a different side of Israel

Tag: Travel

Party on Tel Aviv

This week Lonely Planet, a travel guide company released their Top 10 Cities for 2011 and placed Tel Aviv at number three, calling it a “modern sin city.”

New York City came in first and Tangier second.
The report was as follows:

Tel Aviv

“Tel Aviv is the total flipside of Jerusalem, a modern Sin City on the sea rather than an ancient Holy City on a hill. Hedonism is the one religion that unites its inhabitants. There are more bars than synagogues, God is a DJ and everyone’s body is a temple. Yet, scratch underneath the surface and Tel Aviv, or TLV, reveals itself as a truly diverse 21st-century Mediterranean hub. By far the most international city in Israel, Tel Aviv is also home to a large gay community, a kind of San Francisco in the Middle East. Thanks to its university and museums, it is also the greenhouse for Israel’s growing art, film and music scenes.”

In other news, the student union at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan is hosting a party on November 4th, at Tel Aviv’s Haoman club, featuring a live performance by national hip-hop superstars, Hadag Nachash.

The party happens to coincide with the 15-year anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

According to a report in Ynet, one Bar-Ilan student said:

“The official memorial day for the prime minister’s assassination is marked according to the Hebrew calendar but the student union should have been more sensitive, especially since the assassin, Yigal Amir, was a student at Bar-Ilan. It’s very embarrassing that of all unions the Bar-Ilan Student Union would hold the party on this date.”

The university’s student union responded:

“We are aware of the public significance of the memorial day for the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and on the official, Hebrew memorial day, special panels were held as well as a ceremony at the university… We sent representatives to the memorial rally last Saturday night. We respect the Rabin assassination anniversary. Any attempt to sully the Bar-Ilan University including all its students and present the student union in a negative light is cynical and even ridiculous.”

You Don’t Gotta Live In Fear But You Ought’a Read This

On Wednesday, Egyptian security forces uncovered a large cache of missiles and mortar shells in northern Sinai which were bound for Gaza.

The cache was seized near the city of Nahal, on the smuggling route to Gaza. It contained 100 antiaircraft missiles, 40 explosive devices, and 45 rocket-propelled grenades.
Antiaircraft missiles
The officer who was in charge of security in northern Sinai, obtained a tip that the smugglers were storing a large amount of explosives and ammunition leftover from past wars in the region east of Nahal.

Upon receiving the tip, Egypt’s security forces entered the area and located the weapons cache, however no suspects were apprehended. The area was completely combed and the explosives were detonated in a controlled way in central Sinai.

Egypt’s security forces on Wednesday also uncovered three tunnels which connected the Egyptian city of Rafah and the Gaza Strip. In addition, the Egyptian police had confiscated 41 vehicles in Sinai used for smuggling operations into the Gaza Strip. The police found one of the vehicles, with no license plate, during a routine patrol north of the Rafah crossing. The additional 40 vehicles were discovered after the police searched the area.

In related news, the Counter-Terrorism Bureau published a list of travel warnings for the Passover holiday on Sunday; as usual, for this time of year, the Sinai peninsula was high on the list.

“Hezbollah is blaming Israel again and again for the death of Imad Mugniyah and Iran is blaming Israel for the death of the nuclear scientist in Tehran. These accusations increase the threat of terror against Israelis abroad.”

reported the bureau.

Among the areas which the bureau advises against visiting, besides for Sinai, are Chechnya in Russia, Mindanao Island in the Philippines and Cashmere in India. A high level of threat was also reportedly posed in southern Thailand, northern Nigeria and eastern Senegal.

Israelis working with the government in Colombia are advised to conceal their identity, prefer air travel, and to drive only on main roads. Travel warnings are in effect for Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen and the bureau also warns against visiting Djibouti, Algiers, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Togo, Malaysia, the Ivory Coast and Mali. They advise against visiting Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain, Tunisia, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, and Chad. Libya, Oman, Kenya, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Tajikistan are also on the list.

Strolling along the Tel Aviv Boardwalk

For those who are not aware, Tel Aviv now has a smaller version of Atlantic City’s famous Boardwalk. Located at what is still known as the Tel Aviv Port, this actual boardwalk contains a number of attractions, including popular restaurants and pubs, boutiques, and more recently a mobile unit for the Channel 24 music TV station.

The place has been exceptionally busy during the current Passover holiday, with people of all ages enjoying the Spring weather to come out to enjoy themselves, have a meal, or just hang out in front of the station booth and watch the people inside performing, as well as enjoying the live music. Those who have small kids can let them play in the large sand box on the sea side of the station, and even get an added treat by getting to see themselves on TV. A number of musical and other entertainment acts have also been performing on an outside stage, also courtesy of Channel 24.

