The State of Israel is a unique state on the globe because it hosts holy places with a special significance for two of the most important world religions – Christianity and Islam. This state was officially established in 1948 despite the extremely harsh reaction of the Arab world, being more or less an intense period at the time of Arab-Israeli unrest and confrontation followed, the end of which is still unknown today. I am not talking about the impossibility of reaching a definitive peace solution with the Palestinians, which would establish the still fluid national borders and clarify the status of the capital of Jerusalem, which is still not recognized internationally but just partially.
It is not exaggerated to say that the Israelis are in a continuous and simultaneous struggle for survival, defense, and security, but also for achieving the highest socio-economic prosperity. From this perspective, it may be a unique state on the globe.
The western style of existence also characterizes the organization and functioning of state institutions, communities, the business environment, and the tourism industry, its pigmented in the happiest way with interesting Arab architectural ingredients. The economic and financial capital of Tel Aviv is remarkable from this point of view.
It adds a unique geographical diversity, which provides access to the coast of the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Sea of Galilee or the Jordan and the Dead Sea. Of course, these are only brief details about Israel, which can only arouse interest for an extremely wide range of foreign visitors.
When arriving at the airport, be prepared for the security check- very detailed one. Security and checking the passengers are at a high level. As you probably know about the issues Israel is going through, you probably understand why they take so much precaution.
The main hobby of the security team is to question you heavily before giving you the boarding pass. They are trained psychological interrogators according to what I’ve read. They use to watch passengers at the gate prior to boarding as well. So, this is something to keep in mind as not all airlines are allowed to fly in and out of Israel. In case you are flying El Al, and you are a woman, then I suggest that you should arrive an hour ahead of time at the airport as it’s not their problem if you miss your flight.
Do they stamp your passport?
This was my biggest concern, as you may know, if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport you can no longer travel to some Middle Eastern countries at all, and in other countries make it will make it more difficult. They do NOT stamp your passport anymore when you fly in and out. They give you a paper you need to keep in your passport as an entry stamp, then a paper as an exit stamp you need until you reach your next destination (outside Israel). You need to know that, with these papers, there is no evidence you have traveled to these places.
I heard that when you cross by car/foot at the borders, they do sometimes stamp your passport.
An ideal travel plan to better understand Israel, combining religious tourism with leisure, should at least encompass the unique goals of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Haifa, Acre, and of course Beersheba and Eilat.
Tel Aviv is one of the best cities I have ever been to. First of all, it’s a totally pet-friendly city, everybody there has a pet next to them and the most beautiful thing was that most of them were adopted. The feeling being there was, that you can never get bored in this amazing city. You have everything you ever dream to have in one metropolitan city: perfect nightlife, beach, amazing IT center with beautiful parks and the list can go on.
- Levinsky Market
- Carmel Market
- Old Jaffa Port
- Incredible nightlife all around the city
- Jaffa’s Flea Market
- Frishman Beach
- Old City
- Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Jerusalem is considered in many international circles endorsed in the field as the most relevant city in the world in terms of the significance of the holy places it incorporates. As I said, Jerusalem is a place of major religious and historical significance for the largest monotheistic religions in the world: Christianity, Islam, but also Judaism. It is now a modern city with a developing architecture, for which it spends enormously and has many beauties to offer to visitors.
For the visitors, it must be known that the city is disputed by the Israelis and Palestinians in a conflict of old identical with that of the statehood of Israel. Israel declared Jerusalem the political capital of the state, which reopened periods of major tension with the Palestinians, who also claim the city as the capital of the Palestinian state. The open disputes between the Israeli and Palestinian security forces are quite common in or around Jerusalem, and these can create at least uncomfortable times for tourists. This is something that should not be ignored by tourists, who can be informed about the current state of public security in Israel at travel agencies, Israeli information offices and, better, at their own diplomatic missions accredited in Israel.
Mandatory objectives to check:
- Church of the Holy Sepulcher
- Western Wall (Wailing Wall)
- The Temple Mount
- Dome of the Rock
- Around Jerusalem: Israel Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum
Bethlehem & Palestina / West Bank
The wall between Israel and Palestinian it’s considered to be a security barrier against terrorism but Palestinians call it racial segregation. It looks more like prison walls, speaking from aesthetical view. Arabic named it “apartheid wall” – used a lot by Palestinians in the West Bank.
Highlights: The Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque are both located in this area, and it’s said to be the place where Mohammed ascended to heaven.
The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth at 431 m below the sea level, the weather is filled with minerals and the air is so rich in oxygen that can protect you from sunburn, there are also oases with rare animals and historical sites that bring the Roman Empire to life.
Best road trip
I totally encourage you to rent a car if you want to visit more than Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. it’s a bit complicated in Jerusalem, the traffic is chaotic and tries to be careful where you park as we received a fine (approx.50 EUR) once. There is just one highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that you will need to pay, for the rest of the roads the driving is for free.
The infrastructure in Israel is at a high level, just be aware that you will not be allowed to drive in West Bank, Gaza and some specific areas (when you will rent the car, ask at the desk for a map).
In this amazing Red Sea resort, you can do all the watersport you want. Is one of the best diving centers in the world, you can swim with dolphins, stay at best Eilat resorts, take a tour to the Red Sea. You can also plan one-day trips to Petra, Egypt or Jordanian desert.
In this area there no history to absorb, you can enjoy the beautiful and easily accessible coral reefs to snorkel or be spoiled at plenty of beaches. The best part is that in winter when in the rest of the country is cold, in Eilat is usually warm enough so you can enjoy a sunbathing and swim in the Red Sea.
Haifa – Bahai Gardens
In Haifa you can find the most magnificent and the most impressive landmarks in Israel. The Bahá’í Faith is a monotheistic religion which emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind and originated in 19th-century Persia.
The Iranian architect Fariborz Sahba began working on the gardens in 1987 and the terraces were officially opened to the public in 2001. Their unique design and magnificent detailing, which replicates the gardens of old Persia, make for truly exquisite and peaceful surroundings.
The Bahai Gardens are open daily: 9am-12pm
Safety & Conflict
I need to make a mention of safety as there are often alerts or State Department warnings to avoid certain places in Israel. While the Gaza Strip and West Bank are listed as not to be visited in any circumstances as a tourist, it can also be noted that Golan Heights are not recommended and even Jerusalem when it is at times of tension. It’s a must to verify and check the conditions before traveling to these areas.
My perception is that the people in Israel live in a state of conflict their whole lives, for example when you turn 18 years old, both male and female need to serve in the military (unless married, Orthodox, Muslim, or a few other reasons), and having to go into a bomb shelter being nothing shocking to them. I didn’t feel any insecurity while being in Israel, the cities and country feel safe and life goes on even there are sometimes attacks.
I am not the one to tell you who is write or wrong in terms of the conflict between Palestine and Israel or other enemies of there, I am not going to comment on who should have what territory. The issue is too complex and travel throw Israel just for one week doesn’t give me the insight I would need to understand totally the unsolved issues.
Another thing I noticed which I was naive to be that it’s not all Jewish here, it’s Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Muslim, and all kinds of religions.
I didn’t know that after Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv has the most startups in the world – Intel, WhatsApp (that they sell to Facebook), Trellis (helps farmers around the world with crop forecasting, supply chain insights, and market intelligence) and so on. Israel has the most mature tech ecosystem by far. The World Economic Forum reported that Israel has about 4,000 active startups.
I really hope that soon enough there will be peace in Israel and that all the religions and neighboring countries can align to an agreement but, in the world we live in, it’s hard to imagine this picture.