This country is either loved or hated by many. My opinion, I am travelling around the world to get to know what is out there and not to judge from the history and the beliefs of specific countries past or future. So this is Israel, the holy land of the three biggest religions of the world as well as the region of the conflict that began after the Second World War and nobody knows when it’s going to end.
I had to visit Israel on my Middle East trip to get the opinions from both sides.
Although it’s hard to combine the Arab and Israeli world (You cannot enter any Arab country when you have an Israeli stamp in your passport) I managed to do it. I spent one week in this small country and I must admit I was impressed by its achievements. I got into the country from the border town of Eilat. Although I drove from the Arab world and Vukefalas was thoroughly searched, I was not delayed or treated aggressively at all. A really professional search that reaches perfection in all its elements. Something that made me understand how Israel managed to achieve so many things in such a hostile environment. Eilat is a coast resort on the Red Sea and the only one in the country in this area. The people behave like they are in one of the safest areas. Girls are really good looking and outgoing, something that I have seen only in Lebanon. The beach itself is not something that will blow your mind away but again you have to remember that I come from the Greek islands so I am difficult to please when it comes to beaches.
Anyway I set camp right on the beach next to some other campers and although the next day I was approached by an officer for a formal check, I was never again stopped or questioned during my whole stay. I left Eilat and started heading towards the capital of Tel Aviv. On my way there I crossed the Israeli part of the Dead Sea. A month earlier I was crossing it from the Jordanian side, which is full of hotels with spas and mud baths that are considered really healthy. No, I did not try rubbing myself in the mud. It’s not my best thing.
Tel Aviv was next, which is a great city with lots of fun. The people are nice, the beach on the Mediterranean great and you can watch the sun go into the sea, something that reminded me of Mykonos (I guess after 5 months you miss home). I spent two days partying like crazy with different people I met every day, I visited a modern version of a souk and of course I swam in the blue waters of the Mediterranean. After all that I was ready to pay a visit to the holy city of Jerusalem.
At first sight Jerusalem is scary. The city is divided in two parts and the Palestinian side has walls and wires like a prison. The old Jerusalem for commercial reasons is not divided by wires. However it’s divided by human hate and that is something you rather feel than see. In the old walls of Jerusalem you find all kinds of Christians -some of which I didn’t know they existed- Armenians, Hebrews and Muslims, all that make the air that you breathe really heavy. Especially when you randomly change paths between the Temple Mountain, Muslims’ holy temple, the Wall of Tears, a Hebrew place of pray and the Holy Grave, Christianity’s holiest place. The path that Jesus Christ took through the city is turned into a souvenirs’ market, making the sites themselves lose the interest they have. The Temple Mountain is open to non Muslims for a couple of hours only in the early morning. As for the Holy Grave, that is definitely a place where humans prove how low the fanaticism of religion can go. So many are the fights in the Holy Grave about a number of ego reasons that the government has put a notice to all churches that if it happens again they will not permit the access to the Holy Grave to any of them. As for the Jewish wall, the security if you try to come even close to it is beyond imagination. After all the holy city of Jerusalem has become a theatre of one of the ugliest plays between God and humans.
I decided not to stay more than a day and then head to the North of the country, to the costal city of Akko. As it was one of my last stops for that trip, money wise I was pretty low. So I set up camp in a parking lot next to the police station. The next day I met some of the officers and they invited me for breakfast at the station, which was exactly the opposite from what would have happened in my country. After a great dinner later that day, at a Greek restaurant owned by some family from the island of Kalymnos, it was time to reach my final destination, the harbour of Haifa. I managed to get on board of one of the Cypriot cargo boats for my way home since I had the Israeli stamp on my passport. It took me another 3 days at seas before I returned home, leaving Israel in my memory as a great example for the prosperity of a nation that, although in the middle of the desert, it’s one of the leading export countries of fruit and vegetables.
My conclusion about the conflict, after seeing both sides, is that the situation suits everyone so weapons can be sold to both sides and humans can be treated as moving targets for the unconscious politicians to play with.
One thing I will keep in mind about Israel is that it has people with the will and strength to make the impossible happen. It’s also important to avoid the religious fanaticism that I saw in Jerusalem from people that are basically brothers but don’t want to accept the fact. Most of what I heard prior to my visit proved to be exaggerations and as a tourist I did not feel threatened or scared at any time during my stay. So for sure I can say that it’s a safe place to travel to.
Moments to remember: The Greek priest swearing in the Holy Grave and the breakfast at the Akko police station.