I gained a deeper understanding of the current political problems in the region by observing a large spectrum of society as I traveled around Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. There were the Palestinians in Gaza, the immigrants in Ashkelon, and a variety of people in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and at all economic levels. It was a great experience. And even though it was weird as an American to see soldiers with machine guns hitching rides at bus stops, I still had a good time.
My assistant and I needed to go from Ashkelon to Jordan, and, because we had so much equipment, we decided to drive over the border. There are three crossing points, and all of them are named Hussein something or other. So we went to the ancient city of Jericho where we parked the car and took a taxi to one of the border crossings. The driver rode up to this little wooden bridge outfitted with gun turrets and let us out. We then loaded five or six large cases of equipment onto a cart and walked everything across. When we got to the checkpoint on the Jordan side, the man told us we were at the wrong Hussein crossing. I couldnt believe it! Since we had left Israel and entry points are strictly controlled, we had to turn around and go back through Immigration, get our car, go back 30 miles (48 kilometers) north to another Hussein crossing, unload again, and cross into Jordan again. What should have taken us about an hour and a half instead took about 16 hours. We were lucky that the second crossing was the right one.
Theres a public beach outside the ancient walls of Ashkelon. Its really strange to see all these young Israeli surfer kids hanging out on the beach with 80-year-old Russian immigrants. Theres a huge immigrant population in Ashkelon, which makes for an interesting if not quirky combination of people.