Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Discovering Jerusalem, The Old City, & Israeli Society

Arrival in the Holy Land

It was literally a breathtaking moment. Driving along a ridge next to the Old City in Jerusalem our tour guide announced, "To the left you will see the Mount of Olives" The site took me by surprise, and I gasped at his words. He continued talking, but I was no longer listening. I looked out the large bus window at the large hill on the other side of the valley. "This is where Jesus will return," I thought with wonder.

This was only one of dozens of such moments that I experienced during my week in the Holy Land -- truly an opportunity of a lifetime. I was invited by the Israeli Bureau of Tourism to visit Israel with a wonderful organization called ARMDI, The American Red Magen David for Israel. ARMDI is a group that raises money to buy life-saving equipment for the Israeli version of the Red Cross. Not only were we going to visit some of the famous sites from Bible times, but we were also going to have a front-row seat to discuss the issues facing the people of Israel in these perilous and prophetic times.

Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion AirportAfter arriving via El Al Airlines at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, our small group of twenty-one people met our tour guide, Eli (pronounced Elly), and boarded the large motor coach that wouldl be our traveling companion for the next several days. I asked Eli how many tours he conducts. "Not many these days," he says sadly. "Since the beginning of the Intifada nearly two years ago tourism in Israel is down 70 percent."

As we began our journey up the rising slopes from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem I was impressed at the beauty of the mountains. The countryside reminded me of my trip a couple of years ago into the mountains south of Mexico City. Eli stood at the front of the bus, and with microphone in hand began sharing his wealth of knowledge with us.

"Welcome to Israel, we are so happy to see you. I wish to God that many others will follow you -- believe me, we need you. It is my pleasure to be with you throughout this tour. I will be your guide. My first name is Elishama -- which is a biblical, Hebrew name that means 'my God is listening.' My middle name is Peled, a Hebrew name that means 'tongue of fire.' With such a combination I can't go wrong," he declared as we all laughed.

"We are driving now toward Jerusalem, leaving Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, which is approximately half-way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Tel Aviv is at sea level, located on the Mediterranean Sea in the west of Israel. Jerusalem is on top of the mountains of Judea. As a matter of fact, Jerusalem is 4,000 feet above sea level. That's why it snows there every winter -- this winter it was snowing heavily. Normally it's a couple of inches, but this winter it was a couple of feet, and the city was completely paralyzed! But it lasted only a few days."

"Things here are very much like New York and Washington, D.C. Tel Aviv is our New York. Jerusalem is our Washington, D.C. Jerusalem, of course, is the capital of Israel. Actually, it is the capital of Judaism for the last 3,000 years since King David declared it so. Jerusalem is a unique city -- there is no place like it in the world."

"Not only is it the capital of Judaism, it is also where Christianity started. That is where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. Around the world, Christians are waiting for Jesus to come back -- and when He comes back He will return to Jerusalem. He's going to establish His kingdom from Jerusalem. So Christianity is going to be fulfilled in Jerusalem."

"Jerusalem is a holy city to the Islamic religion as well. For example, from here Mohammed went up to heaven -- it is one of the three holy cities of the Islamic religion. Do you know what a hajj is? Most people think it is a devout Muslim who makes a pilgrimage to Mecca -- but that is only partly true. In order to have the hajj title, you have to make a pilgrimage to three cities; Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Jerusalem is number three in holiness, after Mecca and Medina."

"That's why Jerusalem is going to be one of the main problems between us and the Palestinians whenever we sit down to establish peace. Jerusalem means so much, not only to the Jews and the Christians, but also to the Arab Muslims as well. So this is a unique city without any doubt, as it means so much to almost every human being."

As our bus entered the city of Jerusalem I noticed scores of white and blue Israeli flags flying from the tops of countless buildings. Eli provided the explanation. "The flags are here from Independence Day, which we celebrated a few days ago. On Independence Day we celebrate the establishment of the State of Israel on the 14th of May in 1948."

