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Phespirit goes to Israel/Palestine
tour     September 2012

"All that passports do is inconvenience law-abiding citizens and enable crooks to get away."
  Detective Fix, Around the World in Eighty Days (Jules Verne)

When Phespirit visited Syria in 2004 he witnessed a fellow Briton being detained at Damascus airport passport control, and then taken away for repatriation on the first available flight. The reason: a passport stamp that showed he had previously visited Israel. Several other Arab countries operate the same policy. Israel itself does not reciprocate this hardline stance of non-admittance but it certainly gives a torrid time to anyone whose passport bears the stamp of its enemies. Phespirit's passport was full of them and duly, from London to Tel Aviv, he endured two hours of delays and indignities at the Irsaeli border.

Once clear of the airport and safely ensconced in his Tel Aviv hotel room, Phespirit could relax and look forward to a week's tour through Israeli and Palestinian territories, free from harrassment by the police or military or darker agents of security. From Tel Aviv he would visit Jaffa, Caesarea, Haifa and Akko. Overnight in Akko, then Nazareth, the churches of Tabgha, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee and Tiberius. Bed and breakfast in a kibbutz, then Beit She'an, Jericho and the Dead Sea. Another kibbutz, then Masada, Ein Gedi, Qumran and finally Jerusalem for a couple of days, including a side trip to Bethlehem.

Phespirit's top three places to visit in the Holy Land were:

  1. The Dead Sea.

    Phespirit has previously floated in the Dead Sea whilst visiting Jordan in 2002. There he somewhat spoilt it for himself by allowing the water to get into his eyes. Burning agony! Having learned from that experience, this time he floated in pure bliss.

  2. Masada.

    The setting, the stark natural beauty, the legend, the history, the extensive archaeology all make this an extraordinary place to visit. Phespirit hiked to the top in temperatures around 40°C.

  3. Beit She'an.

    This large Roman settlement is the best preserved and most impressive of all the archaeological sites Phespirit visited in Israel and Palestine. There's nothing here for religious pilgrims but plenty for secular sightseers.

An absence of religious sites in Phespirit's top three is not altogether attributable to his godlessness. The Dome of the Rock is stunning but denied to non-Muslims. The Western (wailing) Wall is iconic but blighted by softly-spoken beggars (plain-clothed or ultra orthodox). The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is atmospheric but Phespirit got into a scuffle with a monk and was thrown out of the rotunda for attempting to sneak a photograph. With the exception of the Church of the Nativity - which was hideously crowded but Phespirit liked it - the rest of the Christian churches are relatively modern constructions that bury the sites they celebrate and are, frankly, rubbish.

There's so much of global significance in this land, it has to be seen and experienced first-hand. Collectively the Israeli Jews have a homeland and lead lives of purpose based on dreams, illusion and ideology. Collectively the Palestinian Arabs cling to their own dreams of recognised restored nationhood and lead lives tainted with bitterness and denial. At the individual level, Jews and Arabs alike simply get on with their lives: they care for their families, work hard to put food on the table, laugh with their friends, and make the best their circumstances. Tet to the outsider it is a place of strking imagery and wretched indifference. There are walls around the land and walls around hearts and minds.

As Phespirit departed he was once more put through several rounds of tedious security checks, mostly for show rather than serving any meaningful purpose. And then he left, probably never to return.

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