Israel Travel Blog


How to Choose a Great Tour Operator in Israel - 11 Tips

So you’ve decided to visit Israel. Well, first of all, congratulations - you’ve made a fine choice. This is a country that has something for everyone - historical and religious sites, culture galore in the form of museums, are galleries, high-quality guided tours, theatre and live music, not to mention mountains, deserts and miles and miles of beautiful coastline. Finding ways to spend your days here is no problem.Tourists on a Bahai Gardens tour, Haifa. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinThe big question is, if you’re coming in a group, then how do you go about choosing a good tour operator? Google a search and you’ll be confronted with a wealth of information that can, all too quickly, become overwhelming. As tour operators ourselves, we know how important it is to make a good choice of the company because, let’s face it, from the moment you land, you’re going to be in the hands of these people. Here are a few things we think are worth taking into consideration before you press the ‘book now’ button…1. Check if the tour operator is registered with the ITOAMembership of the Israel Incoming Tours Operators Association means that the tour operator is both professional and reliable, using qualified and only licensed tour guides. IOTA membership means you can have peace of mind, knowing that the organization you’re booking with has passed a credibility test.Jerusalem courtyard, Old City.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin2. Don’t necessarily go with the lowest priceWhen a price looks too good to be true, that means it probably is. Sure, grabbing a bargain is a great thing, but if you aren’t careful, you could end up spending more in the long run because you haven’t read the fine print. In some cases, cheap prices mean that you’ll be paying your own entrance fees, be limited in terms of pick up and drop off points, and may even end up compromising on the quality of your accommodation and guides.Another thing is that higher prices don’t always mean you’re being fleeced. Reputable tour operators work with fleets of buses and a maintenance supervisor (rather than cheaper operators, that may be leasing smaller vehicles). And, of course, licensed, accredited tour guides are going to have higher fees - but you’re paying for their knowledge and experience. Our advice? Check carefully as to what is and isn’t included in the price, before you make your decision because cheap in the short term could be costly in the long term.Byzantine Cardo, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin3. Do your research. Check the reviews on Trip AdvisorIf 90% of the reviews you read are positive, then it’s pretty safe to say that the tour operator is trustworthy. Ask around too - maybe you have friends or colleagues who’ve been in Israel and they can recommend someone? Hearing first hand about someone’s trip, or reading a well-written review, will give you crucial insights into the company you are looking at. So take your time when looking around - because carrying out some homework will always pay dividends.4. Define your specific needsThere are so many different kinds of Israel tourson the market - and one size never fits all. Some people don’t mind being in a large group….other travelers seek something smaller and more intimate. Certain travelers want a trip that’s packed full of historical sites and places of worship; others want more ‘fun’ attractions such as wine-tasting and a chance to shop. Entrance to the Tower of David, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinAsk yourself what you really want. Are you looking for a tour that takes you to museums and galleries, with group dinner each night? Or are you looking for something with a bit of free time included, letting you spend occasional afternoons or evenings alone? Also, check with the tour operator if there’s flexibility in the schedule, or whether you’re committed to the entire itinerary. Equally importantly, ask if it’s possible to be collected or dropped off in another city, if you’re arriving before the group, or departing after them.5. What’s their Customer Service like?Customer service is probably one of the most important things you’re going to be looking for when making a decision about a tour operator. First and foremost, make sure that there will always be a direct phone number you can call, 24/7 if any problems arise. It’s essential to be able to speak to a real live human too, rather than an automated service that some companies use out of hours. Also, find out what the tour operator’s policy is if an outing can’t take place, because someone in the group is late for morning pick-up, or the tour bus breaks down? Check reviews too - when people feel let down, they will often write about it publicly. The Western Wall, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © Shutterstock6. Are they Tech-Savvy?Not all tour operators in Israel have an online booking system that is constantly being updated, in real-time. When you use a reputable company, they have access to very smart, unique software, which ensures that the moment you book, you're confirmed, which means you know you’re on the list. This gives you real peace of mind.7. Are all the major attractions you want to see included in the tour? Whether you’ve been to Israel before or it’s a ‘once in a lifetime trip for you, you’ll want to know that a fair few of the attractions you want to see are included in the trip. This is where choosing the ‘right’ Israel tour package comes in - for pilgrimstours to Jerusalem, Nazareth and the Galilee are all key.Multiplication Church, Tabgha.Photo credit: © ShutterstockFor history lovers, visits to Roman and Crusader sites like Caesarea and Acre are a must. For culture vultures, a visit to Jerusalem’s Israel Museum will be imperative. And for many, no trip to Israel would be complete without a day in Tel Aviv, the Non-Stop City, with its Bauhaus architecture, thriving food scene, and lively nightlife. Choose carefully - because even in two weeks you won’t be able to see everything! 8. Take a look at the About Us pageon the website. This will give you in-depth information on how long they’ve been in business, what services they offer, and if they collaborate with other travel companies around the world (always a good sign). A reputable Israeli tour operator won’t have anything to hide - after building up their business over the years, and learning from their mistakes, they will not fear transparency!Gamla, an ancient Jewish city, Golan Heights. Photo credit: © Shutterstock9. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. A good tour operator will be happy to answer all of your questions. After all, you’re the customer and you’re paying for this experience, so it should measure up to your expectations. Check to make sure that all of the main attractions you want to see are included. Ask what happens on free days and if you’ll need to budget for your own lunches and dinners. Double-check on what’s included and what is not. And feel free to ask away about who is leading your trip - a tour guide can really make or break your trip! What’s the conclusion then? Well, we might be biased but we think you could do far worse than to consider Bein Harim Tourism Services for your tour operator. We are, indeed, a member of IOTA, and with our own fleet of minibusses and supervisors (under the eagle eye of a maintenance officer) you’ll travel in comfort. The vast majority of reviews about us on Tripadvisor are positive, so you can book with confidence. And we offer a round-the-clock service, for any problems or mishaps that may arise, which means you have complete peace of mind, should anything go awry.Tour of Masada.Photo credit: © Shutterstock10. Test of timeSomething else about us that’s important for you to know is that we’ve been in business a long time. Bein Harim was established in 1993, which lets you know we’re not a ‘fly-by-night’ company. We’re well known for our high-quality tours, all offered at affordable prices, and our years of hard work and listening to the customer mean we’ve built a well-deserved reputation. We work with small and large groups, classical Israel tour packages, Christian, Jewish and Muslim trips, Petra and Jordan tours,airport transfers,and ship to shore excursions. We can pick you up and drop you in a number of cities, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Herzliya, and Netanya, as well as Ben Gurion airport.And for those interested in traveling privately, if you book a private tour with us, we can customize it according to your exact requirements. If you want to visit a boutique vineyard in the Golan Heights, visit a chocolate-making workshop in Jerusalem or abseil down the side of the crater at Mitzpe Ramon, we can make it happen. We want to make sure our customers don’t just have a wonderful trip but go home telling other people about it. Brochures and websites are important but we think you can’t beat word of mouth. Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock11. Don't compromise on the quality.To sum up, whether you’re a Christian pilgrim, a history buff, or a culture lover, we’ve got a tour that’s right for you. From theDead Sea and Masada Day Toursto ‘Petra from Eilat’ we can make sure you have a holiday you’ll remember for years to come. We operate a highly sophisticated booking system too, allowing you to book tours that are 100% guaranteed to depart, the moment you receive confirmation. And, as we’ve mentioned before, should any problems arise, we’re here for you night and day.So if you’re looking for a tour operator that has the passion, dedication, and experience you expect, why not take a look at some of our Israel and Jordan tour packages on offer? We’ll be happy to talk to you, either on the phone or by email, and answer all of your questions.Blooming almond in Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
By Sarah Mann

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The History of the Dead Sea ScrollsThe Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient Hebrew/Jewish manuscripts, discovered in the Judean desert, inside the Qumran Caves, in 1947. Historians are confident they date back to the last three centuries BCE and the first century. Written also in Aramaic (a semitic language that was commonly spoken in this period and often used in the writing of holy scriptures) their contents include the second-oldest known surviving manuscripts that were later put into the Hebrew Bible. The majority of the scrolls were written on parchment, with some on papyrus and one on copper.The Dead Sea Scrolls are, of course, of enormous significance - historically, theologically and archaeologically - since they give us enormous insight into the daily religious practices at the time of the Second Temple. Because of the poor condition of some, less than half of them have actually had their texts identified to date.Of those that have been studied, scholars agree that about 40% relate to the Hebrew scriptures, roughly 200 books from the Hebrew Bible.Another 30% are related to the Hebrew Bible but not canonised. These include commentary on the Bible and apocalyptic proclamations. Finally, the remaining 30% relate to apocryphal manuscripts, containing books not included in the Jewish canon - either previously undiscovered or known only through translations. So how were the Dead Sea Scrolls actually found? In fact, it is an astonishing story.Qumran and the Discovery of the ScrollsThe story of the discovery dates back to 1947, when a shepherd boy and his cousin were out tending their flock. On realising that one of them was missing, they wandered into the nearby Qumran Caves (close to the Dead Sea) to search for the animal.There, they stumbled upon seven scrolls, all of which were buried in earthenware jars. (Burying worn-out Hebrew manuscripts was a common Jewish practice at that time, since - in Judaism - it has always been forbidden to discard them casually). Not knowing the importance of this discovery, they took the scrolls back to their Bedouin camp. There they remained for some time, whilst their family began looking for a dealer to whom they could sell them.How they later came to be recognised for the extraordinary items they actually were is, again, a fascinating story.The Detective Story behind the DiscoveryEventually, not knowing their true value, the Bedouins sold all seven scrolls to two antiques dealers - three to a man named Salahi and four to a man called Kando (who then resold his to Archbishop Samuel, head of the Syrian Orhotodox Monastery of St. Mark, in Jerusalem).Professor Sulenik, an archaeologist working in conjunction with the Hebrew University, tracked down Salahi and, after seeing the scrolls and, in his own words, trembling with excitement, acquired them.In the meantime, because of the 1948 War of Independence, Archbishop Samuel smuggled his four scrolls out of Israel (to keep them safe) and shipped them to New York. In 1954, having decided to sell them, he placed an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal. This very advertisement was seen by Yigal Yadin, the son of Professor Sulenik, back in Israel. After having raised $250,000, he purchased them, through a middleman, on behalf of the State of Israel, and - once they were back in Jerusalem - reunited them with the other three.A true detective story!What Can We Learn From the Scrolls?The scrolls give us enormous insight both into history and biblical texts. Many of the words in the fragments found are quite different to the words of the same passages in the Greek Old Testament. This shows that the ‘sacred words’ of the Bible have changed over time, even after the Romans conquered the region.Obviously, there is enormous debate between academics as to their origins and how they came to be placed in this cave. Many scholars believe they were put there by the Essenes. The Essenes were a sect in ancient times who were regarded as being extremely pious and who - it is believed - had deliberately left Jerusalem for the wilderness of the Judean desert.Who were the Essenes?The Essenes, essentially, were Priests, many of whom practised a monastic existence, They regarded Jerusalem as a city of corruption and, in comparison, regarded themselves as the ‘sons of light’. In the desert, they worked communally, eschewing private property. They were alone (they had left their families behind) though still kept Jewish law, although they ate no meat and carried out no sacrifices. They worked hard in their fields and not for profit, rather for basic survival.Their lives were disciplined, admission to their group was not easy and, once a member, an Essene divulged nothing to the outside world. One of the professions in which they excelled was scribe, which is perhaps why the scrolls at Qumran were so well-looked after. As well as having been placed in earthenware jars (which were water-resistant and practically airtight) most had been written on the hide (skin) of animals, which is known to be a long-lasting material. The cool, dark atmosphere of the caves acted as a deterrent against humidity.Not all academics, however, believe it was the Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some believe the scrolls were abandoned by refugees fleeing the Romans, after the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Others believe that it could also be possible that they were placed there by a number of individuals, over a longer period of time. After all, these caves were used for shelter by all kinds of people, for hundreds of years.The truth is, we will never be entirely sure who wrote them. Without a doubt however, the Dead Sea Scrolls have provided scholars with a unique window into a time in Jewish history that was extraordinarily complex.Where are the Scrolls Today?The Scrolls today are held in a building erected especially for them, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Named “The Shrine of the Book” it is by far and away one of the most popular attractions there and visited by tens of thousands of visitors each year. This Shrine holds all seven scrolls - Isaiah A, Isaiah B, the Thanksgiving Scroll, the Habakkuk Commentary, the Community Rule, the War Rule and the Genseis Acropphyon. Save for the last (written in Aramic), all are written in Hebrew.The Isaiah and Copper ScrollsThe most impressive of the Dead Sea Scrolls is, perhaps, the Isaiah Scroll - the only one from Qumran that is completely preserved. At almost 735 centimetres long, it is the oldest of its kind - academics estimate that it was written around 100 BCE. This stands in the centre of the hall, beneath the Dome itself.The Copper Scroll also has a fascinating backstory - it is, in many respects, a ‘treasure map’ because it lists 54 different underground places where caches of silver and gold were hidden. Unfortunately, none of these hoards have ever been recovered (historians believe they may have been pillaged by the Romans (or, if you are more cynical, never existed at all). Since it was not made of parchment, the Hebrew and Greek letters of this scroll were actually chiselled onto it.The galleries of the building are also worth exploring - the upper section tells the story of the people who lived at Qumran and the lower gallery centre of the 10th-century Aleppo Codex, which is the oldest-known complete manuscript of the Hebrew BIble.Design of the Shrine of the BookThe Shrine of the Book was designed by two architects - Frederick Kiesler and Armand Baros. Built in 1965, with funds detonated by the David Gottseman family (a Huingarian philanthropist) its magnificent design is structured to represent one of the earthenware jars in which the scrolls were found.The building itself is contemporary, and striking because of its use of black and white. Some have referred to it as an abstract modernist’s dream. The white dome of the building is shaped like the lid of the jar, with a black basalt war standing nearby. This contrast is deliberate and mimics the theme of the struggle between the forces of light and dark (i.e. good and evil) mentioned in the texts.A Modernist Design for a Building Symbolising SpiritualityTwo thirds of the building is actually housed underground - the entrance is beneath the basalat wall - and walks through a passage which has been designed to imitate the actual caves in which the scrolls were discovered. Inside are many glass cases that contain pages of the scrolls.However, it is the central display, which resembles a giant spindle, along with a handle, that really catches the eye. More pages of the scrolls are displayed here, and spun around (rotated) regularly, so that no one section is ever at risk of deterioration from being ‘over-displayed.’ The building took seven years to complete and its location, is a reflection of the national importance that is placed on these ancient texts and the extraordinary building which is now housing and preserving them.Today, the building is regarded as an icon of modernist design. The symbolism of the building has also been taken, by many, to show the Shrine of the Book as a kind of sanctuary, in which deep spiritual meaning can be found. Not accidentally, a corridor links it with the Second Temple of Jerusalem model, emphasising that these two buildings, together, are an invaluable source of learning for any9one seeking to understand that period in history.Visiting Qumran and the Israel MuseumQumranQumran, which is set in the Judean Desert, not far from the Dead Sea can be seen from afar during any day trip to the Dead Sea and Masada. Alternatively, individuals with a particular interest in history and archaeology can choose to travel to the archaeological park alone, or take a trained guide, as part of a private tour of the Dead Sea area. Appriximately 20 miles from Jerusalem, it takes around 50 minutes to reach there by car.The Israel MuseumThe Israel Museum is one of the country’s most prominent museums and world-renown, not just for the Dead Sea Scrolls but also for its fine art collection, Model of the Second Temple, sculpture garden, reconstructions of synagogues that once existed in Venice, Curacao and Cochin and engaging exhibits (both permanent and temporary) relating to Jewish culture, art and life.The Israel Museum is located 2 kms from the Central Bus Station and is close to the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament). It can be visited alone, as part of a guided tour, with a private Jerusalem tour or with a Jerusalem New City Jewish Private Tour. Parking is available and buses numbers 14 and 15 run there from the city centre.The Israeli Museum is open seven days a week and offers discounts for students, senior citizens and the disabled. A number of guided tours take place each day, in different languages, most of which are free. Audio guides are available and can also be downloaded onto your smartphone. Tickets can be booked online at a price of 59 NIS (regular) ad 39 NIS (discount).The museum also boasts an excellent shop, which sells beautiful jewelry, sculptures, small statues (including the replica of the famous ‘Ahava’ statue there), art books and Judaica (menorot, hannukiot and wine cups) made by established Israeli and international artists. Visitors can also purchase refreshments and meals in its two eateries, both being kosher, with one serving dairy products and the other a meat menu.
By Sarah Mann