Those who want to experience a rickshaw ride can do so with those red shirted guys whose shirts are stenciled with the words “Ask Me” boldly printed in English. Kids with bikes and skate boards also can have a blast in a section that seems specially designed for them to do various exercises on – as long as the place isn’t too crowded.

Even fishermen seem to like the place and you’ll find several of them throwing their lines out from either the boardwalk railing or from the old port jetty that is still in place from the times the place was an actual port. It might be interesting to add that what used to be old decaying warehouses for the port have now been turned into all kinds of businesses including shops, restaurants and even offices.

Parking is usually not a problem (depending on when you decide to show up) and plenty of free parking is available in the large Reading parking lot, only about a ten minute walk away. The Yarkon River, which runs by the eastern part of the port, has been made into a river walk, and worth a leisurely stroll.

The Port is in fact becoming so popular that for many things, it is even more of an “in place” than the promenade along the Tel Aviv beachfront. The rejuvenation of what was once a very seedy area, and frequented by not so pleasant people, has now become a Mecca for leisure time activities and even has a football pitch and large grassy area for various gatherings.

So, whatever strikes your fancy, there’s plenty to do at the Tel Aviv Port.

Northern Exposure

We’re finally having some serious rain here in Israel. It won’t last long, but it’s nice to have a bit of real winter before the dawn of April.

If you like skiing, then this is the perfect time of year to go north to Mt. Hermon.

While winter travels are usually being done in the southern Negev desert, it’s about time to rediscover the beautiful north.

Tiberius The Neglected Jewel

The city of Tiberius, also known by its Hebrew name of T’veria, is a city that used to be one of Israel’s most important tourist resort cites. I say used to be because the city has recently seen a significant decline in tourist business, once one of the mainstays of the city’s economy. After spending the weekend in this city of 42,000, perched on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, I began to wonder why this city cannot draw more visitors, both local and foreign, as another tourist city, Eilat seems to do. The city which used to be the number one local destination for honeymooners, and for family vacations, seems to have a difficult time keeping its major hotels and tourist attractions going.

Tiberius is one of Israel’s oldest cities, with a continuous habitation or more than 2,000 years. Founded by King Herod the Great in the century before the Common Era, Tiberius became popular with the Romans because of its mild climate and hot springs. For Jews, Tiberius is Israel’s fourth holist city, after Jerusalem, Hebron, and Safed. The city was inhabited by Jews long after Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans in the 1st Century C.E. During the time of various Muslim occupiers, including both the Mamlukes and Ottoman Turks, the city became home for both Muslim and Jewish holy men, with one of the most famous Jewish educational teachers, Moses Maimonides, other wise known as “the Rambam”. For devout Christians the city has significance for them as well; as Jesus spent time in the area of the Sea of Galilee and recruited some of his Disciples from the local fishermen who “threw away their nets to become fishers of men”.

Modern Tiberius is not the tourist city it once was for certain. Though it does have frequent visitations by tour groups, especially Christians, Tiberius is no longer the vacation destination of choice by Israelis, especially honeymooners. Relaxation of government restrictions against foreign travel has resulted in many Israelis preferring to travel abroad instead of to local destinations like this one. Due to this reality, many Tiberius vacation results have either shut their doors or have drastically cut back their services.

In other words, places like Anatalya Turkey have surpassed Tiberius in getting the hard earned bucks of Israeli tourists. Although the Israel Ministry of Tourism is working with the Tiberius city council to improve the city’s tourism image, a lot more needs to be done to entice both Israelis and foreign visitors back to the city by the lake. And this might also include a major “face lift” of the City’s commercial and tourist districts.

Walking along the city lake front, I noticed that a number of traditional fish restaurants are no longer there. Many beach resorts which offered both budget vacations and family activities are also gone or mere shadows of their former selves. The city still has at least 4 five star hotels, but these are struggling to remain open, and only have sufficient guests on the weekends. Perhaps improved entertainment possibilities by both the Tiberius city fathers and the tourism ministry is needed to attract visitors back to this city, such as a theme park, more modern discotheques, and other activities. To avoid a substantial relocation by many commercial tourism concerns, the Tiberius city fathers have better start working on a plan of action right now, before the situation deteriorates even further.

Jerusalem Like it Was

Kotel Jerusalem 2007It is said in Jewish tradition that there are three important times to visit the city of Jerusalem during the course of a year. These times are during the High Holidays, especially during Sukkoth; during the Passover Holiday, and during Shavuot. At the end of the Sukkoth festival, my wife and I, along with another couple, made a pilgrimage to the Holy City which included visiting a number of sites in and around the Old City. What made this event additionally interesting it that it occurred during the Christian Feast of the Tabernacles, as well as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Though I have been to Jerusalem on several occasions during the past few years, there were some places, especially in East Jerusalem, that I had not personally visited since before the occurrence of what became known as the First Intifada, in September, 1987. Despite the current political and security situation, we felt as if we had gone back in time and were visiting the city as it was during an earlier time when such visits were more possible.

