14 May 2015

Hobnobbing in the Holy Land

Two months ago, I was in the Holy Land. More specifically, I was in Israel and Palestine, for a total of two weeks. I traveled with my partner for the first week, and I traveled alone on the second week. This trip increased my country count by two, bringing it to a total of 41. And I should say that it was the most intense trip I have had so far.

See, when one is dating an Israeli, one cannot help but be involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have already blogged about this a couple of weeks ago, and this is basically the motivation for this trip. My partner wanted to show me his homeland, so to speak, and I also wanted to form my own opinion about the matter. So in my opinion, I thought that the best solution was to spend some time in the area both with him, and without him.

On February 28, we both flew to Tel Aviv. We departed from Schoenefeld Airport, and after a four-hour flight, we found ourselves landing in Ben Gurion International Airport. It was a Saturday, which meant that it was the Shabbat, and therefore there was no public transportation running from the airport, except taxis. Fortunately, we were picked up by my partner’s best friend, and so after exiting the airport, we were on our way to Tel Aviv.

We didn't do much on this first day. We just ate lunch in a restaurant, and hung out with my partner’s friends. And that evening, we just went to the beaches, and walked along it, by the promenade.

The next day was a Sunday, yet for Israel it was a work day. Weekends in Israel are Friday and Saturday. We decided to go to Old Yafo, which is south of Tel Aviv. You can walk there from the city center in half an hour. While we were in Old Yafo, we checked out the old town, as well as the Ilana Goor Museum, which was this very eclectic art museum in the area.

The day after that we just walked around and strolled. I didn't take any photos this day. I also met quite a few of my partner’s friends, which was great. By this time, I think that Tel Aviv is just one gigantic cafĂ©, and there are plenty of places around the city to get a good meal.

On March 3, we did some more sight-seeing in Tel Aviv. This would be our last evening in Tel Aviv, and this time, we went to the beaches again. It is a different sight in daylight. After that, we headed over to the Diaspora Museum, which was a very informative and interesting museum, even though it might be a little outdated.

After spending four nights in Tel Aviv, where we stayed with a friend of my partner, we headed to Jerusalem. We would spend another four nights here. This time, we stayed in a hotel. The first day was a little rainy, and therefore we just opted to go to a museum to stay indoors. This time, we went to the Israel Museum, which has a heavy focus on archaeology and history. They also house the Dead Sea Scrolls. I was quite impressed with the museum, as it was a museum that had a very secular perspective, not centering the exhibits to the Jews, but more towards the land.

On March 5, we met again some friends of my partner, and this time, we did a daytrip to Bet Shemesh. We went to Bet Shemesh Cave, which was a very fascinating place. I love visiting caves and therefore this was a highlight of my trip. After this, we even went to a goat cheese maker in the middle of the mountain, and after that, we headed to Ein Kerem to visit some important churches.

The next day, we finally went to the Old City of Jerusalem. It was an impressive place, and we checked out the Davidson Archaeological Center which was right next to the Temple Mount. It was a Friday, and therefore the Temple Mount was filled with devout Muslims spending the day in prayer. It was quite an interesting experience to be checking out archaeological digs while the Muslim call to prayer was being broadcast on the speaker. After spending some time in this area, we also strolled around the Old City, especially the area around the Western Wall, as well as in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is said to be the location where Jesus was killed. Visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was a strange experience, because there were so many religious visitors, and watching them do their rituals was just a very strange and surreal experience. It was fascinating to see how these people are so brainwashed by religion that they would act in certain ways that were otherwise unexplainable.

The next day was again Shabbat, and this time, we went to the Tower of David during the morning. Thankfully, there are other things to do in the city, and even though the majority of the restaurants were closed because they were kosher restaurants, there were a few other options in town. I was just glad to have a museum open during Shabbat so that there was something to do that day.

Overall, I didn't like Jerusalem. I would blog about this later on in detail. Anyway, after spending four nights in Jerusalem, it was time to move on. My partner booked a shuttle to the airport, while I headed to Palestine. However, before I crossed the border, I went to the Temple Mount, and finally I was able to admire the wonderful Dome of the Rock, which is situated at the very middle of the area. After spending the morning in Jerusalem, I hopped on to an Arab bus, which took me from East Jerusalem all the way to Bethlehem. This happened to be a long day, and I immediately hired a taxi that would take me to far-flung places within Palestine, such as Herodium and the Mar Saba Monastery. I definitely recommend these two places to future visitors of Palestine.

The day after, I just stayed in Bethlehem, where I did some sight-seeing. The center of Bethlehem is a small one, yet this area contains several important churches, among them the Church of the Nativity, as well as the Milk Grotto. I stayed in Bethlehem for three nights.

On my last day, I hired a taxi for the whole day, and we went all over Palestine, visiting places like Jericho, the Dead Sea, and Hebron. I saw so many things this day, and I was also quite impressed with the overall layout of the land.

The day after, I headed to Ramallah, which is the capital of Palestine. If one would go straight from Bethlehem via Jerusalem, it would simply take about thirty minutes, but because of the Israeli separation wall, it takes about four hours to do the trip. My visit to Ramallah wasn't full of sight-seeing, but it was quite intense, because I experienced first-hand the atrocities and human rights violations that the Israeli government is committing against the Palestinians. It was quite shocking and intense to go through the checkpoints and the military border patrols, and I saw with my own eyes how the Israeli regime is slowly squeezing the Palestinians out of their own land. It was quite tragic, and I needed some time to process that, hence I didn't really do a lot of sight-seeing in Ramallah, but instead, I just pondered on the things I saw.

After spending two nights in Ramallah, I opted to go back to Tel Aviv. I passed through the Qalandia checkpoint, which felt more like a maximum security prison than a border, and once I got through, I headed to Tel Aviv to where I was staying. I was still processing the things I saw, so I didn't really do a lot of sight-seeing. Only the day after that, I went to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

That was the last thing I saw in Israel. The day after was a Sunday, and I headed to the airport to fly back to Berlin. Security was tough, but I got through.

Of course, I will provide a more detailed blog post for every stage of this trip. It was intense and multidimensional, and in my opinion, it was one of the better trips I have had in a while.

2 comments:

  1. I'm looking forward to reading more, and maybe seeing pictures. Did you need a visa for Israel? How do you even go to Palestine? I mean, what does the border look like?

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    Replies
    1. Zhu,

      Pictures are indeed coming up in the next posts, so stay tuned!

      I didn't need a visa for Israel: believe it or not, there are also a few countries where Filipino citizens are visa-exempt! Same thing for Palestine, no visa needed there.

      There are multiple ways how to go to Palestine. In my case, I took the bus from Jerusalem to Bethlehem; after thirty minutes I was there. One can also enter Palestine from Jordan, or from northern Israel.

      The border is weird: it is easy to go from Israel to Palestine but hard to go from Palestine to Israel. The border crossing is smooth that it really feels like it doesn't exist when you enter Palestine, but when you exit, you will definitely feel it, as security is tough.

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