The human face of conflict. war, political threat, Intifada, struggle for the good life, women and their loved ones searching for the "good life" under war. Israel, the Israel Palestinian conflict.
I've just received a letter from my friend Suzy informing me that she'll be in Israel this summer, and requesting that I suggest places for her and her cute new husband to visit while there. Having written my response, it occurred to me that, whether you are familiar with Israel or not, you might enjoy the tour. So I'm posting it here
How exciting! I wish I were there to show you guys around.
Let me dash down a few quick thoughts.
First: YOU MUST HIRE A TOUR GUIDE. Don't think you can do this on your own. If you do, you'll definitely miss out. There is so very much to see and learn. Looking at a rock or a wall will not do it for you.
Jerusalem: Needless to say, you must go to the "kotel," the western ("wailing") and only remaining wall of both our ancient temples, the second of which was destroyed in 70AD this coming Sunday (still a fast day.) There is a fascinating out-door tour/museum at the foot of the Temple Mount. If you come to LA before you leave, I'll give you the brochure and some books on Israel. YOU MUST GO THROUGH THE TUNNELS UNDER THE WALL. You must have your guide tell you how Herod built the temple, what his relationship was with the Jews and the Romans, how the Temple - and Jerusalem were burnt to the ground, how the Romans banished Jews from Jerusalem and changed its name to Palestina Capitalina ( Palestine being the word for the ancient Philistines, enemies of Israel from biblical times, whose name the Palestinians have now adopted as their own.) Let the guide show you the neighborhood where the aristocracy and the priests lived in the time of the Temple, walk around the restored Jewish Quarter, the Karta - the market in Temple times, the Christian and the Muslim quarters. From there, you'll walk through the Via de la rosa, where Jesus was led on his last tragic walk to the cross. There are fascinating Christian sites in the Old City, too. A church where they have amazing requiem chants and weekly musical recitals. Ask the guide. The Mosque of Omar stands above the Jewish site, as it was built in the 7th century by the Moslems immediately over the ruins of the ancient Jewish Temple. That is the Dome of the rock, believed by the faithful to be the center of the world, where Adam and Eve were created; the rock being where Abraham (almost) sacrificed Isaac, and where Jesus did something (can't remember what.)
Visit the Church of the Sepulcher.The church of Holy Ascension. Moving. Majestic. Haunting. Filled with the ancient and the most mysterious aspects of faith.
Go downtown Jerusalem. Have coffee on one of the side streets of Nachlat Shiva at the very bottom of Ben Yehuda St. They have wonderful tourist shops there too. Go to the new, upscale, Mamilla Mall (A truly aesthetic shopping experience. They also have some trendy public dancing in the evenings there (forgotten what the dancing is called. If you happen to catch it, you'll have a lot of fun.
Visit the Knesset (Israeli parliament.) Really interesting.
Visit the Israeli Museum (Well worth the visit)
Have coffee, or a light meal in Ein Karem, believed to be the place where John The Baptist walked. It is an interesting Arab/Jewish village on the way up to the now old Hadasah hospital. I haven't been there in a hundred years. Check that it's still wonderful before you go.
Go to Mahane Yehuda, the open market place. Buy fruit and veggies there. Wander through its alleyways. Stop and have Hummus and Turkish coffee.You will LOVE it.
Ask your guide to show you Latrun on the way out of Jerusalem. Hear what he/she has to tell you about our 1948 war of independence. Let him/her drive you up into the mountains north of Jerusalem. Let him show you where the original Burma road was which was built by soldiers, and by holocaust survivors pulled off tugboats and sent directly to help forge a life-saving path from the coast to Jerusalem under siege. You will no doubt see the cleaned up armed tanks and trucks on the side of the main road up that hill, shot down in the convoys that had risked their lives to bring food and water to the capital; shot down by Arabs shooting down at them from the mountains above. Ask your guide to show you the separate fortes along the original road to Jerusalem in which the Turkish, the British, the Israeli Lechi and Hagannah set up camp, each in its own turn, culminating in the State of Israel.
Ask about the Monastery of the the silent monks as you see it above you over the old road. You will miss it if you travel on either of the new highways.
A little North of Jerusalem (and I think west, not sure.Arie says that I could never be a tour guide, because I am directionally challenged. He's right!) is a place called Beth Shemesh. Ask your guide to take you past there to the caves of the doves. That is a fascinating site, not seen by most tourist. Mammoth ancient caves with thousands of dove coves etched into the rock, used to store the doves that were sold for worship in the time of the Temple.
Ask your guide to drive you up into the hills above ( and a little West of Jerusalem.) There you can climb up the hill where Goliath (giant philistine- from whom the Palestinians took their name, remember?) challenged the shepherd David and his Israelites to battle. You can see the valley below where David taunted Goliath, where he shot Goliath in the tempel with his sling and stone. Ask your guide to show you the valley through which the Israelites led their Holy Ark into battle, in the time of Moses. Ask your guide to tell you the military significance of the biblical verse, "And the sun stood still."
