For centuries people have fought, destroyed and killed to be in possession of The Holy Land. Today, they still fight over ownership of the most sacred place in the world. It has had many names and owners, but nevertheless you should visit Israel at least once in your life – regardless of whom it belongs to, The Promised Land is breathtaking. Having visited three of the most important cities in Israel and Palestine, I am inviting you to join and travel with me – at least in your imagination.
Tel Aviv – the second largest city
If you are heading to Israel, I bet you will land in Tel Aviv. If you happen to be visiting Tel Aviv on the weekend, I would advise you to spend the morning in the big market in the heart of Tel Aviv. Here you will find fresh food, beauty products, souvenirs and everything else that pleases the heart. Find a nice local cafe downtown, and enjoy a lunch in the air conditioned surroundings; anything with hummus is a must while being here. After the lunch, you should enjoy the sightseeing walk in the city; make sure to go by Old Jaffa and enjoy the old part of Tel Aviv; while there, take a stroll in the beautiful park and enjoy the sunset while looking over the water, or admiring the skyline of Tel Aviv. On a footnote – nightlife in the city is worth a try. Since Jews celebrate Saturday and this day is perceived to be holy – most true believers are not allowed to practice any work on a Saturday, only relax – why not join them and relax? Grab a cup of a nice drink and go for a lazy walk in the city center and enjoy yourself. The next day try to catch an early bus to Jerusalem, enjoying the ride while seeing how the scenery changes, from flat green and well kept surroundings to dry dessert land.
A glance at Jerusalem
Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, is the oldest town in the world. It is extremely important and worthy for Christians, Jews and Muslims. The city has been the center of attractions for many years, and it still is. Jerusalem is located in a valley, and most of the people living here are stronger believers than in the rest of the country. The old part of Jerusalem is divided in different areas: the Christian quarters, where lots of the pilgrims walk around in a spiritual trance, humming and singing as they visit the places that are most sacred in the Catholic religion; the Muslim quarters are host to the great mosque, worth a visit (remember to check for Ramadan, for it will be closed to tourists); the Armenian quarter, and the Jewish quarter. The Western Wall is located in the Jewish quarter, and even for a non-believer, it is a very spiritual experience. I would strongly recommend to take a trip under the city, where you will get to see the underground part of the wall, and hear all of the history belonging to Jerusalem, a bloody though fascinating story. Take a walk around the city, you will see lots of graveyard land – both Muslim outside their quarter, and Jewish on the hillsides of Olive Mountain, where the view is definitely worth the climb. Jews believe the closer to the wall they are buried, the less time is spent in Purgatory.
Also in Jerusalem, the tomb of Christ is a nice green place to visit for some peace and quiet. You get a free tour where volunteers explain about Protestant beliefs.
Bethlehem – a Palestinian city neighboring south Jerusalem
Even though Bethlehem was closed for tourists for a while due to the worsening Israeli-Arab relations, I was lucky to visit it during the time it was allowed. If one is not a strong believer, it’s still worth visiting Bethlehem just to see the wall, and everything that is painted on it. Bethlehem has few Jewish inhabitants, most are Arabian. The locals live out of small shopping stalls in the market.
I would advise to take a walk along the wall and around the city, and end up in the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, around the time where the priests start mess. Visiting the church will certainly leave an impression due to its magnificence. In the church, you get a candle and follow the processions into the caves where Jesus sat many years ago. Remember, bring your passport because Bethlehem is located in Palestine, and guards check firmly before letting anyone back in.
Besides the walk along the wall, visiting the Church of the Nativity as well as taking a look at the flea markets, it is worth knowing that Bethlehem is home to the Palestinian Heritage Center, which aims to promote art. Therefore, if you are an art lover, it could be a good idea to visit the center and enjoy the interesting pieces of art.
The promised land has left a number of wonderful impressions, memories and a stack of fantastic experiences… The glory of the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, as well as the image of the peaceful candle lights, are still calling me back – and I keep hoping to visit Israel and Palestine once again.