Tel Aviv, met group at airport and boarded bus driven by “Captain” Samr and listened to intro to the Palestinian Territories by Samir Bahbah (below) of the Arab Tour Guides Association. His story exemplifies the complexities of this area. He is a Catholic by religion, Palestinian by nationality and Arab by ethnicity. He grew up and lives in East Jerusalem, so he has a Jordanian passport yet is an Israeli citizen who cannot vote and does not have to serve in the Army.
Our bus traveled through the outskirts of Jerusalem and passed through the first of many security checkpoints, large and small, that we would encounter, directly into Bethlehem, and checked into the Jacir Palace Intercontinental Hotel (below, top image), a luxury hotel affixed to an opulent villa on the outskirts of the city.
My room (below, bottom) is comfortable but not lavish, yet the public spaces in the old mansion are exceptionally atmospheric. When I went to open my bag, the TSA-compliant lock was gone and the loop on the zipper pull where the lock fit through was broken. Too much time in Newark — or more likely something at the airport here, where enthsiastic Israeli security agents don’t bother with the device that opens TSA-complient locks? I’ll never know, but now, I guess that I’ll have to carry my netbook with me everywhere.
Light buffet dinner during this very low season. A few of us went for a short walk with no evidence of problems for tourists and then returned to the hotel. Room is fine. Bedside table holds a New Testament in three languages (German, English, French) and a Koran in Arabic (below). It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a hotel room with an ashtray! A liter of water was a nice consideration, because the tap water is not potable. Oh, how I wish they’d put a second bottle of water in my room.
And now, a good night.