MANY of the large cruise ships now make the port of Haifa, where the British have spent millions on a mod-ern breakwater. The regular ships still go to Jaffa, but it is an uncertain business. The bottom there is shallow, with only a few feet to spare under the hull. ‘The sea is pale green and gets up a violent surf on the least blow of wind. The result is that the ship must up anchor and go, willy-nilly, leaving the passengers ashore to make the best of their way by rail to Beirut or Alexandria. Jaffa has nothing but the ancient natural breakwater that makes it the same port it was when the galleasses of Richard Coeur de Lion first ventured in here.
However, we venture. We always do. The business is well organized, though expensive, $150 per passenger ashore and back. Long surf boats manned by Arabs come alongside. The surf is so heavy that it is exciting; just to make the boat from the gangway. But these boatmen can carry a whole piano with case, so we jump into their arms, no matter how burdened with avoirdupois and age. They row around the ship and we head for the gate in the ragged rock teeth of that natural breakwater. Choosing a favorable wave, we hurtle through the narrow passage on the crest of a comber And are inside a tiny harbor that will hardly accommodate a fleet of feluccas. We land at the customs; the British officers take away our passports if merely visiting ashore. The usual visa of ten dollars is not required. You surrender the passport, and get it back before re-embarking for the ship.
Jaffa is an exceedingly busy port, with long trains of camels coming and goinghuge ships of the hinterlandburied in crates and crates of Jaffa oranges, dates, figs, almonds. Half a dozen tramps lie out at sea, and all this commerce is to be transshipped to them by surf boats. Our ship was unloading forty crates of automobiles for the wealthy Jews who are trying to colonize the land. These great boxes were much larger than the surf skiffs, but, balanced across the sterns, they all made the passage without a spill.
We walk up through the ancient and very dirty town, dodging under dromedary necks and stepping over diminutive donkeys. The train to Jerusalem is an impossibility, as it leaves at two in the afternoon and does not get back that day. But it is easy to make the trip by car.
You head for that tall stone tower in the center of the city, and will find dozens of cars parked there. The charge is three Egyptian pounds ($15) to Jerusalem and return, including a side trip to Bethlehem, six miles from there. The time is about two hours to Jerusalem. You can see everything and get back by five in the evening.
Out into the countryside of Palestine the car rolls. It is all orange groves as far as Ramleh, long hedges of cactus thorn impenetrable to thieves guarding the plantations. Ramleh treats us to olive groves, and then we are out on the plains of’ Palestine, and everywhere are camels ploughing the soil and the Arab and his wife and children cultivating. They are the backbone of the country; it is hopeless for town-dwelling Jews, who do nothing but buy and sell, to dream of dominion over them l Road ornaments are numerous, the great white dromedaries, long files of them, harness and necklace all in colored beadwork; the Palestine woman bearing a basket on her head, her clothes a glory of blue and red and gold, her dark face handsome with great brown eyes; the Palestine man, a tall upstanding Arab in a ragged burnouse. We pass the British military headquarters, miles of barbed wire, aeroplane hangars,, forts, barracks, officers’ quarters. And then up through the bare gorges of the Babel Oued into the mountainous country around Jerusalem. It is all strikingly like the Riviera hinterland; the same hillsides of Cretaceous limestone rock, the terraces of vines cultivated by ancient colonies of French priests, the mountain towns perched on defensible promontories.
But where are the Jews? Oh, you will see them; raw, new colonies of the familiar Jew of the Bronx and the East Side of New York, and you catch accents of Coney Island English as you pass. They are trying to settle here, and many millions are being spent on it; but it all lacks foundation, men who will work with their hands on the plow. As you near Jerusalem you see more evidences of what the Jew really is, a shop-keeper. There are blocks of plate-glass-front one-story delicatessen shops that might have been transplanted bodily from America. There are towns of concrete-block American houses, of nondescript architecture and a raw air of sham. And then, suddenly, you are parked opposite Cook’s in the central square of Jerusalemand the venerable Tower of David rises opposite!
The party will now be all filled with religious enthusiasm and we annex a guide at Cook’s to see the holy places. There is some confusion about which they really are, and each sect has erected churches over its own guesses.. But everything is seen by walking, so we head for the church of the Holy Sepulchre, passing by the German church which also claims the true site. The facts are that Constantine, in 326, ordered all the holy sites to be marked, to the best of information obtainable at that tirrie, and the church of the Holy Sepulchre was erected over the places so selected. The fact that all of them are claimed for one building is illogical, but it does not matter. What the world really reverences is the memory of the great events that happened here.
