Another article in our OBT series. Our roving retirement middle east trip finally took us to Israel via the land crossing from Jordan.
I have waited for many years to come to Israel. Everyone else in my family has been multiple times, but not me. I was so excited to finally be in Israel. The process of getting there from Jordan, however, was very tedious. We finally made it to the bus after immigration and drove through Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, where our tour started.
Since we had the afternoon free in Tel Aviv, we decided to walk by the beach and then to the Bauhaus district, which is another UNESCO site. One more for my list. It was close to the start of Shabbat and lots of people were outside having picnics or sitting in cafes. The city had great energy.
That evening, we met our guide and learned more about the stops on this tour. It turned out that most of this tour was in the Occupied Territories a.k.a the West Bank. Israeli Jews can’t go there, so our guide was an Arab Israeli, who can travel freely between Israel and the West Bank. I think this had a strong influence on the tenor of our visit. We certainly got an up-close look at the Occupied Territories and what it is like to live in Israel today.
The next day, we went to Jaffa, which is the ancient port just south of Tel Aviv. Today it is an Arab neighborhood with narrow streets and beautiful old stone buildings. There is also a waterfront shopping and dining district and a clock tower.
On the Way to Haifa
We set off for Haifa, but of course, there were stops on the way. We stopped at Caesarea to see a Roman aqueduct and put our feet in the Mediterranean Sea. We actually had a little extra time there because the bus had a flat tire.
In Haifa, we stopped at the Baha’i Gardens. The Bahá’í Faith is a religion teaching the essential worth of all religions, and the unity and equality of all people. They have created beautiful gardens that represent their faith.
Other than the inside of our hotel and a nice street with restaurants, we didn’t see much of Haifa.
They say in Israel, anywhere you dig you find old settlements. In Akko, this is pretty interesting because here they found a modern Muslim neighborhood on top of an Ottoman fort, on top of a crusader fort, on top of a Byzantine settlement and so on, dating back 4000 years. The site is now run by the Israeli antiquities department and as you walk down the stairs, you go back in history. However, the digging is limited because people are actually living above the site and digging would cause their houses to collapse. The government has tried to move them, but it is a politically charged issue.
Nazareth is in the Occupied Territories, so we went through a checkpoint or two to get there. The purpose of our visit there was to go to the Church of the Annunciation. This church is said to be the largest church in the region and it contains a cave in the middle where the Virgin Mary is said to have lived. Like other towns in the Middle East, Nazareth is built on a hill and the church is at the top of the hill.
Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee
First, the Sea of Galilee isn’t a ‘Sea’, it’s a freshwater lake. It’s only called a Sea in the Bible. Tiberius is a resort town on the Galilee and on the other side of the lake, are the Golan Heights, which was taken from Syria in the 6 Days War in 1967.
Our tour group wasn’t religious at all and told the guide that we didn’t want to see three more churches, so we went wine tasting in the Golan Heights and for a boat ride on the lake instead.
We also stopped off at a Kibbutz, but we didn’t talk to anyone. Our guide said they were all commercial now, but you could really see all the work that went into planting this inhospitable land. Today it is green with bananas, dates, and olives. I don’t think we got a very accurate picture of kibbutzim, maybe another time.
The town we saw from Mt Nebo in Jordan was our next stop, Jericho, also in the Occupied Territories. Apparently, there was a treaty to create a Palestinian state by the year 2000, but obviously something went wrong. However, with the prospect of a Palestinian state came lots of outside investment including the building of a hotel/casino that we stayed at. The hotel was beautiful but it was very subdued, at least we could get drinks at the bar. There were also large estates built by rich Palestinians, but today it looks like all of the other Arab Muslim towns we had seen. They also grow Medjool dates, lots and lots of them.
From Jericho, it was a short drive to Masada. Somehow when the kids talked about it, I pictured it differently. It is a palace-fortress built by King Herod around 70 AD on the top of a mountain in the Negev desert, facing the Dead Sea. Herod wasn’t a nice guy, but he was a great builder, including an expansion of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The palace/fortress was abandoned and then some years later during the Jews’ final revolt against the Romans, it was taken over by the last group of Jewish fighters and their families. This group lived there for many months enduring a Roman siege. Finally, the Romans built an earthen ramp up to the top of the mountain, which still exists today. But when the Romans finally breached the fortress they found all of the Jews dead. They had all committed suicide at the hands of a few unfortunate souls chosen by lots for the final task. We opted to take the gondola up and walk down, was that a long walk with lots of stairs.
How do you like Israel so far, stay tuned for Part 2, Jerusalem?