Following the New Year, spent in a small café drinking coffee with Egyptians and missing the countdown because the Hijri calendar New Year falls on a different date than the Gregorian one, I made my way through Israel. I spent two days in al-Quds (aka Jerusalem) during which I walked through the old city and looked upon the holy places which have sparked so much controversy for so many centuries. I walked the city walls and saw the Holy Sepulcher, Western Wall, Dome of the Rock and Masjid al-Aqsa; so much struggle and strife over archeologically unproven localities. Though I will be returning soon, perhaps towards the end of the semester to the city, even my few moments gave me another view of the ideological struggle in the region. The attitude of segregation in the city and the manner in which the Muslims are treated as absolute second-class citizens is downright appalling. At one point, I had an Israeli guard pull his gun at me because I had starting speaking Arabic with a guy near the Western Wall. The description and actions of a friend of mine – she’s studying Hebrew at Hebrew U – nearly made me sick; at one point she thought it a better idea to walk the 2 miles to the old city than to ride the Arab buses (it was Shabat, so no Jewish public transport was running), explicitly citing the social differentiation. Again though, my personal studies called out to me and I went to the North of the country to Acre (Akko), Castle Montfort, Tiberias and Belvoir Castle, three fortresses built during the crusading period.
Acre is amazing. If you want to know about it, I’ll tell you when I have the time to do it justice. The only thing I’ll say for the moment is that it’s a much more integrated town and I didn’t have weapons directed at me when I spoke Arabic.
After Acre, my friend went back to al-Quds for classes and I headed over to Montfort Castle, which is near Mi’liya. The place is mostly in ruin except for a few halls and the northwestern tower, but it is one of the first castles of the Teutonic Order and there was more than enough there to keep me occupied for a few days. I had kind of planned (without actually preparing anything which would have been helpful: tent, sleeping bag, warm clothes) on staying in the vicinity of the castle because it lies a pretty fair distance from the town itself and there are regulated campsites relatively close. Upon arrival, I saw no one at the castle and had free reign to explore and do as I willed, so I decided just to sleep in the ruins. I watched the sun set from the southern tower and gazed up at an immaculate starfield from the chapel. Not realizing just how low the temperature was dropping, I passed a good portion of the night by doing pushups to stay warm and eventually built a fire to stave off mild hypothermia. Then it started raining. Luckily, or by means of some greater fate, I had just relocated from the mostly-open chapel to a small undercut area because the wind had shifted and my first wind break no longer worked. All told, it was a stupid idea, but I would repeat it in a second.