The West Bank

The West Bank is a term that refers to landlocked territory of Judea and Samaria in the Middle East, lying between Israel and Jordan. Also referred to as ‘Cis Jordan’ (the Latin for ‘on this side of the River Jordan’) and Transjordan (literally ‘on the other side of the Jordan River’) it is a densely populated territory which, historically, has been ruled by the Ottomans, the British, Jordan and Israel in the last century or so. Its legal status continues to be hotly debated.The hills near Jericho in the West Bank. Photo by David McLenachan on UnsplashOrigin of the term "West Bank"The actual name "West Bank" is an Arabic translation of the term “ad-Diffah I-Garbiyyah”. This refers to land west of the Jordan River that, after the 1948 war between Israel and the Arab nations, was captured by the Jordanians. In 1950, it was annexed by them and, in 1967, lost to Israel in the Six-Day War. Geography and Climate of the West BankThe West Bank has a mostly Mediterranean climate (particularly on the coastal plains) although, at night and in the winter, it is much cooler in the hills. It has limestone hills that are 700 to 900 metres high. Summers are invariably warm but there is much terrain that is relatively well-watered and used for sheep grazing. The Judean Desertand the Dead Sea areas are hot and dry.Olive groves are everywhere and their cultivation is widespread. The Jordan River valley is also intensely cultivated for all kinds of vegetables and fruits. Save for this arable land, the West Bank has few natural resources - forests and woodlands account for just 1% of the terrain, which is 5,600 square km in total.Demographics of the West BankThe total number of people living in the West Bank, as of 2021, exceeded over 3.2 million. Around 2,750,000 of these are Palestinians. About 390,000 Israeli settlers also live here, as well as around 210,000 settlers in East Jerusalem. The major population centres of the West Bank are Hebron, Nablus, Bethlehem and Jericho.Christmas in Bethlehem.Photo by Leon Wu on UnsplashHebron, West BankNestled in the Judean hills and just 30 km from Jerusalem, Hebron is of great significance both to Muslims and Jews and has numerous holy sites including the Tomb of the Patriarchs (also known as the Ibrahimi Mosque) and the Avraham Avinu synagogue. Public transport, however, is quite limited and due to the constantly changing political situation, we would definitely recommend visiting this city with a private tour. Nablus, West BankFamed for its bustling market (which sells local olive oil, soap and the delicious dessert ‘knafeh’), Nablus and its surrounding areas (including Jacob’s Well, Joseph’s Tomb and Mount Gerizim) are easily accessible on a day trip, since it is just 60 km from Jerusalem.Bethlehem, West BankFamous as the birthplace of Jesus, thousands of tourists flock here, particularly at Easter and Christmas, to visit the Church of Nativity and Shepherds' Field. Since it is so close to Jerusalem, it is easy to take an organised half-day tour here. Celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem is a one-of-a-kind experience for every Christian.Jericho, West BankVisit the town famous for Joshua’s battle, and stare at the Mount of Temptation (where Jesus battled the devil) on a day tour of Bethlehem and Jericho.Church of Shepherd's Field, Bethlehem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockHistory of the West BankAfter World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the territory of Palestine was governed by the British Mandate. In the years that followed, there was substantial immigration by Jews (predominantly from Eastern Europe). The future of the land was hotly debated and tensions often led to violence including riots in Jaffa and a massacre in Hebron.By 1947, the UN put forward a proposal that the land governed by the Mandate should be split into two territories - one for the Jews, the other for the Arabs. This Partition Plan was accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs - a day before the Mandate was due to expire, Israel declared its independence.There then followed the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, with the aftermath being that Transjordan was left in control of the West Bank. Five years later, they annexed this territory and held onto it until 1967, when it was captured by Israel in the Six-Day War. From 1967 until the 1990s, and the advent of the Oslo Accords, the West Bank was under exclusive Israel control. Despite many negotiations, there has never been a final status agreement of the area.Consequently, today, the West Bank is divided into different areas - A, B and C. The Palestinian Authority (PA) currently controls 39% of the territory, with Israel in control of the other 61%. Most of the international community and the International Court of Justice regards this control as an occupation.View of Jericho from the Mount Temptation. Photo by Snowscat on UnsplashReligion in the West BankThe majority of Palestinians living in the West Bank are Muslim and, of these, 98% identify as Sunni on their identification cards. There are about 52,000 Palestinians who identify as Christian. Most Palestinians, it seems, do not identify as atheists or agnostics.Of the Jewish settlers living in the West Bank, a large number identify as religious - either ‘national religious’ or ‘haredi’ (ultra-orthodox) although there are built-up areas where secular Jews live. In general, the Jews who live in the West Bank tend to be more religious than those living in Israel.Legal & Political Status of the West BankThis is a much-contested subject. The future status of the West Bank has been hotly debated, since the beginning of the Oslo Accords and the 2002 ‘Road Map for Peace’ proposed by a Quartet of the USA, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.The Palestinians hope, and believe, that the West Bank should be part of a future Palestinian state, with an independent legislature. They see any control of this territory by Israel as an impediment to their rightful statehood.President Obama’s view was that a final legal and political agreement would have to reflect current demographic realities i.e. that there would have to be a ‘land swap’ between Israelis and Palestinians, in order to pave the way for a Two-State Solution. The United Nations has passed resolutions, criticising and condemning Israel’s policy of establishing settlements in the West Bank.Palms in the West Bank.Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on UnsplashIsraeli society is split on how to deal with the situation. The ‘left’ broadly supports a two-state solution, as part of a ‘land for peace’ agreement, implying an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel, west of the Jordan River. The centre-ground would support some kind of Palestinian statehood but with a continued Israeli presence, to prevent terrorist attacks. The more ‘right-wing’ elements advocate Israeli annexing the West Bank and giving Palestinians citizenship. The most radical elements of Israeli society believe in the idea of ‘transfer’ i.e. handing Palestinians over to Jordan.Public opinion and the BDS MovementPublic opinion is heavily divided both in Israel and the West Bank, as to how viable a two-state solution is. More moderate elements of both groups advocate for peaceful co-existence and independent statehood for the Palestinians, as part of a land swap (which is agreeable to both sides, of course).Radical on both sides argue against this - Israelis say that Palestinians cannot be trusted to keep the peace if given a state of their own. Palestinians, in return, say Israel has no interest whatsoever in space moreover, they argue, many of the Palestinian refugees today (now many generations on) do not want to live in the West Bank - rather they want to return to their old homes in Jaffa andGalilee.Jews in the diaspora (i.e. Jews around the world) seem to be equally divided in their political opinions. Palestinians outside of the Middle East are equally divided. Some tend to have regarded the Oslo Accords as an act of surrender, a ‘Palestinian Versailles’. Others take the view that negotiations and compromise with Israel are inevitable if they are ever to realise their hopes of independence.Wadi Qelt, West Bank. Photo by nour tayeh on UnsplashTheBoycott, Divestment and Sanctions MovementThe Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) was established by activists in 2005 in order to push what they call the end of international support for Israel’s occupation. They support a range of tactics, all intended to put pressure on Israel to comply with its obligations under international law. These include boycotting academic institutions, disinvesting in Israeli companies and applying sanctions to the state of Israel. Many BDS activists argue that Israel is a colonialist project and, to all intents and purposes, an apartheid state. BDS argues that Israel must do the following three things: end the occupation of the West Bank and take down the Separation Barrier (‘the Wall); give full equality not just to Palestinians in the West Bank but Arab Israelis within the State of Israel; giving Palestinians the right to return to their ancestral homes, from which they left/fled as refugees.Opposition to BDSThose who oppose BDS say it is an organisation that is, in fact, anti-semitic, implies that Israel has no right to statehood and promotes discrimination against Jews. They argue that the Separation Barrier is, unfortunately, a very real and necessary barrier since it stops Palestinians from infiltrating Israel and carrying out terror attacks, which killed many Israelis in the Second Intifada.Moreover, they argue, support of the right of return for all Palestinian refugees is just a thinly-disguised attempt to dismantle the state of Israel. If all Palestinian refugees were allowed to return to their villages, before 1948, Jews would quickly become a minority in their own land. This would mean they would no longer have any right to self-determination.The BDS movement is widely (and often vociferously) opposed by the majority of Jews outside of Israel and campaigns against it have been made a top priority of the pro-Israel lobby in the USA. It has been described as a ‘dishonest cult’ since its members refuse to state, openly, that they do not recognise Israel’s right to exist.Cable car to Mount Temptation, Jericho.Photo credit: © ShutterstockCrossing pointAllenby Bridge - also known as the King Hussein Bridge, is the most important port for the Palestinians in the West Bank to the Jordanian borders. It is situated 55 km (about a 1 hour 15 minutes drive from Jerusalem). Close to Jericho, it can be used by Palestinians, foreign travellers and diplomats. Israel citizens can not cross it.The Allenby Bridge crossing was established during World War I, and was nothing more than a simple wooden bridge by which soldiers could cross over the Jordan River simply. Today, it is under the administration of the Israeli Airports Authority (IAA).TourismMaking a trip is becoming increasingly popular with visitors and, for sure, taking a tour to the West Bank is an experience that few forget. The area has beautiful scenery, holy sites (mosques, synagogues, monasteries in Wadi Qelt, etc), bustling markets in the major centres and some fine cuisine. For Christian pilgrims, tours to Bethlehem (the birthplace of Jesus) and excursions to Jericho (where Jesus healed a blind man) are moving experiences. Making a visit to the West Bankis not without a few practicalities - so it’s definitely advisable to plan ahead. On major Jewish and Muslim holidays, the borders may sometimes be closed. In times of political tension or outright military conflict, it may also be difficult (and inadvisable) to cross. The best thing to do is to keep updated with the news and, of course, take the advice of your tour guide.It is possible to travel to the area yourself but, in general, much better to take guidedday tours of Bethlehem and Jericho, for example. Your guide will be someone who knows locals and this is always of great help. The locals are friendly and often very hospitable, but it is good to be aware of their customs and traditions and a guide can answer your questions as to what kind of behaviour is expected. For more about this subject, take a look at our article Making a visit to the West Bank - a Few Dos and Don’ts.Ancient Jericho, a UNESCO-nominated archaeological site, the West Bank. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Galilee

The Galilee (‘ha Galil’ in Hebrew and ‘al Jalil’ in Arabic) is an area of Israel located in the north of the country (as well as a part of southern Lebanon). It encompasses all of the land north of the ridge that stretches from Mount Carmel to Mount Gilboa and south of the east-west part of the Litani river.The Sea of Galilee.Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe Galilee stretches from Acre on the Mediterranean shores (the coastal plain of Israel area) all the way to the Jordan Valley and from the Litani (in the north, partly in Lebanon and also bordering on the Golan Heights) Locals often refer to specific parts of it as being in the ‘Upper Galilee’ and ‘Lower Galilee’.‘Galilee of Nations’‘Galil’ in Hebrew is a unique word meaning ‘district’ and in some biblical texts it is referred to as ‘ha Galil ha goyim’ which means ‘the Galilee of nations’. ‘Goyim’ can also mean ‘gentile’ in Hebrew so this is clearly a reference to ancient times when many non-Jews lived in this region.Today, the area’s population is quite diverse. The majority of the population is Muslim, and most of these are Arab, although there are sizeable Christian Arab and Druze communities. Bedouins and Maronites also live in Galilee and, of course, there are Jewish communities too (often found on kibbutzim and ‘moshavim’).A Boat at the Sea of Galilee, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockGeography of GalileeThe Galilee is set in beautiful hills and much of it is lush and green. Its climate is very warm for much of the year and because its soil is so fertile it is the perfect place to grow fruits and vegetables. Historically, the area was prosperous - in Jesus’ times - barley, figs, grapes, wheat and olive oil were produced in large amounts. All of these are still produced today but advanced agricultural techniques mean you are likely to see many greenhouses filled with subtropical fruit, as well as orchards filled with citrus fruit, as you drive around the area.Nevertheless, The Upper Galilee can have cool nights and even the occasional snowfall in winter, and both parts receive ample amounts of rainfall in the winter so, as mentioned before, the area is rich in agricultural land. Still, summers can be very hot, sometimes even sweltering and humid too. In general, the best months of the year to visit are March to May and October to December, although for much of the year temperatures can be pleasant. The Sea of Galilee itself is 21 km long and almost 13 km wide. At almost 43 km deep, it is 209 metres below sea level which means it is the lowest freshwater lake on earth and the second-lowest lake in the world after the Dead Sea.The view of the Sea of Galilee. Photo credit: © ShutterstockHistory of the Galilee -Israelites, Crusaders and Muslim RuleHistorically, the region was ruled by the Israelites, under the auspices of the tribe of Naphtali. Throughout the times of Jesus, the Galilee was actually run by one of King Herod’s sons, as more of a ‘client state’. Jesus spent most of his adult life in this area so, unsurprisingly, many Galilee Christian sites eventually sprang up. The Hasmoneans conquered the area at the beginning of 2 BCE. Muslims conquered the area in 630 CE.By the 10th century, the Shia Fatimids had taken control, which is how the Druze came to live in the north of the region. During the Crusades, it was an important region, one of the four major ‘seigneuries’ of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.Ottoman Rule, the British Mandate and the War of IndependenceDuring the Ottoman period, Galilee was ruled by the Safad Sanjak - during their rule, many Jews, having been expelled from Spain, moved to this region, mainly to Safed, making it a centre for learning (in particular the esoteric school of Kabbalah).Under the British Mandate, there was a rise in nationalist politics in both the Arab and Jewish camps. After the War of Independence in 1948, the area was divided between Israel and what was then Transjordan. Today, its most prominent cities are Nazareth, Safed, Karmiel, and Afula and Haifa serves as its main hub (as a port city). The city of Safed in the Upper Galilee.Photo credit: © ShutterstockNational Parks in GalileeTel Hazor - this ancient site contains some very impressive ruins including Solomon’s gate, a Canaanite palace and a water system that dates back to the time of King Ahab and supplied local residents with water, even in times of drought.Hula Nature Reserve - a major wet habitat in the Middle East and a fantastic site to see water birds, many of whom spend winter in this region. This national park contains an observation tower, a floating bridge, water buffalo and fallow deer. Walk around the marshes and spy animals hiding and look out for the large grove of eucalyptus trees. Tsipori National Park - this large complex has the remains of sn Roman theatre, a Crusader castle, a Jewish residential quarter, a synagogue and even a Roman villa. Look out for the impressive ancient reservoir which runs for 260 metres underground.Hamat Tiberias - here you can see beautifully preserved mosaics in an ancient synagogue, as well as the remains of a Turkish hammam (bathhouse) dating back to the 18th century. There are also mineral pools you can take a dip in!Korazim - this town, mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud, contains remains that date back from the 3rd and 4th centuries. The beautiful synagogue here was built at the end of the 4th century and was made of basalt, a common stone in Galilee. The beautiful synagogue at Korazim, built at the end of the fourth century or the beginning of the fifth century CE, is made of basalt, the region’s most common stone. The building has an elaborate facade, with geometric patterns carved in the stone.Hamat Tiberias National Park.Photo credit: © ShutterstockArchaeological Sites in GalileeMegiddo - this ancient city (known, famously, in Greek as Armageddon) was one of the most important cities in Canaan and today it is possible to explore its remains, including underground tunnels and a water system.Capernaum - this is the remains of a fishing village of Kfar Nahum from the time of the Second Temple and today houses the remains of an ancient synagogue including stone friezes.Tomb of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes- this ancient sage whose name is translated from Hebrew as the Miracle Maker, lived at the time of the Mishna ( Oral Torah, 139-163 CE). His tomb is located in Tiberias.Kursi National Park - encompasses the impressive remains of a Byzantine monastery and church. Christians believe it is the site of the Miracle of the Swine mentioned in the Bible.Tsipori Archaeological site.Photo credit: © ShutterstockMuseums in GalileeYigal Allon Museum - located at Kibbutz Ginosarhere you can find exhibits relating to the history, nature, and culture of the Galilee, as well as artworks made by local Arabs and Jews.Janco Dada Museum - established in 1983 in the lovely village of Ein Hod, this small museum is dedicated to Marcel Janco, who brought the Dada movement to Israel.Wilfred Israel Museum - located on Kibbutz Hazorea, near Megiddo, this tiny museum is dedicated to the art of the Far East - here you can see sculptures, paintings and artwork.Upper Galilee Museum of Prehistory - a small site, filled with prehistoric artefacts collected from the Hula Valley, situated in Kibbutz Ma'ayan Baruch.The Artists Village of Ein Hod.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinJewish Holy Sites in GalileeThere are several sites that have a long Jewish history in Galilee. Perhaps the most important is Safed, a town that has been a centre for Jewish mysticism for hundreds of years. Its tiny winding streets are picturesque and it also boasts a beautiful Artists' Colony.Here we can see synagogues that operated until the 6th century AD throughout Galilee.There are a plethora of Jewish holy sites likeBeit Shearim, the Tomb of theProphet Habakkuk, tombs of the most influentialRabbis, like Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Rabbi Akiva, or the Tomb ofMaimonides (Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon) and Tomb of the Matriarchs in Tiberias.Beit Shearim National Park. Photo credit: © ShutterstockChristian Holy Sites in GalileeThe Galilee is full of fascinating religious sites, mentioned both in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, which are really worth a visit. Jesus ministered primarily in Galilee and many of his miracles were carried out in this region. This is where he changed water into wine, transformed two fishes and five loaves into food to feed 5,000 and walked on water. Today, the Galilee is a popular pilgrimage site for tens of thousands of Christians who, each year, arrive at the famous baptismal siteYardenitwith Chrisitan tour packages.There are many churches to visit around the area too including the Church of the Beatitudes, designed by renowned Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi (where Jesus gave his famous Sermon on the Mount), Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha (where Jesus created food to feed thousands), the Wedding Churchof Cana (where Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding of a poor local couple) and the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter in Capernaum (where Peter once lived).Furthermore, In 2011, the ‘Jesus Trail’ was established, giving pilgrims the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, along with a 60 km (40 miles) network of footpaths, bicycle lanes and roads. Pilgrims begin in Nazareth and hike the journey all the way to the Sea of Galilee, where the trail ends at Capernaum. It is possible to camp along the way, as well as spend the night in local kibbutz accommodation or private ‘zimmers’ (bed & breakfasts).Ruins of the Synagogue of Jesus in Capernaum, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockAround GalileeNazareth - home to Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus, the ancient city of Nazareth is where Jesus spent some of his earliest years. It is well worth a visit, not just to see theChurch of the Annunciation (where the Angel Gabriel visited Mary) and the Church of St. Joseph, but also for its shuk (market). Join one of numerous Nazareth tours to discover this biblical city.The Sea of Galilee - a beautiful place to drive around, and dotted with sites along the route, there are all kinds of places to tour here including visits to Magdala, Kibbutz Ein Gev, and a number of historic churches.Camping - there are a number of camping sites in the area, which are ideal for overnight stays - they are relatively inexpensive, with excellent facilities, and afford beautiful morning and evening views over the lake. Camping tents. Photo by I Do Nothing But Love on UnsplashGalilee Attractions and CuisineThe area is full of attractions, including Mount Tabor, Mount Meron, and the beautiful Rosh Hanikra (on the Lebanon border). It is a wonderful place for outdoor lovers, since it is full of hiking trails, and sports lovers can enjoy horse riding and kayaking in the Jordan River.For wine lovers, there are a number of excellent wineries in the region, where you can attend tastings and buy wine, as well as other local produce, such as cheese, olive oil, and chocolate. Cuisine in the region is light and fresh. In the spring, almonds flourish, as do mulberries. Local cheeses are always very popular with tourists, as is the organic produce - try the avocados, sweet peppers, nectarines and dates. In recent years, the concept of ‘foraging’ (searching for wild produce that is then incorporated into dishes) has become popular.Harvest moments in the vineyard. Photo by Árpád Czapp on UnsplashGetting to GalileeThere are three ways to travel to, and around, Galilee - public transport, car rental, and group excursions as well asGalilee private tours.Getting to Galilee by bus - you can travel directly to Tiberias from Tel Aviv, Haifa, or Jerusalem but then things become more difficult - buses in the area do not run regularly and you waste precious time waiting for connections. Some young people do hitch rides in the area.Getting to Galilee by car - renting a car in Israel is not difficult and this will give you flexibility in your itinerary. However, bear in mind a couple of things - firstly, you may find driving in Israel challenging (it is fast-paced and not for the faint-hearted) and secondly, you will have to deal with parking problems (which can really give you a headache in certain areas).Getting to Galilee by tour - the third, and definitely, the easiest option is to book a tour of the Galilee - either in a group or privately. Whether you have one day or several, there are all kinds of options - those that focus on archaeological sites in Northern Israel and historical landmarks in Galilee, those that concentrate on religious/pilgrim aspects, and those that give you a ‘mix’ - a little history, a little nature, and a little theology. Of course, if you decide to take a private Galilee tour, it can be tailored to your specific needs - you set the agenda.However you travel, though, enjoy Galilee!Tel Hazor National Park. Photo credit: © Doron Nissim. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority
By Sarah Mann

