travel motoring in israel
A shaky peace in the near Middle East today means that a motoring holiday in Israel is now a sensible possibility for the adventurous traveller. Jonathan Crouch reports
Israel. A land of contradictions and contrasts,of suffering and sublime
beauty. Of holiness and unholy cruelty. Yet, it's also a place that is hard not to want to visit, regardless of your religious beliefs.
Muslims, Christians, Jews and Catholics all hold this area as sacrosanct and have shed great pools of blood in keeping it so. This is a place that has always been at war, yet at least today enjoys a fragile peace.
It was to take advantage of this that I recently boarded a flight to Tel Aviv with a mindset to do what Moses ordered the Israelite spies to accomplish 3,000 years ago: to explore the land.
At present, this is something that relatively few international tourists do. The few that
brave the dire picture painted by some of the media newscasts tend to come on group guided tours. The Israeli Tourist Board, who of course say that the terror threat is blown out of all proportion, would like to see that change. There are however, some practical problems in this regard from the wandering motorist's point of view. Chief amongst these is the fact that some of the Biblical Sites you may want to visit are in the Palestinian territories, little enclaves within the state of Israel some of which are cut off from the outside world by check points, men with machine guns, barbed wire and high walls.
All of this probably paints an over-fearful picture of what life is like in Israel and what it's like to visit. The country, as already suggested, is enjoying a level of peace at present that it hasn't seen for a very long time. Those terror attacks which have taken place have rarely involved tourists in any way, and few have been specifically targeted at places tourists are
likely to want to go.
This is a country about the size of Wales, with three major cities (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa) that account for about 80% of the population. The rest of it has open roads, beautiful countryside and friendly people. Ripe, in other words, for the adventurous traveller to
explore. Whether you want to float in the Dead Sea (where there are five star hotels who use the waters' natural minerals to rejuvenate your body) or relax in Eilat (a beach resort in the South on the Red Sea to rival any in the South of France) or sail across the beautiful Sea of
Galilee, you're certain to find something that'll appeal.
You might do all these things - and it would be easy, since everywhere in Israel is so easy to get to. The roads are very good and lightly trafficked, plus the distances are relatively short. Even if you drove from the very south to the very north, it probably wouldn't take you more than seven hours.
Do all this by all means, but you can't avoid going to Jerusalem, nor would you want to. This divided city is somewhere that nothing can quite prepare you for. Like many other things in this country, it's initially confusing, since the apparently historic walls of the old part of the city aren't actually those that were there in Jesus time, being only 400 years old. Nor, more
importantly, do they denote the actual area covered by the original city walls. Mind you, given that this city has been built and rebuilt about 25 times in its history, tying down the meaning of the word 'original' can be quite difficult.
We'd recommend that you use a qualified guide for at least part of your trip - we used Yaron Sachs (firstname.lastname@example.org). Try smaller, more personal hotels too; we tried the Golan Rooms at the Sea of Galilee (www.ramot-bb.co.il).
And in summary, don't let anything stop you from exploring this place. Will it be a life-changing experience? Quite possibly..
TRAVEL TO ISRAEL - FACTS AT A GLANCE
General Information: ISRAEL GOVERNMENT TOURIST BOARD
Tel: 020 7439 1292