Tel Aviv is the city that never sleeps. It is upscale, popping with energy, and fun! It is a city for the young. The best restaurants. You have to ask your guide where to go. The food in Israel is outstanding. You have to book and go to a performance at the Opera House. A real thrill. I'd tell you which theaters to go to also, but you probably wouldn't get the Hebrew. You could try, if you wanted to, because I believe most have translation earplugs. You must go to Jaffo. The Gesher theater there, originally Russian, is innovative, imaginative in the extreme, and wonderful theater (at least it was when I was last there, which was quite some time ago already.) Spend a day on the beach outside your Tel Aviv hotel. Ask you guide to take you to the best beach. Visit the Palmach Museum, it will give you an idea of how the modern state began, and by whom. Visit the Begin Museum. The museums in Israel are interactive, informative and intensely interesting.
YOU HAVE TO GO TO THE DEAD SEA. Only stay in a good hotel there. Don't mud yourselves down in a public bath.You'll hate it. YOU HAVE TO CLIMB MASADA. Ask you guide to tell you the history of Masada. I don't have time, here.
On your way up to Haifa, stop in Caesarea. that is our haunt. I wish my house was not rented out and you could stay there. The beach is stunning.When we are there, we walk to the beach every morning, walk (or jog - at least we used to!) along the beach, then trace our way back over the dune above the sand for an Israeli breakfast of salads, olives and cheeses at the little restaurant right on the corner, ON THE WATER. You HAVE TO SEE THE OLD CITY OF CAESAREA built, just a half mile or so beyond your breakfast place, like the Temple in Jerusalem, by Herod the Great (or not so great.) Herod also built Masada, which you've just climbed. Remember?. In the old city of Caesarea, your guide will show you the ancient Roman temple, the ancient Roman hippodrome, the ancient amphitheater (all built by Herod for the Romans) and Herod's palace -even the lower palace and pool he used when he stayed there. It is a fascinating site. Please, You must get your guide to tell you about Caesarea. It is thrilling. He might also show you the first and ancient Jewish synagogue, half excavated above the beach If you are interested. Ask him also to show you the Byzantine bird mosaic situated a little away from the beach in cluster 2 not far from my house. YOU MUST GET YOUR GUIDE TO SHOW YOU THE LARGER THAN LIFE ROMAN STATUES SITUATED IN THE COURTYARD OF A RESTAURANT OPPOSITE THE ENTRANCE TO THE OLD CITY AND BUILT OUT OF PINK AND WHITE MARBLE (one pink, one white.) I guarantee you've never seen anything like them.
I nearly forgot the most important thing! When you are on the beach in Caesarea, you'll see the Roman aqueduct. Ask your guide to tell you how it brought water into Caesarea - the city Herod built for Anthony (of Anthony and Cleopatra fame) and later, for Caesar Augustus.
No. The most memorable thing in Caesarea is definitely the amphitheater. If you want a REAL TREAT, ask you guide to book tickets for one of their late-night summer concerts. See if you can hear Yehuda Poliker, or Shlomo Artzi - the most popular singers in Israel. Wait till you see 5,000 people standing in front of their ancient stone steps, singing all the words by heart with the performers and waving their arms in unison. It will blow you away, as you might say.
When you are further north, you have to take a trip to Ein gedi (waterfalls.)
The north of the country - the Galil and the Golan - is my favorite. Lush, Exquisitely beautiful, and chock full of interest. Your guide MUST take you to the Roman ruins of Emek Beit Shean, and further North, to Banyas where you can literary see a cave carved into the rock engraved in ancient Greek and dedicated to the god Pan (Greek god, Pan, of the forest (hence the term panic, meaning fear.) Ask your guide to tell you how the Byzantines (Christians) came generations later and smashed idols in those caves. You will see the result of an earthquake in Banyas, I think from the 1600s. In Banyas, as in so many areas of Israel, you can see successive levels of civilization - Greek culture, Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, etc. - in the levels of earth - of excavation. Your guide will show you the exquisite ancient mosaic floor of the girl's face. Ask him.
The Galil, in the north, is chock full of history. Ask your guide to show you remnants of ancient, makeshift temples, and sites of ancient cities built to shelter convicts in the time of the Bible. Get him/her to tell you the history. You must got to Lake Tiberias and you must go to Safed up in the mountains, mystical and romantic. Safed used to be an artists' city. I think most of the artists have left now. Am not sure. Either way, you'll love it. Rosh Pinah is a romantic, hilltop village where you can stay in tiny, bed and breakfasts.
Drive up to kibbutz Ein Gev. Have dinner there. Drive from there up to the Golan Heights and stay overnight in one of their B&Bs.
Ask your guide to take you way up immediately beneath the Syrian border. Bathe there in natural hot springs (steaming hot) used as a health cure since at least the days of the Romans. They also offer massages there, and you can have dinner at their Thai - yes, Thai - restaurant.
The Negev, in the south. Please, please, get your guide to take you to the Machtesh Hagadol, and to the ancient, excavated cities of the Nabateans. You have never seen anything like that ancient civilization. You can even see the stables they used. Go to Sodom. Go to Eilat (Eilat is scortchingly hot, though it is a favorite summer haunt for Scandinavian tourists. How they handle it I don't know. Eilat is famous for its nudist beach. The hotels are air conditioned, and the underwater surfing is wonderful.
I can't think of anything else. Although I'm sure I've missed loads.
Israela: secrets, lies, and alienation. Heroism. Arabs saving Jews and Jews healing Arabs in Israel. Israela: An eternal struggle for peace. Three women and their loved ones seeking the "good life" under war. The complex social structure of Israel, tradition, history, war, Intifada, and love.
Author Batya Casper.