We are shown the spot where Christ was nailed to the cross; the site of the cross, marked by a huge silver star; and then the sepulchre, a stone grotto over which has been erected an elaborate hideous tomb. In the sepulchre are thirty-two silver lamps, kept forever burning. Most are owned by the Greek Church, some by Copts, Armenians, Mennonites, two by the Latin Church, none at all by the great Protestant branches of Christianity which have no representation here. Priests of the various sects go in, one at a time, to tend the lamps, as they cannot meet without a fight.
Gorgeous have been the battles between bands of priests in this church. During Turkish times a guard had to be kept there to separate them; and, when the Greeks built a wall across their chapel of the site of the Cross, so that no one else could enter, the Copts, Armenians, and Latins declared war and there were broken heads and torn cassocks and bloody nosesuntil the Moslem police decided to jail everybody concerned.
More sobering than these memories of frail human nature, even among the most august of alleged relics, is the tomb of Joseph of Arimatheain this same church, of course. It is impressive evidence that a tomb once existed here. But it is to Bethlehem that we must go for a revival of faith. Here is something real, something that we can believe. You leave Jerusalem with a strong feeling that all these sects of priestly mummeries that have lived and battened on the life of Jesus ought to be swept away and the world cleaned and purged of them, so that some direct approach to the simple Master could be had by plain, ordinary men. At Bethlehem you begin to believe that it might, some day, be so. Here, in.these bare hills, David composed his psalms. Here, some two thousand years ago, was born the carpenter’s son named Joshua, quite likely on that very spot now marked by a silver star in the Church of the Nativity.
The rest is legend; but from his sayings, writ-ten down just as the Buddha’s were by later disciples, we know that the prophet Joshua was a greater man than Gautama, than Mahomet, than any of all the men who saw more clearly than the rest of us into the nature of God. And the story of the gospel is the most match-less one yet told the sons of men. We had that story of the nativity, and of the choiring angels. and of the alarmining natural phenomena five hundred years before Christyou can read all of it in the Jatakabut there is nothing like the story of the gospel in any of the other prophets sent by God to reveal His nature to man.
This much we know: and Bethlehem has that air of sincerity and truth about it that helps us know that we know it. If I were a. dominic I could not write these things. Being but a plain Thinker, I can say that the signs of the times are these: the world is slowly but surely coming to the simplest of all creeds”There is no one between Me and God!” And thus will be fulfilled the Rig Veda written by the Aryans fifteen thousand vears ago, “To Brahm, in the end, all things return.”
The sights of the drive to Bethlehem may be catalogued as follows: You pass the Hill of the Evil Council where the betray,- Going back to Jerusalem, from this digression from the prosaic business of sight-seeing, your next visit after the Holy Sepulchre will be the Mosque of Omar. It should not be missed,; even if the entrance tax of fifteen Egyptian piastres is excessive. Here is the spot sacred to three religions, the traditional stone upon which Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac when stopped by the intervention of the Al-mighty. To Arab and Jew it is revered be-cause Abraham was their common ancestor; to the Christian world because of its Old Testament associations. How bound up we are, to be sure, with that old Semitic script which is at the same time the Talmud, the Old Testament, and a large part of the Koran I
The mosque itself is very fine, one of the handsomest religious edifices of Islam. Near by is the mosque El Aksa. When, in 637, Caliph Omar took Jerusalem after a four. months’ siege, he ordered his soldiers not to burn or pillage and to respect all Christian churches. And on the site of the Temple of Solomon, orthodox saint likewise of Islam, he had built the first mosque of El Aksa, of wood. It was rebuilt later by Abd el Malek. Showing as it does the earliest known Gothic arches, we may infer the influence of the Crusaders, if in-deed it was not originally a Christian church.
Everything in Jerusalem is seen by walking. You can continue from El Aksa to the Garden of Gethsemane across the vallev, see the ruins of some of the ancient walls of the city and come back by the Via Dolorosa and the Jewish Wall of Wailing. By that time it will be high time to take the car to Bethlehem and so back to Jaffa.