"The width of Israel is only 50 miles from the seashore to the Jordan River. The length of Israel is approximately 320 miles from north to south. It's a very small country, even smaller than the state of New Jersey. As a matter of fact, in this country everything is small -- except the chutzpah!"

"The total population of Israel is more than 6 million people. That includes more than a million non-Jews. When the State of Israel was established, the total population was approximately 700, 000. At that time, 18 percent were Arabs. It is the same today. There are 82 percent Jews, and 18 percent Arab. This is an amazing statistic, because Israel has absorbed more than three million immigrants. Many Arabs left the country since its founding, and yet they are keeping the same percentage. This means that the Arab rate of birth far exceeds the Jewish rate of birth."

"This demographic trend could be Israel's biggest problem in the coming years."

With that we arrived at our hotel, the David Citadel, overlooking the Old City.

Learning About Israeli Society

Former Mayor of Jerusalem, EhudTraveling with ARMDI gave me the unique opportunity to meet some of Israel's leading citizens. Throughout the week we were greeted by several dignitaries and famous Israeli leaders, including former Mayor of Jerusalem and current cabinet minister Ehud Olmert; former Israeli General and revered war hero, Nehemia Dagan; the Artistic Director of the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv, Omri Nitza; and Danny Shondo, a clinical psychologist with Natal, the Israeli Trauma Center.

We were also greeted by former Israeli General and current Director of Magen David Adom, Avi Zohar. Magen David Adom (MDA) -- Israel's version of the Red Cross -- is Israel's emergency, medical, health, blood, and disaster service. I received a crash course in Israel's emergency response system -- and I was impressed. Since September 2000, there have been more than 1,200 terrorist attacks against Israel. As of May, 2002, MDA treated 5,359 casualties from these terror attacks; 675 Israeli's have been killed; 470 people have been critically wounded -- meaning life-threatening, or a loss of a limb; 670 people have been moderately injured; and 3,545 people have been mildly injured.

Since the latest Intifada began in 2000, MDA medical personnel have treated 853 security and rescue forces as a result of terrorist attacks -- as well as 11 MDA crew injured while treating victims of terror, 112 police, and 730 Israeli Defense Force soldiers. During that time 82 MDA ambulances have been damaged -- some completely destroyed. When they are called into hostile territory, MDA medical staff has access to 31 armored ambulances. Unfortunately, these ambulances are often needed to save the lives of those who work diligently to save the lives of others -- both Jewish and Palestinian.

We were fortunate to visit several MDA facilities, including the emergency dispatch center in Jerusalem, the National Blood Services Center at Tel Ha'Shomer, and another MDA emergency center outside of Tel Aviv. While we were at the dispatch center in Jerusalem we were briefed by paramedics and also volunteer staffers. There are 141 paid MDA staff in Jerusalem, and more than 2,000 volunteers. These dedicated people serve both Israelis and Palestinians -- sometimes wearing bulletproof vests and helmets as they treat both traditional medical cases and victims of terrorist attacks. As we listened, I noticed one of the paramedics in the back of the room was wearing a pistol at his side, something that most medics in America aren't forced to carry. But it was heartening to hear that both Jews and Arabs work and volunteer at Magen David Adom.

I was also thrilled and very proud to learn that much of the equipment, and nearly all of the ambulances used by the MDA are donated by Americans.

BeccaOne of the young ladies who spoke to us was a young lady from Los Angeles who had volunteered to travel to Israel to serve the MDA -- one of 240 volunteers last year, from 17 different countries. She was so moved by the experience that she dedicated her life to helping the people of Israel, and she decided to make Aliyah -- to permanently move back to the Land of Israel. Three days later, Becca, along with a team from this very station responded to a suicide bombing in Jerusalem's French Hill neighborhood where seven people were killed and dozens were wounded.

