by Geneva Chinnock
I think it is fair to say that most Americans are fairly naïve about the history of the modern state of Israel. This might also be true of those who actually visit the land of Israel, unless you are Jewish, of course. During the Bramson 2013 Tour of Israel, we were under the tutelage of Yehuda Hockman, who taught us much of Israel’s modern history as well as its significance to the Jewish people. Israel has had some fairly large wars since its rebirth in 1948. In most cases, Israel’s enemies expected to destroy Israel. However, even in their blindness, one tiny country backed by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is greater than many countries without Him. So, miraculously, Israel won each of these modern wars. One of these victories was the Six-Day War of 1967 when Israel fought against its neighbors, Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israeli forces took control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Our guide, Yehuda, was a paratrooper during this war and his picture was taken at the Western Wall in the now famous photo captured by Lubinger.
Much has changed in Israel since 1967. One of our group members, Joan Benson, went to Israel in 1968 with her family, just one year after this decisive victory for Israel. I asked her to share her perspective about how Israel has changed in the 45 years since her first visit.
“I visited Israel in June of 1968 with my parents, one of my best friends and five others. The country was only 20 years old at the time. It had been just a year since the Six Day War. There was still evidence of war in many places – tanks, barbed wire, and lots of Israeli soldiers everywhere.
“The Israel of April, 2013 was hardly recognizable from 1968. For example, Jerusalem, Tiberias and the Dead Sea area are so much more populated, built up and developed, as one would expect after 45 years! There were very few hotels, condos and high rise buildings in these places in 1968. Tiberias was much more open then it is now. My friend, Susan, and I swam in the Sea of Galilee off of a pier. There was very little in Tiberias other than our hotel. It was the same at the Dead Sea. Our guide just pointed up at Qumran from a distance and said that was where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. There was no going up closer to it. There was no visitor’s center, archeological excavations or exhibits like there is now.
“In Jerusalem, there were no walls around the Garden Tomb area like there are now. The Temple Mount was very open to the city. There were much less archeological excavations than there are now. We did view some excavations but they seemed much closer to the Dome of the Rock, just a short walk away. We were able to go inside the Dome of the Rock in 1968. I remember the dark red carpet and thinking that it smelled like dirty socks (!). There was a Holocaust Museum in 1968 but it was much smaller with just a tiny fraction of what is there now. I do remember the pile of shoes from the victims at the museum, which made an impression on me.
“There was no center for baptisms at the Jordan River in 1968 like there are now. One just went by the banks of the river wherever the roads took you. I remember standing on the shore of the Jordan River. There was really nothing around us but countryside. We didn’t get in or get baptized there but we did talk about Jesus’s baptism and John the Baptist as well as when the Israelites crossed the Jordan with Joshua.
“There was no West Bank in 1968. We were able to go to Bethlehem, Bethany and Hebron to Jacob’s well and the Oaks of Mamre. Again, these areas were much less populated and built up. I remember looking over at Nazareth and it was just a little town then. Now it is a very crowded, developed small city.
“In some ways Israel 45 years later is better. The archeological excavations are much more extensive now, such as the City of David, Western Wall tunnel and Hezekiah’s Tunnel excavations. Many of the sites are much more visitor friendly, too. For example, Ein Gedi and Qumran are now lovely areas to visit with the Israeli national park and nature reserve system. We didn’t get to go to Masada in 1968 but I’m sure at that time there was no tram system, visitor center or nice models of Masada to view and understand.
“I am grateful that I was there in 1968 when it was a newer country. It was more natural, less populated and less built up. I am also grateful that I was able to go in 2013 because of the national parks, nature reserves, the increased archeological excavations and the extensive exhibits with easier access to sites. Both trips, 45 years apart, were memorable experiences for me that I will always cherish.”