Do Israel and Palestine appeal to you? I understand you since visiting these territories was on our minds for years.
The idea of visiting Israel and Palestine has been tantalizing us for years due to their mystical and spiritual significance, but until now we never made it a priority. It was therefore natural for us to include these destinations when planning our world trip. And when our dear friends Karla, Guido and Stefan (all three from Quebec) found out we were going, they joined us for some unforgettable moments on a “pilgrimage of curiosity” to the Holy Land.
The Best Attractions of Israel and Palestine
At the risk of exacerbating controversy, hatred or passion concerning Israel and Palestine, I will share with you my own perceptions of this highly tense region of the world, where a diversity of religions and opinions constantly rub shoulders and where conflicts have been taking place over centuries.
If you know me well, you know that even though my faith belongs to that of the God of Christianity, I have a neutral but critical interest in all religious beliefs in this world, principally with the goal of reinforcing my own faith. This is because I believe we cannot constitute a real opinion and objectively declare that we know the Truth if we have never been confronted directly by all other beliefs.
It’s therefore without pretence but with a spirit of openness to people, religions, traditions and beliefs that I embrace every place that we visit. And in fact the city I’m presenting to you now is an extraordinary city in this regard. Jerusalem is the crossroads between the Abrahamic religions, and has been at the center of interests and conflicts in the Middle East for almost all the biggest civilizations in history.
And the time that we now live in is no exception. Jews, Christians and Muslims live there together in a semblance of peaceful coexistence, but a tiny spark can rapidly cause a blaze.
At first, the thing that’s most apparent is the diversity of people that you cross in the street. Like in a fashion show or a Halloween night in North America, you can see an incredible variety of costumes. Every religious community (and each denomination within these communities) has a garment to express its identity and show piety, but this can sometimes come across as representing a sectarianism sentiment. Groups of individuals are so uniform, it’s scary. They cross paths but never intermingle. “Coexist” – the ‘New Age’ religious concept – is certainly a motto here, but the notion of ‘Peace and Love’ is lacking. The resulting atmosphere is suffocating.
Another detail which we remarked upon which exists nowhere else in the world we’ve visited (apart from maybe in Varanasi in India) is the intensity of the religious demonstrations. Religious enthusiasm plays such a big part in people’s lives that emotions and excitement are amplified into scenes of delirium, psychosis or madness. I initially doubted the existence of the famous “Jerusalem syndrome” but now I truly believe it! At every site that is considered “sacred”, the manifestations of idolatry and fanaticism are incomparable. And I would say these “manifestations” are particularly prominent in the catholic and Orthodox Christian tourists. Needless to say there is a place dedicated to each symbolic place mentioned in the Bible to satisfy the pilgrims in their superstitious devotions.
You must have noticed my critical tone. This is due to the fact that many traditions have become intertwined over time and it is now impossible to disentangle the true from the false. And I think that in order to make the most of Jerusalem, a Christian sincere in their faith must disregard the religious traditions dictated by their church and look at Jerusalem with simple curiosity, rather than with a spirit of devotion.
However, we are happy to have been able to witness the day-to-day activities of the citizens of Jerusalem during the holy day of all three religious communities, Friday for Muslims, Saturday (Sabbath) for Jews, and Sunday for Christians.
Masada and the Dead Sea
Masada is a fortress built by Herod the Great in the 1st century BC. Perched on a gigantic mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, we traveled by cable car to reach it. Masada constituted the last bastion of the Zealots, which symbolized the resistance of the Jews in Roman times.
The Dead Sea, which lies at 430 meters below the level of the Mediterranean Sea, kept all of its promises. We lounged in its saline waters in which it is impossible to drown, enjoying the calm and peaceful environment. The free public beach at Ein Bokek had amazing facilities with showers and changing cubicles.
In Haifa we visited the sumptuous gardens of Baha’i, the sect with Shia Muslim roots, where the Baha’i founder – the Báb – was buried. We also swam in the waters of the Mediterranean under a breath-taking sunset. It was perfect!
