We started our time with an outstanding hike in the Negev desert in Ein Avdat National Park- a real desert hike it had fantastic views in a lunar-like landscape. Then it was on to the Dead Sea for a swim, where Meg initially had a little bit of trouble floating....
Trying to understand all sides of the historical Israeli-Palesinian debate is a challenge so aside from some reading (Strangers in the House for a Palestinian point of view, A Peace to End All Peace for a historical perspective, etc.) we also wanted to see the situation on the ground so we spent the night in Bethlehem and took a day trip to Ramallah. Having just spent the past few weeks in the Middle East, Ramallah felt like any other Arab city (minus the checkpoints, wall, and barbed wire fences of course). However, in contrast to nearby Jerusalem, it felt very different. The visits and other experiences, including standing above Bethlehem with our Israeli guide discussing the building of the wall (and its purpose/role) really highlighted the complexities of the conflict (and the fact that there really is no easy solution.)
Lunch in Ramallah
In Jerusalem, we toured the big historical sights. Even though it wasn’t necessarily our initial motivation, it was very interesting seeing the stories from the bible come to life. From touring the old City of David, to visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, seeing the Western Wall, and walking on Temple Mount around the Dome of the Rock, it was very educational. Above all, it highlighted both the commonalities and distinctions of different religions. While we often like to go places where there aren’t other tourists, it is amazing to see so many different people (religion, nationality, etc) side-by-side in such a small city being affected by varying degrees to the various sites.After the intensity of Jerusalem, it was a pleasure to move on to relative tranquility of Tel Aviv. Walking the boardwalk, sitting on the beach, visiting the old city of Jaffa- Tel Aviv was just a very pleasant place to relax and (if they could get some better public transport) probably a very good place to live. Much of this was probably due to being hosted by a truly wonderful family, who went out of their way to show us their Tel Aviv and welcomed as into their own home. Thanks Eial and Yael Diskin!