Beaches in Israel

One of the top reasons to take a vacation in Israel has to be its fabulous beaches - whether you’re in the north, south or centre, there’s always a spot where you can don a bathing suit or bikini and spend a day sunning yourself or splashing around in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Dead Sea, or the Sea of Galilee.Caesarea Aqueduct Beach.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinIsrael’s beaches are glorious - with their white sand and clear water, they’re the ideal place to kick back for some relaxation or bring the kids for a fun day (or longer!) out. And many of them are close to other attractions too - snorkeling and dive spots, national parks, and even archaeological sites - which means you can mix up a day’s activities if you’re so inclined. Let’s take a look at some of the top beaches in various parts of the country - we’re confident there are going to be a few you’ll long to visit...TOP TEL AVIV BEACHESWhatever you’re looking for in a beach in Tel Aviv, we’re pretty sure this city can offer it. With beautiful white sand and clear blue water, whether you’re keen on calm or looking for a sporty adrenaline rush, want live music, or a deserted stretch of coast, you’ll find a Tel Aviv beach you will fall in love with. Here are some of our favorites:Tel Baruch Beach, Tel AvivWide and clean, this beach has some great cafes and restaurants and a wide, sandy area to sunbathe. You can hold barbecues on the lawn nearby and there’s also plenty of parking!Hilton Beach, Tel AvivOne of Tel Aviv’s most popular beaches, this is a great place to kayak, surf, or paddleboard. Traditionally, it has been a popular spot for gay travelers, but it’s also beloved because its waters are calm and clear. The Hilton beach also contains a section where dogs can run freely.Banana Beach, Tel Aviv. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinMetzizim Beach, Tel AvivThis is the most northern beach in the city and close to Tel Aviv Port (Namal) full of eateries and boutique stores. It has a playground, a cafe, showers and, with its shallow waters, is ideal for families. This is a good place to visit at night if you want privacy since it is situated off the main promenade area.Gordon Beach / Frishman Beach, Tel AvivOpposite the Sheraton hotel, this beach is a great choice for those who love volleyball, ‘matkot’ (an Israeli tradition), and a wonderful outdoor (saltwater) pool. If you go on Saturday mornings, you’ll also see locals folk dancing on the promenade! Chairs, loungers, and parasols for rent (as with every Tel Aviv beach).Banana Beach, Tel AvivThis beach is great for flying kites, surfing, body-surfing, and looking for seashells. The southernmost of all these beaches, you can easily walk to Jaffa from here.To see the complete list of Tel Aviv beaches feel free to check out this article.Metzitzim Beach, Tel Aviv. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinRECOMMENDED MEDITERRANEAN BEACHES1. Ashkelon BeachesWith its long beachfront, you’re free to choose from a number of beaches here - Bar Kochba, Delilah, the Rock, and Surfer’s beach amongst them. It’s also great for kids - not just the boardwalk but also a lovely children’s playground and a skating area. Well maintained, with clean sand and pristine restrooms. Beach Chairs and umbrellas can be rented all the way along and there are shallow waters, for the most part. Ashkelon Archeological Park is minutes away.2. Palmachim Beach near Rishon LeZionWhat this beach lacks in facilities, it makes up for in sheer beauty. With amazing cliff views to the south and Tel Aviv views to the north, this secluded sandy area views of cliffs to the south, this white sand, crystal clear water beach is perfect for a day out. The nearby national park is great for exploring sand dunes, unusual flora and fauna, and limestone ridges.3. Ajami Beach in JaffaJust south of Old Jaffa lies the Ajami beach, which is popular with locals - a mixture of Jews and Arabs. The water is clear and if you get bored of sunning yourself, head off and explore the Jaffa port, Jaffa flea market,and Artists' Quarter. Not far away is the famous seafood restaurant ‘the Old Man and the Sea’ - they don’t take reservations but it’s worth waiting in line!Ashkelon Archaeological Park.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin4. Apollonia Beach near HerzliyaLocated under a cliff, overlooking the sea, this pretty beach, with green-colored water, can only be accessed by walking across rocks, and so it’s ideal for those who want some ‘alone’ time. Nearby is the national park Tel Arsuf (Apollonia National Park), dating back to Crusader times.5.Beit Yanai Beach, near NetanyaThis perfect sandy beach is not far from the moshav Beit Yanai named after the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus (known in Hebrew as Alexander Yanai). There is an old dock and decent facilities: bathrooms, showers and a fish restaurant. Keep in mind that sometimes waves can be particularly high, as the beach is not protected from the open sea.6. Mikhmoret Beach, near NetanyaThis quiet stretch of beach, close to Netanya, has natural rocky barriers which block large waves (making it safe for kids) and there are acres of sand dunes to explore. It’s great for kite flyers but can be a little rocky (so bring flip flops). Mikhmoret has a Sea Turtle Rescue program and if you’re lucky you might spot one.7. The Aqueduct Beach, CaesareaIt doesn’t have many facilities but it does have a long row of beautifully preserved stone arches that served as an aqueduct and date back to Roman times. Undeveloped and pretty, you can swim here but there’s no lifeguard.Apollonia Beach. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin8. HaBonim Beach near Zichron YaakovWith more bays and inlets than any other in Israel, the coastal strip of Dor HaBonim, not far away from Zichron Yaakov, is picturesque and magical, with a nice campground that makes it perfect for overnight stays. There’s also a walking trail on the kirkar (calcareous sandstone) path and Tel Dor - an ancient city and harbor - close by.9. Dado Beach, HaifaWith a long promenade, full of restaurants, clear water, and helpful lifeguards, this clean and spacious beach in Haifa is not usually too crowded. Great for relaxing and walking on the boardwalk.10. Akhziv beach near Nahariya Arguably one of Israel’s finest beaches, Akhziv beach with the Akhziv National Park, is about 15 km north of Acre and near to Rosh Hanikra. It has cliffs, lagoons, and coves, all full of marine life - the kids will love the rock pigeons and swifts and in the summer, you might even spy a sea turtle on their way to lay their eggs. Akhziv has a campground, showers, lifeguards, and a cafe.Akhziv National Park. Photo credit: © Yaniv Cohen. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityTOP DEAD SEA BEACHESDead Sea beaches are quite unique since they’re filled with water that is 9.6 times saltier than the ocean, meaning you can’t swim in them but you most definitely can float! Whilst you will need some decent beach shoes (because there are rocks around), you can also take advantage of the black mud on the shores - it’s perfect for slathering yourselves in if you want a free body treatment! Another wonderful activity tourists can enjoy is exploring the amazing salt deposits all along the sea’s edge - they form all kinds of strange shapes - white ‘icebergs’, strange sculptures, and flat platforms. There’s no doubt about it, with its extraordinary natural features and situated at the lowest point on earth, a trip to a Dead Sea beach is something you can’t miss out on, whilst on vacation in Israel.1. Ein Gedi Spa BeachThis very popular spa resort is a great place to enjoy the Dead Seanear Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. Ein Gedi Spa offers many treatments and activities including thermo-mineral sulfur pools, as well as dramatic east-facing views over the waters, towards Jordan. In our opinion, one of the best beaches of the Dead Sea.2. Ein Bokek BeachFree of charge, this beach has plenty of shade and is well-equipped. The whole Ein Bokek area is very clean and if you bring your own padlock, you can use one of the free lockers. The water here is somewhat saltier than at the northern end of the Dead sea but it's also crystal clear. Whilst you won’t find too much black mud here, you can always buy it elsewhere and smear it on yourself for an authentic experience! Ein Bokek Beach. Photo by Tristan MIMET on Unsplash3. Biankini BeachThis private beach is part of an upscale resort with luxury suites, terraces, and gardens with panoramic views and a good place to consider if you want to stay overnight. The entire atmosphere is Moroccan - the decor, the food, and the music and there are plenty of family-friendly activities, including a swimming pool and a kid’s club.4. Neve Midbar BeachThis beach has showers, bathrooms, a boutique, and a beach bar that serves drinks and snacks. It also has plenty of natural black mud on its shores. Be aware that there are a few slippery steps to clamber down, and wear sturdy shoes because there are rocks all around.5. Kalia BeachWith a good selection of places to eat and quite a few shops, Kalia beach is less crowded than the other Dead Sea stretches and even the opportunity to go camel riding nearby! It is easily accessible with a Masada and Dead Sea Day Tour.Kaila Beach, the Dead Sea.Photo credit: © ShutterstockTOP EILAT BEACHESEilat is a great getaway spot and its beaches offer restaurants on the sand, water sports, and excellent diving in the Red Sea:1. Migdalore Beach, EilatAway from the tourists, therefore a little less crowded, this is a lovely beach for relaxing and also snorkeling. You can rent chairs and loungers and food is served at reasonable prices. Fun fact: ‘migdalore’ in Hebrew means ‘lighthouse’. Look up the hill and you’ll see it...2. Dolphin Reef Beach, EilatThis beautiful area is worth the cost of the admission, because you get to see dolphins up close and personal, even being able to pet them. There’s plenty of shade and a bar that serves food and drink. If you want, you can pay to take a 20-minute snorkel or dive with these beautiful and friendly creatures. The perfect place to visit in Eilat - whether as a family, a couple, a group of friends, or a solo traveler.The Lighthouse in Eilat.Photo by Shalev Cohen on Unsplash3.Coral Beach, EilatIf you like the idea of snorkeling amongst coral reefs, you found the right spot. Eilat Coral Beachis a private beach that has warm water showers, clean bathrooms, a snack bar, and plastic chairs (included in the price). There are lots of covered seating and family areas roped off. Access the water via a long jetty over the reef and enjoy the endless colorful fish.4. Princess Beach, Eilat Possibly the best free beach to snorkel in Eilat, there isn’t much shade but there’s plenty of coral and fish in the water. The fact that it is the last beach in Eilat before the border with Egypt means it’s less crowded than other places, and a little more ‘wild.’ Not too many facilities but a great place to visit.5. Mosh Beach, EilatThis pretty pebbled private beach offers visitors good food and music, as well as a relaxing atmosphere. If you like coconut cocktails and a chilled-out atmosphere, this is where you should come.Paddleboarding in Eilat.Photo by Josh Appel on UnsplashTOP SEA OF GALILEE (KINNERET) BEACHES1. Gofra Beach, KinneretWith calm and scenic views over the lake, this rocky beach on the east of Galilee is full of eucalyptus trees, making it popular with campers (who always like their shade!) Just be aware that Gofra Beach is not a recognized beach and therefore does not provide lifeguard services.2. Ein Gev Beach, KinneretThis private beach is on the eastern shore of the lake and is next to a kibbutz with a fine fish restaurant, surrounded by lush green lawns and a short drive from a number of Galilee Christian sites. Enjoy the mini harbor and lovely boardwalk.3. Bora Bora Beach, KinneretThis beautiful private beach lies on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee and is surrounded by natural spring waters. Facilities include lounge chairs, hammocks, sofas, a Polynesian-style bar (serving all manner of drinks), a cigar bar, and a restaurant. There are water sports available (including kayaking, boat sailing skiing, banana skiing, tubing, water skiing, jet skiing, and windsurfing) and even a dance bar.Sea of Galilee.Photo credit: © Shutterstock4. Tsemach Beach, KinneretOn the south of the Kinneret, this family-friendly beach is perfect if you’re looking for activities to keep everyone occupied, particularly on hot spring and summer days. There’s a water park with slides and an indoor swimming pool, sun umbrellas, lockers rooms, and a range of water sports too - tubing, kayaking, and floating on mattresses. There’s plenty of parking and places to stay overnight, whether you’re a camper or looking for lodging. 5. Rotem-Shizaf Beach, KinneretSituated on the eastern shore, between Kibbutzes Haon and Ein Gev, its white sands, picnic tables, and parasols make it the ideal spot for a quiet day. There are toilets, a grocery store, and a kiosk too but no lifeguard!This list of beaches in Israel is incomplete - there are 137 beaches in Israel in total and most of them are famous for clear blue water and great beach facilities.To visit Kinneret beaches book a Private Sea of Galilee TourView on the Sea of Galilee at sunset.Photo by Dave Herring onUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Top 10 Sites to Visit in Nablus

