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