Israel and Palestine are ancient lands that have been intertwined for centuries. Israel has one of the most modern and cosmopolitan cities in the world – Tel Aviv- yet surrounding it are some of the most historical sites of the Christian, Islamic and Jewish religions. Then there is Palestine a place that feels as ancient as the olive trees growing amongst it’s walled-off lands.
A trip to Israel and Palestine is a trip to the old and the new. I spent my time in the old part on this particular journey.
SLEEP: Banksy’s-The Walled Off Hotel sits at the foot of the “Separation Wall” built by Israel Government to ensure safety between the two states. The Hotel boasts the worlds worst view, but is in fact one of the most unique views I have ever experienced.
The hotel has an incredibly friendly and helpful staff, who will go out of their way to extend traditional Arabic hospitality. The breakfast is free and to-die-for. My morning order during my 3 breakfast stay was always the same: Coffee, Egg of the day, humus and falafel with flatbread.
Private rooms start at: $215, but there is also a budget option; a hostile-style barracks room that is co-ed with a shared separate shower and toilet that consists of 3 bunk beds. Everyone received their own locker with lock and key, which has a hotel safe inside.The hotel is full of original Banksy’s including a Piano Bar featuring a self-playing piano curated by some of the most famous rock stars in the world. It also houses a full-sized gallery located upstairs from the main lobby, a museum dedicated to the history of the Separation Wall, and a bookstore/gift shop.
The hotel also offers airport transfers to and from the hotel at the time of booking. There is also a walking tour operated by locals- this tour focuses on The Separation Wall and Aida Refugee Camp. It runs twice daily at 10am & 3pm and is $30 per person.
They also recommend taking a Green Olive Tour of ‘Greater Jerusalem’ where guides educate you on the political and religious landscape. This can be booked in advance or through the front desk if there is still availability.
Places to Eat: For an unforgettable meal complimented by the most spectacular view try Hosh Jasmin. An organic farm and a restaurant set on a hillside in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, which serves traditional Palestinian food. Make sure to sit at an outside elevated table to watch the sunset over the Olive Tree Grove.
The portions are huge, the food divine and the hosts make you feel part of the family. Due order the humus and the chicken.
The place is simply amazing as it serves as a restaurant/slash community center open for film screenings, art shows and bands. Talk to the front desk person at The Walled Off Hotel to arrange round trip taxi service to Hosh Jasmin.
The Walled of Hotel-The food at The Walled Off Hotel is amazing and inexpensive. Try the pizza coupled with the locally brewed Bethlehem-Three Wiseman Beer.
Things To Do: The Old City of Jerusalem is one of the most religious places on earth for the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian religions, this walled one-kilometer area is home to the Western Wall (aka Wailing Wall). This is the last remaining wall of what was the Jewish Temple and is today the holiest site in the world for Jews.
Above the Western Wall lies the Dome of the Rock important for Muslims as the site where the prophet Muhammad is said to have risen to heaven.
And, just a few minutes walk away, lies the Church of the Sepulcher, where some believe Jesus was crucified and buried.
Church of the Nativity: Bethlehem lies 10 kilometres south of the city of Jerusalem. Since the 2nd century AD people have believed that the place where the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, now stands is where Jesus was born. The first Church was built over one cave, traditionally believed to be the Birthplace itself. The Nativity both marks the beginnings of Christianity and is one of the holiest spots in Christendom. The original basilica church of 339 AD (built by St. Helena), parts of which survive below ground, was arranged so that its octagonal eastern end surrounded, and provided a view of, the cave. This church is overlaid by the present Church of the Nativity of the mid-6th century AD (Justinian) with later alterations.
Getting There: It is pretty affordable to get to Tel Aviv once you are in Europe. For flights within Europe check Aegean Airlines-SkyTraxx’s Best Regional Airlines 2017. I booked a last minute flight for $192 one way from Athens. Flights can be as low as $55 oneway for this route if booked in advance.
If flying from the United States cheaper roundtrip flights can be found from Boston, Chicago and New York City (JFK). A 9 day round trip in February from JFK-Tel Aviv is currently available for $795 USD.
The End of a Journey: One cannot visit these ancient lands without feeling a sense of smallness. The earliest human remains outside of Africa were discovered in Palestine were found just 3 km out of the Sea of Galilee. The remains were dated to the Pleistocene c. 1.5million years ago (Wikipedia-History of Palestine). Standing on that soil in the heat of September looking out from a hillside you can see the past. I have been to many countries and have seen a great deal of historical sites, but this ancient land and Old City gave me new perspective on life.