TEL AVIV. We arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv in early Tuesday morning (22nd Mar 2011). Ergo, the picture of the sinner in front of an ATM (with Hebrew squiggly writing) and the Galilee Travel Bus Service as proof. No diplomatic relations between Malaysia and Israel? No problem! Just remember to remind the Israel Immigration official not to chop your passport. “Please don’t chop my passport!” I urged, as the officer rolled up her eyes, no doubt tired of hearing the phrase for the 48th time. (I was no. 48 in the Visa Manifest list)
Ben Gurion Airport was built to impress, with huge sandstone walls and uber-high ceilings of a modern techno-cathedral. A permanent edifice intended to remind visitors to this embattled state of Israel's desire to remain permanently in the Holy Land. Visible presence of security is minimal. In fact I think that in KLIA I can see more police and security personnel than here. No doubt the airport is well protected, but you just don’t see many guns and khakis.
After about 40 odd minutes all our group passed through as harmless Muslims with no intention to bomb or hurt anybody in Palestine-Israel. Walking out, Ariffin commented ruefully “Just wait till we get to Medina airport in Saudi Arabia. Immigration will not be so easy there…” Replaying my school days, I joined the rowdy crowd in the back of the bus. Well, rowdy as you can be when you are middle class, middle aged and middle-minded in that fuddy-duddy kinda way. You know, my kinda crowd of respectable sinners.
UNEXPECTEDLY GREEN. The trip to Jerusalem lasted about one hour, and I guess what impressed me was the green. Miles upon miles of cultivated greenery - agricultural, decorative and national park(s). The picture below would not be out of place if taken in Germany or France, but then you notice the dry, brown and sandy soil. These people are in the vanguard of agro-bio, and it appears that they are quite adamant to green the desert. Impressive, in that earnest get-out-of–my-way sort of commitment.
Along the way we had Feroz, our local guide who once studied in UIA (International Islamic University) Kuala Lumpur and picked up a pretty good command of Malay. He kindly educated us in a strange Palestinian-Indonesian accented Malay on some basic facts about Palestine-Israel - For instance, that of the 10 million people inhabiting the land, about half is Arab and the other half Jews, although in Jerusalem itself the number of Jews are much higher. He also spoke about the state sponsored program for Jewish citizens to receive free housing if they are willing to settle out of town centres, which I guess is an initiative to spread the Jewish settlement more evenly across the land. He didn’t comment at all about this, merely mentioning it as a matter of fact. I am pretty certain that the privilige is not extended to the Arabs.
After about an hour, I noticed a green road sign in Hebrew, Arabic and English, speaking to me the name of our destination, the City on the Hill, praised and beloved of the 3 Faiths, Baitul Muqadis, the ancient and holy Jerusalem…
O’ Jerusalem II
You draw me like A moth to the flame,
And your bitter flames Lick me like a flaming petal Of a red and divine rose.
Again and again, you attract me, Again and again, you repel me.
But your resolute rejection of me Makes you even more compelling!
For I am unlike other men, I am Taufiq, I am Taufiq,
And to conquer you or To die upon your high walls
As a knight-errant of Fatima az-Zahra, My last breath would still speak,
“My Lord drove me to you,
And My Lord is welcoming me home!”
We are getting close, sunshine.