Israel Pictures Guide

Israeli soldiers visiting Jersualem

Israeli soldiers visiting Jerusalem’s most famous viewpoint, the Mount of Olives, with the golden Dome of the Rock – a holy site for Muslims – visible on the left.

Visiting Israel

With huge religious and historical associations, Israel is a living legend, a promised land packed with landmarks of divine significance and a magnet for pious peoples all over the world, though Muslims won’t find much of a welcome there.
Agnostic visitors will find the country of interest too, with a fascinating capital city that has a constant flow of varied and colourful devotees, a barely hidden civil war, some unique sights and guaranteed sunshine.

Israel

The hub of Jerusalem’s Old City and cause of Jerusalem’s neverending squabbles: Temple Mount and Western Wall in the centre, Al Aqsa mosque on the right and Dome of the Rock on the left. Photo by Sheepdog85.

Behind the Wall is Temple Mount, the core of the Jewish faith and the place to which Jews turn during prayer. On the left is the Dome of the Rock but Al Aqsa mosque on the right side is more important, a crucial Muslim site of worship (though Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia are top of the prayer table). Temple Mount was mostly built in 19 BC under the command of Herod the Great.

The Western Wall (sometimes known as the Wailing Wall) is exclusively for the use of Jews (tho’ tourists can view from the fenced areas near the wall plaza). The rest of the wall is concealed behind structures in the Muslim Quarter, with the small exception of a 25 ft (8 m) section, the so-called Little Western Wall.

Orthodox Jews in the streets of Jerusalem, Israel

Haredi Orthodox Jews in their traditional hats and robes in the streets of Jerusalem.

The Religious Divide

Israel, also known historically as Palestine, has a long, turbulent history, and it’s not getting any calmer. One interesting thing about this godforsaken land, and I mean that literally, is how arid, infertile and unwelcoming it is, yet people from all over the world are clamouring to live there, to join the religious hoe-down in Jerusalem and never mind barren land, water shortages, nervous 17 year olds fingering M-16s, over-excitable attack helicopters, suicide bombings or brutal racial murders.

Smart, determined, hardworking Jews fear smart, determined, hardworking Palestinians, who reciprocate with the barely controlled fury of an oppressed people. Meanwhile Christians of all denominations and races wander around blissfully ignoring it all, happy in the Holy Land, while the USA pumps in $10bn a year to keep the wheels of Zion turning, much of which the far right spends on building avant-garde weapons and fomenting war against half their own people and the entire Arab world. Israel: dry it is, dull it isn’t.

A Palestinian chef putting together the best Arabic cuisine, Jerusalem, Israel

A Palestinian chef putting together the best Arabic cuisine we’ve ever tasted – very simple, very delicious.

Downsides

• This is no longer a land flowing with milk and honey, nor even with the milk of human kindness – though tourists are generally treated well.
• Much of Jerusalem is noisy, crowded, modern and unattractive. The Old City is the main attraction.
• The countryside is generally dry, rocky and dull.
• Many of the biblical sights are disappointingly unimpressive or uncared for. Nazareth, huh!
• The nervous, heavily armed soldiers, the peremptory checkpoints and the general oppression of the Arab minority may depress you.

The West Bank Barrier, Israel

The West Bank Barrier. Photo by Justin McIntosh.

The West Bank Wall is a separation barrier built by Israel along the West Bank’s ‘Green Line’ and will eventually stretch to 700 kilometres (430 miles) long. Israel claims that the wall protects civilians from Palestinian terrorism such as suicide bombing attacks.
Barrier opponents believe the wall unilaterally annexes Palestinian land under the guise of security and undermines peace negotiations. In addition the route sometimes deviates east of the Green Line and impedes the right of Palestinians to travel to and from work West Bank – Israel. Edited from Wikipedia

Citizens

Note that the Israel political problem is – simplistically – between a minority of extremists on both sides, fundamentalist Muslims and Orthodox Jews (as opposed to secular Jews who share a dislike of the Orthodox variety).

The majority of both Jews and Arabs are cheerful, friendly folk who would like to get on with their lives (especially those in the Tel Aviv and Eilat areas) and live side-by-side but the continuous building of illegal Jewish settlements in the West bank aggravates even moderate Arabs, triggers suicide attacks which in turn have caused the construction of the deeply unpleasant and inconvenient Israeli West Bank barrier, separating Israeli occupied territories from Arabs and disrupting the lives of thousands of workers and families permanently.

A Christian Coptic priest beside crosses awaiting ardent Christians to bear them through the old streets of Jerusalem. Israel

A Christian Coptic priest beside crosses awaiting ardent Christians to bear them through the old streets of Jerusalem.

