A sad return to Jericho

First conquered 3,500 years by Joshua, again in 1967, the "City of Palms" now lies in enemy hands.

palestinian soldier311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
palestinian soldier311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
I finally returned to Jericho after 10 years. The last time I was there, guiding tourists, was just before the Oslo War broke out in October 2000.
I have been to the “City of Palms” or “The back door of Jerusalem” many times – when it was safe – before the Oslo “peace.” Since those Accords of 1993, when Israel rolled out the red carpet for Yasser Arafat and the PLO, most guides scratched Jericho off the touring map.
True, armed Arabs and posters of Arafat were not encouraging, but I did continue to visit.
The charming “Peace unto Israel” synagogue with its beautiful mosaic floor from the times of the Talmud, and the little yeshiva above where a handful of students “held down the fort” studying Torah were a must-visit.
We would dance with the young idealist scholars, encouraging them, and they in turn encouraged us. It was a bizarre situation. “Palestinian police” with assault rifles on the outer perimeter and armed Israeli guards on the porch eyed each other suspiciously.
It was clear this situation would not last. And so in October 2000, when prime minister Barak offered Arafat 97% of his demands, including half of Jerusalem, the old terror chief gave the signal for a terror wave that eventually took thousands of Israeli lives. “Palestinian police” opened fire on their Israeli counterparts during their joint “peace” patrols. The weapons we gave them came in handy.
Another casualty of the Oslo war was the closing of the Oasis casino. Arafat and his Israeli partner (the same person negotiating with Arafat about the future of Israel!) had to manage without the million dollars that bused-in Israeli gamblers spent daily.
Since then, Jericho has been closed to Jewish visitors. Well, almost.
Every Rosh Chodesh (new moon), a handful of dedicated Jews try to scrape together a minyan for the joyous once-amonth prayers in the ancient, now forlorn little synagogue.
Leaving Jerusalem very early, we travel east through the Judean Desert liberated in the 1967 Six Day War. This was to be a bittersweet experience.
Twelve men and three women answered the call.
The plain mosaic stones, dusty and worn after 1,500 years, seemed to shine for us that early morning.
The little chipped red hearts on the floor seemed to burst with joy and achieve a color I had never noticed before. Our hearts beat together with the living stones that Rosh Chodesh.
Before entering Jericho in our armored bus, we waited for our IDF escort. Five military vehicles accompanied the strange Jews who insist on not abandoning Jericho. The commander briefed us on how we must behave.
“Operation Joshua” as he named it, was about to be launched.
Operation? Were we behind enemy lines? It would seem so. What had been a natural, simple activity years ago has become a complicated, risky military operation requiring special preparations and permission.
Oy. What have we done to ourselves? This was the first city that Joshua conquered 3,500 years ago. I wanted to apologize to the soil under my feet. I felt ashamed before Eretz Yisrael, abandoned by her children.
The Jewish presence was in self-imposed exile. Jericho welcomed her sons home again in 1967, but they chose to trade her away. Trade? No, give her away to strangers. Strangers? No, cruel enemies. The City of Palms, the City of Joshua, is now an Arab city. King David vanquished the Philistines and Israel’s foolish leaders brought them back.