ONE The Western Wall, Jerusalem
TWO Temple Mount, Jerusalem
This is the place which holds the most religious significance in the world for Jews and Muslims alltogether. The Dome of the Rock harbours the planet’s most important rock, namely the one where the Muslims believed the world was created and where Mohamed rose to the heavens, but also where the Jews believe God created Adam and the world and where Solomon built the First Temple. Judaism considers this place as the most sacred of all, where God’s presence is most felt.
Temple Mount is only accessible to non-Muslims at very specific visiting times, going through one checkpoint located on the right side of the Western Wall – the wooden bridge you see near the women’ s prayer section of the wall. Entering the Dome of the Rock is exclusively reserved to Muslims. Even so, a visit to the site is a must: Temple Mount is a large hilltop located on the other side of the Western Wall, which includes a vast, serene square, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
THREE Old Jaffo, Tel Aviv – Yaffo
The most beautiful area in Tel Aviv, its ancient fortress with winding cobbled streets and the old harbour hold the true soul of the city.
FOUR Masada & Dead Sea, Judean Desert
Oh wow. What an otherworldly landscape, taking a roadtrip below sea-level, along the Dead Sea.
FIVE Ghetsemane & Mount of Olives
SIX The Old city, Jerusalem
Why isn’t this the number one of all musts? The Holy City reunites all the sacred places: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the exponential quarters, Via Dolorosa, the City of David and many more; history has basically been written within its walls. Indeed the feeling you experience while walking its streets and discovering all these is intense and one-of-kind. But there is also a lot of disappointment that tones down the excitement: the old city is a huge bazaar, souvenir shops and open air stands clutter the narrow streets and everything is crowded, messy and rushed. Whether you are a religious traveller or simply there to visit and retrace Jesus’s steps, walking the Via Dolorosa today loses all significance. The stations of Christ are poorly marked along the way by modest Roman numbers scribbled on the walls, while tons of colorful pieces of clothing, fluffy toy-animals, magnets and crosses, thousands of bottles of “sacred” oil and countless stands of overpriced nuts, dates and spices make it hard to navigate the narrow, steep streets.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre holds the places of Jesus’s crucifixion, burrial and resurrection. It is insanely crowded at all times, and there is always a huge line of waiting to enter the Tomb. While I don’t find going inside the tomb mandatory, visiting the church is. It is fascinating to discover the place of the Golgotha, of the Cross and of the Unction stone. People from around the world kneel down here and touch the stone with their forheads and palms, but also with their clothes or scarves or familiar items as if they can take a little piece of grace home with them.
SEVEN Haifa & The Bah’ai Gardens
EIGHT The food
The food scene exceeds expectations. It’s common knowledge that southern Mediterranean food is both tasty and healthy, but Israel is doing the best job making the most out of both worlds: from traditional, paper-cover-tabled neighborhood taverns to the over-priced, corporate-style restaurants in the “European” area of Tel Aviv, the food is good and carefully sourced and prepared. Regardless of your religion or diet, the kosher restaurants are first choice.
NINE The other wall or the Separation Wall
There is a wall delineating Israel’s borders, the kind that would make Trump very happy to have. First built in the controversial sections of the border with defensive purposes against Palestinian aggressors, the wall is now a 3-5 m tall, grey concrete entity which closes the West Bank completely. Barbed wire and cameras are mounted on the wall, while access accross the border is made through armed check points. For tourists, this is an interesting experience, and crossing the border is usually smooth, especially in the tourist areas such as the exit to the Dead Sea. To go into Palestine is tougher, you have to leave your car at the border to visit Bethlehem – or better go with a local guide/ tour/ taxi.
For me, visiting Bethlehem is not a must, at least not for the obvious reasons. There is no point to spend almost en entire day organizing the trip just to see the Church of Nativity – especially when you’re short on time. The reason to go to Bethlehem is to see the other side of the wall, and to experience, first-hand, life in Palestine. Only by shifting perspective can you witness the reality of the everyday life of people who live inside closed walls. The graffitti on the wall in Bethlehem tell a story that the whole world should see. This is where you can find Bansky’s most famous work, but also simple drawings and messages painted by locals. Bansky’s manifest goes even further: he has a hotel in Bethlehem, suggestively called “The Walled-off Hotel“.