Nazareth and Galilee
Around the Sea of Galilee, everything is organised so that pilgrims can find their happiness. In almost every place in the Bible which Jesus is said to have visited, a church has been erected, which completely takes away from the original environment. In Capernaum we were able to see the houses of John and Matthew, as well as the house of Simon, also known as Peter, who was the fisherman proclaimed pope by the Catholic Church and whose house was the biggest of them all.
In Tabgha, there are two churches on the exact places where Jesus appeared for the fourth time after his resurrection, and where he multiplied the fish and bread to feed the masses. Not far from there, a monastery was built on the Mount of Beatitudes, exactly where Jesus preached his famous “ Sermon on the mountain”. And in Yerdenit, you can find the exact place on the Jordan where Jesus once received the waters of John the Baptist’s baptism, and where dozens of pilgrims are baptized in a strange commercial ritual.
But the prize for the most ridiculous undoubtedly goes to Nazareth where there are no less than 18 churches of the Annunciation (among which are the Catholic, the Maronite Catholic, the Greek Orthodox and the Orthodox Coptic). The most important of them all, the Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation was built on what is the exact location of Mary’s old house. The Church of Saint Joseph, which is just next door, was built on Joseph’s house, as Joseph and Mary were essentially neighbors and grew up together and went to the same school. And a little further up the hill, we find the very precisely named “ Basilica of Jesus the Adolescent“. Need I say more?
For a better preparation
After having landed at the airport in Tel Aviv, we went straight to Jerusalem where we spent 5 days. We then rented a car to have a memorable soak in the salty waters of The Dead Sea, with a visit to the fortress of Masada on the way. We then stayed in Haifa for 3 nights to visit the north of the country and its sites of Christian pilgrimage: Nazareth and around the Sea of Galilee.
Accommodation and transportation
We rented apartments in Jerusalem and Haifa to accommodate our merry band of travelers.
With our rental car, a Chevrolet Traverse, we were not allowed to venture beyond the monumental wall separating us from the West Bank (Palestinian territory) to see Bethlehem, Jericho and Qumran. This did not stop us from being impressed when taking the road across the country. We saw fighter planes and helicopters in the skies, as well as ground-based military detection and communication devices that constantly reminded us that the country is in fact in a geopolitical tense situation.
I wasn’t expecting the cost of life in Israel to be so high! It’s not surprising when you find out that the minimum salary in this country is 5,300.00 ILS (1,603.15 USD) a month. As a result, we had to buy our food in grocery stores to eat on a reasonable budget. And for fun from time to time, we even went to eat out in IKEA! Ahhh those delicious meatballs…
I therefore (un)fortunately don’t have any photos of Israeli culinary specialties to show you. Anyhow, the food seemed very similar to the specialties of their Lebanese neighbors, that is to say Falafel, Shwarma and Hummus.
The cost of our trip to Israel / Palestine for our family of 4 came to:
- 6,049.00 ILS (1,829.70 USD)
- 756.12 ILS (228.71 USD) per day
- 189.00 ILS (57.17 USD) per person per day.
In detail :
|Expense Category||Amount Spent|
|Plane and Visa||1,092.00 ILS / 330.31 USD|
|Accomodation||2,442.00 ILS / 738.66 USD|
|Transport (including gas)||1,180.00 ILS / 356.93 USD|
|Eating out||364.00 ILS / 110.10 USD|
|Groceries||656.00 ILS / 198.43 USD|
|Activities||315.00 ILS / 95.28 USD|
|Total||6,049.00 ILS / 1,829.70 USD|
In a nutshell
|Dates||2018-10-03 to 2018-10-10|
|Number of days||7|
|Cities we visited||Jerusalem, Masada, Dead Sea, Haifa, Nazareth, Galilea|
|Inbound||From Cyprus by Plane|
|Outbound||To Jordan by foot|
|Mode of transport||Rental car|
|Distance travelled (car & foot)||1333 km|
|Number of photos taken||2960 (370 per day)|
|Currency||The Israeli Shekel (1.00 ILS = 0.30 USD)|
We left Israel and Palestine with mixed feelings, a combination of enthusiasm to have been able to trace the steps of the forefathers of the Abrahamic religions, and the disappointment we felt when seeing the divide that religious traditions have caused between humans.
To finish, we made our way to the neighboring country by land in the south of the country, through the border separating Eilat and Aqaba, and entered Jordan!
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