Looking East to the Dead Sea, Masada

“Masada shall not fall again.”

Inside the Fortress Looking East to the Dead Sea, Masada 2011

© Leslie Hossack

Masada, a hilltop fortress built by King Herod, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Masada sits on a plateau that rises approximately 1,475 feet above the Dead Sea. In this photograph, the Dead Sea can be seen beyond the ancient walls of the fortress; on a clear day, the hills of Jordan are visible in the distance. The Dead Sea, located in the Jordan Rift Valley, is the lowest point on the earth’s surface at approximately 1,400 feet below sea level.

The story of Masada is legendary. After Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 CE, a number of Jewish freedom fighters fled to the fortress at Masada. In 73 CE, the Roman Tenth Legion laid siege to the fort. When it became apparent that the Romans were going to breach the walls, the 960 Jewish inhabitants burned all the buildings and committed mass suicide rather than be taken prisoners. Josephus writes that ten men were chosen by lot to kill all the inhabitants, and then one of these ten men was chosen by lot to slay the other nine, and lastly himself.

This saga gave rise to the phrase: “Masada shall not fall again.” Israeli army cadets who take their oath of allegiance at the fortress make this pledge. It is interesting to note that when new members of the Israeli Defense Forces are sworn in, the ceremonies are often held at sites of national historic interest, such as the Western Wall and Masada.

Israeli Soldiers Outside the Walls of the Old City

“the protests created a symbolic yet very real ‘threat’ to the Israeli bubble”

Soldiers Outside the Walls of the Old City, Jerusalem 2011

© Leslie Hossack

These young soldiers are sitting outside the walls of the Old City, not far from the Jaffa Gate. Built in the 16th century, the city walls have eight gates, seven of which are still in use. Until the 1870s, the gates were closed everyday from sunset until sunrise. The soldiers here are members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). National military service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18; men serve for three years and women for two.

This photograph was taken just before the back-to-back celebrations of Memorial Day and Independence Day. May 14th, 1948 marks the day Israel became an independent state. However, Independence Day is celebrated in Israel according to the Hebrew calendar; therefore, it fell on May 10th in 2011, and will fall on April 26th in 2012.

Palestinians observe Al-Naqba Day (Day of Catastrophe) on May 15th, the day after Israeli Independence Day. During the war in 1948, over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from Palestine, and the vast majority of these refugees have been denied the right of return. On May 15th, 2011, thousands of flag-carrying, non-violent Palestinians gathered at Israel’s borders to protest the creation of the State of Israel and their expulsion from Palestine.

“This Nakba day, unlike previous Nakba days, constituted a regional, synchronized act of awakening… For the general Israeli public, the protests created a symbolic yet very real ‘threat’ to the Israeli bubble” (Mahdi Sabbagh, May 22nd, 2011, 972 Magazine)

Mount of Olives, Israel

“It’s hard to evaluate the full cost that has been taken from us with their death.”

Jewish Cemetery, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem 2011

© Leslie Hossack

This ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives is the oldest continuously used cemetery in the world; over 150,000 people have been buried here. The steep hillside, looking out over the Valley of Jehoshaphat, is also home to the Tombs of the Prophets: Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi. Jews believe that this is where God will start to redeem the dead when the Messiah returns on the Day of Judgment.

Walking down the path from the top of the Mount of Olives toward the Old City of Jerusalem, one passes many churches, the last one being the Basilica of Agony. Beside it is the beautiful Garden of Gethsemane which contains many of the world’s oldest olive trees, including some that are over 2,000 years old. It is believed that Jesus prayed here the night before his arrest.

This photograph was taken on Memorial Day, shortly before the 11:00 a.m. siren sounded across Israel. At that moment, cars stopped and people stood still to pay their respects to Israel’s fallen soldiers. Memorial Day (officially known as Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day) starts the evening before with a ceremony at the Western Wall, and it ends the next evening at 8:00 p.m. when a torch is light at Mount Herzl Cemetery to mark the beginning of Independence Day.

In his speech at the Memorial Day ceremony, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “22,867 of our sons and daughters fell in Israel’s wars. It’s hard to evaluate the full cost that has been taken from us with their death.” In this photograph, the woman standing alone on the Mount of Olives is one of approximately 176,500 currently active members of the Israeli Defense Forces.