Masada, a legend of fighting for freedom, the story of resistance against slavery, the backdrop of one of the most dramatic episodes on Jewish history. In the times of Roman-occupied Israel, Masada was the last remaining fortress to be conquered. A crave for victory which led a handful of Jews to run away and find only one question: be a slave for the Romans or die.
It was around the year 4 b.C., after the death of King Herod that Masada was captured and turned into a Roman stronghold until the year 66 a.D. when Titus conquered Jerusalem killing thousands of Jews and taking as slaves the ones that survived the slaughter.
Few managed to escape, the Zealots, 960 of them, and found refuge in Masada until after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. Under the lead of Elazar Ben Yair, the Zealots lived for about two years hiding in this remote mountain.
But Rome was greedy of grandeur and more victory, it would have gone after anything to seek out and destroy any remaning of Jewish resistance.
That moment came in 72 B.C., when the Roman General Flavius Silva led his Legion in an attempt to capture the fortress. His men built a wall around the bottom of the base so that the Zealots would be forced to starve and perish unless they tried to escape.
However, the Zealots resisted more than Flavius could imagine, they were able to store rain water and shared among each other the little food they had.
Flavius then decided to change strategy as his pressure wasn’t getting anywhere, so he had his men building a ramp that reached the top of the fortress. All the arrows and stones thrown by the Zealots did nothing to stop them from coming. Desperation and fear soon reigned when the Masada people realized their doom was coming, but one thing remained: faith, for as long as they were free they would be with God.
They chose ten men who killed the rest. Others say that these ten men killed all the others except of one, whom will commit suicide in front of the Romans.
The morale? Behind their decision there is a tale of heroism in the darkest moments. A symbol of courage for a people determined to be free in their own country.
Dear reader, this place is one of the most sacred locations for the Jews, one of their most visited sites, a national symbol. Even though the story of Masada is questioned due to the fact that only few sources have been able to tell its story (some say that the suicide never took place), Masada has become both a heroic, freedom and independence symbol to the State of Israel. In fact, at Masada you can see young recruits of the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) joining the annual ceremony and swearing the Oath which goes like this: “Masada lo yipol od” (“Masada will never fall again”).
This is us, reaching Masada on the lift.
As we were going up we could see the young IDF recruits starting their sacred pilgrimage
© Stanito, 2012
By the end of their pilgrimage, they are given a gun and a Hebrew Bible, and they swear to never let Masada fall again.
Masada is sacred to not only recruits but to any Jews that want to profess their faith in the oldest synagogue of Israel, from the time of the Second Temple (between the years 516 BCE and 70 CE).
They seemed undisturbed by the presence of touris
You can still see the remarkable mosaics.
The Mikve (ritual bath).
and the Snake Path
The Roman columns.
Dramatic landscape as I climb up to Herod’s palace.
And the Zealot’s living quarters.
© Stanito, 2013
Coming to the region is already a charged and deep trip, because as I already depicted in many of my posts, this region represents the most ancient conflict of our history, Jews and Romans, later Jews and the Byzantines, and then the Arabs. All wars that were led with the intent of conquering Jerusalem, the cradle of religion, until the situation that we all know today. The difference of realities between Israel and Palestine is abysmal and public opinions often portray those realities based on the current events. But let’s dig a deeper than that, ’cause there is where sometimes we find out the beauty underneath holy sites such as this one.
The importance Jewish people place on the significance of Masada helped me better understand the mindset of the whole picture from a Jewish point of view (not Zionist). So, as an advice dear reader, never come to Israel or Palestine unprepared, as the unique struggle you will witness in Israel and Palestine has two faces, and Masada gives a good idea of the Jewish beliefs history, what they stand for and why.