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Tel Aviv: Israel on the Mediterranean

By Craig von Buseck Contributing Writer

CBN.comThe Sights of Tel Aviv

On the final day of our tour, just before dinner, our guide, Eli, took us for a short tour in Tel Aviv.

Stretched along the beautiful beach strip of the Mediterranean, Tel-Aviv is Israel's largest city and biggest commercial center. It is home to many of the nation's cultural leaders. The United States, and most foreign powers, still maintain their embassies in Tel-Aviv, even though Jerusalem is the official capital of Israel. Tel Aviv is a busy metropolis, with the energetic atmosphere of a modern city and a seaside resort.

Eli had us drive past the newly opened Cameri theatre with its beautiful architecture and grand courtyard. Directly across the street is the headquarters of the Israeli Defense Forces. The centerpiece of the IDF complex is a large communication tower that can be seen for miles. These two architectural landmarks serve as a poignant symbol of life in Israel; a grand, modern cultural center across the street from the headquarters of the Israeli armed forces.

This is the duality of Israel today -- a society that longs for beauty, art, love, and peace, but recognizes the necessity of military force to provide for and protect the right to enjoy the great cultural and religious expressions of this diverse people.

The shoreline of Tel Aviv reminded me of my hometown of Virginia Beach, though it faces west, rather than east. The Mediterranean water was still a bit cool in mid-May, but I was told it would heat up rapidly with the approaching summer. Unlike Jerusalem, with its ancient-looking buildings, Tel Aviv is a modern, commercial hot spot. Eli described the difference between the two cities like the difference between New York and Washington, D.C. in America. Like New York, Tel Aviv is a bustling center of culture and commerce. And like Washington, Jerusalem is the center of governmental power.

The bus driver skillfully snaked through Tel Aviv's narrow streets as Eli described different places of interest and historical importance.

At one point we stopped at the sight where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, shortly after speaking at a peace rally in Tel Aviv's Malchei Yisrael square. The gunman was a former law student who decided to kill Rabin sometime after the premier signed the peace accord with the Palestinian Liberation Organization in September, 1993.

Eli asked the bus driver to pull over to the side of the busy Tel Aviv street. He pointed to a simple staircase of a modern building. "When the peace rally concluded, the Prime Minister walked down these stairs and was assassinated. The entire country was in shock, you have to understand. There was shock in Israel, because an Israeli citizen did it. If an Arab assassinated him, the shock would be less. But to be killed by an Israeli? You would never believe such a thing. An Israeli citizen would kill the Jewish Prime Minister?"

"He said he killed him because he wanted to stop the peace process. 'I didn't agree with the policy,' he said. For heaven sake, every time someone doesn't agree with the policy, your gonna kill the Prime Minister? If I don't agree with on one word, God knows, that's it, I'm going to kill again? We change our government by elections -- that's a democracy, that's the way to except it. Do it legally, protest. It's not in the law to kill the Prime Minister because you don't agree with his policy. Is it right to go around killing everybody? The shock was devastating without any doubt."

One of the people on the tour called out, "Where is the assassin?"

"He's in jail. There is no capital punishment in Israel, except for Nazi criminals, so he's in jail for a lifetime. But God knows what will happen in the future. Theoretically speaking, if a very right wing party gained control, he could be out in no time. And God knows what else."

The bus pulled back into the busy Tel Aviv street and rounded the corner, stopping in front of the courtyard where the peace rally took place the night of Rabin's assassination.

Eli pointed to a large sculpture in the center of the square. "If I asked you, today, what is the symbol of the Jewish people? What would you say?" He fielded several responses from the tour group and then answered, "It is the Star of David. The Star of David is today a symbol of the Jewish people. By the way, the Star of David is not only a Jewish symbol. The Star of David was used by the Chinese, and the by the Americans, and the Indians as well. You see a Star of David on a tombstone in ancient time, it would be a Christian tombstone or Muslim. We call it David's Shield."

"We believe that this is David's Coat of Arms that was painted on his shield, that's why we call it David's Shield. The fact is that in King David's time, the Hebrew alphabet was different than it is today. At the time, the Hebrew letter "D" was a triangle. Put one triangle at one side, and one triangle at the other side. Put it together, at what do you get? The Star of David. So this is a possibility of how he came to adopt this symbol as his own. My idea is that King David chose this particular star to be his Coat of Arms. But it was not the Jewish symbol, period. It became associated with Judaism, but only after the Second World War. After the Nazi's told the Jews to wear the Star of David and so on. But today it is recognized as a Jewish symbol."

