Why I’m Choosing to Travel in Israel – My Two Week Itinerary

“Why would anyone want to visit an aggressive, racist, right-wing country?” was a comment I saw recently on an Israel travel forum. I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had about this country that have led to intense debate and extreme anger, yet followed by the notion that it would be an interesting place to visit because of its rich and ancient history, incredible landscapes and vibrant cities.

The history of Israel is complex. The history of the modern nation of Israel is about changes and conflicts that led to new settlements and the displacement of people within a country once known as Palestine. I’ve lost hours sifting through articles trying to make sense of it all.

The simplest way I have understood it is that during British administration of ‘Mandatory Palestine’ from 1920 to 1948, various misinterpretations and conflicts surrounding issues such as Arab independence (in response to them helping to drive out the Ottoman Turks who controlled much of the region) and the support of the pro-Zionist ‘Balfour Declaration’ (calling for the reinstatement of the Jewish “national home” in Palestine in repatriation for the Jews exiled by the Ottoman Turks during World War I) led to the rise of two nationalist movements – the Jews and the Arabs.

Civil war led to the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, with the ceasefire a year later forming the partitions we see today – the newly formed Israel, the West Bank that borders Jordan (with both Jewish and Arab settlements) and the Palestine Government controlled Gaza Strip in the west.

Whether you are pro-Palestine or pro-Israeli, it is not for me to judge what is in itself a complicated debate and one for political experts, not a travel website. We all interpret things differently, are influenced by different cultural factors or simply don’t understand enough to have an opinion. But for those who have asked me why I want to visit Israel I tell them this…

I don’t condone and nor can I fathom how and why a nation can suppress another, with brick walls, partitions and what has said to a breach of basic human rights. I don’t condone the actions of the Israeli government, nor those of the Palestinian Government (fighting violence with violence) that spark so much angry and fury amongst many. But think of the majority of the people living there – the people who are in no way representative of the actions of a ruling party or of an era of long-standing conflict, the majority of whom want one thing. Peace.

Religion, land and war go hand in hand, but we must take note of those outside of the regimes and decision-making; take note of the historical sites, grand religious monuments and incredible landscapes that existed before any of this and which should be celebrated, enjoyed and shared.

As one of my readers said to me, “I hope you experience an Israel that isn’t so rough and full of hate as portrayed by media all around the world.” This is exactly what I want to do and tell you about. I’m travelling around Israel working with Tourist Israel and Abraham Tours, a combined offering in the region that caters for the independent traveller looking to get off the beaten track a little. I also liked that their tours in Israel and the West Bank are designed and executed without bias, so that you can formulate your own opinions.

Here’s a brief overview of what I will be getting up to over the next two culture-packed weeks:

Jerusalem

I will be based in Jerusalem for a few days, exploring one of the oldest cities in the world scared to Judaism, Christianity and Islam by foot and by bike, seeking out quiet back alleys, neighbourhoods and forgotten pathways. All this, alongside ancient treasures on a Holy City tour visiting Jewish (King David’s Tomb, the Western (Wailing) Wall and remains of the ancient Jewish Temple), Muslim (the site where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven, the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque) and Christian sites (the Via Dolorosa along which Christ walked to his crucifixion, the room of the last supper and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) in order to understand the rich history and religious complexities of Jerusalem.

© http://www.flickr.com/photos/javier26032006/

© http://www.flickr.com/photos/javier26032006/

The West Bank – History, Culture and Landscape

We all hear about the West Bank, but rarely do we get an insight into the culture and history of the region. Here I will visit:

- The key historical spots of Bethlehem, Jericho, Taybeh and Ramallah.

- The Northern are to visit the Samaritan village at Mount Geriszim and learn more about the Samaritan people whose history dates back to the Roman era.

- The Balata refugee camp close to the old city of Nablus and Sebastia, full of rich history and ancient sites of worship, to gain insight into the complex Palestinian refugee issue in the area.

The Dead Sea to float in the salt waters,  400 metres below sea level.

The West Bank – From Both Sides

On what is called the ‘Dual Narrative Tour’ in Hebron, this will be a chance to explore both perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a place that is one of the four holy cities in Judaism and a sacred place in Islam. I will spend the morning in ‘H2’ the Jewish ‘settlers’ area and the largest city in the West Bank and the afternoon in ‘H1’, the Palestinian area.

