Israel and Palestine or Palestine and Israel or just Israel or just Palestine. Choose the one that is suitable for you. Country full of paradoxes, live conflicts, but also incredible opportunities for travelling.
1st stop - Mitzpe Ramon: Tracking in desert is special. But I am warning you, do not do this in summer - you will die. And I am deadly serious. You have not experienced such hot weather. In the beginning of November, the temperature easily went over 35 degrees - and consider walking, walking, and a great amount of sun. You will need several liters of water, camping for few days is impossible, you would need about 10 liters of water just for drinking and cooking just for 2 days. But I can recommend it to people who like adventure - spring, autumn and winter are the most suitable seasons. The problem is, that you will not find a touristic map in English, so you will have to learn to read Hebrew or stay in the hotel. However, the track is well marked, the terrain is sometimes steep. We climbed for example Ramon´s Tooth, where we badly tried to avoid a school trip. I would surely come back here for third time. I felt the incredible peace here, mainly during camping and meditation near campfire.
2nd stop - Hebron, real Palestine: There are places on the Earth which are not recommended to visit. Hebron is one of them. From my experience, you will gain the most on these kinds of places. This city with around 200 000 Arabian citizens is specific in one thing, which I have never seen before. The rough center near Abraham´s tombstone is under complete control of Israeli army. You just enter the city and suddenly, there is checkpoint, soldiers, and basically other territory, you can see blue-white flags everywhere. It is a second most important city for Jews right after Jerusalem if you are looking at it from religious point of view. The importance of this city is just as important for Christians and Muslims - but it seems that the number of guns decides. You are walking around Israeli territory and you are passing by some soldiers, snipers, and someone with kippah or some Arab with donkey. It is good to say that around 500-800 Jewish settlers are protected by around 4000 Israeli soldiers which is just incredible. But Arab population is mostly friendly. We were walking around the city in the evening and we got invited for tea and during the journey back to the hotel we were accompanied by Arabian guy who were happy to review his weak English.
3rd stop - Jerusalem: This is the must visit place for every traveler - it does not look so attractive to me. Too many sights, too many people, too many conflicts. You cannot be sure here even with well-practiced smiles and also that someone will throw a stone at you outside of the city center. There are a lot of conflicts in Muslim part of the city called Ras Al Amud (we lived there). Illegal taking of Palestine soil is still present here - the Arabs look frustrated. But you should also visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Wailing Wall, Olive hill (amazing view of the city), orthodox suburb Mea Shearim is also must - but during the Shabbat, turn off the mobile phones, do not photograph and wear a polite outfit. The locals with probably shout at you - mainly children. Church mountain was opened just for few hours during our visit and it was pointless to wait due to the incredible line there. It is also a controversial place for promoting greater low for the ones who will pray there.
4th stop - Latrun: If you like action movies and military tech, you should take a look on the one of the biggest opened military museums in the world - Latrun. This place is located near Jerusalem, you will get here by taxi. There are around 160 military vehicles, mostly tanks. Many machines come from Lebanon and Syria and countries who often fought with Israel.
5th stop - Nablus, Kalkilija, Sebastiya. Back on Palestinian territory, where everything is 3 - 4x cheaper and not only because of this we felt much better here. We decided to visit traditional Turkish spa in Nablus, where our backs could rest after many days of carrying heavy backpacks. We did not notice anything special in the city center, so we moved to the only Palestinian zoo (if we do not consider the destroyed one in Gaza), which survived many years of occupation, repressions and conflicts. Honestly, we were very surprised with my friend Peter about how well is this place working, although many animals looked quite disorientated, near auto drome and planetarium let us to forget about our empathy. Big group of students of sciences showed us their experiments. Have you ever written your name on the paper using the electricity?
Important archeological stop - small village Sebastiya remembers times of Roman, Byzantine or Ottoman empires. Have a rest from a bigger cities and stop there, it is worth it.
6th stop - The Dead Sea. It feels good to swim in the Dead Sea- the lowest place on Earth, where the temperature did not fall to 28 degrees even in November. The best experience was night swimming with jets flying just few meters above your head. But we did not want just to "do nothing" and we took a trip that lasted around an hour to next important place for Jews - Masada fortress. This fortress is the symbol of its will and courage. Some units of Israeli army are swearing that "Masala will never fall" even today. It is because of the fact, that conquering of the fortress by Romans meant end of Jewish presence in the Palestine.
7th stop - Golan Heights: Our original plan to travel from south to north was successful and we had 2 more days before us. The problem with national parks is their short opening hours. And this is not problem just of national parks in Golan Heights. We often arrive to our desired place 30 minutes before closing the area and they will not let us in (some places are closed even at 3 PM) Even my cute face and convincing is not working. Golan Heights impressed me during my previous visit. The war signs are visible almost everywhere. Uncountable mine fields, bombed ruins and wrecks of military tech. Beautiful nature, blessed possibilities of marked tourist tracks and good climate impressed me more than things related to war, even though nowadays is possible to observe a real war in Syria. The border is very close, it is possible to cross her by a car. Heavy fights are happening almost always except of short brakes.
8th stop - Akra, Haifa. The well-known Slovak traveler Tomas Kubus visited crusader city Acre (nowadays it is called Akko). His photos inspired me and me and Peter decided that we will spend here one day and one night including the visit of the citadel and old town. Even though the center is Arab, prices here are Israeli. Despite of that, atmosphere and closeness of the sea made a good impression on us. We visited the citadel with sympathetic Italian who traveled around the world on bike and he had already passed several thousands of kilometers. The tour was really interactive - I can honestly recommend it.
Every city in this area is special in its own way. You cannot compare Tel Aviv with Jerusalem or Hebron with Haifa. Visiting of Israel - Palestine is generally connected with multicultural society. Except of Jews and Arabs, you can find communities of Russians (around 1 million), people from Eastern Europe, Germany, around 130 000 Ethiopians, Druse, Bedouins, small group of Samaritans etc.
We visited something like Russian part of Haifa, where all of signs were in Russian alphabet. The interesting things about this place were Mediterranean atmosphere, architectonic masterpieces (Bahaist center) and good conversations with Norwegians, people who settled there.
We are spending the last moments during Shabbat on the airport, where we are spending time playing football, drinking wine and driving the carts for transporting luggage's.
The perfect feeling of our visit is interrupting unnecessary and unpleasant check before departure. I guess they did not like Iraq and Afghan marks in my passport.
FEW ADVICES: Discuss the politics only with people that are opened to critics (there are not many); avoid protests (definitely do not photograph them); do not panic during checks, smile and do everything what they tell you to do and do not complain - it will take longer; do not try to ask someone for a lift in West Bank when its dark; if you want to photograph people, ask for their permission; do not take warnings about travelling through Palestine seriously, you will feel comfortable and safe there (the situation is different in Gaza, but they will not let you in anyway); do not photograph military objects (it is more tolerated here than in Syria, Iran or anywhere else - you will not get into a prison immediately); if you are camping, be very careful about where you are placing your tent - mine fields are everywhere (mainly in Golan Heights), search for checked camping zones, do not leave your shoes before the tent or hang it anywhere (scorpions!); try to stop a car by slight waving or finger pointed to the road.; when you are tracking, take a cap that covers your head and neck and enough amount of water (4-5 liters for one day in desert); if you have a stamps from Muslim countries in your passport, get another one - you will save a lot of time.
Date of trip: november 2014
Author: Peter Gregor, Photos: Peter Minarik