The end of the first day in Israel has come and already the complexities and promise of our surroundings have revealed themselves. A mere twenty minutes into our northbound journey from Tel Aviv, we found ourselves skirting the 67 border between Israel and the West Bank. The division is as striking for its unremarkable appearance as it is for its convoluted history. A simple fence traces much of the line between cities, notably absent of the high concrete walls and open conflict so widely portrayed by the media. Our guide Muki narrated our journey, weaving together history, politics, and culture to explain the ever-changing patchwork of temples and minarets we see. Still, it is clear that some dynamics at work here can only be fathomed with time.
A mere two hours from our starting point (but halfway across the country!) we arrived at Golan Heights, a site of conflict between Israel and Syria. To the east we could easily see Syria’s border towns. UN soldiers stood nearby to monitor action in the region. From this vantage point above the towns, we saw a brief plume of smoke – evidence of the war that still riddles the country.
Despite the extensive fighting that occurred here, Israelis have transformed the region into a wine-producing hub. A visit to Golan Heights Winery provided an up-close look at the local industry. Forty different types of wine are produced in this small area, ranging from a savory pinot noir to a sweet Riesling. We stopped into the bottling warehouse, where a kosher white wine was being corked, labeled, and packed for shipment to destinations around the world. Our visit would not have been complete without trying the wines for ourselves, which we did over a delicious Mediterranean lunch.
From there, our journey continued to Nazareth, one of the many holy sites in Israel for Christians. The Church of the Ascension, located in the heart of the city, provided a perfect backdrop to the city’s multi-dimensional character. Visitors are welcomed to the church with Scripture in Hebrew and verses in Arabic, displayed side by side. Inside, the church is a blend of old and new, with contemporary figures from around the globe mixed with the remains of the first church from Byzantine times. Our final stop for the day is at New Generation Technology (NGT), a venture capital firm specializing in Arab-led biotechnology and IT startup companies. The company’s leading executives, including Board of Directors member Gary Jacobs, spoke about their successful business model that incorporates government subsidies with private funding and venture dollars. Most notably, each employee emphasized the importance of Israeli-Arab cooperation in business. As they said, it is not only a step in the right direction for a population that frequently falls below the poverty line, but also a step in the right direction for Israel’s own economy. Cooperation, it seems, is a critical component to continuing the growth of Israel’s technology innovations.
Over a bounty of food in Nazareth this evening, our group recapped the many events of the day. With minds and stomachs full, we look forward to the upcoming two weeks and cannot wait to see how we can contribute to the success of this remarkable country.