Eli described the large sculpture in the courtyard and shared its significance. "What is the Star of David? Two triangles pointed down. Creating what? Six small triangles in the corner. Correct? That's what it is. Now look at this sculpture again now, you can see a big triangle upside down and it stands on small triangles. It is broken. There is a big triangle upside down, being supported by smaller triangles, the Star of David. Look at the color, like it was burned by fire. That's the message. It's what the Nazi's did to us. They damaged us, but they didn't destroy us. The Jewish nation exists. We were damaged, we suffered, and we lost most of our nation. But we survived. This Star of David is not destroyed. Damaged yes, disordered yes, destroyed -- no. It's still standing. Look at it! It's alive! That's the Jewish Nation."

"Ninety-nine percent of the population doesn't know what their heritage is about. It's a shame. They don't even know. It's a beautiful piece. It's really a beautiful, meaningful piece."

Tel Aviv to Jaffa

From the square in Tel Aviv we traveled down the narrowing streets, crossing the border from Tel Aviv to the ancient port of Jaffa -- the place where Jonah boarded the ship running from God. The architecture quickly changed from tall, modern buildings to smaller structures, in more of an old European style. We exit the bus and walk to a small restaurant where we are escorted to the second-floor dining suite.

During this time each person was given the opportunity to share some final thought from the journey. Our delightful tour guide, Eli, shared these thoughts with the group.

"I just spent a week with a wonderful group of people. And I enjoyed every moment being with you, from the professional point of view as a guide, especially those of you who are here to the country for the first time. In Israel there is one code that is more important than seeing the sites of Israel -- it is to save life in this country. We are on a mission. And for me, it is a mission. A mission to save life in this country. This mission is more important than any other part of the country."

"What can you do? What kind of message of life can you take back home with you and to the States? I wish you would take home two things. Number one: Talk to everybody you know -- every friend. Tell them how they can save life in this country. I don't know if you realize this, but every penny you give to ARMDI is literally saving lives in this country. Money could be used in many different ways, but when you give to ARMDI you're sending it for medical equipment. Everything you send literally saves lives. You can tell all your friends how they can save lives."

"Also I want to tell you that not everything is important in this country. It's about fifty-five years since this country was established. And since than, we have been fighting for our lives. In 1949, there were 600 to 700 thousand Jews in this country. Within two years we absorbed two million refugees. One million from the Holocaust and the other million from Arab countries."

"Look at this country today. You know what? We made a lot of mistakes. I am not asking to you to take home all our problems. But at the same time, I would like you to tell your friends that Israel is not only what they see on CNN. They are not showing you the group of tourists who are happily walking through allies of the Old City. I'm not telling you that CNN is lying. What you see is the truth. But that is only one side of the coin. Everything today is ratings, ratings, and ratings."

"In the beginning of a newspaper in England, someone said something smart. 'A dog that bites a man is no news. But a man that bites a dog is news.' Does this show we are perfect? No! They show you that Israeli soldiers kill women and children. I am telling you loud and clear that we are not perfect. And they have no choice whatsoever."

"Right now, suicide bombers send women and children to this country. By now hundreds, if not thousands of suicide bombers live in this country. Many have succeeded, and many were captured. None of them are the son or daughter of any Palestine leader. No father or mother in their right mind would do such a thing. They exploit the weak people."

"Think of an Israeli solder at eighteen-years-old serving in the army. I have two sons in the army, one is eighteen and one is nineteen. Think of a child who is eighteen or nineteen years old. When sixteen-year-olds are shooting at them what do you want them to do? They have no choice but to shoot them back. I'm telling you, so help me God, Israeli's are crying inside! They are bleeding inside! But there is no choice, they have to defend themselves."

Eli looked around the room at the small group of Americans who cared so much for the people of Israel that they would come to visit at this difficult time. "This is the worst thing that can happen to us in this country -- to us! This goes against the spirit of Judaism. It will corrupt us day after day, year after year. The interest of this state is to make peace. There is no other way. The majority of Israeli's want to make peace. But so far both sides are not ready for that. That's why both sides are bleeding."

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Craig von BuseckCraig von Buseck is Ministries Director of Send him your comments on this article. More from Craig on

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