Nablus (‘Shekhem’ in Hebrew) is a city in the West Bank. The city, and the surrounding area, has an overwhelmingly Arab population. Nablus was occupied by Israel after the Six-Day War in 1967 but, since 1995, as a result of the Oslo Accords, it has been controlled by the Palestinian Authority. With a population of 135,000, it is one of the largest urban areas in the West Bank. It is a major commercial centre, well-known for its production of wood, pottery, soap and olive oil, famed for its delicious ‘knafeh’ dessert and home to a respected university, Al Najah.Nablus street, West Bank.Photo by nour tayeh on UnsplashThe Geography and History of NablusGeographically, it is around 60 km (45 miles) north of Jerusalem, between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. It sits in the middle of a fertile valley and is at the centre of a natural oasis, which is fed by a number of springs. Historically, the city of Nablus occupied a strategic position since it lay at a junction between two ancient commercial roads, the first linking the Sharon coastal plain to the Jordan Valley and the second linking it to Judea in the south and the Galilee in the north. It was founded by the Roman Emperor Vespasian in 72 CE and named ‘Flavia Neapolis’. Today, it is a bustling commercial centre with plenty to offer the visitor. Yes, it is in the West Bank, which means visitors should exercise a certain degree of vigilance. However, it is definitely safe to visit, although we would recommend travelling there with a private tour, since being accompanied by someone who speaks Arabic and knows the area is invaluable.Since it is only about an hour’s drive from Jerusalem, it makes for an ideal day trip so let’s take a closer look at this ancient city’s attractions and what you should do there, to get the most out of your time.Nablus Governorate. Photo by nour tayeh on Unsplash1. The Old CityThe Old City lies in the heart of Nablus and is densely populated, with many prominent local families living there. It is made up of six quarters: Habala, Qaysariyya, Aqaba, Yasmina, Gharb and Qaryun. There is plenty for the visitor to see including:Mosques - there are many mosques in the Old City, including the Great Mosque, the Al-Khadra, the Al-Abnia and Ajaj. The Great Mosque is the oldest and largest of these buildings and was originally built as a Byzantine church by the Crusaders. After the conquest of Saladin, it was converted into a mosque in the Islamic period. It has a long, rectangular floor and a silver dome.The Abd al-Haid Palace - built in the 19th century as a residence for the Abd al-Haid family, this white limestone building has many hidden treasures including winding staircases, unobtrusive courtyards, balconies and gardens.Al Nimr Palace - this huge 17th-century palace is situated in the Habala neighbourhood and was built by Abdullah Pasha, a leader of the Ottomans. Tuqan Palace - considered to be one of the most important historical buildings in the city, this palace has more than 100 rooms and was built by Pasha Tuqan in the 18th century.Hammams - these Turkish baths were built between the 16th and 19th centuries. One that is still used today is Al-Shifa - estimated to have been built around 400 years ago, look out for the engraved plaque above the door. Manara Clock Tower - built in 1906 on the orders of Sultan Abdul Hamid, to celebrate his 30-year reign, its style is similar to those found today in Tripoli and Jaffa. Visitors with a keen eye will notice the Arabic calligraphy, praising the Sultan. One of the palaces in Nablus. Photo by nour tayeh on Unsplash2. Mount GerizimOne of two mountains ringing Nablus, Mount Gerizim sits on the southern side of the city’s valley. The Samaritan population (the majority of whom live nearby) regard it as the oldest, highest and most central mountain in the world. For them, it is the centre of their civilization. They consider it to be more sacred than the Temple Mount - for them, God intended it to be a holy temple.In the Bible, it is said that when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses instructed them to celebrate by making blessings on Mount Gerizim. Specifically, In the book of Joshua, it is also said that an altar of stones was built there. Today, it is still possible to see ruins at the top of Gerizim, including the remains of a fortified church and an old Samaritan temple. A large stone structure, named ‘Structure B’ is thought by archaeologists to have once been an altar built by the Samaritans in the 5th or 6th century.3. Beit FalasteenInfluenced by the great Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Palladio's "La Rotonda", Beit Falasteen is an extraordinary replica of a 16th-century Villa, transplanted to a Nablus hilltop built by the Palestinian millionaire and philanthropist Munib Al-Masri. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in Italy when you see the stone steps, porticos, grand salons, huge library and even a greenhouse! This classical villa is full of priceless objects, including statues, rare manuscripts, tapestries and even a gold-plated throne. Sitting on Mount Gerizim, in south Nablus, the house is steeped in biblical history. Mount Gerizim is the place where, supposedly, Adam and Eve met, Noah built his boat to avoid the Flood and Abraham almost sacrificed his son, Isaac, on the orders of God.Look out for the mosaic floor (unearthed during excavations, when the foundations were being built) and the educational displays - rooms put aside for geology, archaeology and the history of the Palestinians, with interesting information about Masri’s life and how he came to build the villa.Villa Rotunda in Vicenza, Italy built by Andrea Palladio.Photo by Gunnar Ridderström on Unsplash4. Nablus Market -Olive Oil and KnafehThis traditional bustling market (or ‘shuk’ in Arabic) is a great place to wander, with its narrow alleyways and exotic smells and sights. Called the ‘Khan al Tujjar’ (‘the Sultan’s Market') it’s said to have been constructed in 1569. With its narrow street (no more than three metres wide at any point), the walls are designed in traditional Islamic style - with high arches - and if you look carefully you’ll see Ottoman inscriptions on them.Here you’ll find endless stores selling everything from clothes and shoes to houseware and hardware. Fishmongers, restaurants and trinket stores line the streets and it’s also a wonderful place to pick up sweet treats (including baklava) and spices. Look out for the traditional olive oil soap that’s sold everywhere - it’s wonderful for the complexion. Moreover, prices are competitive and it’s quite acceptable to haggle!Furthermore, Nablus is a green and lush part of the West Bank, which means that there’s a varied choice of fruits and vegetables and many good places to eat. One thing that must be tried is the local olives (either as a snack or buying locally-produced olive oil). There’s also sheep’s cheese, preserved in brine, that tastes a little like halloumi and goes well with bread and other ‘mezze.’ And then, as we mentioned before, there’s knafeh, probably the most well-known food item in Nablus. Basically, this is the aforementioned cheese, stuck between layers of crispy pastry, and then cooked in butter, before the final ingredient - sugar syrup - is poured over it. Neither your dentist nor your waist will thank you for indulging but it’s quite delicious and very ‘more-ish!’ The best place to sample it, we think, is the Al-Aqsa bakery - an institution renowned across the West Bank - where it’s made in huge trays in their open-air factory. Yum!Knafeh dessert.Photo by Mehrshad Rajabi on Unsplash5. Jacob's Well, BalataSituated in the complex of a church, within the grounds of an old Eastern Orthodox monastery, this is a deep well, constructed out of rock, which has been associated with Jacob, in the Bible, for around two thousand years. It is possible to access the well by entering the church and going down the stairs into a crypt. With a narrow opening and made partly of limestone, this is where it can be found, along with a bucket, a tiny winch and some icons and candles. Manuscripts written by Pilgrims show that Jacob’s Well has been within the site of different churches on the same site, at different times. It is alleged to be the place where baptisms took place and also where Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman.6. Tel BalataThe site of Tel Balata is where you will find the remains of an ancient Israelite/Canaanite city. About 2.5 km from the centre of Nablus, it was an important cultural and historical centre in ancient times. The location has many water sources in addition to fertile land and lots of rainfall in the winter.There are several ruins that can still be seen, including the ‘fortress’ (once a temple) on the hill, two large gates, huge city walls and a governor’s palace (which boasted guardrooms, living quarters, a kitchen and even a small private shrine). Olives. Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash7. Joseph's Tomb, BalataJoseph's Tomb is located close to Tel Balata and just north of Jacob's Well, this is believed by some to be the burial place of Joseph, although there is no concrete archaeological evidence to substantiate this. Thousands of years ago it may have been a Samaritan site but after Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, Jews began praying there again. It is housed within an Ottoman-era building marked by a white dome.8. Remains of Sebastiya (ancient Samaria)Located about 12 kilometres northwest of Nablus, this Palestinian village is home to around 4,500 inhabitants. According to the Hebrew Bible, it was once home to a number of Israelite tribes and today boasts some archaeological sites. Visitors will see a sarcophagus next to the road and there is also a large cemetery of rock-cut tombs in the north of the area. The neighbourhood has small springs and a tiny ruined mill. Most of the villagers are Muslims, with a minority being Greek Christians.A courtyard in Nablus.Photo by nour tayeh on Unsplash9. Mount SartabaThis ancient hilltop fortress was built by the Hasmoneans and from its top, there are stunning views of the Jordan Valley. It is not the easiest site to reach since there is no paved road so it is recommended only for the more experienced hiker. Alternatively, it can be accessed with a four-wheel-drive jeep.10. ShilohAccording to the Hebrew Bible, it was to Shiloh that worshippers flocked before the First Temple was constructed. However, it has a history that predates that - long before the Israelites arrived, dating back to the Middle or Late Bronze Age, it was a walled city complete with a religious shrine. Excavations from the 1920s onwards have unearthed impressive remains, showing that there were inhabitants in Shiloh until at least the 8th century. In the 21st century, the remains of Byzantine churches with lovely mosaic floors were unearthed. The designs are geometric, as well as portraying flora, a cross and three inscriptions.To see the list of Dos and Don’ts when making a visit to the West Bank feel free to read this article.Mount Sabih, Nablus Governorate.Photo by nour tayeh on Unsplash
By Sarah Mann

The Life and Times of Jesus in Israel

If you are visiting Israel as a Christian pilgrim, it is no doubt going to be one of the great experiences of your life. Literally, you will be walking in the footsteps of Jesus, treading on the same ground he did, two thousand years ago. This is the part of the globe where he was born and raised, where he recruited his disciples and preached the word of God, where he performed miracles, gained thousands of followers, was arrested and crucified, then rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. Mount of Olives with the Church of all Nations, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockIn this respect, Israel is truly a Holy Land - for it is the land he lived in quite ‘normally’ (for the most part, anyway), amongst the Jews of the day, for his entire life. No wonder, then, it can feel quite surreal, making a trip (as a pilgrim) to this part of the world. This article is here to help you plan your trip to Israel and to answer some of the many questions you might have. These include “What was Israel like in Jesus’ days?” and “Where was Jesus crucified and buried?” It will also give you an idea of the ‘Holy Land map’ of that time, look at Jesus’s life in Galilee and delve into his final journey to Jerusalem.Plan a Trip to Israel in Jesus’ FootstepsThe Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John give us a fair idea of where Jesus spent his days and this has also been confirmed by the excavation of archaeological sites mentioned in the Bible. To help you plan your next trip to Israel, here we want to focus on two specific geographical regions where Jesus lived and preached - the Galilee and the Jerusalem area. Of course, these are just two of the many regions Jesus spent time in Israel but...Of course, there are more than 10 places where Jesus walked in Israel, but we wanted to highlight these two because - in theological terms - they really clarify the message he was preaching at that time. Let’s try and do this by providing you with a chronological timeline of Jesus’ life (including his early and formative years, before he became famous for his teachings).The ancient tombs in the Kidron Valley.Photo credit: © ShutterstockTimeline of Jesus' life.Birth in BethlehemIt is estimated that Jesus Christ was born between 4-6 BC in Bethlehem, which is located just six miles from Jerusalem. The Gospels refer to his birth as occurring at the time of King Herod and this is substantiated by non-Christian accounts by Tacitus and Josephus. Today, Bethlehem is a major pilgrimage center, where it is possible to visit a number of sites connected with this monumental event. The most important of these is the Church of the Nativity, the oldest church in daily use, and an incredibly sacred site for Christians. A visit to the Milk Grotto and Shepherds' Field is also recommended, either independently or as part of a visit with a tour of Bethlehem.Early Years in NazarethJesus spent the first months/years of his life, after his parents Joseph and Mary, fled with him to Egypt, to spare him from certain death warned off by an Angel that appeared to Joseph in a dream - King Herod’s decree had been to slay all baby boys born under the age of 2 in Bethlehem. Historians and theologians are unclear as to how long the family spent in exile; it could have been somewhere between a few months and several years. The family returned home to Nazareth (in northern Israel) after Herod’s death. We do not know too much about Jesus’ childhood and early adolescence there although, since his father was a carpenter, it is possible that he was involved in construction projects (he learned skill and hard work from his father). It is believed he lived there until he was around 30 years old, when he then began traveling around the wider area, including the Galilee, preaching the word of God to locals and urging them to change their ways. Today, Nazareth is a popular place for Christian pilgrims, the most popular site of which is the Basilica of the Annunciation (believed to be the home of Mary and where the Angel Gabriel appeared to her, announcing that she would give birth to the Messiah). On the grounds of the Basilica is the Church of St. Joseph, marking the site thought to be Jesus’ childhood home. Walking the streets of this ancient city and exploring Nazareth churches and other sites, as part of a tour of Nazareth, is a wonderful way to get a sense of all this.Interior of the Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth.Photo credit: © ShutterstockJesus’s Ministry in Galilee and the Miracles he Performed ThereThe years Jesus spent around the shores of the Sea of Galilee (today around 30 minutes drive today from Nazareth) are well known for many reasons. It was here that Jesus preached about God’s love and the Kingdom of Heaven. It was also where he recruited his twelve disciples - fishermen - urging them to put down their nets and follow him. And it was here that he performed a series of miracles which remain famous to this day - walking on water, raising a man from the dead, and multiplying two fishes and five loaves of bread into food sufficient for a crowd of five thousand.Galilee is home to a number of beautiful churches of Jesus' Ministry which no pilgrim should miss seeing. These include the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha, the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, and the Church of Beatitudes - where Jesus gave his famous Sermon on the Mount. It is also home to Yardenit - the famous Baptismal site where it is believed Jesus was baptized by John - and Cana, the village where Jesus notoriously performed the miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding of a poor couple. Taking a Christian Galilee touris an ideal way to see the Christian sites in Galilee, and to get a real feel for the places he preached.Sea of Galilee.Photo credit: © ShutterstockJesus in Jerusalem - From Arrival and Arrest to Crucifixion and ResurrectionJerusalem, arguably, is the most sacred of all cities in Israel for Christians for this is where Jesus was not just killed but buried and then resurrected. Here we look at Jesus’s road to Jerusalem, and the events that took place there, on the Mount of Olives, before his arrest and death, and his walk to Calvary, the point at which he was nailed to a cross and died, several hours later. Palm Sunday - it was on this day that Jesus triumphantly entered the city of Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, as his supporters cheered him, waving palm branches and shouting ‘Hosanna’ to their King. There is a Palm Sunday Procession Tour which one can join each year.Holy Thursday - this day commemorates the Last Supper when Jesus broke bread with his disciples and washed their feet, as a gesture of humility. This is also the occasion on which Jesus was betrayed by his disciple Judas, in the Garden of Gethsemane.Good Friday - this is by far and away the most solemn day of the year for Christians since this is when Jesus took his final walk, along the Via Dolorosa (‘the Way of Sorrows’) before arriving at the site where he would suffer an agonizing death at the hands of the Romans. Church of Multiplication, Tabgha, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockEach Easter in Jerusalem, thousands of pilgrims recreate this solemn procession, following in the footsteps of Jesus, stopping along the way at the various Stations of the Cross (where Jesus paused, to rest briefly). The procession culminates at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, inside which are further stations of the cross. Masses are held at churches across Jerusalem.Easter Sunday - this joyous occasion celebrates the resurrection of Christ and all across Jerusalem, and the Holy Land, sunrise services are held (often after all night Vigils). According to the Gospels, Mary Magdalene, along with some of Jesus' disciples, discovered that the tomb in which his body had been placed was now empty.For Christians, this death followed by resurrection is indicative of new birth and salvation. The Paschal greeting is recited by Priests and Ministers - ‘Christ is Risen” - to which the congregation responds “He is risen indeed, hallelujah.” Visiting Israel during Easteris an unforgettable memory in the life of every Christian.Yardenit baptismal site.Photo credit: © ShutterstockPlaces of Historical and Religious Interest in JerusalemCan you visit the place where Jesus was buried? Unequivocally, the answer is yes. There is more than one site associated with his burial - the first, of course, is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City This has been a major pilgrimage site since the 4th century, and inside its enormous, grandiose interior are several chapels, the Anointing Stone and Calvary, the very spot where Jesus is believed to have been crucified. The church has withstood Byzantines, Crusaders, and Ottomans, and the enormous wooden arched doors are opened each day by a key made of iron, by a family that Saladin entrusted with it after he reclaimed this church from the Crusaders.The second is the Garden Tomb, just outside the City Walls of Jerusalem. It is a rock-cut tomb that was discovered in 1867 and is considered, by some Protestants, to be the spot at which Jesus was buried. The entrance is free but reservations should be made in advance.Many Christians, when visiting Jerusalem, also spend time at the Mount of Olives. Home to several churches, including Pater Noster,Dominus Flevit, the Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony), and the Chapel of Ascension - the spot where Jesus ascended into heaven.Pater Noster Church, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe Message of JesusFor sure, Jesus’ teachings were extraordinary - by any standards, but particularly by the times of the day - what he preached was radical and counter-cultural. Thousands of people flocked to Galilee and Jerusalem to hear him preach. There, he inspired them and challenged them to shake off old habits and start living different kinds of lives.Unfortunately, Jesus’ message was sufficiently radical to infuriate and antagonize many of the religious leaders of the day. They conspired with some of Jesus’s closest followers (including his disciple Judas) to have him arrested for blasphemy, knowing all too well that the price he would pay would be death. Ultimately, this was the case - Jesus was put on trial, condemned by Pontius Pilate, and executed by crucifixion in around 30 AD. However, his resurrection proved to his supporters that Jesus and his message could not be silenced. According to the Gospels, he rose from the dead and appeared to more than 500 people in the weeks following his resurrection. As is written in the Gospel of St. Luke, he was then carried up into heaven, hidden from view by a cloud. His disciples understood then that he was to be exalted and sit at the right hand of God. Today, the resurrection is a cornerstone of Christian teaching.Garden of the Church Of The Beatitudes, near Sea of Galilee, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Traveling to Hebron

