One Journey. Two Countries. Many Peoples.

One Journey. Two Countries. Many Peoples.


Leonard Zwelling

It is always hard to put a trip to the Middle East into perspective. Everything is too much.

If you travel here in July, it is very hot. This year it was particularly so. You cannot drink enough water. You can also not get enough of the food. In both Jordan and Israel, we ate a great number of meals in small family venues, mostly Arab. The falafel is luscious and the hummus unlike what you get in the United States (except maybe at Hamsa in Houston). Breakfast is always a feast of fruits, nuts, and breads with the inevitable omelet station as well. The food in Jordan is not really like the food in Israel. Even Arab cuisine has its nuances. However, there is no beer in much of Muslim Jordan and the Israeli beer is just good, not great. Neither country can give Belgium much competition in the brewing category.

Then there is the age of things.

In the United States, our sacred sites in Washington, DC, Boston, Philadelphia, and Gettysburg are decades old. In Great Britain, the relics go back hundreds of years. Here, in Israel and Jordan, the archeological sites date back thousands of years. Everywhere in Israel are “tels.” These are huge mounds on which sequential civilizations have built cities. Many are still being excavated. It is these ancient cities that bring the Bible to life for the events of the Old and New Testament are purported to have taken place here and the geography in the text is the geography of today. The places and names are still here. The events, of course, are another matter. However, the possibility remains that the stories in the Bible did actually take place. The degree to which they occurred as described will remain forever unknown. The locales of the events are surely accurately sited. No Waze for Moses, but the Israelites left their footprints in both Jordan and the Promised Land.

Jordan is not a first world country, but it is not third world either. Due to the largesse of both Israel and the United States, Jordan does have an economy and tourism is a big part of it.

Israel is a modern state where tourism is a major industry. Eighty-two percent of the people on organized tours of Israel are Christian. We have bumped into quite a few evangelical tours. Gil has guided some of these in the past. When it comes to the Bible, these folks are really in touch with the text and we see many devout Christians kissing the various stones at the holy places within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Of course, the Western Wall is a literal touchstone for Jews all over the world and while Christian pilgrims fill the churches here, Orthodox Jews flock to make Aliyah and live in Israel where they can live their faith, but also where they may evade service to the state that so desperately needs each and every young person to serve the country in some capacity. This brings us to the politics of Israel today.

It’s a mess.

The ultraorthodox, ultra-nationalist coalition of Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud-led, right-wing government wants to negate the power of the Supreme Court to override the laws passed by the Knesset concentrating all of the federal power in the legislative branch and denting true democracy in this small state, the size of New Jersey. Israelis are heading for a constitutional crisis and doing so without a constitution. The one promised in 1948 has still yet to be written.

The real question for the world at this point is whether or not Israel, like Hungary and Poland, will become an autocracy after having been a democracy. It’s a question we in the U.S. need to consider for another term of President Trump might mean the same for us if he has his way with the executive and judicial branches.

Democracy may be on the run here in Israel even as religion has its roots deep in the Israeli soil.

The United States was about 80 years old or so when it fought a civil war over slavery and states’ rights. Israel is 75 and at risk for a similar conflict as forces that wish to expand the country by annexing a large part of the West Bank and remove rights from Israeli Arab citizens threaten the pluralistic state that has somehow survived war after war to become the Start-Up Nation.

Israel, like the United States, is a country in transition, but no one knows exactly to what.

If you want innovation, this is the place. If you want brinksmanship when it comes to armed conflict, this is the place. If you want to see the faiths of billions of people alive and thriving, this too is the place.

Israel is always many things with many peoples. So is Jordan. One thing Israel always is is complicated.

Five visits and I still have but scratched the surface of Israel, the Bible, and a small country with many geographies and many different inhabitants.

Israel, like the United States, is a bit of a melting pot. Also, like the United States, it is an experiment in process. We can learn from the Bible and the archeology how it began. The future has yet to be written. I really hope my legs allow me to come back.

Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:,

on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle,


directly from the publisher Dorrance at:

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