Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Day 2.......Haifa

Wednesday we headed to Haifa. The trip north was very interesting. Lots of hi-tech, religion, military, shipping, academics and all near the water. A very pretty town, it is Israel's third largest city with about a half million people living in the area. It is home to the Baha'i Complex which dominates the Mt. Carmel hillside in Haifa which is the world headquarters of the Baha'i Faith.

The Israeli government has made it illegal to solicit or engage in recruiting of religions within the country. I thought that was funny. They don't want any other religion "poaching" on their land, so to speak. You know, a funny thing, most people on earth claim as their religion the one they were born into. I have met very very few who have studied the religions of the world and picked one out and adhered to its tenants. How about you? And speaking of mountains in Israel, like in about every other country on earth, some element of the Roman Catholic church controls all of the highest mountain perches. Nothing new there.

On the way to Haifa we passed through some Arab settlements inhabited by the people known as the Druze. Now to give you some background on the Arab situation in Israel, lets be clear. There are about 1.5 million Arabs in Israel. Many live in Nazareth, Jerusalem and Haifa. Of all the Arabs in Israel, about 78% are Muslim, 12% Christian and 10% Druze and Bedouin. All of them are faced with the paradox of being Arab and also citizens of the state of Israel that since it's inception has been in conflict with the Arab world. The Druze have been a persecuted minority in the Middle East since they broke away from mainstream Islam in the 11th century. For this reason they have tended to inhabit inaccessible mountain ranges where they could hold out for protection against their enemies. Today the religious Druze dress in very different dark blue garb with white hats and sometimes wear some very serious moustaches. They are a striking bunch for sure and seem to dance to the beat of only their drum in Israel. Probably just the way they like it. Embracing change isn't high on their list of priorities I would think. Past the Arab Druze villages we headed north. I could see the hills of Haifa ahead.

Last fall Haifa took about 200 rockets from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the north. Many people died. To see the demolished buildings, to think of the air raid sirens blaring giving residents about 5 minutes to get to cover, to see the damage the ball-bearings that were encapsulated in the rockets did, it was all very sobering. There is alot of hate in the world. Everywhere. I think there is more, much more, attention paid to the issue of land and who controls it today than differences of religous thought. Maybe the world has become greedier.

We headed north to the Haifa yacht basin and enjoyed a gorgeous lunch under some cloudy weather. Weddings are held throughout the week and we enjoyed taking some pictures of a newly-married couple. The groom was, for lack of a better word, an "albino" looking gent with a very pretty, dark-complected bride. I flipped the guy a $20 US bill and told him to take his bride to dinner. I thought he was going to shake my hand off he was so happy. I hope they make a long life together, but wonder what their children may look like. Haifa needs a clean-up too. Industrial waste permeates the river flowing into the sea and no shortage of litter. Maybe when you get rocket attacks day after day for 33 days your priorities change. Mine probably would.

Speaking of fighting. It seems the Israeli's think that a short-lived war is what is always what is needed. Everyone is upset with their current Prime Minister because the Second Lebanese War last fall lasted over 32 days. War is war. I have never been in a war in my life and hope never to see first-hand the carnage of war in America. It was one thing to ride choppers into a controlled training area when I was at West Point with an empty magazine in my M-16 and another to see where the kytusha rockets rained down on a city. Their 6-day War didn't last long but I am afraid that the power shift and economics coming from Iran will prolong future skirmishes. And if one thing is certain in my mind, Israel better never, ever let its guard down with it's neighbors. Today, there is a real committment around the world to wake up and have a good cup of coffee, maybe go to work or play, maybe visit a school, make the world a better place, yet, in some places, like Gaza, these militant Islamic extremists wake up and have their Arabic java and then decide to lob some Qussam rockets into Israel. May God help us all.

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