My trip to Israel and Palestine began at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, where I was immediately exposed to the Hebrew language, and plentiful flags of the state of Israel in a variety of sizes.
First impressions of a country are based on crucial initial interactions, with one of the first being the classic over charging taxi scenario when trying to depart from the airport. So first, make sure to check rates for transport services beforehand. Other than this, there is little to note on the airport itself.
As someone who speaks multiple languages and has been abroad before, I could not help but notice the difference of modern Hebrew to other languages with its unique alphabet. To this day, it is the only example of a revived dead language and it is easy to see where such a charm comes from.
In terms of accommodation, it is hard to go wrong, as the city of Tel Aviv caters to all the tourists’ needs. I would advise purchasing a travel guide however, as the language is difficult to navigate and not always accompanied by any familiar Latinate translations. Travelling around can be difficult from this perspective; things such as finding what ingredients
are in food products you buy are close to impossible unless you ask for the help of a kind local. There is little to worry about, however, as the city itself always has a solution to a foreigner in need.
What I would recommend to anyone visiting, if they have the sufficient funds, is to book excursions (such as an Avia Tour). Classic, old-world cities such as Jerusalem suddenly become easily accessible by this means of travel.
I went on a tour which lasted a day to the old part of the city. Jerusalem is divided into four quarters (Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Armenian Apostolic), with the only one difficult to visit, according to my tour guide, being the Armenian quarter. Entering the city requires going through a security checkpoint, such as the one adjacent to the famous Western Wall.
I must also mention that, despite which sides your sympathies lie on regarding Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, it would be particularly inappropriate to showcase political affiliation with actions such as flag waving. Anecdotally, I can confirm that people have been denied entry into some areas for such actions. This advice goes for all areas of Israel, as
there are elements of the state which are not tolerant regarding political matters compared to general European standards.
Probably the most exciting excursion available to you is one which enters Palestine, where you get to visit important urban centers such as Ramallah. It also offers the opportunity to go through what can be best described as a scenic desert route to the city of Jericho. Jericho, known as the “City of Palm Trees” in the Hebrew Bible, is roughly 300 metres beneath sea level, a natural oasis of sorts where crops such as bananas are grown. It’s the city with the oldest known protective wall in the world - the first settlement in Jericho dates to around 9000 BC.
On this same excursion through Palestine’s West Bank I managed to view the River Jordan, notable for being the site of the baptism of Jesus. I also got to visit Bethlehem, which as a city is important, being the home to the church of the Nativity and plenty of other religiously significant places.
This church has beneath it a cave where the official spot of Jesus’ birth is marked, an area which is hard to visit as the church itself is frequently used by major denominations who close the cave’s entrance during service. It’s worth consulting your tour guide and/or planning well in advance if you want to visit a tourism hot spot such as this.
Food in this region of the world is, by my taste, amazing. I’d urge anyone to try Kanafeh, a dessert commonly found in Palestine. Further advice I’d give is to visit the old port city of Jaffa in Tel Aviv, because aside from being able to buy plenty of souvenirs from the traditional flea markets, there’s a famous restaurant called Abu Hassan where I probably ate the best hummus of my life. Good authentic food in Israel is easy to find.
The negative part of my journey came towards its conclusion, when going through an exit checkpoint from the West Bank. I was reminded by our local tour guide that, if it wasn’t for the Christmas holidays, he would not have the required permit to travel between Israel and Palestine to see his family on either side. The border wall near the checkpoint was imposing, with its graffiti being a stark reminder that conflict in the region has caused much suffering. Nevertheless, this was a trip full to the brim of raw culture. it also provided a most welcome change from the generic tourist excursion.