Hebron is a city in the south of the West Bank, 30 kilometres from Jerusalem. Located in the Judean Hills, it lies 930 metres above sea level. Hebron, in Hebrew, means ‘friend’ or colleague’ (although the original sense of it may have alluded to an alliance) and in Arabic it is called ‘Khalil al-Rahman’ (the name for Abraham, in the Quran, meaning ‘‘beloved of the Merciful’ or ‘Friend of God’. Hebron has enormous significance in the Hebrew Bible, since it was near this city that God entered into a covenantal relationship with Abraham telling him that he would be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron.Photo by Dan Rosenstein on UnsplashThe History of HebronArchaeologists are of the opinion that Hebron existed as long ago as the Bronze Age and was flourishing in 8 BCE. Excavations at Lachish (the second most important city in Judean times, after Jerusalem) show that Hebron was an important economic center. Under the British Mandate, most of the land around Hebron was owned by waqfs (Islamic charitable trusts) but by the 1920s, around 265 Jews had moved there. In 1929, tensions boiled over and the Jewish quarter was destroyed, and 67 people were murdered. This set the scene for many more years of conflict which, unfortunately, continue until today. In 1994, a Jewish settled by the name of Baruch Goldstein entered one of the city’s most holy sites - the Cave of the Patriarchs / Ibrahim Mosque - during Muslim dawn prayers and shot and killed 29 worshippers. As a result, Jews and Muslims are now restricted to certain areas for prayer, save for 10 days a year in which adherents can enter all parts of this building.Hebron Today - Sites of InterestHebron is timeless and as the holiest ancient city in the West Bank has numerous holy sites which are rich in Jewish heritage and history but also important to Muslims. Today, Hebron is a UNESCO World Heritage, meaning it is an area guaranteed special protection by international convention.Public transport in the area is available but quite limited and due to the ever-changing political situation, the best way to visit this area is definitely with theprivate tours of the West Bank. Let’s look at some of the sites in this area that you might consider visiting, on a trip to this unusual city:British loyalty meeting in Hebron, 3 July 1940. Photo credit:J Matson, Matson Photo ServiceTomb of the Patriarchs (Ma’arat Machpelah)/Ibrahimi MosqueThis is probably the most famous site in Hebron since it is not just sacred both for Jews and Muslims but, in the last century, has been a flashpoint for political controversy and violence. Historically, it was first a church, in Byzantine times, but then turned into a mosque by the conquering Arabs. After the Crusaders arrived, it was turned back into a church and then once the Mamelukes appeared on the scene, it was once more turned back into a mosque.Sacred to Two Peoples -Layout and Design of the Cave / MosqueFor Jews, after Temple Mount in Jerusalem, this is their second most sacred site. It is where the first commercial transaction in the Bible was recorded - that is when Abraham purchased a plot of land, around 3700 years ago, to bury his wife, Sarah. Genesis actually records the price paid to Ephron the Hittite - 400 shekels of silver (which, incidentally, was the full market price). Jews believe that Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca, and Leah all have their final resting place here, which is why they refer to it as the Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.For Muslims, it is the Ibrahimi Mosque. Muslims, just like Jews, revere Abraham and his descendants and regard it of great importance to their faith. Muslims also believe that Abraham, along with his son Ishmael, built the Kaaba in Mecca. It goes without saying then that, after the Temple Mount, the Machpelah Cave / Ibrahimi Mosque is the most contentious‎religious site in the Middle East, with both faiths laying claim to it. The building itself is quite magnificent. Around the Herodian structure are huge stone walls and its corners point to the four points of the compass. Inside the Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron. Photo by Dan Rosenstein on Unsplash Inside, the design is extraordinarily eclectic (probably because the building changed hands so often!) A visitor will see domes, minarets, columns, arches, and corridors from all different periods. The Cave/Mosque contains several cenotaphs (burial tombs and those of Abraham and Sarah are covered with beautiful embroidered green cloth. Nearby is the Shrine of Abraham, where it is said that Abraham left a footprint when he went out of the Garden of Eden.Through a wide door, you enter into the mosque - the stained glass windows, pillars, and vaulted ceiling indicate this was once a Crusader church. The mosaic and marble mihrab (a niche in the wall of the prayer room marking the direction facing Mecca), and the pulpit are carved out of wood walnut wood, brought to Hebron by Saladin.Next to the pulpit is a flight of stone stairs, leading down to the actual Cave of Machpelah. The caves are not normally accessible (due to political tensions and also out of respect for the dead). The other entrance to the actual cave, however, is sealed by a large stone and covered by a prayer mat. This is close to the ‘Seventh Step’ on the outside of the enclosure and is famous for being the spot from beyond which the Mamluks forbade the Jews to venture.The building’s ceiling is decorated with murals dating back to Ottoman, Mamluk, and Crusader times. Today, the Cave/Mosque is strictly divided into Jewish and Muslim areas. Muslims enter close to the northwestern wall and Jews enter via the southwestern wall.Quran, the holy book for Muslims.Photo by Syed Aoun Abbas on UnsplashThe Cave of Othniel Ben KnazOthniel was an ancient Jewish leader and the first Judge of Israel. The cave lies around 200 meters to the west of Beit Hadassah, at the top of a rocky area. The Mishnah (the earliest authoritative body of oral Jewish law) describes the traditional burial practices of the Jews at that time. The cave is today under the control of the Palestinian Authority, but despite this religious Jews come occasionally to worship here. Popular times to make a pilgrimage to this cave include the holidays of Tisha B’av and Lag B’Omer.The Tomb of Abner Ben NerAbner Ben-Ner was the greatest fighter in King Saul’s army and, according to Jewish tradition from the Middle Ages, was buried close to the Cave of Machpelah, which corresponds to the current location of the site. In Samuel II, in the Bible, it says: “And they buried Abner in Hebron and the king raised his voice and wept on Abner’s grave, and all the people wept”. The tomb itself is a stone structure with several rooms all arranged around a courtyard. The gate is designed in Mamluk style.The Tombs of Ruth and JesseRuth and Jesse were the great-grandmother and great-grandfather of King David. This tomb is situated within the ruins of Deir Al Arab’een in the Tel Rumeida section of Hebron. Early references to it come from a student of the Rambam in the 12th century, who records a visit there. In the 1970s the site was excavated by Profession Ben Tzvi Tavger and subsequently re-opened to the public. Next door to the tomb is a small synagogue where visitors come throughout the year. A particularly important festival for them is the festival of Shavuot (in the spring), when it is traditional to read from the Book of Ruth.Ruth 2:1-20 NIV.Photo by Brett Jordan on UnsplashBeit HaShisha and ‘The Six’In May 1980, outside the historic Beit Hadassah building in the Old City of Hebron, six young men were ambushed and killed. Beit Hadassah was founded in 1893, as a result of the work of Rabbi Franco. It was the country’s first Hadassah hospital (the same is now situated in Jerusalem and is world-famous). Twenty years after the murders, a new building was erected in memory of the six men killed and named ‘Beit HaShisha’ which, in Hebrew, means ‘House of the Six.’Tel Hebron and the Admot Ishai-Tel Rumeida NeighborhoodTel Hebron is an ancient archaeological park in Hebron, within a residential neighborhood called Admot Ishai. Archaeologists believe that the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah (all who are buried in the nearby Machpelah Cave) lived here around 4,000 years ago.Between two ancient walls, visitors can see stone stairs dating back thousands of years. Excavations have led archaeologists to speculate that ancient Hebron’s original gate might even be underneath them. This gate is actually mentioned in the Bible’s book of Genesis, when Abraham purchased the area as a burial place for his wife, Sarah. Avraham Avinu SynagogueBuilt in 150 by Hakham Ashkenazi, this structure became the hub of the Jewish community at that time, as well as a center for the learning of Kabbalah (a mystical and esoteric Jewish school of thought). This domed synagogue fell into disuse after the 1929 Hebron Massacre and was destroyed after 1948. After Israel conquered the area in the Six-Day War in 1967, permission was granted for it to be rebuilt, the architect of the project being Rabbi Ben Zion Tavger, and today prayer services are held there every Friday night.Torah Scroll.Photo by Taylor Wilcox on UnsplashBeit HadassahBeit Hadassah was erected in 1893 as a clinic and charitable institute. Thanks to the contributions of North African, Indian, and Iraqui Jews, it flourished and by 1911 it was offering free medical care to local Jews and Arabs alike. In 1929, as a result of the riots in the city, the building was destroyed.The building remained vacant until Passover 1979 when a group of Jews occupied the building and refused to leave until they were granted permission by the State of Israel to make it their permanent home. A year later, after an ambush that left six young men dead, the old Beit Hadassah building was repaired and extended and today it is home to some Jewish families.Beit RomanoBeit Romano was constructed in 1879 by Chaim Romano, a prosperous Turk. It was a symbol of centers outside the ‘ghetto’ of Hebron and served as a guest house. The ‘Istanbul Synagogue’ was subsequently established here. Under the British Mandate, the building was turned into a police station and used to shelter the injured during the Hebron Riots of 1929. Under Jordanian control from 1948-1967, it was used as a school and only in 1980 reclaimed by the Jews. Between 1996-2000, renovations were carried out and another floor was discovered underneath the building. Today it is home to a yeshiva (Jewish study area) and an Israeli Army military camp.The Oak of Sibta (Oak of Abraham,The Oak of Mamre)This ancient tree, according to non-Jewish tradition, is supposed to mark the place where, as recorded in the book of Genesis, Abraham pitched his tent. The oak can be found in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity, which owns the land. The oak fell down in 2019 but plans to preserve its trunk and endeavor to encourage a new shoot to grow are underway.Mamluk ArchitectureAll around Hebron are buildings that were constructed during the Mamluk period, between 1250 and 1517 CE. Some of these include the Fountain of Qayt Bay, the Gold Market, and the Bab Al-Asbat Minaret. Mosques of this period include Al-Jawali, Mahkamah, Katib Al-Wilaya, Ibn Marwan, Aybaki and Al-Shamah.The Oak of Mamre in 2008, before collapsing in 2019. Photo credit:Copper Kettle - originally posted to Flickr
By Sarah Mann

