A Jew prays at the Western Wall in East Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel

Since leaving Thailand in early December we’ve felt immersed in utter chaos nearly every minute of every day. Partially that’s because of decisions we’ve made along the way and the unique situations we’ve created for ourselves, for which we accept our share of the blame. But we also think it’s fair to share some blame with this part of the world (it’s our blog after all, and we can blame who we want). So to briefly recap the chaos we’ve experienced: we were threatened with arrest as we left Maldives without proper gun licenses, we were shot at, boarded and detained in Yemen as we tried to refuel in Aden, boarded and searched twice by angry Sudanese coast guard at gunpoint, and then finally forced aground by the Saudi Navy in a shallow harbor. To top things off, we now notice as we review the telephoto pics of a skiff approach we had in the Gulf of Aden (which we dismissed at the time as just curious fishermen), that it appears they had a concealed rifle ready on the driver’s lap…. and our new assumption is that they were more likely pirates than curious fishermen that were frightened off by the sight of our own weapons as they sized us up (see the pics and decide for yourself what’s on the driver’s lap).

So we’ve obviously been left several times wondering what the hell is wrong with this part of the world. Maybe in Yemen it’s because they were in the middle of a coup when we stupidly showed up in their port. And maybe in Sudan it’s because we were sailing into disputed waters that both Egypt and Sudan claim as their own (Egypt’s bigger weapon arsenal making it the current occupant at the moment). As for the Saudis, who knows what their deal was, but we now see that the Tiran and Sanifir islands we were sailing near (marked as Saudi islands on our map) are occupied by all kinds of unwelcomed international military guests… possibly making the Saudis very suspicious of any vessels crossing into undisputed Saudi water (their King was also dying that day – just an interesting factoid adding to the chaos). It’s like an endless string of conflicts, border disputes, and internal power shuffling everywhere we go, and it’s impossible to keep up with it all.

So it was a huge relief to finally see the Israeli border off our bow as we pounded up the Gulf of Aqaba into 20-30 knots of wind. But as we approached literally our final mile of Egyptian water we spotted an Israeli Navy ship steaming towards us from the Israeli side of the border. On a VHF discussion, they told us we had just crossed into Israeli waters illegally, and to return 400 meters south to Egypt until we secure formal permission to cross into Israeli territory (a long procedure requiring the Navy to contact higher powers ashore for clearance). We of course obliged and drifted backwards into Egyptian water, at which point the Egyptian Coast Guard approached us and began yelling at us in Arabic and waving all kinds of funny hand signals – luckily no guns being brandished… yet. The Israeli Navy noticing our predicament and hearing our pleas on the VHF finally realized we might get taken away by the Egyptians, and kindly allowed us to cross just a few meters into Israeli water while we negotiated our formal entry, just barely out of reach of the Egyptians. And for the next hour and a half we sat nose to nose with the Israeli warship in front of us, and the Egyptian Coast Guard lurking around behind. All this fuss for little old us just made us slap our heads once again with utter confusion.

We of course did get clearance into Israel without further incident, and began our exploration of this tiny country without the slightest delay. We soon learned that the day before our arrival, Israel had bombed a motor convoy of Hezbollah officials in an occupied part of neighboring Syria… the response from Hezbollah to Israel was simply: “Prepare your bomb shelters“. The following day in Tel Aviv a Palestinian stabbed 13 people on a city bus. This sort of chaos was initially surprising to us, but apparently isn’t particularly concerning for any of the Israelis we’ve spoken to. And aside from the news headlines, life everywhere does seem pretty much safe and normal. That began our Israeli experience, and the week we’ve had exploring since then has easily been the most educational of our entire voyage. The complex history of Israel and its web of conflicts with its Arab neighbors can’t possibly be summarized here, but learning that history is what our visit has been all about, and probably the single biggest reason to visit this country – many mysteries about how the world works are starting to come into focus for us. Everything we see here, the religious monuments, the buried ruins, the Arab and Bedouin villages, the heavy military presence and seemingly absurd concern with security and monitoring… all of it has a direct relationship to that complicated past (and present, and future).

