By Joseph W.
A few weeks ago, my dad, brother, and I went to Israel. We had many fun experiences, but I’ll only mention a few of them.
On our first day in Israel, we went to Caesarea National Park. Caesarea National Park boasts a Roman theater, a crusader city, the Byzantine square, a palace, a public bathhouse, an ingeniously designed network of streets, and much more.
The theater is the oldest of its kind that has been discovered in Israel. It lasted for hundreds of years after its time, which shows Herod’s engineering capabilities. This theater could hold four thousand spectators, and was frequented by many Romans. This theater was renovated, modified, converted into a castle, and abandoned after the conquest of the Arabs.
The palace — once an extraordinary structure but now only a fraction of its former grandeur — also has a story to tell. This palace had a pool which some archaeologists believe was used by Caesarean fishermen.
Probably the most exciting of Caesarea’s structures is the Herodian amphitheater. This is where the excitement was, where simpletons gathered for the sometimes gruesome but never dull entertainment. It was used for chariot races, which is interesting because chariots were considered to be the product of modern technology. The chariot races were not unscathed by the bloody desires of the unoccupied audience. Men were seriously injured and sometimes trampled while racing. Sporting events and plays were also held there. One historical account states that some amphitheaters may have been filled with water, in which there was a sea battle. In this play real ships and slaves would be brought in. Although many slaves and martyrs were slaughtered at these events, the audience was thoroughly entertained.
Another wonder of its day was the Harbor. The very existence of a harbor in such an area was a magnificent stroke of genius to the canvass that, once completed, portrayed the fine city of Caesarea. It would not be an overstatement to say that it truly was a glorious piece of art. The sands at the Harbor were unstable, and would be unable to support any structures that they might try to build in the water. But Herod, in a stubborn craze, was determined to have his own way — with or without nature’s permission. He began the construction of hundreds of wooden crates, which he filled with lime rock and volcanic ash. He then sunk the crates, and stacked them on the sea floor. The ash and rock (due to a chemical reaction initiated by the water) turned into cement, and created strong foundations. He made his own breakwater, lighthouse, and ware houses for the incoming ships. Caesarea, as a result, became rich.
I had mixed feelings about Caesarea. I felt awe at the once-mighty city, but sadness for its current condition. We saw many pillars and rocks laying on the grass. It was difficult to picture Caesarea at its prime, or to imagine that the rubble on the side of the path was once a structure. It truly was a unique experience.
Another exciting site we visited was Ammunition Hill. Ammunition Hill is in between a modern residential area and a university, on Mount Scopus. It seems to be just another sight, but the many dreadful accounts and information testify otherwise. The trenches and concrete pill-boxes which once contained the nightmares of many sacrificing men have become a silent testimony.
The Arabs and Israel were at war [in June 1967]. Israel was fighting to gain Jerusalem back. There were many fortifications around Jerusalem. In order to be effective, all the surrounding fortresses needed to be captured before any effort was made towards capturing Jerusalem. The time was almost ready. One of the remaining fortresses was between the Israelis and the Holy City – Ammunition Hill.
Ammunition Hill was thought to be the most fortified of the hills that surround Jerusalem. It was first owned by the British, who left it to the Jordanians when they evacuated. The Jordanians renovated the fort, making it even stronger. They build a confusing network of trenches, dotted with many conspicuously placed pill boxes. Machine gunners would hide in these small pill boxes and kill any unsuspecting enemy soldiers that would walk by. The advantage of the pill boxes was not only the protection, but the anonymity possessed by those who were inside. Standing over this place is an enormous watchtower, which gave whoever was in it an advantage over the enemy on the ground. This beast of a fort was taken by the Israelis, and I found it riveting how they did so.
In a craze of explosions, the Israeli soldiers took the trenches methodically – one by one. Brave commanders, who led their squads from the front, were the first to be shot. The men who assumed the role as commanders asked men to sacrifice their lives by giving cover for the advancement. One soldier wrote in his journal that it was like hell. You saw your friends falling and then it was your turn.
The bunkers were the hardest won of the obstacles in Ammunition Hill. After repeated attempts by the Israelis to kill the Arabs in a bunker, they used a massive amount of explosives to blow the bunker up. The hero of that event was David Shalom. While he was under heavy fire, his friends were tossing him mega explosives. He apparently gave no thought to himself as bullets were whizzing past the fifteen pound packs of explosives. When all was ready, he lit the fuse and tried to escape, but enemy soldiers blocked his path. He crouched and survived the blast.
Today, the once mighty fortress is a national park. Soldiers and civilians alike are given tours of it and are told of the bravery displayed where they stand. Because of those brave soldiers, people can walk in the bunkers without any worries. They can walk the grounds that had become a grave to many, and not worry for their own safety. Art, poetry, and many other things now decorate the walks of the bunkers.
It was sobering to walk where soldiers fought and were killed. I walked through trenches, into the pill boxes and bunkers, and read the entries the soldiers left behind. It was a very interesting experience.
During my trip to Israel, my mind was enlightened by those two parks. They left an impression in my mind and I enjoyed every minute of my experience.
A special thanks to my Dad. It was a great vacation.