Christmas in Israel

Whether you’re a practicing Christian, an amateur historian, a theology student or simply a curious tourist, we think it’s fair to say that there’s nowhere like Israel to spend Christmas. Actually, the fact is that Israel is probably the ultimate place to spend this time of the year, with cultural and religious events held throughout the country, both in the larger centres and smaller towns.Christmas tree in Bethlehem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockNow if you’re coming from North America, or Western Europe, the chances are that you’ll associate Christmas with the date 25th December, the date that many believe commemorates the birth of Jesus. However, in Israel, Christmas is actually celebrated on three different dates - December 25th, January 7th, and January 19th. This, of course, is because different denominations follow different calendars - the Roman Catholic church follows the Gregorian calendar whilst the Armenian Church (in Jerusalem) and the Greek Orthodox Church follow what is known as the Julian calendar. Which Calendar?What does that mean in practice? Well, essentially that Roman Catholics (as well as Anglicans, Episcopalians, and Lutherans, celebrate on December 25th, and actually the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates on this day too. However, according to the Julian calendar, which is about 13 days out of sync with the Gregorian calendar. December 25th actually falls on January 7th!To make things even more complicated, the Armenian Church in Jerusalem celebrates Christmas on January 6th (according to the Julian calendar) which - in real terms - ends up being January 19th according to Gregorian calculations.Surprised Santa. Photo by krakenimages on UnsplashA Unique Experience in a Holy LandOver the years, in practice, Christmas celebrations in Israel have slowly become more aligned with Western celebrations - including the putting up of Christmas trees. Decorations of light and even Christmas markets. However, let us not forget that this is the Holy Land, and prayers, worship, celebrations, and the reciting of beautiful liturgies always take center stage, both in Bethlehem (famous for being the birthplace of Jesus) and many a communal feast!Ultimately, spending Christmas in the Holy Land has to be on many a bucket list and few come away from this kind of experience disappointed. So for those of you lucky to be arriving in a few months (and, sorry, as you know there are no guarantees, thanks to COVID-19), we thought we’d fill you in. It’s been a mad 18 months and having something to look forward to always helps so here’s our complete guide to the hows, wheres, and whys of Christmas events and services all over Israel. Happy Holidays everyone! Christmas in JerusalemThere’s no more atmospheric place to be than Jerusalem at Christmas time. The festival is really quite visible in the streets - with decorations and lights on many corners - more than anywhere else in Israel - which means you can really soak up the atmosphere. Whether you want to wander from church to church in the Old Cityor enjoy something a bit more modern around the Mamilla Mall or the YMCA, you won’t be short of activities to enjoy in a city that combines old with new.There are quite a few Christmas markets, the most popular of which seem to be the one at the New Gate that runs from Saturday to Tuesday in the week before Christmas Day (free entrance). For something more young and fun, head to the Abraham Hostel for their annual party, or walk over to the YMCA which holds a lovely evening each year, complete with carols, musical performances, and sometimes even dancing. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe Church of the Holy SepulchreWithin the walls of the Old City, the most popular church to visit at this time of year is usually the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Believed to be the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected, each year it holds a solemn Midnight Mass and the atmosphere inside the church - lit with hundreds of candles - is nothing short of spectacular.There are also many other places to enjoy liturgy - both in the Christian and Armenian quarters and also at the Church of All Nations and also Dominus Flevit) with its famous and evocative glass window) on the nearby Mount of Olives. For a more detailed look at what to do in this extraordinary city, over December, take a look at our Christmas in Jerusalem article.Christmas in BethlehemAt this time of year, this small town just a few kilometers from Jerusalem comes to life, with Christians, Jews, and Muslims all celebrating together at the city’s central area, aptly named Manger Square. There’s a huge tree lit up for Christmas in Bethlehem, and you’ll no doubt hear carols being sung and have a chance to enjoy performances. Midnight Mass is held at the Church of the Nativity but, because of its popularity, entrance is by ticket only. But fear not - the mass is live screened around the world and you can watch it happening inside the church from a huge screen installed outside, in Manger Square. This really is an astonishing experience, and many visitors enjoy a Christmas Eve in Bethlehem Tour, which includes a festive meal in the area.Church of Shepherd's Field, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockChristmas in Nazareth - Market Stalls and Firework DisplaysNazareth might be a small city in comparison to Jerusalem, but it’s definitely worth a visit at this time of the year. Home to Israel’s largest Christian population, historically it was the place Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel (announcing to her that she would bear a child) as well as being the place where Jesus spent his childhood. Nazareth is also within a short driving distance of the Sea of Galilee (if you’re in the mood for an outing and want to enjoy pastoral views, the famous baptismal site of Yardenit,and beautiful churches, including those where Jesus performed miracles and gave his famous Sermon on the Mount).Within Nazareth itself, there are beautiful churches to visit, including the Church of the Annunciation and the Church of St. Joseph. The city begins celebrating Christmas in the early part of December, with the lighting of a large Christmas tree in the city center. Trees are put up in many streets and there are also outdoor markets with stalls, where you can enjoy both Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations (Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of lights). On Christmas Eve, which is December 24th, why not join the afternoon parade which proceeds through streets towards the Church of the Annunciation, where you can afterwards enjoy a lovely firework display? Christmas mass is then held inside, at the Basilica, at 7 pm.Inside the Church of Annunciation, Nazareth.Photo credit: © ShutterstockChristmas in Jaffa -Music, Lights, Artwork, and MassJaffa, which sits just south of Tel Aviv is another beautiful place where Jews, Christians, and Muslims have lived peacefully side by side for years now. In December, the vibrant Jaffa Flea Market (which is always good if you’re looking for vintage finds, cheap clothes, or just some ‘treasure’) is adorned with Christmas lights. After you’ve wandered the area, you can enjoy a light bite, some traditional hummus, or a local mint tea in one of the many cafes there, before taking a walk down to the historic Jaffa Port.On the way, stop on Yefet Street and admire the huge Christmas tree that stands by the Clock Tower. There are often Hanukkah celebrations at the same time (last year, there were illuminated dreidels - the toys that children spin on this fun Jewish festival). There’s lots of artwork to see and several musical performances, as well as lots of cultural and communal activities. You can attend Midnight Mass and other Christmas services at one of the Catholic and Protestant churches around the city:St. Peter's Church - this Franciscan church in the historical part of Jaffa is where St. Peter performed numerous miracles and, perched at the top of a hill, has been a Christian center for thousands of years.Immanuel Church - built in 1904, to accommodate the area’s German Evangelical community, this Lutheran church is always happy to greet new faces and stands on the foundation of Judaism and the Jewish People.St. Nicholas’s Monastery at the Jaffa Port - built in 1 CE, and today hosting an Armenian church, this is one of the oldest structures in Jaffa and Napoleon even visited his soldiers here in 1799!St. Anthony's Church - opened in 1932 and named after the monk Franciscan Mafdobe, a Franciscan patron, this church is very popular with Catholics. It offers beautiful interiors and a serene atmosphere. At its front, there is a unique clock.And just to make it clear, the doors of all of these churches are open for everyone - so whether you’re a local or tourist, a Christian, Muslim, or Jew you’re are welcome to pop in and experience some traditional Jaffa hospitality!Old City of Jaffa, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockChristmas in Haifa -The ‘Holiday of Holidays’Haifa is one of the few cities in Israel where Arabs and Jews actually live side by side, in relative harmony (and we say ‘Hallelujah’ to that!) A real Mediterranean city, situated on a hill and offering picturesque views of the surrounding Mount Carmel, it’s a wonderful place to walk around, with lovely architecture, small stores, and the famous Bahai Gardens.If you’re here in December, start with a walk around the traditional Wadi Nisnas neighborhood (a traditional and somewhat mixed area of Arabs and Jews). ‘Nisnas’ in Arabic means ‘mongoose’ and is a maze of old streets and alleyways, filled with small stores, bakeries, and artisan workshops.From there, you can head off into the German Colony, an area that has been beautifully restored in the last two decades. Look out for the famous Templar houses, built in the 1860’s - they have distinctive roofs - and stop for a coffee in one of the many bars and restaurants that line the main street.In the weeks before Christmas, Haifa loves to enjoy the 'Holiday of Holidays' with a series of events that mix up Christmas, Hanukkah, and Eid-al Adha! These include arts and crafts for kids, an antique fair, food prepared by the locals in Wadi Nisnas, music by local artists, and even a circus. And, naturally, there’s also a beautifully lit tree.Christmas tree.Photo by Kieran White on UnsplashTogether, this ‘Holiday of Holidays’ represents a marvelous idea - that of coexistence. It’s all about a group of residents that live together harmoniously, each showing respect for the other’s religious and cultural values, and understanding that their lives and destinies are truly interwoven. It represents all that is good in Haifa.You may also want to visit the Stella Maris (meaning ‘ Star of the Sea’) Carmelite Monastery in Haifa and participate in carol singing and Midnight Mass or Christmas morning mass. It is a beautiful and historic church, dating back to Crusader times and actually associated with the prophet Elijah.So wherever you end up traveling in Israel over this special time of year, drink in the atmosphere, enjoy the lights, music, and festivities, and happy holidays to you!
By Sarah Mann

Christmas in Jerusalem

After the holiday of Easter in Israel, which for Christians is the most important festival in their calendar, Christmas is an incredibly popular time to visit Jerusalem. With dozens of churches in the Old City, near to the Old City and in the neighbourhood of Ein Kerem, there’s no shortage of places to spend this special time of year. And let’s not forget that - located just six kilometres from this holy city - is Bethlehem. Without a doubt, it’s an unforgettable place to celebrate the Christmas holidays.Nativity scene. Photo by Ben White on UnsplashFor sure, Christmas in Jerusalem is a truly unique time of year. Whilst it can be chilly (don’t forget to bring some warm clothes, since it is high in the hills) it’s Old City's Christian and Armenian quarters are filled with beautiful decorations and have a truly festive atmosphere. Other landmarks in the newer part of the city, such as the YMCA, are also fine places to visit since they hold carol concerts and services.And for a little luxury, you can always pop across the way to the elegant King David hotel for a drink at their elegant bar, or a meal in their famed fine-dining restaurant. Nevertheless, most pilgrims tend to congregate inside the walls of the Old City, so let’s take a look at what goes on there.Old City CelebrationsOn Christmas Eve, many Christian pilgrims follow in the footsteps of Jesus, from the spot at which he was tried to the site of his crucifixion and burial (Calvary), located at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. If you are within the walls, you will see them walking the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem and whilst this is something often associated with Easter in Jerusalem (and Good Friday services), it is still very moving procession to watch.Midnight Mass is always held at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most sacred site for millions of Christians around the world. Dedicated in 336 CE, its lavish interior and extraordinary ambience make it a unique place to attend services. Whether of an Orthodox denomination - Greek, Coptic, Armenian & Syriac - or Roman Catholic - there will be chapels open for prayer and you will be astonished at a large number of candles lit there, only adding to the atmosphere.Christmas tree. Photo by Joanna Kosinska on UnsplashMidnight Mass and the Annual Procession to BethlehemAfter Midnight Mass at the Holy Sepulchre, many pilgrims decide to participate in the Procession led by the Latin Patriarch, which winds its way through Jerusalem’s Old City. Latin Patriarchs are the Catholic episcopal see of Jerusalem and stretch back to the time of Arnulf of Chocques in 1099. After a period of time where they sat in Rome, Pius IX reinstated a Resident Patriarch in Jerusalem in 1847.The procession passes by the Mar Elias Monastery, located in the south of Jerusalem and overlooking Herodion and Bethlehem. Maintained today by the Greek Orthodox church, it is decorated with Byzantine-style paintings depicting biblical scenes and worth a visit in its own right. The procession finally arrives in Bethlehem at around 1 am, passing by Palestinian scouts marching bands parading through Manger Square, bagpipe players, choirs that are carol-singing and an enormous Christmas tree. Pilgrims finally arrive at the Church of Nativity, the spot where Jesus was born in a stable.A fine way to mark this special holiday could also be with a ‘Christmas Eve in Jerusalem and Bethlehem’ tour that culminates with a festive dinner and midnight mass outside the Church of Nativity. Not only will you be able to see landmarks in the city, but you will also eat with your group, close to Manger Square, before partaking in the Midnight Mass.Christmas tree in Bethlehem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockAlternative Services in JerusalemFor those who are less inclined to travel on foot to Bethlehem, there are a number of services at other churches in the city. At midnight, you could attend the Benedectine Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion and sing Christmas carols. Located at the highest point in Jerusalem, it commemorates the spot where Mary died (‘fell asleep’ as the name suggests). Look out for the dome above the statue of Mary - it shows pictures of six women from the Old Testament - Eve, Miriam, Yael, Judith, Ruth and Esther.For protestants, the Christ Church offers fantastic hospitality, beginning around 7 pm with coffee, biscuits and carol singing. After prayer and discussion, there is a Christmas service that begins at around 10.30 pm and lasts until after midnight. The Episcopal St. Anne’s Church, just 200 metres from the Jaffa Gate, also offers services and a popular concert, which tourists love. The Armenian Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Spasm (also known as the Church of Sorrows of Mary) also welcomes visitors.Dormition Abbey, Mount Zion, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © Sofia EmeliyanovaNotre Dame Centre and the YMCAAnother highly recommended spot to celebrate Christmas in Jerusalem is the Notre Dame Centre. This beautiful French cathedral is located opposite the Lions' Gate and was built in the 1880s, to accommodate pilgrims wanting to travel from France to the Holy Land. Constructed on land purchased by the Count of Piellat, its architecture is a fusion of classical and modern - and after decades of construction, a beautiful nave was put in place. (Our tip: arrive early and visit their lovely rooftop restaurant, to enjoy a glass of wine and a cheese plate whilst watching the sunset over the Old City walls).The annual Christmas Eve concert and singalong at Jerusalem’s famous YMCA is always a lovely (and multicultural!) affair, including classical music as well as Christmas carols. Built in 1933 by the American architect Arthur Harmon (who actually designed the Empire State Building) it runs educational and cultural programmes throughout the year and its Youth Choir and tree-lighting ceremony are always a lovely thing to see. (Indeed, even at the height of the COVID pandemic, virtual services took place with a rendition of Ava Maria by the famed Israeli singer Achinoam Nini, as well as songs from the Nutcracker Ballet (accompanied by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra).Christmas-inspired concerts can also be heard at the Lutheran Church of Augusta Victoria. Located in the east of the city, on the northern side of the Mount of Olives, it was built at the turn of the century for the city’s German Protestant community who lived, at that time, in Ottoman Palestine.Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe Garden Tomb and Ein KeremThe Garden Tomb (always particularly popular with Protestants) is not the first place you might think of visiting in Jerusalem, at this time of the year, but it’s not just a spot of worship for Easter. Located close to the Damascus Gate and believed by some to be the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, every year they hold an evening of Christmas carols that are sung in English, Hebrew and Arabic! Finally, for those who care to venture out to Ein Kerem (which means ’Spring of the Vineyard’ in Hebrew) is a charming, lush hillside village, located in the southwest area of the city and famous for its ancient holy sites. These include the Church of the Visitation and the Church of John the Baptist.Christ Church Courtyard in the Old City of Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
By Sarah Mann

Easter in Israel

Easter is, by far and away, the most important festival in the Christian calendar, celebrating the events surrounding the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Being able to spend Easter in Israel is an incredible experience for any visitor, let alone a pilgrim. For Christians, a trip to the Holy Land has no equal, and being able to make a pilgrimage here, particularly at the time of Easter, where Christ’s last days on earth took place, is always very moving and emotional.Easter eggs. Photo by Michal Balog on UnsplashThe actual dates of Easter are not ‘fixed’ (as is the case with Christmas) and the week itself, beginning with Palm Sunday and ending exactly a week later on Easter Sunday, are based on the lunisolar calendar (which is the solar year plus the Moon phase - actually similar to the Hebrew calendar).Whilst the ‘central events’ of the week take place in Jerusalem, both on the Mount of Olives and the Old City, there are many ceremonies that take place across the country, in Haifa, Nazareth, and Jaffa, which are very interesting to watch, as well as participate in. Let's take a closer look at some of the events taking place in these cities to commemorate the last days of Jesus’s life, followed by the jubilant celebrations marking his resurrection. Easter in JerusalemEaster in the Holy Land is a time like no other, and no more so than in Jerusalem, the capital of the Holy Land. In the days preceding Palm Sunday, Jerusalem begins filling up with tourists arriving with Christian tours, many of whom will not just be witnessing the events but taking part in them personally (having obtained tickets for the Palm Sunday Procession Tour). Easter Sunday in 2022 falls on 17th April, but special services will commence and continue the entire week, commencing on Palm Sunday, on 10th April culminating on Easter Monday on 18th April. If you do decide to attend these celebrations, be prepared for large crowds and a fair bit of pushing and shoving in the Old City, as spectators jostle for the best places to see the view of the processions. Of course, it’s worth it - it’s a moving and often overwhelming experience to be in the city - and walking the Via Dolorosa (the ‘Way of Sorrows’) - where Jesus took his final steps.From Palm Sunday (commemorating the moment Jesus rode into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey), Maundy Thursday (where you can see Priests and Ministers washing the feet of their parishioners, emulating Jesus washing the feet of his disciples) to Good Friday (a solemn experience, to say the least), Holy Saturday (with the extraordinary spectacle of the ceremony of the Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) and the jubilation that accompanies Easter Sunday (with pilgrims crying out ‘Christ is Risen), this will be a week you will never forget. For more of an in-depth look at what happens in Jerusalem at this time, take a look at our article ‘Easter in Jerusalem.’Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockEaster in Tel Aviv-JaffaThere are several churches - both Protestant and Catholic - in Jaffa, (which sits next to Tel Aviv) and events celebrating Easter week are held throughout the week at Tel Aviv’s largest Catholic and Protestant Churches, based in Jaffa in the South of the city.St. Peter’s Church - there are services held in English, Polish, Spanish, and Hebrew on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. This is a Franciscan church that sits at the top of the Jaffa hill (which has served as a strategic point for thousands of years). The church is large and beautiful, built at the beginning of the 20th century in baroque style. According to historians, Napoleon stayed here during his 1799 campaign. The church faces towards the Mediterranean Sea and on the walls are paintings depicting the fourteen Stations of the Cross that Jesus trod, en route to Calvary on the day of his crucifixion. St Anthony’s Church - this Franciscan Catholic church, located on Yefet Street, is built in a Gothic revival style and is noticeable because of its bell tower. Built in 1932, it is Jaffa's largest church and has an active community. Easter Services are held in English, Arabic, and Philippine throughout the week. St. Anthony's overlooks the harbor and many of its nuns, in the past, worked in the nearby French hospital. Today, the church is popular with migrant workers, especially those from Asia, and the priest is said to be very welcoming.The Immanuel Church in Jaffa is of the Protestant denomination. It was built in 1904 to serve the local German Evangelical community but after 1940 it remained empty, until 1955 when the building was transferred to the control of the Norweigan Church Ministry. Today, it is popular with different Protestant groups but also used by Messianic Jews. Over Easter, services and concerts are held continuously - for more specific information, check their Facebook page.St. Peter’s Church, Jaffa.Photo by Jeremy Zero on UnsplashEaster in NazarethNazareth holds a special place in the hearts of Christians since it was the city where Jesus spent much of his childhood. There is a number ofNazareth churches, all of which celebrate Easter in their own style.The Basilica of the Annunciation - According to Catholic tradition, this was the spot at which the Angel Gabriel appeared before Mary and announced that she would bear a child (i.e. Jesus). Built in 1958, over the remains of what were once Byzantine and Crusader houses of worship, today, it is the largest Catholic church in the Middle East. Inside, there are beautiful mosaics of Jesus and Mary, located in the portico, as well as a spiral staircase at the top of which is a beautiful Dome.Over Holy Week, a number of services are held including mass, reconciliation, and solemn prayer, as well as an Easter Vigil and sunrise service. When the church is at capacity, it is even possible to follow on live stream!Interior of the Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth.Photo credit: © ShutterstockSt. Gabriel’s Church - Also known as the Greek Orthodox Church of Annunciation, it is of Eastern Orthodox origin and is located in downtown Nazareth and is the largest Christian church in the East. Built in a modern style, Inside it boasts beautiful stained glass murals and lovely murals. Its old stone steps lead down to a beautiful spring. Holy Week is celebrated at St. Gabriel’s with prayers, homilies, services, and a Vigil.In Nazareth, visitors can walk through the city’s alleyways on Palm Sunday, accompanying the local residents and many other devout Christians in a procession. What is very nice is the special musical compositions that are played at this time. Easter week in this northern Israel city is a good example of how Easter is celebrated as a colorful grassroots religious festival.Easter in HaifaHaifa is actually home to a number of Christian communities and any visitor spending time there over Easter will be able to enjoy the traditional procession there, where locals and pilgrims walk through the streets, waving palm leaves and passing by the city’s churches. The annual procession begins at the St. Elias Greek Orthodox Church. This Melkite Cathedral was designed by architect Sammihom Atallah and built between 1938 and 1939. It then continues onto St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, administered by the Carmelites, and members of this congregation join the procession at this point. It then passes by the Latin Church (looked after by three Carmelite friars), moves onto the St. Luke Maronite Church, and concludes at the New Orthodox Church.Haifa aerial view.Photo by Shai Pal on UnsplashEaster in BethlehemBethlehem is a special place for Christians, being the birthplace of Jesus. Holy Week there, as everywhere else, begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday, during which quite a number of church services and religious processions are held. The three most special days before Easter Sunday are Maundy Thursday (when Jesus practiced humility by washing the feet of his disciples). Good Friday (the date Jesus walked to his death, through the Old City, to Calvary (Golgotha) where he was crucified, and also Holy Saturday (known locally as Sabt El Nour). Then, religious communities are given candles lit by a ‘Holy Light’ which has traveled all the way from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.During the Roman Catholic Holy Saturday, crowds gather in Bethlehem at the entrance to Star Street to welcome the large procession, which moves down to the Catholic Church of the Annunciation (also known as Al Bishara). Moreover, at the time of the Greek Orthodox Easter (which can be up to a week or so later), you will always see crowds standing at the city square in Beit Sahour and at Al Sahel Street in Beit Jala, ready to welcome the procession arriving from Jerusalem. As day turns to night, an Easter Vigil will begin and will continue for many hours. The following day, of course, is Easter Sunday and is marked at every Church in Bethlehem, including the Nativity Church and the Church of St. Catherine with sunrise services and enormous celebrations. To explore Bethlehem it is recommended to join one of numerous Bethlehem tours.Church of Saint Catherine, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Easter in Jerusalem