So here we are in East Jerusalem’s old town, the epicenter of everything that makes Israel one of the most volatile places on the planet, loved by some and hated by others. Even claiming we’re in Israel here is scandalous and might get us into serious trouble in some nearby places (Palestine also claims it as its capital). But with Israeli flags waving and Israeli authorities unambiguously in control of the city, it feels like Israel to us.

Tomorrow we go one step further into an even more controversial region under Israeli occupation: a road trip through the West Bank. Our interest there is the infamous Dead Sea more so than another history lesson, then its back to the boat for the final leg of our voyage.

6 Comments

  1. AIdan

    Hi Guys
    Just caught up on your blog. We were overseas and this is the first blog I have seen since early Nov – forgive the long silence from this precinct.
    Your comments about your experiences in the middle east are very sobering. Please be safe.
    Your achievements as you approach the finish line are quite remarkable.
    It is fantastic that you are about to successfully complete a R T W voyage.. The totality of the trip, from the travel, education, different cultures, different peoples, sailing, all the experiences you have had will be a lifelong tale for your children, grandchildren and their kids. WOW. Wonderful, and Robin and I send you our very best wishes and congrats. We are so looking forward to seeing you when you get back to C A.
    Again please be safe and continued ‘bon voyage’ from us.
    Very best Cheers from San Diego.
    Aidan
    P S new email address is posted above.

  2. ERNESTINA T.

    Hello Guys,
    Thanks to my friend Bruce Byall, I have followed your RTW tour.
    I am so glad you have made it through dangerous waters I had much feared for you as you approached them. I live in France where the situation makes one aware that we do not live in a peaceful, administration free world. Thank you for sharing your adventurous trip with us. Be safe and continue to have good winds.
    ET

  3. JP

    The international legal status of East Jerusalem is clear in that its Palestinian Occupied Territory: to call it Israeli is to accept that might is right. Alternatively if you believe in democracy and equality it would also be Palestinian as the current demographics are that they represent a thin majority between the Jordan and the Med. However the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are denied the right to vote as they give what Israel considers the “wrong” answer to the question “Are you Jewish?”. The people of Gaza are treated worse, with Israeli war crimes this summer in which over 500 children were killed and the ongoing blockade where deaths continue:
    http://electronicintifada.net/content/gaza-struggles-cope-siege-and-storms/14186

    For more balanced Jewish Israeli views on the current situation check out +972 mag:
    http://972mag.com/

    For Palestinian news (e.g. of the Israeli attacks that lead to incidents) check out:
    http://maannews.net/eng/Default.aspx

    Another must read is the brilliant Gideon Levy at Haaretz.

    Good luck!

  4. Margaret

    Hi guys. Glad that eventually more sober minds and actions prevailed. We would agree that Israel is a thought and mind enhancing (enlarging?) experience. We were there in July and certainly it was one of the most interesting, complicated and inspiring trips we have ever taken. Just returned from visiting a son in Singapore which is also interesting architecturally, organizationally and culturally. See you on return. Bernie and Marg Churchill

  5. Matthew White

    Jason, Piers, et al!!

    What a blessing it was to have you here :) I’m so so glad that our paths were able to cross in Tel Aviv. I love you both so so much and can’t wait to see you again!

    Always,

    Your godbrother,
    Matthew

    P.S. The above classification of the Israeli incursion into Gaza this past summer as constituting “war crimes” is egregiously exaggerated, electronicintifada is a non-credible news source that smacks of anti-Semitism, and Maan news is wildly biased. Sorry, but it had to be said…everything here has its pros and cons >.<

  6. Mom

    Dad and I have had the utmost faith in both of you during the last three years, but your last blog surpassed anything we could’ve imagined that would test your courage, determination, resourcefulness and presence of mind like the last month. And you’ve come through all the challenges like the champions you are, and you all deserve our deepest respect, gratitude and love.
    Roll on mid Feb. for the final leg and our whoopee celebrations in Rhodes!
    Xx

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