Sunday, December 03, 2006


I've developed a habit of studying landscapes as I travel the world. By "studying" I mean not just seeing landscapes as they roll by, but sensing their realities of geology, ecology, and human use. As we've traveled through Israel and Palestine (the West Bank), I've internalized a deep sense of the harshness of the landscape. With the exception of the coastal plain of the Mediterranean Sea, most of what I've seen in those lands is a beautiful, but harsh landscape of desert and rock.

Several years ago we drove the road from Tiberius in the north, south to the Dead Sea and then west to Jerusalem. The highway generally parallels the Jordan Valley, which is seen below as a green ribbon at the boundary of Israel and Jordan. But the more immediate landscape is desert sand and rock - hot, dry and with a sense of unforgiving. We passed small towns and individual dwellings, and imagined the effort needed to scratch out a living from this land.

This year we traveled into northern Israel again, to the area between Haifa and Tiberius, where we have family in the city of Carmiel. This landscape is dominated by rock, as pictured above. As I walked through an undeveloped area on the edge of town to take pictures, even the thorny plants reminded me that this landscape can be unforgiving. The rock itself is old and weathered, appearing ancient like everything else in this land. What stories could the rock relate if I could only find its language?

People occupy landscapes, and often change them to suite their needs. Forests disappear, grasslands yield to pasture and row crops, cities grow where nature once ruled. But there is something about the landscape of Israel/Palestine that conveys the sense that nature rules here. Perhaps the harshness of civilization in this land, the seemingly endless conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs (Muslims and Christians) and Jews, Muslims and Christians, is a reflection of the land itself.

For millenia, people have learned to live with and on the harsh landscape of these lands, to accept the land for what it is and reach an accord with it. My hope is that someday people can learn to live with each other, to reach an accord with the social and political landscape and turn its harshness into peace.

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