Touring the Old City

After we heard from General Zohar, Eli took us on a walking tour of the Old City. "There are four mountains mentioned by name in the Bible," he said, explaining the geography of the city, "Mount Moriah, Mount Scopus, Mount Ophel, and Mount Zion. Later on, Jerusalem, the city, was nicknamed and referred to as Zion. Later than that Israel, the country was nicknamed Zion. That is where we get the name of the Zionist Movement, the movement back to Israel."

Visiting the "Tomb of David"

We walked up the steep stone streets and entered into a courtyard with a sign hanging on the wall that read, "The Tomb of David."

Jerusalem's Old City"We are standing next to a Crusader building in a Crusader complex. Inside this complex we have the traditional tomb of King David. I say traditional, but I don't know of anyone who will tell you that this is the place where King David is buried. As a matter of fact, it could not be. Not if you believe the Bible. The Old Testament tells us that when King David died, he was buried inside his city. The location of the City of David was definitely identified on the southern slope of Mount Moriah. Where we are standing was way outside the City of David."

"So, why do we have the tradition that David was buried here? There must be a reason." He fielded several wrong guesses, and then answered his own question. "The source is Herod the Great, who you will remember was a Jewish king."

"God knows why there are many people who have the impression that Herod was not a Jew. If you don't like him, that's a different story, because as a human being he was a monster. He killed his wife and two of his five sons. Christianity gives you more proof of his cruelty. When he was told that Jesus, the King of the Jews was born, he replied, 'What do you mean, the King of the Jews? I am the King of the Jews. Kill the baby.' His servants replied, 'We don't know who it is precisely.' So he gave the order to kill all the male babies that were born more or less at the same time. So Jesus, Mary, and Joseph ran to Egypt to escape Herod. Only after Herod died did they come back to Israel."

"However, as a king, he developed this country more than anyone before or after. I'll give you a simple example that all of you will be able to associate with. Israel is known for developing the desert. We have brought water to the desert to reclaim it. But Herod did it two thousand years ago. Archaeology proves it. He built water systems in the Negev. So we should be differentiate between Herod the king who developed the country, and Herod who, as a human being, was a monster."

"If you want to be technically precise, Herod was as good a Jew as King David. Why is that?" he asked. "King David's grandmother Ruth was a Moabite -- a non-Jew. She converted to Judaism. So David is a third generation Jew. Herod's grandfather was an Edomite, who also converted. So Herod was a third generation Jew as well. Herod the Great was a Jewish king who ruled Israel exactly one thousand years after King David."

"This we know as a fact that was proved by archaeology -- Herod the Great built a monument in honor of King David on this spot. Seventy-five years later the Temple was destroyed at the end of the Jewish revolt. Another seventy years after that the Roman Emperor Adrian kicked the Jews out of Jerusalem. He renamed Jerusalem Colonia Aelia Capitolina -- the city of God in Latin. He said, 'I have enough of you Jewish people starting a revolt twice a week. I don't want to hear your name; not the name of your country; not the name of your capital."

Standing in the ancient stone-clad courtyard he declared, "The land of Israel was renamed after the Philistines of the Bible. With time, the 'ph' was dropped from the front of the name, and instead people pronounced the name of the land 'Palestine,' and this was the official name of this country until 1948. When the State of Israel was born, we changed the name back to Israel."

Craig von Buseck overlooking Jerusalem"One hundred and forty-five years later the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian. One of the first things he did was to give back Jerusalem its name. He said that Jesus should come back to Jerusalem. If Jerusalem doesn't exist, He's not coming back. So immediately he changed the name of the city back to Jerusalem. He also gave the Jews permission to come back to Jerusalem. When they returned they began to associate the monument which Herod built in King David's honor with the tomb of David."

"But King David definitely is not buried in what is called King David's tomb. Why? Because the tombstone is from the Crusaders, who were in Jerusalem two thousand years after King David. But this is the tradition. However, those who believe this is King David's tomb will tell you that he is buried in a cave under the big tombstone. And there is a cave down there. So, nobody can prove that he is buried here or not, but this is the tradition, which is very strong indeed."


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