For Christians, there is no doubt that Easter is the most spiritual holiday in their religious calendar - yes, it even trumps Christmas in the sacred stakes! Why? Because this is the time of the year that the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the son of God, is commemorated and celebrated. They last for a period of time known as ‘Holy Week’ commemorating the events before and after the crucifixion.Easter celebration.Photo by freestocks on UnsplashIn late March or early April each year (depending on the calendar), thousands of pilgrims from all denominations descend upon Jerusalem for a period like no other. Taking place within the walls of the Old City, and at the Garden Tomb (which is open for visits throughout Holy Week (8:30 am to 12 noon and 2 pm to 5:30 pm) they recreate scenes from the last week of Jesus’s life, culminating in a solemn procession on Good Friday and a great celebration on Easter Sunday. Let’s take a look at how the week unfolds and some of the rituals the make Easter in Jerusalem so special and moving for Christians…Palm SundayPalm Sunday always falls one week before Easter. It is the first day of’ ‘Holy Week’ and is a festival that commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. According to all of the Gospels, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was greeted by his followers who all waved palm branches to celebrate. Historically, the palm branch may have been a symbol of victory and triumph and the donkey seen as an animal of peace (not war, as would have been a horse).Today, in the Old City, pilgrims recreate this scene as part of the Jerusalem Palm Sunday Procession Tour Beginning at the Mount of Olives, descending into the Kidron Valley and Gethsemane Garden, pilgrims walk solemnly through the Lions' gate and into the Old City. They proceed along the Via Dolorosa where Jesus walked his last steps before arriving at the cross. All along you hear cries of ‘Hosanna’ from the crowds. The procession is led by leaders of the Catholic Patriarchate (in brown robes), the Latin Patriarch (in purple robes) and the Greek Archbishop (in black robes). All along the way, the route is lined with Christian pilgrims (both local and those who have travelled from across the world) reciting blessings and singing songs. It is a very colourful and interesting ceremony, which culminates at St. Anne’s Church.Palm Sunday Procession. Photo by Brady Leavell on UnsplashMaundy ThursdayMaundy Thursday is also known as Holy Thursday and its name derives from the Latin ‘mandatum’ which means ‘command’. This ties up with Jesus’ commandment to his disciples “Love one another, as I have loved you.” This day, in essence, commemorates three major events:1. It is the day Jesus and his disciples sat down to eat the Last Supper. During this meal, Jesus took bread and wine and shared them with everyone at the table. Today, Christians around the world of all denominations continue to use bread and wine in their services of worship (such as the Eucharist and Mass). 2. Furthermore, on Holy Thursday, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus washed the feet of his apostles. This act has different meanings - to show that as an important person, Jesus practised humility and love to others. Some Christians also regard it as a way of seeking reconciliation with someone before taking communion. Today, there is a traditional Washing of the Feet ceremony carried out in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.3. Finally, this is the day in which Jesus was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, after being betrayed by Judas. This was, for sure, a pivotal moment in Christianity.Today. In Jerusalem, pilgrims celebrate Maundy Thursday at the Room of the Last Supper (the Upper Room), located on Mount Zion. Some even hold an all-night vigil there, remembering Jesus’ hours in Gethsemane. In terms of the churches themselves, a Pontifical Mass (Supper of the Lord and Mass of the Chrism) is held at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre early in the morning. In the afternoon, in and around the Old City, there are pilgrimages from one church to another followed by services of the Washing of the Feet. Typically, the route of procession passes by the Church of All Nations, through the Lions' Gate, into the Old City and along the Via Dolorosa. All along the way, pilgrims sing songs in a number of languages and pray. Room of the Last Supper. Photo credit: © ShutterstockGood FridayGood Friday (also known as Holy Friday and Great Friday) is a very solemn - and incredibly important - day in the Christian calendar, marking the death of Jesus by crucifixion at Calvary (Golgotha). Many members of the various Christian denominations attend church services, abstain from eating meat and even fast. In the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican tradition, there is a service held between 12 and 3 pm, called ‘The Three Hour’s Agony’ (alluding to the hours Jesus was on the cross).In Jerusalem, each year, thousands of pilgrims descend on the Old City early in the morning, either to be part of the procession itself (tickets are numbered, limited and much sought after) or to pack the streets for a view. The procession itself is a recreation of the route Christ took, retracing his final steps on his way to the cross.The procession begins at the Mount of Olives, entering through the city walls and tracing its way along what is known as the Via Dolorosa (in Latin, ‘The Path of Sorrows’). Known as ‘the Way of the Cross’ it begins at 11.30 am at Station.1. The Stations of the Cross (14 in all, 8 en route and 6 in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) refer to various images relating to Christ’s journey and his suffering as he walked this path.Mount of Olives. Photo credit: © ShutterstockIn the Old City, many pilgrims carry wooden crosses, sing hymns as they walk and often stop to recite prayers at each station. This is to symbolically offer ‘reparations’ for the insults and suffering that Jesus had to endure on his last journey which is estimated to have lasted 1.5 km (from Gethsemane to Calvary). The atmosphere is solemn and charged - many Christians, afterwards, describe it as one of the most moving moments of their lives. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the service is broken down into several parts: the Liturgy of the Word (carried out in silence). The Great Intercessions, the Adoration of the Cross, Communion (or Mass). Within this time, the liturgy will also include readings of the Gospel Passion narrative. After the ‘Three Hour’s Agony’ service - between 12 midday and 3 pm - vespers are read, to commemorate the time Christ’s body was taken down from the cross.Traditionally, on Good Friday, many Christians in Jerusalem will not eat meat or even fast entirely (to show their sorrow), will not perform any work, including washing clothes, breaking ground or playing with children. Since сhurches of the Old City of Jerusalem are open for the entire day, some pilgrims will spend much of the evening or night in contemplative prayer.A pilgrim in Via Dolorosa. Photo credit: © ShutterstockHoly SaturdayFor Orthodox communities, this day is known as Holy Saturday (‘Saturday of Light’) and each year in Jerusalem, it is commemorated with a ceremony named the Holy Fire Ceremony. This is held in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - it is a popular ritual that is well attended by Christians from across the denominations.According to Orthodox tradition, at this time a blue light emanates from the tomb of Jesus and rises up from the marble slab (upon which his body was placed for burial). It is believed that the light forms a column of fire and, as a result, candles can be lit from it, both for the clergy and pilgrims in attendance. It is also thought that this ‘Holy Fire’ will not burn them and can be used to spontaneously light other candles and lamps in the church.In the darkness, the Patriarch kneels in front of the stone, and the crowd waits anxiously. When he emerges, with two candles lit, his audience breaks into applause and cheers with joy. The dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Photo credit: © ShutterstockEaster SundayThe final day of the Holy Week culminates in enormous celebrations - commemorating the day that Christ rose from the dead. In Jerusalem, celebrations begin early - at 7 am - with the entry of the Latin Patriarch into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. An hour later, the Mass of Resurrection is held and this includes a procession around the Rotunda. The service begins in darkness and one by one candles are lit. The Priest will state ‘ Christ is risen’ and the congregation will respond "He is risen indeed". All heads of the various Churches in Jerusalem will wear their brightest robes, in celebration, and bells will peal out. People pray individually and collectively. Protestants celebrate with an Easter sunrise service at the Garden Tomb.The week following Holy Week the Orthodox Christians (including Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian and Russian Orthodox) celebrate Easter with similar ceremonies and services. Without a doubt, if you are thinking of making a trip to Israel, a visit at this time of the year is highly encouraged. Springtime is beautiful in the Mediterranean and, combined with the rituals enacted in this special week, you will have the opportunity to witness something quite unique in Jerusalem - something that is sure to stay with you for the rest of your life.The best wat to visitholy Christian sites in Jerusalemis to join one ofChristian Day Tours.Inside the Church of Holy Sepulchre.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Holy Sites in the West Bank

