When I had to select the destination for my 34th birthday, Israel came into my mind – mainly because I wanted to see Yad Vashem. When I started to talk about this idea I was bothered with a lot of security issues. Friends and family didn’t like the idea of me being at an unsafe area influenced by the conflict between Israel and Palestine. When travelling throughout Brazil I read Breaking news by Frank Schätzing (which in some part tells the history of Israel and the storyline is also situated at Jerusalem) and the decision to go to the Holy Land finally was made.
The unknown land
If you try to plan your route throughout Palestine, you’re kind of left alone. Popular map software shows streets but no street names and only some limited points of interest. Open Street Map helps you out; but the ignorance is a political signal. Some areas and routes are defined as no-go places. By good reason?
Meet the IDF
When you drive along the Dead Sea, shortly before Ein Gedi, the street leads you back from Palestine to Israel – and you have to face another IDF checkpoint. As I remembered those checkpoints from eastern Europe I prepared my passport and visa and waited for a tough questioning or thoroughly inspection.
Dead Sea Scrolls
If you leave Jerusalem to the east on motorway 1 you first pass an IDF checkpoint and see the wall separating both zones. If you don’t turn north to Jericho but continue towards the Dead Sea in the south you will first pass Qumran, well known for its findings in 1947. The Dead Sea Scrolls excavated during years of archaeological work are the second oldest scriptures and proved helpful in exegesis.
Church of the Nativity
According to the Bible Jesus was born in Bethlehem, now belonging to the Palestinian autonomy area in the Westbank. The place now marked as the birthplace has already been used from the 2nd century CE on. You can enter the Church of Nativity through a 1.20m high door – making every visitor bow down.
If you want to go to Bethlehem from Jerusalem, you can simply watch out for a Palestinian taxi at the Damascus gate. Or if you are travelling by rental car you can enter the most important border crossing into your GPS: checkpoint 300. At this point you can park your car and get via taxi to the town – but be sure to negotiate the price before the ride.
Official currency of Israel is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS), divided into 100 agorod. The sign used to display shekel values is ₪. Banknotes of 20, 50, 100 and 200 shekels are circulating; you get coins of 10, 5, 2, 1 and 1/2 shekel value. You could exchange money in your home country, but it is most often recommended to bring EUR or USD – you can easily exchange these currencies against NIS at post offices (even as there might be some waiting lines).