According to the Book of Revelations, this is the mountaintop where it will all end.
Armageddon. Or present day Megiddo. The place where, the bible says, international armies under the leadership of the Devil will wage war with the forces of God.
“And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon,” states the passage, adding with a flourish: “And the seventh angel poured out his vial [of God’s wrath] into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying: ‘It is done’.”
Well, Armageddon does exist, derived from the Hebrew Har Megiddo, or Mountain of Megiddo; and while the end of days might have once seemed a little far-fetched, it doesn’t seem quite so improbable now.
From Megiddo’s hilltop, there is a great view of the West Bank, no more than two miles away.
To the north, the rockets of Hezbollah – in total about 160,000 of them – are pointed in this direction while in the south, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are fighting raging gun battles with Hamas in a war that’s almost four months long.
Israel is on edge. Standing in Megiddo, right in the middle of the country and now home to a vast archaeological site, there is a sense of foreboding that pervades the region.
It is not by accident that the Book of Revelations picked this spot for its Armageddon.
Megiddo lies on the old trading route between Egypt and Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq and Syria) and was the site of a number of Old Testament battles. In modern times, Gen Allenby defeated the Ottomans here in a decisive battle in 1918 to conquer Palestine. (He later took the title Viscount Allenby of Megiddo.)
The “I visited Armageddon” T-shirts (only available colour: black) being sold in the archaeological park’s otherwise deserted shop don’t feel like the most tasteful of purchases to take home to the children. Likewise the baseball caps in a variety of colours and styles that include fetching pink and camouflage.
Nobody really visits Megiddo right now – a sign that the country remains in shock more than 100 days after the Oct 7 attacks. The tourist trade has vanished and the Christian visitors who used to come to Armageddon are staying away because they fear, well, armageddon.
In the shop, the national park ranger (who is not allowed to talk to the press) says he used to get 1,000 visitors a day passing through. Now it’s a handful. The T-shirts and the baseball caps go unsold. “We are in limbo,” he says. It’s a metaphor for the country at large.
From nowhere appears Sergei Puzanov, 62, on a day trip with his wife. A Russian-born Jew, Mr Puzanov quit his home country 10 months ago to escape Vladimir Putin’s war-mongering and to enable visits to his children studying abroad. “I just wanted to see Armageddon before it’s a real armageddon,” he says with the faintest of smiles.
He has come on a day out from Nahariya, a coastal town just six miles south of the border with Lebanon.
“It’s quite possible there’s a war in the north. It’s necessary but I’m afraid of it,” says Mr Puzanov, a retired IT engineer. He backs Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, whose grip on power in Israel is fragile.
Opinion polls suggest most of the country wants him out of office, blaming him for the security failures on Oct 7, in which 1,200 people in Israel’s south were massacred by Hamas terrorists. They also hold him responsible for conducting a war in Gaza that shows little sign of abating and which has achieved the release of fewer than half the 240 hostages taken into the enclave.
“He [Netanyahu] is doing the right thing,” says Mr Puzanov, “I support him.”
Shirley Dear, 38, who lives on the nearby Kibbutz Megiddo and has brought her 10-year-old son for a quick visit, fears the worst and hopes for the best.
“Even before this war, I was not pro-government. It is a very problematic government,” she says.
“They just want us to fight. They don’t want to find a solution to the situation.
“I anticipate there will be something in the north. There is always trouble here but I hope it won’t be soon.”
In truth, a war with Hezbollah, a much more dangerous opponent than Hamas, is looming.
Border towns have been evacuated and tens of thousands of Israelis have been displaced for months now. Every day, the IDF issues statements detailing bombing raids on southern Lebanon or missiles fired into Israel by Hezbollah. Tension is high.
Just down the hill from ancient Megiddo is the busy Megiddo junction, and the location of one of Israel’s most notorious jails, where, according to activists, about 1,000 Palestinians are detained, including a small number of teenage children.
To the east of Megiddo is The Triangle, made up of three Palestinian towns and one of the few places in Israel with an Arab majority. Known colloquially as the 48ers, they are the Palestinian citizens who stayed put after Israel’s formation in 1948. These are nerve-wracking times for them too.
Six miles from Megiddo is Umm al-Fahm, the largest of the cities in The Triangle, where Mamdooh Igbarie, a writer and social activist, rails against the Netanyahu regime, the most Right-wing in Israel’s history.
It is the third largest Palestinian city in Israel, its buildings clinging to the hillside, densely packed up to the wall that divides it from Palestinian Authority territories in the West Bank.
“We have solidarity with Gaza,” says Mr Igbarie. “We feel very nervous all of the time. We can see no one is winning the war. No one wants that war. All of us – Arab and Jewish – regular people are against the war and we ask to stop the war immediately.
“Jews are our friends,” Mr Igbarie says. “The problem is Zionism. It gives the Jews a privilege; that they are better than us.”
The current conflict, he believes, will spread because “all the world is now against Israel”, adding: “There is already a war with Hezbollah. The reality says there is bombing every day in Lebanon. Every day you make martyrs. Every day martyrs are dying. It makes it worse every day.
“I think all of the war will spread. It is so difficult to get to an understanding between the big countries like China, USA, London.”
Mr Igbarie sips on his coffee in a fancy Umm al-Fahm cafe. “The third world war is happening now,” he says, unprompted.
I look out the window and up the road in the direction of Armageddon. I couldn’t be sure of it but I thought the clouds started to darken.
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