We began our tour with some Christian holy sites on the Mount of Olives, including the Chapel of St. Peter, and the Basilica of the Agony, otherwise known as the Church of All Nations. Both of these sites, located on the Mt. of Olives have rich religious and historical meaning to the Christian World, including the Garden of Gethsemane; where Jesus and his disciples slept and where he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. Some of the olive trees in both this garden and on the grounds of the basilica are more than two thousand years old. I was impressed by the size and appearance of the olives, which didn’t appear to have any blemishes; not like the olive trees growing where we live in Netanya. The basilica itself was very impressive and we happened to encounter a group of visiting pilgrims from Mexico who were engaged in a special prayer ceremony including baroque guitar music by one of the pilgrims. We toured also parts of the Jewish cemetery on the Mount, some of which is still in disrepair following the period from 1948 to 1967 when this part of Jerusalem was occupied by the Jordanian Army. One small triangular shaped section was so neglected that most of the graves were unreadable; and only a few had been partially restored by either the Hevra Kadisha burial society or by descendants of the deceased who were buried there. We also visited the lookout point in front of was once the Intercontinental Hotel, giving one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the Old City; a place I had not personally been to since 1987.

Going into the Old City, we visited the Kotel, or Western Wall, Judaism’s most holy site. Being there on the last day of Sukkoth, or Simchat Torah, I was able to participate in one the many “Hakafot” or dancing with the Torah scrolls in front of Kotel, which made our visit even more meaningful. We were impressed by the number of foreign groups present at both the Kotel and in the oriental “Shuk ” market in the Old City. We noted groups from Russia, Germany, Italy, France, and other countries as well.

Finding businesses in the Jewish Quarter closed for the holiday, we ate a modest lunch in an Armenian restaurant near the Jaffa Gate; and afterwards visited King David’s Tomb and an interesting place known as The President’s Room, located on the roof of the synagogue where the tomb is located on Mt. Zion. The President’s room was used by Israeli President Zalman Shazar who used to go there to view parts of the Old City, including the Temple Mount, when it was still under the control of the Jordanians prior to the June 6, 1967 Six Day War.

The last place we visited was Mary’s Church and the grotto where Mary, the mother of Jesus, is said to be “sleeping”. Christian legend says that she will ‘awaken’ when her son returns to rule over mankind again. There is also a less known spot nearby where the Israeli Haganah forces tried to blow an opening in the Old City wall during the siege of Jerusalem in 1948. Despite using more then 200 kilograms of explosives, all they managed to do was to make a small dent in more than six foot thick city wall.

We were all impressed by the seeming peaceful atmosphere of the entire area, including the Shuk, which was crowded with tourists and pilgrims and virtually every shop was open; a far cry from previous years, especially after the Second Intifada uprising in September, 2000. With so many religious holidays and festivals occurring concurrently, including Ramadan, it was lovely to see the Old City in such a splendor.

The question we all had upon leaving is how long this seeming tranquility will last, taking future events, including the proposed international summit in America into consideration, not to mention demands by the Palestinians and others unfriendly to Israel. For those who live in Jerusalem, especially in and near the Old City, most residents would like to see what we saw on Thursday to be like this every day. And why not – isn’t it better to have peaceful coexistence rather than armed conflict?

Discover Israel, Please

Israel Tourism
Not so long ago, people around the world believed Israelis ride camels to work. Nowadays, in the globalization era we seem to be living in, you have TV and satellite broadcasts from all over the world, or even Google Earth to tell you exactly how every desolate place on the face of the earth looks like.

The only problem is that for so many people Israel is still in the context of CNN’s “Breaking News: Middle East burning” (so soothing to see absolutely nothing about Israel on their front page these days!). And though Israel is in a sense “where the grass is green and the girls are pretty” and has progressed tremendously and gained very good reputation in the technological and medical fields, the immediate association with Israel is not tranquility and tourism – it is rather hostility and terrorism…

This week the Minister of Tourism Yitzhak Hertzog is calling for an urgent meeting regarding the crisis in the local tourism market, with an alarming 40% decrease of incoming tourists in 2006, mainly due to the recent war. The plan is to run an intense 3-year campaign (at the cost of NIS 50 million per year), targeting mainly North America and Western Europe.

A lot of money-related issues are involved here, of course: whether the campaign really needs that much money, whether the state of Israel shouldn’t try to first heal itself and only then invite tourists in, and whether the real problem is actually the high costs of flights and accommodation…

But tell me something, is New York, for example, less expensive or less dangerous? It’s all about reputation. And thinking of the globalization era again, I sometimes just wish that some day people in other countries will go to a store and the seller will be convincing them by saying: “take this product, trust me, it was made in Israel!”

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