The supposed birthplace of Jesus Christ, currently located in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Israel

The fourteen-point silver star in the Grotto of the Nativity marks the spot believed to be (above? ) the birthplace of Jesus Christ. It’s beneath the altar of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is in the Judean Mountains 10 kilometres (6. 2 miles) south of Jerusalem in Palestinian territory.

Possible Activities

Driving: a surprisingly relaxing and convenient way to get out of Jerusalem and see the Dead Sea or Galilee areas. You may also be able to drive into Jordan to see Petra and Wadi Rum, but check the current political situation first.

Riding: Galilee and Tel Aviv have horses for rent.

Hiking: Golan, Wadi Qelt, and Negev Desert.

Diving: Try diving onto Herod’s drowned city at Caesarea, or in the Red Sea for coral classics.

Health Spas: the Dead Sea offers mineral baths, mud packs and sunshine galore.

Beach Life: Tel Aviv and Eilat, though not of the palm fringed, coral sand, tropical beach type.

Eilat marina in far south Israel

Eilat marina in far south Israel sharing the north tip of the Red Sea with Jordan.

Eilat’s beaches are large but mostly lacking character apart from those run by first-class hotels. Eilat is a convenient stopping point for tourists who wish to drive into Jordan via Aqaba.

Main attractions

***Jerusalem. The Old City is where you’ll find most of the sights – and they’re stunning – including the prime Muslim and Jewish attractions at the Temple Mount, the Christian pilgrimage site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre along with Golgotha/Calvary/Garden Tomb (two locations where Christ may have been crucified/entombed. Other than religion the souk/suq/market makes an interesting walk, as do the ramparts and medieval gates.
Nothing much happens in the Old City after dark so it’s a hike to the New City for restaurants and a surprisingly lively night life.

A pregnant Dead Sea floater at sunset, south Israel

A (pregnant) Dead Sea floater.

***Dead Sea. Have a mud bath, then a pleasant float in the mineral rich therapeutic seawaters. Nearby Ein Gedi is a lush oasis and Masada, the ancient Jewish mountain-top fort, has excellent views, a fascinating history and a cable car to get you to the top if the hike is too much effort.

**Tiberias/Galilee. A pretty town and lake with hot springs and Roman excavations. A pleasant day’s drive around the lake, including the sad River Jordan, the Monastery of the Sermon on the Mount and the Golan Heights is possible. Galillee ‘Jesus’ boat photo

An Israeli soldier politely requesting a ride from us in the Golan Heights, Israel

An Israeli soldier politely requesting a ride from us in the Golan Heights.

**Eilat. Good for Red Sea diving and guaranteed sunshine but slightly ropey beaches and all-round style failure. Drive down the Sinai coast into Egypt for beach resorts with more ambience.

*Bethlehem. A very crowded and unsightly town not far from Jerusalem. The only real sight is the impressively atmospheric Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was (supposedly) born. More photos and information

Tel Aviv beach looking towards the old port area of Jaffa, Israel

Tel Aviv looking towards the old port area of Jaffa.

**Tel Aviv. A funky, modern beach side city with little historical interest but a very lively and secular (non-religious) population, great shopping, excellent beaches alongside a pleasant promenade and a wild nightlife. The city is popular with moderates, party people, LGBTs and beach-lovers.

Masada

Masada fortress view over to the Judaean Desert and the Dead Sea in south Israel

Masada fortress view over to the Judaean Desert and the Dead Sea in south Israel. Masada was an ancient hilltop fort and site of mass suicide by nearly a thousand Sicari rebels under siege by Roman legions. The rectangle on the right is the remains of one Roman camp

Weather

Best weather: Spring, Autumn, but ok most months.
Worst: July/August (excessive heat, especially Eilat)

Minimum worthwhile stay, not including flights/ border crossings: 4 days, just Jerusalem
Recommended: 2 weeks

Ramadan

During Ramadan most, if not all Muslims will neither eat nor drink during the daytime and consequently many cafes, restaurants and even shops may open only after sunset; public eating, drinking and smoking by tourists may upset the locals. In one Muslim country the only alcohol served to us during our visit was from a teapot into tea cups in a first class hotel lounge.

Furthermore service personnel may be missing, careless or irritable during the daytime.
The last day of Ramadan, known as Idd al Fitr, can be a wild time with much celebrating, depending on location.

Dates depend on the full moon rising in your location so they may differ by one day depending on where you plan to be.

In 2017 Ramadan will start on the 27 May and will continue for 30 days until the 25 of June.
In 2018 Ramadan will start on the 16 May and will continue for 30 days until the 14 of June.
In 2019 Ramadan will start on the 6 May and will continue for 30 days until the 4 of June.