A Kaleidoscope of Perspectives
Israel is a land of contrasts—a place where numerous cultural identities live side by side. Within the ancient citadels of this historic region are housed the holy relics and cherished histories of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. The geography and climate are as diverse as the people—from the warm, sub-tropical weather of Tel Aviv to the arid plains of Masada National Park. As we tread in the dusty path of the ancients along the legendary Gospel trail toward the sparkling shores of the Sea of Galilee, this Country Walkers tour reveals the many sides of the Holy Land.
A Tale of Two Seaside Towns
The seaside towns of Caesarea and Jisr az-Zarqa are geographically close but culturally far apart. With a storied history dating to ancient times, Caesarea has been an important port city on Israel’s sun-drenched Mediterranean coast since the days of King Herod. Azure waters lap against battered limestone walls bearing testimony to monarchs, emperors, and religious figures—including Queen Cleopatra, Emperor Constantine, Rabbi Akiva, and even Pontius Pilate. As you explore Caesarea’s sandy coastline, you’ll stumble upon Roman ruins, aqueducts, and an ancient amphitheater. Modern-day Caesarea is also home to many luxury resorts and attractions—including Israel’s only golf course.
On the sandy shoreline just north of Caesarea lies the sleepy town of Jisr az-Zarqa. In contrast to the ancient relics and resplendent tourist attractions of Caesarea, Jisr az Zarqa is an Israeli Arab residential community with less grandeur and more of a home-spun feel. “Many people don’t know that there’s a difference between Israeli Arabs and Palestinians,” says Sandra Aisen, Tel Aviv resident and local tour operator. “There are many Arabic-speaking communities in Israel—including Bedouin, Druze and others.” Although this sweet coastal town is a bit of a hidden gem, recent efforts by Israeli entrepreneur Ahamad Juha and his partners have put it on the map—and with good reason. During our visit to Jisr az Zarqa, we’ll meet Ahamad as he and his wife welcome us into their home for lunch. On their gracious outdoor patio, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the rhythm of authentic Israeli life over a delicious home-cooked meal of traditional Bedouin dishes. You’ll experience hummus and falafel like you’ve never had it before—along with fresh bread, baked in an outdoor oven as you observe. While strolling through the neighborhood to this family’s home, your local guide will show you points of interest and help you get acquainted with the flow of life in this adorable seaside town.
A Date with the Date Farmers
Israel is home to many working cooperatives—including the famous kibbutz communities. Moshav are like kibbutz but offer a greater degree of economic autonomy for its members. Along the arid slopes of the Jordan River Valley, you’ll stop to take some refreshment at a moshav dedicated to the cultivation of date palms. The members of this working farm live and work here—harvesting and processing dates for sale locally and around the world. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to observe date palms in many stages of development—from young, immature saplings to mature trees with orange clusters of ripe dates swaying gently beneath a canopy of lush green fronds. Your friendly and gregarious host will take you on a tour of this agrarian community—strolling along stately avenues lined with towering palm trees. Afterwards, your host will regale you with tales of the Jordan River Valley over a relaxing picnic lunch beneath the shade of the moshav’s cool palm frond pavilion. During lunch, you’ll partake of many regional specialties and, of course, dates! Dates can be eaten both dried and fresh—and you’ll have the opportunity to sample both.
Both Sides Now: Beyond Borders to Bethlehem
No trip to Israel would be complete without a visit to the historic town of Bethlehem—home to the 6th century Church of the Nativity. While Israeli citizens are not permitted to cross the Palestinian border without special permission, Americans are welcome and encouraged to visit. Your Israeli shuttle will transport you to the border where you’ll switch over to a Palestinian shuttle and meet your Palestinian guide. While you explore the ancient churches and relics of Bethlehem, you’ll discover the Palestinian perspective on daily life in the region. Relationships in this town are very close-knit—and you’ll find that your friendly and eloquent guide knows just about everyone! As you explore, you’ll be introduced to the many friends and family members your guide encounters along the way. “In Israel, nothing is simply black and white—it’s always a mixture of perspectives,” observes Sandra. “There’s a wide mix of people here—and everyone wants to live in peace and prosperity. The conflicts you see in the media—they don’t define us.” Before you return to the Israeli border for your journey back to your hotel, your local guide will invite you into his family home for a cup of tea and a little taste of authentic Palestinian hospitality.
If Israel is on your bucket list of Big Trip destinations, our Country Walkers Tour Consultants are eager to help! We’ll answer questions, point you in the right direction with optional activities, sight-seeing, or Tour Extensions that will help you reach your goals. Just a quick call to 855.445.5617 will put you in touch with an expert Tour Consultant who will be happy to help you build a plan that ticks every box.