isnt the obvious choice for a carefree family holiday in the sun.
With Israeli-Palestinian relations at an all time low, those seeking
to get away from it all may be well advised to try elsewhere.
There is rising conflict in the Palestinian Territories. Israel itself
has recently been hit by suicide bombers and other acts of terrorism.
Such violence seems unlikely to ease in the near future under Israels
new hard-line Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. So is it worth considering
a visit to the Promised Land? How great are the risks faced by tourists
and is there anything really worth seeing anyway?
expect Israel to be dominated entirely by religion. It is after all
at the centre of Jewish, Christian and Muslim beliefs. While this side
to Israel is always evident, it is by no means all that you will encounter.
Its business capital Tel-Aviv, could be any vibrant Mediterranean city.
Its a million miles away from the ancient stone buildings and
holy sites of Jerusalem. Even Jerusalem is much more than just a living
museum, the New City has enough bars and nightlife, shops and tower
blocks to rival any modern city.
is a lively cosmopolitan society of diverse cultures - more of a volatile
mixture than a melting pot. The ability to experience so many cultures
in such a small place makes Israel a moving, sometimes bizarre but intriguing
place to visit. Even the Jewish people who make up 80% of the population
are anything but homogeneous. You will encounter Hasidic Jews in their
characteristic black clothes and hats, who are devoted entirely to their
religion. Then there are those who embody the consumerist, progressive
Israel, a country whose tiny companies are able to compete with the
best from Europe and America these Israelis often only partake
in the occasional religious ceremony.
you are a believer or not, the holy sites in Israel will amaze. Jerusalem
in particular is full of them: the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall,
the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Via Dolorosa to name a few. Most
are very impressive; ancient monuments set in breathtaking surroundings.
You will witness many devoted pilgrims and worshippers for whom these
places mean so much, which makes it hard to remain unmoved, regardless
of your religious point of view.
has lovely clean beaches, a big shopping centre, vodka cafes and an
oriental Yemenite Quarter. The Red Sea resort of Eilat is renown for
excellent diving and windsurfing. The old holiday cliché of floating
in the thick, oily waters of the Dead Sea is an un-missable experience.
Near the Dead Sea is the lush, beautiful oasis of Ein Gedi with its
freshwater springs, waterfalls and tropical flora. Overlooking the Dead
Sea is Masada - the fortress where the last stand of Jewish Rebellion
against the Romans took place. In 66 AD after a long siege, when defeat
became inevitable, all the 967Jews of Masada took their own lives, rather
than face slavery. But if archaeology and history arent your thing,
the views from this high mountaintop, accessible by cable car, are alone
worth the journey.
just a tiny fraction of what Israel has to offer, but now we have to
consider the risks, Israel is after all a very troubled country. When
Ariel Sharon, now Israels right-wing Prime Minister, visited the
Temple Mount, a Muslim holy site, he sparked off a spiral of violence
that would lead to more than 400 (mostly Palestinian) deaths. Peace
talks between Israel and Palestine had been failing for some time. Not
since Israel finally handed over the last part of West Bank territory
a year ago, as agreed in the Wye accord, has progress been made in Middle
East peace talks. The election of hard-liner Sharon has aggravated the
situation. Anger over high Palestinian casualties has provoked the militant
Palestinian group Hamas, which has vowed to greet the new government
with a wave of suicide bombings. This was no empty threat. This month
has already seen a lone suicide bomber kill four and wound dozens in
hoped Sharon was the man to make their country a safer place, but it
is unlikely that his tactics will achieve this. Sharon has tightened
his stranglehold on the West Bank and Gaza, which has devastated the
Palestinian economy. Israeli army roadblocks have stirred up border
violence, but casualties from the conflict are prevented from reaching
hospital. A Palestinian teenager was apparently shot in the head during
clashes with the army in the West Bank. Later in the same day a stun
grenade fired by Israeli troops was thrown into an elementary school
in Hebron. Several children were treated for burns.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office are currently warning travellers to
avoid Gaza and the West Bank altogether. They anticipate that the potential
for further violence is high. They also recommend that resident British
nationals and dual British/Palestinian nationals should leave these
areas if they have no pressing reason to stay. These places have periodically
been no-go areas for tourists throughout Israeli history. From the visitors
point of view this doesnt need to pose much of a problem, as Bethlehem
and Jericho are the only main tourist spots ruled out by such restrictions.
random terrorist attacks that strike in Israeli towns and cities that
pose a more direct risk to tourists. In the current climate the Foreign
Office warns that sporadic outbreaks of violence are possible. While
foreign nationals have never been the targets of these incidents, the
risk of getting caught up in violent conflict remains. Jerusalem is
a key danger area as control of the city it is at the centre of the
dispute between the opposing factions.
this hasnt put you off and you still want to go, then getting
there is simple. You will be allowed up to a three-month stay provided,
if asked, you can prove you have the funds to cover your visit. The
main problem for travellers will be the obligatory security stamp on
your passport when you enter the country. This stamp makes your passport
useless in many Arab countries. There are ways around this, either try
to persuade the official to stamp your entry permit instead of your
passport. Or enter Israel on El Al or Air Sinai flights from Egypt.
in Israeli airports is understandably stringent. You will be interrogated
before they allow you or your baggage anywhere near a plane. They will
ask questions about your visit and about your travelling companions.
They will cross-reference your answers with those of your companions
who will be being questioned elsewhere. Although a little stressful,
they do this for your own protection. When I left Israel my routine
interrogation was interrupted:
Is this your bag? the young army recruit asked, pointing
at a shiny new holdall on the counter.
No, I replied.
Is this yours sir? She asked the man standing behind me
in the queue. He also said no.
Okay, lets go, come with me, she said calmly. In seconds
the entire departure lounge was emptied of hundreds of people. No fuss,
no panic, a very smooth operation. Dont worry, she
said, once we were standing outside Ben Gurion Airport, this happens
all the time.
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office: http://www.fco.gov.uk/
Provides up-to-date travel advice for Israel and any other destination.