Day 24: Amasa to Meitar
Day 24, March 23: Bad weather - schizophrenic. Very cold and foggy on mountain. Forest generic JNF - kind of disappointing. Camped near Meitar and it rained. Weird dreams of rock star suspected of child sacrifice and weird movie director.
We started they day almost 3000 feet up, so it was very cold, and rainfall coming in kept it that way. We hiked down through the woods (which were nice despite being from the JNF forest mold all the way - more on that in a second) which were deep in the rainclouds - we couldn't see more than a few meters, and it felt very much like a sinister enchanted forest in a fairy tale.
We spent the rest of the day heading down in altitude until we ended near the town of Meitar. Here, Idan got his traditional refreshment of Pepsi Max (he acquired a somewhat religious devotion to the stuff along the trail) and we camped just outside town. Unfortunately, it rained in the morning, which made getting up a muddy, miserable business. Also, Joyce discovered she lost the poles for her tent, and I couldn't find trees to use my hammock, so we all crammed into Idan's Tarp Tent which luckily was meant for three. (As for the tent poles, we never found them, but came up with a creative solution using a tree at the next campsite).
The generic JNF forest consists of a certain species of pine tree, I believe the Aleppo Pine, which early Zionist settlers and then the Jewish National Fund planted all over the freaking place in northern and central Israel. There has been a lot of criticism of this by environmental groups and ecologists, because the non-indigenous monoculture acts as somewhat of an invasive species, preventing other plants from growing and disrupting the ecosystem.
Of course, the original forests were almost all gone at the time the Jewish settlers arrived -remember all those cedars from Tyre that David and Solomon imported? People have been deforesting this area forever, and the Ottomans struck the final blow in the process of building the Hejaz railway. But I think the choice to plant forests of a single species of pine tree reflected Europeans' desire to make their new country look like something familiar to them, rather than a concern with the environment. In addition, all JNF forests look exactly the same, whether you're on Mt. Meron, Mt. Gilboa, the Jerusalem mountains, or on the southern fringes of Judea - even though the native ecology in each of those areas is fairly distinct.
Recently, due to some of the pressure and criticism, the JNF seems to have been improving their act and planting more native species like oaks, olive and carob trees, and so forth, but they've always been an organization concerned with nationalist ideology first, and nature second if at all. I also found a Ha'aretz article from 4 years ago suggesting that some of the pine forests are starting to show signs of biodiversity returning, but that scientists are still debating how much damage the pine plantations have done.
The other big criticism of the JNF is that they've tried to erase the history of the Palestinians from Israel's geography, by planting European-looking forests over places where destroyed villages were, and constructing parks with historical foci that specifically encourage a strictly Zionist narrative without mentioning the previous inhabitants of places. Their Wikipedia page mentions that in 2005 they said they would start creating signs and information about destroyed villages, but that not much has happened since then. I personally have only seen one such example - a little plaque in the ruins of Ma'lul, a nakba'd village near Nazareth, briefly mentioning that there was a Christian and Muslim village here before 1948 and so on. It's not much (and it's in a place almost no hikers or tourists go to), but it's more than I would have expected from the JNF.
Those were some weird dreams I mentioned. I can't really remember the movie-director one anymore, but the other one involved the British tabloid press hounding this famous rock star who'd had two of his kids die, and for some reason was suspected of sacrificing them as some kind of cult ritual. I never found out if he did it or not.
Down there is a vast herd of sheep, being directed across the valley by a shepherd. Plenty of Bedouin
in this area still live an ancient, pastoral lifestyle to the extent they can, what with modern
state-imposed land restrictions
This is what I picture when I think of Abraham territory
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