Yes thats right, we are in Israel. It’s really one of those destinations that falls in the too hard basket when booking a holiday. There is visa’s, security issues and then just the general unease associated with a place with a less that stellar safety record. The reason we booked a cruise is that it visited both here any Cairo. Unfortunately due the current political unrest its not quiet safe enough to visit Cairo however Israel was consider safe and is on the top of our “to visit” list this trip.
Let me start this post by apologising for the length however there is so much to see and say I just couldn’t cut it down any further.
So Israel, I had so many preconceptions about this country and a lot of them are very hard to actually put into words. When I think of Israel the first thing that comes to mind the Gaza and the West Bank. I think of the fighting between Israel and Palestine and a city devastated by war.
The truth is a lot more complicated and even after a 2 day visit I can honestly say I still can’t get my head around the political and religious situation currently alive today in this country but I will certainly try my best to articulate my thoughts.
The landscape is barren, it’s arid, rocky and mountainous. Nothing is flat, even the farms run up and down mountains. We were lucky enough to see the country still covered in snow, to say it has snowed in this country is rare, not quite a once in a life time experience but pretty damn close so it was quite magical to see every landscape and outside scene covered in patches of white.
Next is security. Different parts of the country were separated by walls, checkpoints and guns. We were told by the guys with guns that their main job is not to intimidate us or to make us feel threatened, their job was to us safe and you can tell that they take their job very seriously. During different stops we had army representatives with large guns get on the bus, look us over one at a time before waiving us through to the next area. It was shocking to see but not intimidating, it was very much like some scene from a thailand airport immigration area.
First off we visited Bethlehem which is located within the West Bank, possibly you have heard of it as Palestine. So as per the map Bethlehem is located within the West Banks and is a place of significant religious significance as its is the place where Christ was born. We visited the church erected over the top of this site and have to admit, 3 days before Christmas was possibly not the best time for this visit, it was busy, there was added security and everything was getting set up for the “Christmas Eve Nativity Service” which is televised around the world. However I was more than surprised with how humble and sweet the Church itself was. Small, dark and not even slightly grand it gave of this wonderful aura you couldn’t help but be enchanted by. So we visited,crammed into a small room with the camera flashes going off and the guide trying desperately to explain to us the significant of this small church in so many peoples religious lives.
Then it was on its way to Jerusalem. Such an important city in so many religions be they Jewish, Muslim or Christian. Trying to explain the situation to you would be nearly impossible since I don’t know it clearly myself but i can give you the basics. Jerusalem sits straddled on the boarder of the West Bank and Israel. The area is broken up into districts with each one being the responsibility of a different area. I do know that with Israel is responsible for East Jerusalem however even though they each have a responsibility it is considered a city for the people not being owned by any one religion with free access being given to all.
The streets are loud and vibrant, the people so very different and totally fascinating. We visited the Mountain of Olives, a cemetery that is supposed to be the first place to be “awakened” when Christ rises from the dead. An entire mountain nearly full of graves is sobering to see and yet strangely fascinating. Apparently its not longer possible to purchase a site in this cemetery as it costs nearly more than a house!!!
After that inside the walls of the “Old City” where we viewed the Wailing Wall. Separated by a barrier with the left side for men and the right side for woman its a place to contemplate not only life but also the basic differences in cultures. For me to say its a deeply religious or reverent place would be totally wrong. Its full of teenage Israeli guard holding automatic rifles taking selfless and Religious wise men loudly discussing philosophy. Its about American tourists trying to find that “perfect” picture and groups of teenagers sitting in circles singing songs. Its such a strange place, a melting pot of culture you can just it and watch the chaos for hours on end.
Then we walked the path of Christ through narrow alleys and small local markets, the road is long, narrow and probably hasn’t changed much in the last 2000 years before ending up and yet another church this one much more grand than in Bethlehem. It is the location of the crucifixion and home of the tomb of Christ. It was busy and loud and not a place you would consider for quiet reflection. Instead it seemed to be a place filled with a religious fervor I have not seen before. People kissing stones, wailing in prayer, maybe its the time of the year but this level of emotion was foreign and not altogether comfortable for me to visit.
So Jerusalem, for me it was an experience that opened my eyes and gave me an insight into a way of life and thought process so foreign to me I think it will take me days to truly get my head around it. Have I answered my questions regarding this slightly let of field country … maybe. Did I feel safe … yes. Would I need to visit again to truly capture this amazing area of the world, without a doubt. I will come back here because there is way to much to see in one or two days, this has opened my eyes to a new area of the world that I can honestly say is now nearing the top of my bucket list to truly explore!