© http://www.flickr.com/photos/synnetonidas/

© http://www.flickr.com/photos/synnetonidas/

Northern Israel

From swimming in the Sea of Galilee, traversing the mountainous terrain of the region to exploring Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, I can’t wait to fully explore this stunning natural landscape with great historical significance. I will also be checking out the Roman ruins in Caesarea and Banias Nature Reserve.

To the far north is Haifa, Israel’s third largest city and where I will have the chance to marvel at the magnificent view of Galilee from Mount Precipice before heading to other northern cities including Akko and Rosh Hanikra, the latter being known for its caves and tunnels that were once hidden for centuries.

Southern Israel

Close to the West Bank border I will head to the The Masada Fortress, to witness what has been dubbed as one of the world’s best sunrise before visiting the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.

Mitzpe Ramon, a town in the Negev Desert, founded as a camp for the workers building the road to Eilat in 1951, is also the site of the 6 km wide, 450 meters deep Ramon Crater. I might also use this opportunity to rest a little!

Tel Aviv

In Britain our news has always been filled with bad press about Tel Aviv and few know of it as a thriving cosmopolitan city. As a city lover, what better was to end my time in Israel than in this young, arty and vibrant metropolis that sits along the Mediterranean coast.

© http://www.flickr.com/photos/golosovsky/

© http://www.flickr.com/photos/golosovsky/

With a jam-packed itinerary and a LOT to learn, I can’t wait to get to Israel and The West Bank to show how independent travel in the region is safe, accessible and a means from which to gain a new perspective on a country negatively blasted by our media. This really will be a chance to do what I love best – EXPLORING, learning and changing perceptions! Watch this space…

Backpacker Becki is working in partnership with Tourist Israel and Abraham Tours, who planned an itinerary based on personal interests as well as what will work best with the ethics of this website. Abraham Hostels is kindly supporting my stay in Jerusalem and facilitating my accommodation elsewhere.

I am not visiting Israel with a political agenda and nor do the parties I am working with operate with one. All opinions will remain my own.

Comments

  1. Ahh, Israel…what to say. I’ve never been, and it’s not a country that I’d want to go to just yet – I’d love to visit Lebanon, and Iran keeps popping into my mind, but neither country will let you in with an Israeli stamp in your passport. Not to say I wouldn’t like to go, though – I’ve only heard good things about Tel Aviv from people I know who’ve gone, and Israeli men….swoon.

    It’ll be interesting to read about your experiences in the West Bank. Personally, I think the Israeli government are handling the situation horribly and playing the victim, and the racism in the country is alarming, but I won’t say more than that. As for Haifa, I don’t remember reading about it on any travel blogs, so that’ll be another interesting one, too. Hope you have a great time!

    • Tom – just FYI – Israel no longer stamps passports. Immigration will give you a card with a stamp on it which you can remove from your passport as soon as you leave the country.

    • I think the media, personally, hasn’t been the best at portraying the situation in a balanced sense. I want to go and work it out for myself and am too looking forward to gaining perspective from the West Bank. This could be a HUGE debate. Which in itself is interesting.

      I will, of course, keep you posted!

    • Tom I have got to Lebanon with an Israeli stamp back in 2009! :) Iran is amazing I have just returned… and you shouldn’t be worried about Israeli stamp, from January this year they give you a separated piece of paper so no actual prove that you have visited country, Israel is aware to difficult it was for some tourist and decided to act upon it so now you can go :)
      Tom situation in West Bank is not as bad as in Gaza… those are two completely different approaches. I have been in West Bank many times, it is safe and very nice for visitors.
      Haifa is very beautiful, especially beaches and the garden, but there is many great places around….Becki do not miss Acre!

    • I agree. Gaza and the West Bank are completely different in both how they are occupied and who can go there. I will post a picture of the Israel ‘non stamp’ so everyone can see it’s perfectly fine :)

  2. I really respect your decisions for going, Becki, and I think you’re going with a very clear and very informed mind. Israel is a country that is very special for me – my sister lives in Tel Aviv, and as I am very close to her boyfriend and his family there, it feels like something of a second home – and I really support your words here. I’m really eager to read about your time in Israel.

    I didn’t see it in your itinerary but I highly recommend the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Holocaust History museum. Also, if you need anything – any tips or perhaps just a few people to go out with in Tel Aviv, please get in touch! My sister’s boyfriend’s brother (phew) owns one of the best bars in the city. I wrote an article about my favourite restaurants in TA so I can send that through, too. Have fun!

  3. Steph fehr says:

    looks like an amazing itinerary! Bon voyage and i look forward to hearing all about your adventures and explorations!!

