This past week I travelled to Israel. I found it incredible that I felt so safe, no matter where I went or the time of day.
Arriving at Ben Gurion airport, I began my travel at Tel Aviv and spent two days touring the city and coastline. The beaches were beautiful, weather fantastic, and people everywhere enjoying themselves; walking and swimming; cafes nd restaurants spilling over with life, people making the most of the evening hours. It seemed like a typical fun city with activity from dusk to dawn.
The next day it was off to the ancient city of Jaffa then on to Caesarea where Roman and Crusader ruins are plentiful. On to Haifa and Israel’s northern port of Acre; great views from the coach as we travelled high up in the hills.
Early the next morning we enjoyed a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. The weather was beautiful and the sea calm and restful. I would willingly have stayed longer had time permitted but there was much more to see and do in my limited time so after landing it was back on the coach and off to Capernaum and the Mount of Beatitudes then along the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea. It is quite something to learn that the salt content of the Dead Sea is 10 times greater than normal sea water. What was most amazing to me was the sheer beauty of this so-called `dead’ sea. I’d expected something dark and murky, certainly not the brilliant blue striking its contrast against the white salty sand.
The following day we set off early to see the ancient fortress/palace of Masada. The cable-car ride up the steep cliff face to the site of this amazing place was thrilling – the butterflies gathered in my tummy were flapping their wings with great gusto as I watched the people below reduce to the size of ants. The views from the top were spectacular and our guide, Svika, with his relaxed knowledgeable commentary, able to transplant us 2000 years back in time. It was here from 73 A.D. that 967 Jewish Zealots managed to hold out against the Romans for four years, until they finally chose mass suicide rather than murder and slavery when the Romans finally found a way to breach the walls.
On day six of the tour e visited Yad-Vashem, the museum commemorating the victims of the WWII Holocaust. I learned from a fellow tourer that Washington DC also has such a museum and, like Yad-Vashem, can bring tears to the eyes of the hardest hearts. Moving through the halls of Yad-Vashem it is almost impossible to understand the inhumanity of a few to so many. Surely such a horror can never be allowed to happen again.
Day seven dawned and we spent it wandering the streets of old Jerusalem, the Christian and Muslim Quarters and a maze of street markets. I found the lack of pressure and hassle from the stall holders pleasantly surprising and the same in the Jewish and Armenian Quarters.
An optional excursion was a visit to Bethlehem. A change of guide here as we entered an area under Palestinian authority and again, I felt completely safe. I’m not sure why, just a sense of security and peace in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of locals, guides, and tour groups. It was a worthwhile day.
The concrete wall, erected by the Israelis to keep out the suicide bombers is a bit of an eye-sore. On the Palestinian side the graffitti artists have created some great artwork.
The end of my tour came all too quickly – there was a lot to pack in, in such a short time but I learned a lot and came away pleased that I had taken a guided tour for my Israel visit. Without a guide (and ours was extremely learned, passionate and sincere) I would never have managed to see as much. In this part of the middle east you really do need to be with someone who knows the ropes.
Israel has about 4.2 million Jews and 1.5 million Palestinians and Arabs living peacefully in Israel. The West Bank under Palestinian authority also seems peaceful and controlled. We didn’t approach the more militant Gaza Strip for obvious reasons but I can’t help feeling for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. People are people the world over; it’s only a tiny minority tthat want to hurt the rest.