Masada pronounced “Metzada” is the name for a site of ancient palaces and fortifications in the South District of Israel on top of an isolated rock plateau, or horst, on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea.
|Guide Tsion Ben David briefing the team at Masada|
After the First Jewish-Roman War a siege of the fortress by troops of the Roman Empire led to the mass suicide of the Sicarii rebels.
I was recently at this extraordinary site with a group of Christian journalists from the United States, Canada and Mexico, as part of a tour organized by the Israel Tourism Board and, after taking the cable car with our guide, Tsion Ben David, I had the unique opportunity of interviewing Eitan Campbell, the Director the Masada National Park with is part of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Campbell, a man with rugged movie star looks, told me that he was born in Delaware in the United States and has been living in Israel since 1968.
“My family wasn’t from a Jewish background and they had question marks going through their heads and we all fell in love with Israel and pretty well much all of the family is still here and some have converted to Judaism.”
Was he one of them?
“No, no,” he replied.
“So you’re still a Christian?
“I have no labels,” he smiled.
I then asked him to expand on why he loved Israel. “It is a beautiful country with beautiful people and a very intense lifestyle.”
|Eitan Campbell pictured during his interview
with Dan Wooding
He said that he had joined the military “by choice” and was part of an infantry unit. “Regular military service for the most part is very intense physically,” he added.
Did he get injured during that time?
“I broke my knee at one point but and I was out for a couple months and we were back on our feet and continued to do reserve duty until I guess just maybe three or four years ago,” he said.
He then spoke about his love affair with Masada. “I was seventeen when I found my way to Masada and I’ve been here most of the time since then.”
Now tell us why you came here and what the attraction this place has for you.
“I got here by chance,” said Campbell. “I knocked at the door of the director at that time and asked for a job and he looked at me and said. ‘You’re kind of small for this job,’ but his daughter knew me from school and he also knew my Dad, so he gave me a chance and I’ve been moving up through the ranks ever since.
“I’ve been able to establish the sound and light project on the western side of Masada and then the visitor’s center, the new museum and the cable car. It’s been very rewarding.
“I’m the director of the site, but I work under the umbrella of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority,” he continued. “We are an NGO and we’re just trying to give people the best experience and share with them this incredible site.
“It’s been an eye opener and we’re learning all the time. This is what’s incredible about Masada. I never get tired of the landscape and parts of the story just seem to be coming together piece by piece as we go along.
“I think that the majority of people come, not just to learn or understand the tragic side of what happened here, but they come to take strength for the continuation of their lives in their own way. “
What does Masada mean to you as a citizen of Israel?
“Masada is a symbol and is a beautiful historic location,” he replied. “There are three points that make it so incredible:
“The first is the geological formation of the mountain. You go up to the top and even if you didn’t understand anything of the history, you can look out over the Dead Sea Basin, the lowest place on earth and I think that was already worth the trip.
“The second part is the site that is archeologically easy to understand. It was built by Herod with minor additions by the zealots and later by the Byzantine Christian community. So we have that to make things a little easier for people to understand.
“And the third part is there’s a very unique tragic story, a Jewish chapter that has implications for everyone and makes everyone stop for a minute to think about things that he or she takes for granted; their personal liberty and freedom and how each might react should that person find themself in such a situation.
“And from that is born the slogan that ‘Masada should not fall again.’ It’s something that we all have to reflect on occasionally. We all have our own Masada.”
If you’d been here at that time what would you have done?
He laughed and then said, “Well this is part of the puzzle. We try and understand and there are layers and layers on this story and the game is to take the layers apart and try to get to the essence of what actually happened here.
“As a personal note, when I got here as a young guy I asked myself if I was the caliber of the defenders of Masada. As the years have passed, I like to think that I would still be of that caliber.”
If you could talk to Herod is there anything you would have said to him?
He laughed out loud and replied, “Great job on the North Palace.”
|Eitan Campbell sharing the story of Masada with George W. and Laura Bush during their visit|
He then added, “I have a lot of appreciation for what Herod was able to establish here and he has shown us all the complications and the magnitude of living in the desert.
“This is such a desolate and isolated location that his investment and the way he set up is just a marvel to us all that if it can be achieved in these conditions then I think that we can do a lot ourselves.”
Why should people in the United States support Israel?
“You’re taking me into politics and I’m not a politician, but I think there’s a very special dedicated group of people here in the country that have a right to this Jewish portion of the land,” said Campbell. “This is the only country in the world where they would like to have the Jews together as a homeland. There’s only one country – a small little one in the world — where you can be a Jew among Jews. And this I think is important and deserving of our support.”
|The signed picture of Eitan Campbell with George W. Bush|
He then spoke of the time when then President George W. Bush visited Masada in 2008 as part of Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations and he was their personal guide. He then pointed to a signed picture behind his desk of him with Bush.
“It was a very fascinating tour and President Bush was very interested in the story and and we had a little over two hours to visit the site and I could feel that he understood the meaning of ‘Masada. shall or will not fall again.’
“I told him that ‘Masada shall not fall again’ and he told me that he was going to put this into his speech that he was about to give in another couple of hours in the Israeli Parliament. And sure enough, that became the slogan of this talk that he gave to the parliament. So I felt very proud that he included this.”
He said he has had several VIPs at the site including President Bill Clinton.
How many people visit per year?
“This will be a peak year for us and we’ll have about 830,000 people that have come through in the past year and I’d like to think that it was a comfortable fashion and that we have been able to enhance their experiences as visitors. So this is what we try and allocate facilitate and we’re trying,” he concluded.
Note: I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.