  4. I’d love to visit Israel and I’m sure it’ll not only be fascinating but educating. The amount of times I’d tried to research and wrap my head around what is going on over there is embarrassing. In the U.S. we get news stories all the time, but in college I started to question them all and wanted to do my own research. After all that independent research, I still feel like I can’t explain the situation to someone who is unaware!

    Hope you have an amazing time and I look forward to reading about it!

  5. Becki it is great to hear that you are visiting Israel, it is very upsetting that people still would say and think this kind of generalizations and fake facts, I believe that one can’t really have an opinion about the country they never visited.
    I travel 5-6 times a year to Israel, Tel Aviv is one of my favorite cities in the world! If you need any tips, about any small villages or some amazing restaurants just email me :) Have a great trip Girl!

    • It’s such a difficult situation to understand and explain. It’s not black and white as everyone here says. I also have a (non Jewish) friend currently undertaking Middle Eastern studies and the history is fascinating and sheds a LOT of light on what’s happened/happening here. Sadly, our media doesn’t portray anything other than what Israel does negatively, despite there being a lot more going on :( However, aside from all of that, there is no much beauty, history and incredible landscape…that belongs to all religions… and is there for all of us to explore. It sounds as if you adore it here. Do you have Jewish background or do you just love it anyway!? :)

  6. I really want to visit Israel for so many reasons. And reading your travel post just makes me so eager to go there. Do you have any idea what time of the year is best to visit Israel? Thanks for sharing.

    • I’m glad to hear that you want to visit!
      I’ve regularly heard that Spring time is lovely – April and May and early June. It’s chilly now in November (although crisp, it’s still lovely to see everything) but a the months before this were warmer: September – early November. I’ve been told that the hight of summer can be very uncomfortable with the intense heat.

  7. Enjoy Israel, it’s the most wonderful country in the world. Great idea to make tours with Abraham Tours, they are very special! And of course, Abraham Hostel and the Fauzi are totally great places to stay at, the very best of those to hostels is the breakfast at the Fauzi though (Um-Rami, the cook, is just one of a kind!)

  8. Your site has been an inspiration to me Becki. .. I am travelling a very “off the beaten track” route through the Philippines and Indonesia.. Maybe someday this will be on your itinerary also?

  9. an israeli says:

    a few historic facts:

    1. In 1948 a war didn’t just started between the Arabs and Jews out of itself. The Arabs in Palestine with the help of 5 Arab armies STARTED a war against the Jews living in Palestine while rejecting the 1947 UN resolution that called for the partition of the land to a Jewish ad Arab states.

    2. Regarding your wonder “why a nation can suppress another, with brick walls, partitions and what has said to a breach of basic human rights”: the wall and checkponts were put after Palestinian terrorists crossed from the west bank into Israel freely and on a daily basis exploding buses, restaurants, malls etc. Thousands of Isrealis were murdered in the 2000′s by Palestinian terrorists. This terror wave came after Israel signed the Oslo accord in which it gave the Palestinians control over parts of the west bank (cities of Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus, Beth Lehem and many others) that were under Israeli control ever since the 1967 war. While Israel was talking peace with the Palestinians, Israelis were murdered by Palestinian terrorists on a daily basis. I’d say basic human rights include the right of Israelis not to be murdered.

  10. Is Israel any more racist than the majority of Arabs who want to see it destroyed?? Come on. You’re damn right the media has never been balanced in its coverage of the Middle East; other than to focus on the terrible violence committed by BOTH parties.

    I visited Israel back in 1985, a longggggggg time ago. I was a teen and didn’t feel comfortable watching soldiers walk pass me everywhere I went (for my protection, of course). Now that I’m older, I don’t think I’d have as bad a time of it. But then I felt I was visiting a police state. Israel is a fascinating country. I’d love to travel re-experience this country.

    • I agree – there’s been violence committed on both sides and being here makes me realise that it’s not all black and white and that there are bigger agendas out there that we can never control. i.e The power of the US and how they benefit, how the media serves to keep Israel constantly ‘in the picture’ or why neighbouring countries are not helping their fellow Arab people. The list goes on.

      I rarely walk past that many soldiers. The most I see are at transport hubs and many are just heading home or back to base. While there is a need to serve, there are not dozens patrolling the streets because it’s unsafe – another misjudgement by my media. These kids have no choice in the matter.

      I think you might have a different time here…sounds like your last visit was during a more heightened time!

