Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Israel's Railroad: The Story Concluded

In my previous post I mentioned my long-ago adventure with Israel's railroad. I have also told of this adventure, I believe, in my recently-published book, "Jerusalem Journal". But until the past week or so I have known very little about the railroad or how it came to be. Only in the past few weeks have I learned more.
The source of my additional information is another writer, the brilliant H.V. Morton, of whose works I have become an avid fan. Decades ago Morton visited what was then the British-ruled Palestine Mandate, now (essentially) Israel and Jordan. The result was one of his best-known travel books, "In The Steps Of The Master."
By coincidence, Morton entered the Palestine Mandate from Egypt--by that one section of the railroad that, when I visited many years later, was closed. Several days after being rowed across the Suez Canal to the rail head, he seems to have de-trained in Jerusalem at about the same spot that I did.
His work filled me in on the railroad's historical background. It had been built by the troops of the British general Lord Allenby, and was part of Allenby's successful campaign to defeat the German-allied Turks and take Jerusalem. Once you know this, you can look at the map and its route makes perfect sense. It tied together British-held Egypt and two important seaports--Haifa in the north and Jaffa halfway down the Mediterranean coast toward Egypt. This made it very efficient for channeling troops and materiel, and--at Jaffa--angling it all off by rail through the Judaean hills toward Jerusalem. There the soldiers would get off the trains pretty much where Morton and I did--in our respective decades, of course.
I am glad to pass on this additional information about Israel railroads, in part because it gives me yet another opportunity to call attention to H.V. Morton's work. The man was an exquisite writer, and if you can't afford a vacation this year pick up and read one or more of his books. At least from my point of view, vicarious experience is much better than none. And Morton will bring you as close to the real thing as words ever can.
Don't just take my word. Here is a very brief excerpt from "In The Steps Of The Master":
"...the railway to Jerusalem...follows an ancient route. It runs over the ageless caravan road to and from Egypt...It was a road that led everywhere: to Damascus in the north, to the desert city of Petra in the east, to Egypt in the south...And I remembered again that this was the way Joseph and Mary fled with a Child into Egypt."
I wish I could offer more; but it isn't mine to offer. All I can do is suggest that you sample it for yourself.

No comments: