As a frequent visitor to Israel, I have often wondered why there is so much fascination and focus on a small country one-third the size of Tasmania.
It’s a country that evokes so much passion and hate and yet when you visit it and see for yourself you discover what an amazing place it is and how so much has been achieved by so few in such a short time.
Israel is a relatively young country, founded in 1948, yet it’s a country with its roots steeped in time. It is central to three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
For more than 3500 years Jews have had a connection to the land of Israel and are indigenous to her. It is now one of the leading countries in the world in the fields of health, science and technology.
If you are visiting Israel for the first time, I would suggest allowing at least seven days, which gives you just a taste, because despite its very small size you could spend a month there and not see everything.
Everywhere you step and everything you see has most probably been mentioned somewhere in the Bible. The historical significance is with you all the time.
The Old City in Jerusalem is a historical treasure trove, home to significant sites such as the Western Wall and the Al Aqsa Mosque
Jerusalem (which is important to all three religions) is a must visit and even if you are not religious you will feel the holiness of it. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, The Kotel (Western Wall) and the Al Aqsa Mosque are all important.
Walking through the alleyways of the old city in the footsteps of Jesus makes you feel like you have stepped back in time.
The Hall of Names in Yad Vashem is a sombering but important experience
A trip to Jerusalem must include a trip to Yad Vashem. This museum, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, may help you to understand one of the worst genocides in the history of mankind. It's truly a profound experience.
Take the time to visit the Israel Museum, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed as well as the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) where the famous Marc Chagall tapestries hang.
The Mahane Yehuda Market is a great way to sample the local produce, and a particular highlight is the Iraqi restaurant Azura. The dishes are amazing – I especially love the stuffed eggplant.
Like Australia, Israel is an immigrant nation, a multicultural country with people from more than 130 countries and the food found there reflects that.
For those interested in ancient history, Masada (an hour and a half from Jerusalem on the shore of the Dead Sea) is another must visit. The siege of Masada was one of the final events in the First Jewish-Roman War, occurring from 73 to 74 CE.
A group of Jews chose death rather than slavery at the hands of the Romans. It’s an amazing story. A dip in the Dead Sea and covering yourself in its famous mud is another experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Tel Aviv is Israel’s largest city and its financial centre on the seashore. Built in the 1920s, it is a fine and large example of Bauhaus architecture. There are many museums and art galleries to visit and wonderful cafes and restaurants.
The fortress of Masada is a fascinating historical site, perfect for an exploration of Israel outside the cities
It also has a very famous night life and an annual Mardi Gras Parade, an anomaly in the Middle East where the persecution of LGBTI people is common, including capital punishment in such countries as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Yemen and jail and corporal punishment in other Arab countries.
Other famous places worth visiting include the ancient port of Caesarea, the city of Haifa with spectacular harbour views and an amazing Baha’i temple with incredible gardens.
Israel is a feast for the eyes, the spirit and your stomach – and not necessarily in that order.
Have you visited the Middle East? What’s your favourite destination?
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Image credits: (feature) Boris Stroujko / Shutterstock.com; (in-text) Sean Pavone, Alexandre Rotenberg, Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock.com.