  11. I don’t pretend to be informed enough to know which side is right or wrong in this complex and ages old conflict. Bad things have been committed by both sides and even if one administration were completely in the wrong, the regular people on both sides are just going about their lives and generally not participating in violence. It’s a shame there’s so much hate and strong opinions out there and I hate that the media encourage it. Anyway, I wish we all could get out there and see for ourselves just like you’re doing rather than relying on the hate-mongering media. And it sounds like an incredible trip!

    • I couldn’t agree more. There is no right answer when both sides have participated in right/wrong action and breaking down an extensive amount of history and religious thought to solve an issue is almost impossible. I hope you get to travel here yourself one day soon as well. It seems as if you are of a well informed mind to visit here also.

  12. There are so many questions to be answered. I hope you have a wonderful trip and that you will be able to answer some of them after your own firsthand experience. Enjoy your trip!

  13. Cayleigh-May says:

    I didn’t know that Israel had started stamping a separate piece of paper rather than passports, that removes a lot of my mental impediments to travelling in the country. I think it would be a fascinating place and something of a mind-melt.

    I good friend of mine from Jerusalem has an interesting take on the peace process in the following song, The Edinburgh Surprise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3P6UCqSMO0. If you buy it, all the proceeds go to StopTheWall.

    Not trying to start a political discussion as I am far too uniformed to take part one in one properly. Every voice is valid though. Avital’s is particularly inspirational, balls-out and beautiful.

    I hope you had an incredible time.

  14. Glad to see you writing about the internal debate you had when deciding to travel to Israel, Becki.

    Really enjoyed seeing your photos from the trip up on Instagram. Looking forward to reading more about what you discovered while there. Let’s meet again in Tel Aviv!

  15. Hi Becki, I cannot wait to go to Israel one day soon but it needs a lot of planning. Would you be able to give an estimate of how much per day for expenses + lodging? I met an Israeli recently and he said that yes, it is a relatively expensive place to travel.

    Thank you and safe travels always!

    • Outside if the cost of flights, accommodation and tours/trips I spent around £150+ per week on general living costs – food, drink, local transport, entrance fees etc. It’s Western/European prices but worth every penny, in my honest opinion.

      You can get a good cost overview here for hostels all around Israel, as it all depends what parts of the country you want to travel to: http://www.hostels-israel.com/

  16. Looks like a great itinerary! I’ll be heading to Israel this summer with a Jewish friend who has been several times. I have to admit I wasn’t super keen on the idea, until we traveled through the Stans and met tons of Israeli backpackers who actually had really similar takes on Israeli politics as I do. Like you said, it’s important to actually meet the people and realize they are not their politics.

    • I couldn’t agree more. It’s one of the most important things about being in Israel – the realisation that not every single person is a direct representation of the wider conflict. Have a great time – it’s an incredible place, not only for the landscape and the must see sights, but especially when it comes to learning about the issues we so often hear about.

  17. I think it is great that you are touring Israel. It has been on my list for so many years, and I was scheduled to be there in November, but cancelled, not out of political beliefs, but just because I was too tired and could not handle planning a trip to such a complex historical country at the time. I don’t think I regret my decision, I am pretty sure I will go soon, but I am excited to follow you on this adventure.

    • It’s certainly not the place to be if you are too tired and exhausted from travelling, so I can see why you let it go at that time. If you have a vested interest in what is happening here, it’s mind blowing. Also, it’s important to understand the history and the current political climate in order to fully get to grips with the country as a whole (despite its magnificent landscape). I hope it’s back on your shortlist soon :)

  18. Hi, I am new to your blog and this is the first post I read. I myself am traveling to Israel this summer as part of a volunteer group and I have gotten some negative comments from the people around me. I hope to prove to them that the media is not always an accurate description of day to day life in a place. Violence, sadly, occurs daily everywhere in the world and I probably have more of a chance getting mugged in an American City than I do being harmed in Israel. I have traveled a few places by myself and I have to say that I felt safer alone, walking along the streets of unfamiliar countries than I do driving through some major North American cities. Thank you for this post and your others on Israel, they have been very informative.

    • Hi Kayla. I’m glad to hear you too are travelling here with an open mind. Where will you be volunteering? I’m looking into volunteering posts in Hebron. The media will never be accurate and sensationalism accounts for a lost of people’s narrow-minded views. You will see what right and wrong here for yourself and go back and tell others. I never once felt unsafe. In fact, I was probably safer being on a bus full of a load of young army kids than without them! More Israel posts are coming soon…

  19. Israel seems like such an interesting place to visit. Thank you for sharing your trip plans. Hope you enjoy yourself.

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