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5 August 2011
We take a holiday in Sharm al-Sheikh, the southernmost point of the Sinai, where Mubarak until shortly took refuge. A banner in the airport arrival hall, hinting at the Arab spring and the fall of Mubarak, says that everything is “normal” in Egypt because Egypt is the place where history is always made. As the official tourist motto runs: “Egypt, where it all begins.”
Among the family activities we choose to do is a light and sound show about the history of Egypt followed by Arab horse riding. The audience of a few hundred is a mixed one, consisting mainly of Arabs and Egyptians but also including tourists from various parts of the world. The show is in fact well-done and leaves a strong impression. When in the course of Egyptian history the performance arrives at Pharao Ramses II, Yara whispers asking whether this is the pharao whose family took care to rescue Moses. Probably the single nice thing the Bible has to say about the Egyptian ruling class at the time, I realize. I answer her that the story of Moses and the Exodus is theology and that many, including Israeli archeologists, have heavy doubts as for the historical truth of the Exodus. Going back to what is supposed to be historical origins or roots is always a risky enterprise.
When the Arab horses enter the arena, and the skillful horsemen show spectacular bodily positions on the horses, the audience gets even more enthusiastic. Mary and the kids stand up and shout “bravo” when the Palestinian flag is carried on one of the galopping horses. More than anything else the running horses express the feeling of liberty.
How often have Palestinian and Arab painters projected their concepts of pride, freedom, independence and revolution into the wild movement of Arabian horses? Mary’s parents and all their family used to go to Jericho to visit Arab horse competitions there. Galopping over the desert fields reminds of the indomitable spirit of the Bedouin. Even now, when listening to popular Arab music as is much played during summertime weddings, its rhythms often remind of running horses. Jara tells me that she learnt at school that real Arabian horses have a feeling for music, and in fact we observe some well-rendered dance steps by the horses.
Next day we enter the desert, the Sinai. Rather than horses, we take four-wheeled motor bikes. For the first time Yara drives as if she is in a car. Wow, that goes fast! Especially giving full gas creates this feeling of freedom, she says. I remember that once a motor cyclist, after passing a checkpoint near Bethlehem, gave full gas putting his front wheel high into the air. Tamer is watching us safely from the back of the leader’s motor bike. We share a cup of tea in the Bedouin tent, looking far away across the rough mountains.
On the way back to Bethlehem, we all realize the meaning of our holiday. It gave us long views across the desert and the sea; it helped breathing, enjoying a sense of full freedom. During our last dinner in Sharm we hear the tones of the Eagles’ Hotel California. The children had to laugh because they know it is one of my favorites, with that puzzling closing line: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” It leads me to ponder how real the freedom of a tourist resort is. Anyway, don’t think about it, we enjoyed. Mary tells me to tell the Israelis that we had “sun and fun,” before going back to the country “with sun and without fun.”