National Geographic : 1915 Mar
IMPRESSIONS OF PALESTINE BY JAMES BRYCE BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES, 1906-1913 N OCOUNTRY has been so often described or so minutely described by travelers of all sorts of tastes and interests as Palestine has been; and this is natural, for none has excited so keen an interest for so long a time and in so many nations. As we have all at some time or other read much about the country, it may well be thought that nothing now remains to be said about Palestine, except by arche ologists, whose explorations of the sites of ancient cities are always bringing fresh facts to light. But if all of us have read a good deal about the Holy Land, most of us have also forgotten a good deal, and our ideas of the country-ideas colored by sentiments of reverence and romance-are often vague and not always correct. It may therefore be worth while to set down in a plain and brief way the salient impressions which the country makes on a Western traveler who passes quickly through it. The broad impressions are the things that remain in memory when most of the details have vanished, and broad impressions are just what an elabo rate description sometimes fails to con vey, because they are smothered under an infinitude of details. A SMALL COUNTRY Palestine is a tiny little country. Though the traveler's handbooks prepare him to find it small, it surprises him by being smaller than he expected. Taking it as the region between the Mediter ranean on the west and the Jordan and Dead Sea on the east, from the spurs of Lebanon and Hermon on the north to the desert at Beersheba on the south, it is only iio miles long and from 50 to 60 broad-that is to say, it is smaller than New Jersey, whose area is 7,500 square miles. Of this region large parts did not really belong to ancient Israel. Their hold on the southern and northern districts was but slight, while in the southwest a wide and rich plain along the Mediterranean was occupied by the warlike Philistines, who were sometimes more than a match for the Hebrew armies. Israel had, in fact, little more than the hill country, which lay between the Jordan on the east and the maritime plain on the west. King David, in the days of his power, looked down from the hill cities of Benjamin, just north of Jerusalem, upon Philistine enemies only 25 miles off, on the one side, and looked across the Jordan to Moabite enemies about as far off, on the other. Nearly all the events in the history of Israel that are recorded in the Old Testa ment happened within a territory no big ger than the State of Connecticut, whose area is 4,800 square miles; and into hardly any other country has there been crowded from the days of Abraham till our own so much history-that is to say, so many events that have been recorded and deserve to be recorded in the annals of mankind. To history, however, I shall return later. FEELING PALESTINE'S SMALLNESS Nor is it only that Palestine is really a small country. The traveler constantly feels as he moves about that it is a small country. From the heights a few miles north of Jerusalem he sees, looking north ward, a far-off summit carrying snow for eight months in the year. It is Hermon, nearly Io,ooo feet high-Hermon, whose fountains feed the rivers of Damascus. But Hermon is outside the territory of Israel altogether, standing in the land of the Syrians; so, too, it is of Lebanon. We are apt to think of that mountain mass as within the country, because it also is frequently mentioned in the Psalms and the Prophets; but the two ranges of Lebanon also rise beyond the frontiers of Israel, lying between the Syr ians of Damascus and the Phoenicians of the West.