It's hard not to draw symbolism from the opening of a McDonald's at the visitors center at Masada - the conquest of the Zionist emblem of heroism by Americanization and the fast food industry. One might even say it is a spit in the face of the legendary site's significance as the place where nearly 1,000 rebels are said to have committed suicide to preserve their freedom from the Romans.
But not many people seemed to share my preoccupation. The woman behind the counter welcomed my order of a small cheeseburger with relief. "Finally, some Hebrew. All day it's been Americans, Brazilians and Spaniards," she said. When she told me she was from nearby Arad I asked her if her job gave her the opportunity to visit the fortress more often. She had never been there, she said.
The other server had last been up the mountain in 2002. Maybe on a McDonald's salary there's no money left over for the cablecar.
McDonald's is not yet a big hit. Across the way at a nameless eatery, the tourists are lining up for couscous and vegetables. A tourist from Atlanta said he and his wife prefered local food when they traveled. Besides, he said: "A McRoyal costs $14 in Israel. In Atlanta, it costs $6."
I ask a tour guide, Eitan Blumberg, how he can explain the suicide up on the mountain and then settle in at McDonald's. Between bites of his burger, he says: "People have to eat. There aren't any big signs outside advertising McDonald's. I don't see it as a problem. What difference does it make whether a tourist eats McDonald's or a shnitzl at Masada?"
The dilemma reminded me that I once took around a foreign peace activist here to paint graffiti on the separation wall. He suddenly longed for a hamburger because he had been with leftists for two weeks and hadn't eaten any meat. He opted for the home-grown Burger Ranch over the global McDonald's. After receiving his order, he proudly informed the woman behind the counter that he had chosen Burger Ranch for political reasons and was boycotting McDonald's. "Of course - McDonald's supports Arabs," she responded helpfully.
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