This past June I traveled to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan with my family on a group tour through Sunshine Group Tours in Oregon. It was my first time traveling to the Middle East, and only my second time out of the country. I was a little afraid of traveling to such a controversial area, and didn’t really know what to expect. I thought that we would be in danger, but the truth is we were not.
When we landed in Tel Aviv, we met our guide Makhoul, a Palestinian Christian who had become an Israeli citizen, and therefore among the most persecuted groups in Israel. Makhoul brought us to see the ancient port of Jaffa straight from the airport. I saw the Mediterranean for the first time, and read the Bible in St. Peter’s church. It was then that I realized that Israel was not as scary as I thought it would be. From then on, our trip was filled with adventures. We went swimming at dawn with the tropical fish in Eilat, on the coast of the Red Sea, and traveled in the footsteps of Moses as we climbed Mt. Sinai at two in the morning on camels, reaching the top at sunrise. As I watched the millions of stars in the sky, swaying on the back of those eight foot tall creatures, I never knew it could be so quiet, or so peaceful. We met Bedouins who spent their whole lives happily in the desert, with almost nothing. At the ancient city of Petra, I saw two little girls kill a pigeon for food and was later thankful that my little sister (an aspiring zoo keeper) would never have to consider doing something like that.
Our Jordanian guide Achmed taught us the importance of water, something we take for granted here in America, and how he was sure the next major war would be because of it. Makhoul told us how his family had been persecuted, but also how he sent his children to a school which taught both Arab and Jewish kids alike to put aside their differences. We traveled through the West Bank and the Golan Heights, something I never thought I would do, and saw land mine warnings all around, and a people struggling for independence, peace, and survival. We saw teenagers with guns, in the army and otherwise, and wondered if they understood the consequences of firing them. I read John: 21 while floating on a karaoke boat on the Sea of Galilee, and felt a deep sense of peace. We ended our trip in Jerusalem, the holiest city in the holy land; filled with so many different people from so many different walks of life. A nun from London, a priest from the Midwest, pilgrims of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity alike, all visiting the places they held most sacred. I saw a woman in a full burka holding her infant child, begging for money as she sat in the street. I walked the Via Dolorosa, and stood in the pit where Jesus was held prisoner overnight, feeling gratitude.
On the evening of our last night in Jerusalem, Makhoul spoke to us of how even though Israel has political conflict, that should not prevent people from traveling there. I realized that what he said was true. I had thought our trip would be dangerous. What I found instead were people, just like us. Tourists and pilgrims, Arabs and Israelis, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, all searching for peace in the holy land. And traveling there, I found it too.
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