The West Bank is an area of land lying between Israel and Jordan, with the Dead Sea to its south. It was given this name after being captured by Jordan in 1949 but after the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel took control of the territory. Today, parts of it are administered by Israel and parts by the Palestinian Authority. Whilst it can be challenging to visit there, it is certainly possible, particularly when travelling as part of organised West Bank day tours.The Church of St. Catherine, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockBelow are some of the holy sites in the West Bank that are holy to three major world religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and a guide to what makes them so special to their followers.Jewish Holy Sites in the West BankHill of Phinehas -In the Bible, it says in the book of Joshua that the Hill of Pinehas is the burial place of Aaron's sons, Itamar and Eleazer. Aaron’s grandson, Phinehas, is also believed to have been buried at this site. Awarta - In Arabic, Awarta means ‘windowless’ or ‘hidden.’ Inhabited since Biblical times, between the 4th and 12th centuries the town was an important Samaritan center and was the place of one of their synagogues. In Awarta today there are three large sites which, according to Jewish tradition, are the burial tombs of Aaron’s sons, Itamar and Eleazer.Eshtemoa synagogue -This ancient city mentioned in the Bible houses the remains of an ancient Jewish synagogue dating from around the 4th–5th century CE. The remains of the synagogue were excavated in 1934 by archaeologists Reifenberg and Meyer. They described a hole in the wall which they believe was used as a Torah Ark. A further excavation in 1970 by Ze'ev Yeivin showed that the synagogue was built in the main part of the village. Constructed in a ‘boardhouse’ style it had no columns and worshippers could enter by any of 3 doors on its eastern side. Archaeologists found external ornamental carvings and a mosaic floor. Four menorahs (Jewish candelabra) were found carved onto doors and one of these can, today, be seen in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. Two benches were built along the north and south walls.Jericho synagogue - Discovered in 1936 in excavations carried out under the British Mandate, archaeologists estimate that this synagogue dates back to the late 6th/early 7th century CE. All that remains of it today is a mosaic floor, on which there is an Aramaic inscription. Visitors can also see a medallion on which is carved ‘ Shalom al Yisrael’ (meaning ‘ Peace on Israel’). This is the reason some people refer to it as the “Shalom al Yisrael synagogue. Whilst the site was taken care of by Israel after the Six-Day War, it came under control of the Palestinian Authority after the Oslo Accords. However, since 2005, prayer services for Jews are allowed there once a week.Tombs of Joshua and Caleb close to Kifl Hares - Joshua and Caleb were two Israelites spies, who took the initiative to obey God and lead their people into the Promised Land. Revered as national heroes by religious Jews, it is still possible to pray in this area but under guard provided by the Israeli Army.Hebron -Situated south of Jerusalem, Hebron has been a focus of religious worship for over 2000 years. Its name is derived from the Hebrew word haver (friend), a description for the Patriarch Abraham, the friend of God. Hebron has a long Jewish history that relates to the Cave of Machpelah, which Abraham purchased as a family tomb. This was the first piece of land owned by the Jewish people in the Promised Land. According to the Bible, the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah are buried there, and, in the Jewish tradition, the tombs of Adam and Eve are also located in Hebron.Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron. Photo by Dan Rosenstein on UnsplashChristianHoly Sites in the West BankChristian Holy Sites in BethlehemThe Church of the Nativity - This basilica is the oldest of its kind in the Holy Land and of incredible importance to Christians since they believe it is the spot where Jesus was born. First commissioned by Emperor Constantine the Great, there is a grotto inside which thousands of pilgrims flock to, year-round. At the heart of the Church of the Nativity is the Grotto, the cave where Jesus is supposed to have been born, and north of it is the Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine. The original Roman-style floor is now covered with flagstones but beneath a trap door, there is a part of an original mosaic from the time of Constantine. The medieval gold mosaics that covered the walls are now, for the most part, gone. Midnight Mass is held here every Christmas Eve and also broadcast live around the world.The Milk Grotto -The Milk Grotto is a sacred spot for Christians since, according to legend, it is the place where Joseph and Mary stopped so that Mary could nurse her baby, Jesus. Tradition also has it that as she nursed him, a drop of her milk fell upon the stone on which she sat, and it turned white. Today, visitors will see the carved rock is white. This is a popular spot for new mothers to pray, as well as women who wish to conceive.Shepherds' Fields - On this spot stands a Roman Catholic church and tradition has it that this is the site where angels announced the birth of Jesus to the world. The church was constructed in 1953 by Franciscans and designed by the famous Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi (who has a stellar reputation for his numerous monuments in the Holy Land). Inside are five apses, which are supposed to resemble the outline of a tent. Nativity scene, stained glass, Church of St. Catherine, Bethlehem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockChristian Holy Sites in JerichoZacchaeus Sycamore Tree - This tree in Jericho is named after Zaccahues, an influential tax collector who lived in Jericho. He is known for being so devoted to Jesus that he climbed a sycamore tree in order to see him. Zacchaeus was known for his generosity (giving away much of his wealth) and as a descendant of Abraham, some Christians regard him as carrying out Jesus’s values of the charity.Elisha’s Spring - Also called ‘the Prophet’s Fountain’ this freshwater spring is located near Tel Jericho.. According to the Bible, the city’s water source was polluted, making local people sick and women infertile. Elisha was told by God to throw salt in the water and a miracle was then performed - healing the water and giving new life to the city.The Mount of Temptation - Located on the edge of a cliff in the Judean desert, this is - according to the Gospel of Matthew- the place where Jesus battled Satan for 40 days and 40 nights, resisting all of the temptations that were offered to him. Halfway up the mountain is the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Temptation ("Deir al-Qarantal" in Arabic).Jacob's Well - Constructed out of rock that is believed to be about 2,000 years old, this deep well is located close to the archaeological site of Tel Balata. It lies within the complex of an Eastern Orthodox monastery in the city of Nablus.Mar Saba Monastery-Set amid the stunning scenery of Wadi Qelt this is a must-see, even if you cannot get inside. Please keep in mind women are not allowed in the Monastery.St. George's Monastery, Wadi Qelt- also known asthe Monastery of Choziba, it is an amazing construction hung on the cliff.If you want to get in women should wear clothes that covers their legs and shoulders. An overwhelming location not to be missed.The real sycamore tree from the Bible, the Greek Orthodox church in Jericho. Photo credit: © ShutterstockMuslim Holy Sites in the West BankNabi Musa, Tomb of Moses - Nabi Musa lies about 20 km east of Jerusalem and 10 km south of Jericho, this site is also known as Nebi Musa, it is believed to be the place where Moses was buried. It is also the name of an important religious festival that lasted 7 days and was celebrated each year by Palestinian Muslims, beginning the Friday before Good Friday. Some argue that it is the most important pilgrimage site in Palestine. The building has several white domes and sits on the Jerusalem-Jericho road. Historically, this was a major route used by Arabs in the Mediterranean, who traveled along the road en route to Mecca, for a pilgrimage. Great Mosque of Nablus - This is the largest and most well-known mosque in the whole of Nablus. Originally built as a Byzantine church, it was converted into a mosque during the Islamic era, rebuilt as a Latin church by the Crusaders then rebuilt once more as a mosque in the 12th century. It is situated in the east of the Old City and its interior is long and rectangular. The building has a silver dome. It is used daily for worship, by locals and Muslims across the West Bank and although not particularly touristic, visitors can see just how old it is from the stone pillars. There is a smaller entrance for women at the side. Locals often refer to this building as the Al Salahi Mosque. Mosque of Prophet Yunus - This mosque is home to a tomb that Muslims believe to be that of Prophet Yunus. The mosque was built in 1226 CE by the Ayyubids and can be found in a town near Hebron by the name of Hulhul. It is built on Mount Nabi Yunus, the highest peak in the West Bank. Yunus is also known by two other names - Dhun-Nun (Lord of the Fish) and Sabhilil-Hot (Companion of the Fish). Built on two floors, the burial area is in the crypt. The building has a square floor surrounded by porticoes, with well-built cross vaults. Yunus, of course, was Jonah in the Bible and the embroidered green cloth covering the tomb has beautiful Arabic calligraphy written on it.Nablus, West Bank.Photo by nour tayeh on UnsplashSites in the West Bank Holy for all 3 faiths:Rachel's Tomb - For Jews, this is the ‘Kever Rachel’ and for Muslims, it is the Bilal bin Rahab mosque. It is located in the north of Bethlehem and is generally considered to be her resting place. The earliest recording of this comes from the 4th century, from the Bordeaux Pilgrim. When Moses Montefiore, a Jewish philanthropist, renovated the site in the mid 19th century, he obtained keys for Jews but also built an antechamber for Muslims to pray. The site is the third holiest in Israel for Jews and because of its location in the West Bank remains a contentious site and is often closed.Cave of the Patriarchs - Situated in Hebron, and also known as the Cave of Machpelah, this site is holy both to Muslims and Jews. Muslims call it by the name of the Sanctuary of Abraham. After Temple Mount, Jews consider it to be their second most holy site. In the book of Genesis, it is told that when Sarah (Abraham’s wife) died, he purchased this land in order to bury her - it is the first commercial transaction recorded in the Bible. The rectangular building is divided into two sections with four cenotaphs - being dedicated to Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, and Leah. The entrance to the enclosure is on the southwest side of the building and there is a mosque outside the entrance - this must be passed through in order to gain access to the cenotaphs. Pottery found by archaeologists in the area indicates that the site could well date back to the 8th century. Today the site is extremely sensitive, with restricted access both to Muslims and Jews, under the terms of the Wye Agreement. At present, the Waqf (an Islamic Charitable Agreement) controls 80% of the area.Tomb of Samuel - Known both as Nebi Samuel or Bebi Samwil, this is considered to be the traditional burial site of Samuel, a prophet both for Jews and Muslims. It sits on a high heel, 900 meters above sea level, close to the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev and the Palestinian village of Beit Hanina. Archaeological excavations were carried out there between 1992 and 2003 although conclusions as to the area’s importance are still disputed.Joseph's Tomb - Located on the outskirts of Nablus, 300 meters from Jacobs Well, this monument is at the foot of a valley that separates Mount Gerizim and Ebal. It is considered to be holy by Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and some Muslims believe it is the location of a local sheik, Yusef Al-Dawlik, who lived in medieval times. There is no concrete archaeological evidence that this is Joseph’s tomb but the Bible gives clues. In Genesis, it is said that his brothers swore to carry Jacob’s bones from Egypt to Canaan, and in Exodus is says they were taken by Moses. Later accounts state the bones were brought to the Promised Land by the Children of Israel and interred in Shechem (the biblical name for Nablus). Oak of Mamre - Also known as the Oak of Sibta, this site is located in Hebron. Its name is so because of the ancient tree that grows there that appears to be dead, only there is a young sprig/sapling next to it. Some traditions say it is where Abraham hosted three angels and pitched his tent. Nearby is a Russian Orthodox monastery, making the site a major pilgrimage site for Russian pilgrims. Today, it is the only functioning Christian site in the entire Hebron area.Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron.Photo byDan RosensteinonUnsplashTo see the list of holy sites in Israel have a look at this article. To explore the West Bank and its sites join the guided Bethlehem and Jericho tours.
By Sarah Mann

Holy sites in Jerusalem

Jerusalem is one of the world’s great cities and home to three major world religions - Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The city is packed full of holy sites, making it a popular pilgrimage destination for thousands of people. Here, we look at some of the most important holy sites to these three religions, and what makes them so special to their followers.The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockChristian Holy Sites in JerusalemMultiple DenominationalHoly Sites in Jerusalem1. Church of the Holy Sepulchre - The place at which Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection took place, this magnificent ancient church is one of the holiest sites for Christian pilgrims. Erected by Constantine the Great in 326 AD, it contains the tomb of Jesus, the anointing stone and Golgotha itself.It is overseen jointly by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic according to a complicated ruling named ‘the Status Quo’. Since the 7th century, the Muslim Nusaybah family has been the impartial doorkeeper, using a key made of iron, which is 30 cms long. This enormous structure can hold up to 8.000 people. Its bell tower dates back to the 12th century.2. Tomb of the Virgin Mary - At the bottom of the Mount of Olives, nestled in the Kidron Valley, Christians from both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic denominations believe that this is the burial place of Jesus’s mother, Mary.Catholic (Roman and Eastern)Holy Sites in Jerusalem3. Church of All Nations- This is thought to be the place at which Jesus prayed before he was arrested by the Romans. Inside you can see gold mosaics, depicting his despair. Its round dome and Corinthian columns let you know this was once a Byzantine structure. 4. Garden of Gethsemane - In Christian history, this garden is loaded with meaning as it is apparently the spot at which he prayed to God before being arrested by the Romans. Gethsemane means ‘olive press’ in Aramaic and the garden has several olive trees. It is located at the foot of the Mount of Olives.Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Photo credit: © Shutterstock5. St Anne's Church - Built on the ruins of a Byzantine church, this Crusader-era church is located near the Lion’s Gate. Its thick walls liken it to a fortress and It has a simple interior with an asymmetrical design and cross-vaulted ceilings. Today, it belongs to the French government and is managed by the ‘White Fathers.’6. Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu - This Roman Catholic church can be found just outside the Old City Walls, on the slopes of Mount Zion. In Latin, ‘Gallicantu’ means ‘cock-crow which harks back to the Disciple Peter’s rejection of Jesus (‘before the cock crows’ - Gospel of Mark). Today, visitors can see a golden rooster perched at the top of the sanctuary, reminding them of this biblical passage. 7. Church of the Pater Noster - Dating back to the time of Emperor Constantine, and found on the Mount of Olives, according to tradition this is where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. ‘Pater Noster’ in Latin means ‘Our Father’ and inside this Carmelite church, that credo is painted on ceramic tiles, in different colours and writing styles, in 130 languages.8. Dormition Abbey - Situated on Mount Zion, just outside the Old City walls, this distinctive 5th-century Benedictine structure is renowned for its round dome and lovely mosaic floor. Due to its size, it is one of Jerusalem’s most prominent churches; moreover, tradition says that it was on this spot that the Virgin Mary died. 9. Via Dolorosa - In Latin, ‘Via Dolorosa’ means ‘the Way of Sorrows’ and this historic route through the Old City is indeed laden with sorrow, as it commemorates Jesus’s walk towards his crucifixion. Along the way, there are ‘Stations of the Cross’ where he stopped to rest and each Easter, on Good Friday, thousands of Christian pilgrims retrace his steps, culminating at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The route is also commemorated each Friday afternoon by the Catholic church.10. Dominus Flevit Church - This Franciscan church on the Mount of Olives is known for its beautiful window which gives visitors an astonishing view of the Old City. Designed by Antonio Barluzzi, an Italian architect, it is shaped like a teardrop, to symbolise the grief of Christ. Dominus Flevit, in Latin, means ‘ The Lord Wept’.Dominus Flevit Church.Photo credit: © ShutterstockOrthodox Holy Sites in Jerusalem1. Church of St. Alexander Nevsky - Built over the remains over what is believed to have been the ‘Judgement Gate’ where Jesus passed, en route to his crucifixion, this Russian Orthodox Church was built between 1896-1903 and named after the Russian military leader Nevsky.2. Convent of the Ascension - located at the highest point of the Mount of Olives, this Byzantine-style church was built in 1870 and has a prominent bell tower and olive groves. Nearby is the Chapel of John the Baptist, with an ancient mosaic floor, commemorating the actual place that his head was found. 3. Cathedral of St. James - This 12th century Armenian Apostolic Church is located inside the Old City and is dedicated to two saints - St. James the Great and St. James the Less. It has an ornate interior decorated with gilded altars, paintings and mosaics. 4. "Deir es-Sultan" - This Coptic Orthodox Monastery is situated on the rooftop of the Helena Chapel in Holy Sepulchre, in the Old City’s Christian Quarter. The site’s heritage is contested by the Ethiopian Church and arguments continue to this day as to which denomination retains ultimate control.5. Saint Mark’s Monastery - This Syriac Orthodox monastery and church is believed to have been the place where the Last Supper of Christ and his disciples took place. The relics of many saints can be found inside.Candles in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinProtestantHoly Sites in Jerusalem1. The Garden Tomb - This non-denominational site is particularly popular with Anglicans and Evangelicals as a possible location for the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Close to the Damascus Gate, this pretty garden was unearthed in 1867 and holds an empty ancient tomb.2. Church of the Ascension at the German Augusta Victoria Foundation - This German Evangelical Church stands at the highest point in Jerusalem - almost 850 metres above sea level - and was dedicated in 1910 at the request of Kaiser Wilhelm. Built in the "Wilhelminian-Byzantine style" it contains beautiful ceiling paintings and mosaics. 3. Lutheran Church of the Redeemer - The second Protestant Church in Jerusalem, this German Evangelical Church was built on land given to King William I of Prussia and dedicated on Reformation Day in 1898. It was built in a neo-Romanesque style and has a simple interior.4. St. George's Cathedral - This Anglican/Episcopal church is located in Sheik Jarrah, East Jerusalem, close to the Garden Tomb, It was built by the fourth bishop of the diocese, George Blyth.5. St Andrew's, aka the Scottish Church - As part of the Church of Scotland, St. Andrews was built as a memorial to Scottish soldiers killed fighting the Turks in World War I. As well as running a guesthouse (with its famous Scottish breakfast) the Church of Scotland oversees the running of the Tabeetha school in Jaffa and the Scots Hotel in Tiberias.The Garden Tomb. Photo credit: © Dan PorgesJewishHoly Sites in Jerusalem1. Tomb of King David - One of the most sacred sites for Jews, the tradition that says King David was buried here dates back to the 9th century. Located on Mount Zion, today it is run on a ‘synagogue model’ with the tombstone in the interior room. There are separate entrances for men and women and the rooftop is an excellent observational point.2. Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery- Situated on the Mount of Olives, this noble cemetery is over 500 years old and between 70.0000 and 140,000 people are buried here, including notable Zionist leaders and rabbis. It also contains the tombs of three prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Jews come from across the globe to pray and pay respects at this cemetery.3. Western Wall - The Western Wall (‘Kotel’ in Hebrew) is the last remaining structure of the Second Temple and a place of extraordinary religious, historical and emotional significance to Jews. An open plaza, men and women pray there (in separate sections) and across the world, Jews continue to pray in its direction. Made of huge quarried stone, its structure is smoothed and chiselled.4. Temple Mount- According to Jewish tradition, this is where previous temples were built and where the Third Temple will, one day, be built. It is the holiest site for Jews who turn this way in prayer. It is also a hotly contested site, between Jews and Muslims and often a flashpoint for outbreaks of violence. Inside is the Foundation Stone, and according to Jewish sages, it was from this rock that the world was created. 5. Cave of the Ramban - Located in the Kidron Valley, this cave is believed by some Jews to be the traditional resting place of Nahmanides (also known as the Ramban) who was a distinguished scholar in the Middle Ages. The Kidron Valley, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockIslamic Holy Sites in JerusalemThe Arabic name for Jerusalem is 'Al Quds' which means 'the Holy One'. Its holiest shrines include:1. Haram ash-Sharif- The Temple Mount complex is extremely holy to Muslims, as it is thought to have been the place Mohammed made his ‘Night Journey’ flying over Jerusalem en route to Mecca. It contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque (which is characteristic of early Islamic architecture) the Dome of the Rock (the first Muslim masterpiece, built in 687 CE and is a prominent theme in Islamic Art) and the Well of Souls (Islamic tradition believes that on Judgement day, this is the place that the spirits of the dead will come). It also houses the Dome of the Chain (where the Last Judgement will take pale, with a chain allowing passage only to the righteous and turning away sinners) the Fountain of Qayt Bay - a beautiful structure with stone carvings and intricate calligraphy - and Madrasa al-Ashrafiyya, an Islamic madrasa built in 1480, in Mamluk style.2. Al-Khanqah al-Salahiyya Mosque - Located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, this sits on the former sites of the Latin Patriarch. After the Crusaders surrendered to Saladin in 1187, it was transformed into a mosque and a minaret was subsequently built in 1417. The mosque's facade is beautiful and decorated with stones that are a feature of the Mamluk architectural style of that time (a combination of black and white stones).3. Al-Yaqubi Mosque - Once the Crusader Church of St. James Intercisus, this building was transformed into a mosque after 1187, when Saladin captured the city. Situated close to the Jaffa Gate, this small building is named after Sheik Yaquob al-Ajami - lookout for the lovely enamel name plaque on the wall. 4. Mosque of Omar - Next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Christian Quarter, is the Mosque of Omar, which is easily noticed by a 15-metre high minaret. The building was erected to mark the spot where Caliph Omar prayed since he would not enter a Christian church. The mosque was renovated in the 19th century, after an earthquake in 1458.5. Dome of Ascension - Located close to the Dome of the Rock, this free-standing dome denotes the spot where Mohammed, Islam’s greatest prophet, ascended to heaven. The dome is covered with marble slabs but what makes it really noticeable is that, above it, is a small dome in the shape of a crown. The Dome of Ascension is also part of Mohammed’s ‘Night Journey’ when he flew across the sky, passing Jerusalem, en route to Mecca.Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann