A delegation of 36 people from Northern Quebec boarded an Air France flight last November 20 for a historic educational tour of Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, and a bonus visit to Paris on the returning flight home. The trip was organized by Reverend Enoch Hall, who is the minister of the Church at Oujé-Bougoumou and also the president of the Native Pentecostal Bible College at Chibougamau.

Preparations and planning of the trip began in the fall of 2008 and the expedition was set up as a practical field trip of the Bible College’s curriculum. By March 2009, 62 people had signed up for the trip and paid the deposits.

However, as the time of departure drew nearer, nearly half had withdrawn due to changing personal circumstances. Eventually, only 36 were able to go, including 26 from Oujé-Bougoumou, eight from Mistissini, and two from Waswanipi.

The main purpose of the tour was educational and sightseeing was only secondary. All the participants were required to keep a journal and to share the experience in a presentation after the trip.

There was so much to learn about the Middle East. For example, the land of Israel is so tiny compared to Canada; it is only 423 kilometres long from north to south and its width ranges from 114 to 14.5 km from east to west at various points.

However, the land of Israel encompasses the varied topographical features of an entire continent, ranging from forested highlands and fertile green valleys to mountainous deserts; and from coastal plain to the semitropical Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea (which is the lowest point on the earth’s surface at 411 metres below sea level); and the highest point, Mount Meron, which is 1,200 metres above sea level. When travelling to the Middle East, one has to pack the suitcase with different sets of clothes suitable for extreme climates.

The land of Israel is the birthplace of the three major religious faiths of the world – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All the participants gained valuable knowledge and insights into the rich culture, history, geography, geology, archaeological discoveries, climate, language, food and diet, survival skills of the peoples in these ancient lands.

The short duration of the trip could not allow for an exhaustive study. The group spent two days in northern Israel around the Galilee region; two days in Jerusalem; two days at the southern border in the Eilat region, and one day in Tel Aviv. The whirlwind tour started from Tiberias at the Sea of Galilee and then onto significant sites in Cana, Nazareth, Haifa, Megiddo, Galilee, Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha, Capernaum, Yardenit, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, Qumran, Dead Sea, Massada, Eilat, Petra, Timna Park, Jaffa and Tel Aviv.

Safe to go out even at night

After checking into hotel at Tiberias, the majority of the group went out to see the city. Many stores and shops were open till the late hours, but the city was very peaceful. People from the group went out again to the stores on the following night.

The group did the same thing at Jerusalem and at Eilat. There was nightlife in the cities in Israel and people could go anywhere at night. There was no sign of terrorism, violence or racial disharmony between the Jews and Arabs in all the places that the group visited – including Jericho and Bethlehem, which are both under full Palestinian control.

Despite the global recession, Israel’s economy appears to be thriving. There was a lot of construction and new highways being built. Tunnels are being constructed to go through mountains to shorten travel time.

Before leaving the Galilee region to travel to Jerusalem, the group stopped at the Jordan River for a water baptism ceremony. Eighteen people (that were half of the group) stepped into the river and were baptized by Reverend Hall.

While in Jerusalem, the group visited the Holocaust Museum and paid tribute at the Memorial to the six million victims who perished during the Second World War by observing a moment of silence.

Petra impressions

The group made a one-day trip into Jordan to visit the ancient City of Petra. From the official entrance to the site, a dusty trail goes downhill along the Valley of Moses. Situated to the left and right of the path were some tombs, carved into the rock. Beyond these, walls of sandstone rose steeply and a narrow cleft revealed the entrance to the gorge, which is the principal route into Petra itself.

Once inside, the gorge narrowed to little more than less than five metres in width, while the walls towered up to over 300 metres on either side. The gorge twisted and turned, the high walls all but shutting out the sunlight, until abruptly, through a cleft in the rock, the first glimpse of a magnificent temple of the city of Petra standing in front of a spacious naturally formed square. It was breath taking to see the intricate façades and pillars carved out from the red rock cliffs by the Nabataeans some 26 centuries ago.

After nine days of dining Jewish cuisine, some of the folks in our group were so glad to find a MacDonald’s restaurant in a modern shopping mall at Tel Aviv. What a special treat it was to be able to taste junk food so far from home!

In a desert climate with very little rain, with almost zero precipitation in some areas, the Sea of Galilee, which is the only fresh water lake in Israel and measures 18 kilometres north to south and 11 km across from east to east at the widest points, supplies most of the drinking water for Israel (population 7.4 million), the Palestinian Territories (population 2.3 million), and Jordan (population 6.2 million).

Environmental wonder

Before 1948, the land was arid and a deserted wilderness. Israel has successfully turned the desert into an oasis and literally made the desert blossom. More than 80 per cent of the trees in Israel were planted. The land is now lushly green with a thriving agricultural industry that exports tons of fruit and produce around the world. Yet, the country’s total water consumption has remained the same since 1960, despite a growing population, increasing water requirements, and growing agricultural production.

How does Israel do it? Israel has demonstrated the ability to adapt economically and socially to overcome many of water scarcity issues and has incorporated a wide variety of solutions. Among them, for example:

•    Israel has a 75% water-recycling rate, making it the world’s number one water recycler. Waste water management and purification produces water for agricultural use and irrigation.

•    Israel invented the drip irrigation system to enable trees, vegetation, and plantations to grow in arid areas.

•    The world’s largest Seawater Reverse Osmosis desalination plant is in Israel, producing 100 million m3 at the cost of approximately $0.52US per m3 of water, making it the most cost-efficient plant in the world. Israel creates close to 25% of its consumed water.

Here is a thought for the leadership of the Cree Nation: Water is not a commodity but a precious natural resource. Hydro Quebec has been building dams inside the territories of Eeyou Istchee to harness the power of the swift currents of rivers to generate electricity. Does the Cree Nation have any policies on water management to protect this priceless resource called water and keep it pure from pollution and exploitation?

Before waiting for Hydro Quebec to dam some more rivers in Eeyou Istchee, does the Cree Nation have any innovative ideas to take the ownership and onus of the plentiful natural resources in the vast territories, for example, to make use of the power of the wind or the sun to produce clean and green energy that can be sold to generate profit and benefit the Cree population directly?

Paris and home to the snow

The Paris stopover was a bonus because of the stopover with Air France. Except a few who had to return home to Canada early, the majority stayed in Paris for sightseeing. Everyone wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe and to walk along the Champs Elysees. Some also visited the Louvre Palace to view the painting of Mona Lisa. There was a guided bus tour in the daytime and a memorable cruise on the River Seine at night. During the boat ride, it was awesome to see the Eiffel Tower blinking with lights like a giant Christmas tree.

After 12 days being away from home, everybody was so glad to arrive home in Canada, despite of the cold and the snow. We are all proud of Canada and truly appreciate the meaning of the words found in the national anthem “Oh, Canada, our home and native land…”