Sunday, November 23, 2008

Touristy Stuff

One of the things they do in Ulpan is introduce Israeli culture. We often do stories about important people, places and events in Israeli history. On Thursday my Ulpan took a trip to Jerusalem. We visited the Supreme Court, Knesset and Menachim Begin Museum. The Supreme Court and Knesset were tours I had oppurtunities to take at other times when I was in Israel and choose to pass. This time it was worth going.

The first stop was the Supreme Court. After our whole group went through security a bag was left outside of security. They were getting nervous as noone in our group claimed it. As we were standing around a staff member from the floor above us managed to drop their cell phone near where a bunch of us were standing. We began the tour and left security to deal with their bag.

As this was Ulpan the tour was conducted in Hebrew. The guide was talking way to fast for me to register anything she was saying, even when she did use words I understood. Once we made it into the courtroom, she finally got the message to slow down. Either I understood half of what she said or I have a really off the deep end understanding of the court system. My favourite moment was when someone in my class got up and asked the guide a question in Russian. Her eyes just completly glazed over. Members of my class were happy to see that she now understood how we felt. I think we had an oppurtunity to see a case in action in the main courthouse, but we didn't have enough time.

The Supreme Court is a beautiful building. A lot of deep and well thought out symbolism was used representing important values of justice. I could not help but to think of recent court rulings that violated the principles incorporated into the building. A soldier sentenced to 21 days in jail for the crime of yawning. The ruling in favour of the forcible eviction of land legally purchased by Jews. There is overwhelming evidence the sale was not coerced. The only issue that seems to be at stake is the seller didn't know he was selling to Jews and is trying to avoid the death penalty.

The next stop was a short walk down to the Knesset. Security was extra tight with cell phone and cameras confisicated and stored in a bag until after the visit. I was surprised when I set off the medal detector. Without doing anything different I walked through a second time without doing anything different without setting of the medal detector. That meant a quick pat down of my pockets followed by a gruff "Welcome" afterwards. It is ammusing when Israeli security gaurds try to be friendly.

(The Knesset and Supreme Court have a Tadiran phone system. Although they are using the beige DKT phones which were discontinued a long time ago.) Our first stop was a video presentation. It was in Hebrew with Hebrew subtitles. Since it was designed as a promotional video, it was slow and clear combined with the writting I was able to understand a lot. We were given the option to watch it again as an English tour joined up with our group. Next we went to the Knesset floor. It struck me how American it was in design and layout. I really like to the pomp and ceremony of the Canadian system. The Knesset has a VIP gallery. Behind that is the public gallery which is behind sound proof glass. The tour guide explained the reason was because some once through a grenade in the old Knesset building and injured some people. The secondary reason was for noise control. I got a good laugh, as the second answer is probably the true one.

We then took the bus to the Menachim Begin Museum. It was a well done exhibit on the life story of Begin. It is amazing that someone could spend 26 years on the opposition benches before spending 6 years as Prime Minister. Each room had some sort of video on different parts of his life. There was even a room where you could select each and every election campaign he was a part of. Headphones were provided to translate the video into the language of choice. Between the different rooms there was usually an introduction given by our tour guide.

My favourite was there was a room set up with a table and chairs to simiulate Irgun planning meetings. On the left was a video of a street with a British Patrol. In front there was a monitor on the left with BBC broadcasts of various events. On the right was the same broadcast coming from the Israeli underground. There was another monitor to show events taking place. During the planning discussuion hands appeared on the tables and you could watch the planning take place. They covered the Akko prison break, King David Hotel, Soldier Hangings, Ship sinking. At one point a comment is made that there are too many British patrols as the monitor on the left shined a light into the entire room. It was a pretty simple but cool effect.

The only objection about the museum came from someone active for the Likud. They are commemorating 30 years since the Camp David accords next year. There are pictures of the Carter/Sadat/Begin handshake. He felt it was a government agenda to move the peace process forward. When I pointed out that they showed Begin saying "There will never be a Palestinian State" at the museum and at the Knesset. He said it was just there to cover up the government agenda.

The tour ended with a trip on an elevator. It was a round room that could hold 30 people. They played Begin's speech from 1978 on Ammunition Hill, about the importance of Jerusalem. When the doors open you get a beautiful view of the old city.

All in all it was a pretty good day.

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