From the tedious interrogation at the Johannesburg airport till the rigorous check during departure from Ben Gurion Tel Aviv international airport, it was very apparent that the Arab skin colour is not the best possible one to have in order to guarantee a hassle free trip. On the one hand, it ensured my safety in the region (for which I'm thoroughly glad for), but its also sad that 'random' checks are necessary in order to keep the civil life in motion.
The first couple of days were spent between the client and the hotel. We were based in Tel Aviv throughout our stay. The first night was spent exploring the old port of Jaffa near Tel Aviv. The food there is amazing. Very healthy, yet tasty - a rare combination! I fell head-over-heels over the hummus and tahini - great combos with the amazing breads and pitas. They also love their cheese. Meat in Tel Aviv is a no no.
From outside old Jerusalem. The Messiah of the Jews will walk through the sealed gates during the coming.
By the way, Jewish traditions are followed very strictly in Tel Aviv. Amusing, yet interesting traditions they follow include: the black coat, top hats and sideburns worn by Jewish men even in the hot & humid weather, the following of the Sabbath - no work which also includes not pressing the floor buttons on the lifts.
We were treated to sushi and hamburger lunches by the client. Very kind of them. Perhaps its just my lack of experience, but I noticed that even if it takes a while to become close to an Isreali, once you've got their attention, they will truly honour your presence with their friendly atmosphere and the down-to-earth attitude. I was really taken aback at how quickly they warmed up to us.
The highlight of the trip has to be the day tour of the holy city of Jerusalem - the melting pot of the 3 major religions in the world - Islam, Judaism & Christianity. Its quite interesting to follow the history of the city (kingdom of heaven) where the faiths positioned their traditions upon. Its also quite heart-breaking that the people in the region have almost been pawns in the power plays of the great conquests and crusades in our history. One faith overpowering another based on teachings passed down through religious leaders. You'll probably figure out by now where I stand regarding this issue...
Ok, so Jerusalem's Christian, Jewish & Muslim symbols of faith stand powerfully throughout the divided regions in the area. The people in the city don't seem to care about the fuss around them; it was pleasing listening to our Jewish guide and the Arab traders engaged in chit-chat about the day. For me, the people and the lifes they follow made my trip worthwhile.
Sooo, what did we get upto in Jerusalem? Here goes...
- We stopped at a point outside the city infront of a large number of graves (Jews believe dying in the holy land is the closest possible route to God). It also faced the old stone walls surrounding Old Jerusalem and views to the Western Wall.
- The Garden of Gethsemane with a Church next to the olive tree filled garden. The sealed gate from which the Messiah according to Jewish faith will come through is just a few yards away.
- The Arab side of Jerusalem. The most vibrant part of Jerusalem. Great buys, excellent food, lots of beautiful people :) Did I mention how pretty Israeli women are? Tanned skin, beautiful black hair, engrossing eyes, aah..
- The Western wall. Huge wall housing the ark of the covenant, and the holiest structure in Jewish faith.
- The many temples, churches and mosques in this little area. The church of Golgotha was very uplifting. It housed the rock of Golgotha and the stone on which Jesus was placed after his crucifixion.
- The following of the steps of Jesus to the crucifixion.
- Last but definitely not least, the Holocaust museum. An engrossing look into our dirty past, and the impact that people have on their fellow human beings. Its a beautifully designed and informative museum - probably the best one I've been to. Starts off showing the lifes of Jews before the times of the Holocaust, goes through timeline through the the persecution, and eventually opens into a beautiful view of the city from a high vantage point. Almost like the creators were telling us to look at the world around us before shaping our future. Very enchanting, depressing yet uplifting. The picture of the Jewish mother shielding her daughter from the German soldier's shotgun just inches away still remains with me.