[Photos Day 1] [Photos Day 2 am] [Photos Day 2 pm] [Photos Day 3] [old postcards]
[Commentary, Day 1] [Commentary, Day 2 am] [Commentary, Day 2 pm] [Commentary, Day 3]
Many years ago I, Keith Wheeler (5th adult from right, group photo upper left), was stationed with a US military training mission in the "desert station" at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As this was considered a "hardship" assignment, the military made travel outside the country often available. With my love of travel and different cultures, I took every opportunity to visit surrounding countries. One such opportunity was an organized 3 day tour to Jerusalem and other nearby religious sites. This, of course was before the 1967 war, and the old city of Jerusalem and other sites visited were in the Palestinian West Bank, in land then administered by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This area is now territory occupied by Israel.
This tour was organized by US military special services and we flew from the Saudi Dhahran Air Base to Jerusalem in a US Air Force plane. It was off season (high summer) and the cost for this tour was extremely reasonable, even for the very limited means of a lowly enlisted person. Two other members of the desert Army Element by the last names of Jones and Reis would also go on this trip. Otherwise it was made up mostly of Air Force personnel from the Dhahran area. Our 3 day tour was efficiently conducted by a Jerusalem tourist agency. Our Muslim Arab guide was fluent in English, had a great sense of humor, and was more knowledgeable in Christian history and biblical references than most ministers that I had ever known.
For me, this was not so much a religious pilgrimage as an interest to see first hand this part of the world that has played such an historical role in western civilization. While raised in serious Protestantism as a youth, as 24 year old with a few years of college under my belt, I was then a religious skeptic. I tried to keep an open mind and take an objective view of this land of much history and even greater controversy. I had the background of studying the Bible as a youth, but also having had a few anthropology courses. One of the strongest impressions was how different these religious sites were on these hot August days compared to images from my childhood. It also seemed that every geographical location mentioned in the Bible had to have at least one shrine or church over it, and often several. Additionally I learned of new Christian denominations and sects and the strong conflict and disagreement among many of these supposedly pious groups. While some of these Christian leaders radiated their kind beliefs and obviously wanted to share their passions, others seemed more interested in power, status or crass commercialism. A strong example the latter was the attitude of the Catholic Priest who "blessed" our group's collections of crucifixes at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. He quickly ushered us in to the Holy Tomb, collected our required "donations," had us place our paper bags of objects on the Tomb's slab, hastily sprinkled his holy water, said a few Latin words, and then promptly sent us out so the next group could be so "processed."
I had been, as most Americans of the time, a blind supporter of Israel and anything that this young country did. However, since becoming personally acquainted with many Palestinians more recently in Arabia, I became acutely aware of their history and points of view about the land of Palestine they had called "home." While in Jerusalem, we were very aware that Israel was not very far away. Remnants of the past conflicts were still present. We were clearly told that if we ventured too far to the west and entered Israel, our Saudi visas would be terminated. While we saw a few Jordanian soldiers, most were Palestinian policemen. A UN presence was evident by their white vehicles and a UN plane parked at the airport. [Remember, I was here before the 1967 war & all the areas that we visited on this tour has since become "occupied" by Israel. This area is now usually referred to as the "West Bank".]
These are a collection of the surviving 35 mm slides. Many did not fare well in their poor storage condition over the past 40+ years. More drastically was the fact that my trusty Zeiss Ikon chose these days to end its career. I knew I was having some problems with the camera during the tour, but when the few developed slides were returned, I was devastated. Of the great number I thought I took, very few turned out. I was not able to make a repeat tour, but I was able to talk an Army friend into taking my new German Kodak Retina Reflex S camera with him on his later tour. He was willing to carry my camera and take double photos at the various sites. However, it turned out that his tour was not exactly the same as mine and I ended up with many nice photos of places and things that I did not recognize. In addition to all of these problems, the old slides have become mixed together and with my fading memory I am not certain that I have been able to order and identify them correctly. If you happen to notice errors, please send you corrections or suggestions to Keith.
Day 1 - ARRIVING New Jerusalem, drive east to BETHANY, JERICHO, JORDAN RIVER, DEAD SEA.
Day 2 AM - OLD CITY: Stephen's Gate, Church of St. Anne, Pool of Bethesda, Solomon's Temple, Dome of the Rock, El Aksa Mosque, Wailing Wall.
Day 2 PM - GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE, Church of All Nations, BETHLEHEM.
Day 3 - MOUNT OF OLIVES, OLD CITY: Stations of the Cross, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Garden Tomb, LEAVING.
1960 Holy Land Postcards - 6 postcards purchased in Jerusalem + Christmas card.
Notes were taken during the tour and a commentary typed up after return to Riyadh. This was written primarily for my dear mother, her friends and relatives. I knew that it was an important event to have a son visit the holy lands and that she would share anything I sent with her fellow Church members and religious relatives. After these many years, an old "carbon copy" of this commentary was found. It was a bit embarrassing to find how poorly it was written, as well as what was left out. It is transcribed here, with some editing, to give the flavor of the impressions on this 24 year old G.I. from California.
Day 1 - ARRIVING NEW JERUSALEM, DRIVE EAST, BETHANY, JERICHO, JORDAN RIVER, DEAD SEA.
Day 2 AM - OLD CITY: STEPHEN'S GATE, CHURCH OF ST. ANNE, POOL OF BETHESDA, SOLOMON'S TEMPLE, DOME OF THE ROCK, EL AKSA MOSQUE, WAILING WALL.
Day 2 PM - GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE, CHURCH OF ALL NATIONS, TOMB OF VIRGIN MARY, BETHLEHEM.
Day 3 - MOUNT OF OLIVES, STATIONS OF THE CROSS, CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHER, GARDEN TOMB, LEAVING.
Upon returning to the States and being discharged, I resumed my academic work at Chico State. With all of the experiences of traveling around the world and living in the Middle East, I had much subject matter and motivation for English term papers. While certainly not any great works of literature, these amateurish writings reflect a young American's thoughts on an expanded world. Maybe later these will be transcribed (& edited to reduce embarrassment) and uploaded. They might include:
A Beer in Bethlehem
Power to Fulfill Hope; Coffee Conversations with Palestinians
Return to Old Military Photo Album Index
Brought to you by a member of Veterans for Peace, Chapter 56