On Thursday we drove from Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee (210m/689ft below sea level) to a few surrounding towns. On our drive, the day before, from the Dead Sea north along the Jordan River to Tiberias, we learned about the region and the, specifically, the ecological impact of Israel diverting most of the Jordan River for drinking water. Our guide, Liel, had studied ecology and so was able to point things out to us. He also tied the conversation into Zionism and its ideology about the land and land use. Unfortunately there are many crops grown in this fertile valley that require a lot of water.
It is also interesting to learn about water rights in light of the Palestinian problem and to examine who controls water and how territory was divided and has been occupied. Along our drive we also learned about the Bedouin. Their villages are very rudimentary and they have no access to the roads Israel builds – literally a highway will pass a village without exit or entrance points.
On Thursday morning, we drove to Nazareth and visited the sites where Mary is thought to have seen the angel at the well, the Church of the Annunciation where the angel appeared to her later and to St Joseph Church where Joseph is said to have had his workshop and where it is likely Jesus grew up.
Then we drove to Beit Jan, high up in the mountains – it was quite something to see our intrepid bus driver, Majied, manage the twists and turns of the mountain pass. We were going to visit a Druze village. Druze are a Shi’ite offshoot and consider themselves Muslim but are not accepted by the Suni tradition. As another minority group within the region’s history, the Druze began to live as high up as they could to avoid persecution. To cope they align themselves to whoever is in power in the region in which they live. Like Bedouin, they can volunteer for the Israeli army and gain citizenship. This means that in some conflicts Druze will fight Druze aligned with the “enemy.” Also like the Bedouin, Druze are somewhat secretive and only marry within their community. There are approximately 20,000 Druze living in Galilee, Haifa, and the Golan Heights. We met at a restaurant in the village and a couple, Kamal and Salma, spoke with us. There story was heartbreaking and hope-giving. They lost two sons to the conflict. And since then the couple have worked with an organization that encourages dialogue between bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents. It was very moving testimony and a beautiful look at another effort for peace and reconciliation.