This article is about Israel at a glance. Many tourists asked me where they suppose to go! Well, here is your oversight depending on your intentions and preferences. Some people love historical sights, others religious, cultures, hiking, family, cities, beaches, deserts and much more. If that is so, Israel is your excellent destination.
Diversity – Ultra-Orthodox Jews wearing shtreimels (fur hats), secular Jews in short shorts and tank tops, Palestinian Muslims on their way to Al-Aqsa Mosque, Christian clergy in long robes, feminist Orthodox Jews, gay-rights activists, free-spirited artists – you’ll run into them all on Jerusalem’s wonderfully diverse streets.
As a tour guide, I led and created many tours in Jerusalem. If they were religious tours, pilgrim tours, Israeli or gem tours, the city is huge and the number of sights are staggering. And Jerusalem hides so much history and excitement from us normal tourists, like secret half hidden caves, ‘cursed sites’, haunted houses, curious neighborhoods, hidden churches, tunnels and caves and grottoes and so much more. And it’s Jerusalem, this city with a history not normal (destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times) and its age is 6,500 years! The Jewish people (King David) sacked Jerusalem from the Canaanite inhabitants in c. 1000 BCE. For sure that there are many stories to tell about this city (source).
Tel Aviv-Jaffa (Yafo)
Fine Dining – Yes, Tel Aviv has fantastic beaches, but the city’s real passion is food. From felafel stalls and hummus joints to gelato parlours, European-style cafes, sushi bars and restaurants run by celebrity chefs, you won’t go hungry here.
Entertainment – Tel Aviv is the White City, which never sleeps. That’s certainly true, whenever you are awake, Tel Aviv too but never sleeps itself. The entertainment there goes from the restaurants, bars, nightclubs and dancings to the dynamic street life, enough to entertain anyone in this city. If you are looking for free entertainment, or the most fanciest opera or ballet, or rock concert to techno music, it’s there. And we are talking about entertainment for the teenagers, for the elders and everyone between and not to forget the children with their Luna parks, theme- and water-parks and much more.
Boutiques – Tel Aviv has Israel’s best shopping. Shop till your credit card groans in bazaars, modern malls and designer boutiques on Sheinken, Dizengoff and Shabazi streets. And then we have the markets, from the middle eastern styled markets like the Carmel market in the center of Tel Aviv, to the specialized markets like flea-, second hand-, vegetables-, meat- and food-markets.
Exhibitions – Head to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art for Israeli, Middle-Eastern and European art, Beit Hatfutsot and the Eretz Israel Museum for history and culture, and Design Museum Holon for contemporary exhibits and many other museums.
Beaches – Many people are dreaming about white beaches and Tel Aviv has loads of white beaches in an excellent state and they are full each summer day when the tourists are waking up and fill the white burning sand near the cooling water of the sea.
Tel Aviv is not an ancient city, but relative young. But it’s combined with Jaffa, and that’s an old, ancient city with a huge often bloody history.
Ancient Ports – Caesarea was one of the great ports of antiquity and, 1000 years later, a walled Crusader stronghold. Akko (Acre), visited by Marco Polo on his way to China, is brimming with medieval and Ottoman history.
Spiritual Gardens – Haifa’s incredible Baha’i Gardens are a spiritual highlight for people of all faiths. Elijah’s Cave in Haifa is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The area was once witness of the titan battles between the Jewish and the foreign gods with fire and brimstone and all.
Sea Grottoes – The sea grottoes of Rosh HaNikra feature hues of blue you never knew existed. For stunning panoramas of the Mediterranean, head to Haifa’s eagle’s-eye promenade, high atop Mt Carmel.
Lower Galilee & Sea of Galilee
Jesus’s Ministry – Mary is said to have experienced the Annunciation in Nazareth, later Jesus’s childhood home. It is believed that the Transfiguration took place at Mt Tabor, and Jesus spent much of his ministry around the Sea of Galilee. Here you can truly follow the footsteps of Jesus.
Roman Sites – Top excavations include the Roman and Byzantine city of Beit She’an, ancient synagogues at Hamat Tverya, Korazim, Capernaum and Tzipori, and the Belvoir Crusader castle.
World Food – Nazareth is known for its East–West fusion cuisine; in Kfar Kisch you can dine the French way or sample delicious cheeses; in Kfar Kama you can try Circassian dishes from the Caucasus.
Upper Galilee & Golan
Wild Trails – Trails for all fitness levels abound, from the alpine summit of Mt Hermon (elevation more than 2000m) to the banks of the Jordan River (elevation less than 200m), and through the cliff-lined canyons of the Banias and Yehudiya Nature Reserves.
Migrations – Half a billion birds migrate through the Hula Valley – you can spot local and migrating species in the wetlands of the Hula Nature Reserve and Agamon HaHula, especially in spring and autumn.
Winery Visits – Many of Israel’s finest wineries, some of them boutique, can be visited at Katzrin, Ein Zivan and Odem on the Golan and on the Dalton Plateau northwest of Tsfat (Safed). But honestly, wineries you can find also in and around Jerusalem, even in the Negev, right in the middle of the desert.
And don’t think that the Golan is some dump nature area, because you are very wrong. The Golan has its own history and can also be called ancient, it knew Israelite settlements before many other cities in Israel (and the world). Ancient civilizations existed here already before the Canaan!
Bazaars – West Bank cities revolve around their lively bazaars. Shop for fresh fruit, taste sweets and haggle over handicrafts in the colorful markets of Hebron, Nablus and Bethlehem.
Local Food – Don’t pass up any invitation for a home-cooked meal in the West Bank, where the dinner table overflows with spicy, tangy Middle Eastern delicacies. The best restaurants are in Ramallah.
The what is now called West Bank is an area, with a many cultural influences from the Christians to the Israelites. Later it was conquered by the Muslims and since then they stamped their presence all in the area.
The Dead Sea
Dead Sea – Float on your back while reading the newspaper – a cliché but eminently doable in the hyper saline waters of the Dead Sea, which will relax your nerves and soothe your skin.
Masada – The Romans had already destroyed Jerusalem, but high atop Masada, 1000 Jews resisted the besieging might of Legion X, in the end preferring death to slavery.
Desert Oases -Year-round springs feed the dramatic desert oases of Ein Gedi and Ein Bokek, where hikers encounter cool streams, luxuriant vegetation, Edenic waterfalls and rare wildlife such as majestic Nubian ibexes.
But that is not all, of course. There are important caves, there are mountains, deserts, wilderness, which is hardly touched by humans or civilizations.
It’s history is long, far before the Israelites, Romans, even the Canaan were populated the Middle East. Many traces of lost civilizations are still visible, but others are gone, hidden under the sand and waiting to be discovered over the coming years. Now the wilderness is traveled by Bedouins, trekkers, hikers and some tourists, with here and there some islands of wineries and other settlements, which manage to turn desert into grasslands or agriculture.
Desert Trails – The Negev desert is filled with life. Hike through the wilderness of Makhtesh Ramon, Sde Boker or Ein Avdat and you’ll likely spot camels, ibexes and soaring birds of prey.
Coral Reefs – Keen to explore coral reefs and swim with schools of tropical fish? Then come to the Red Sea to snorkel or dive. Just dip your head underwater and enjoy the show.
Before you visit the Holy Land or Israel, this is an article you need to read first. Here you can read the rough brief history of the lands of Israel and some background what’s going on currently in Israel.
Looking at this history, nobody can claim ownership of these lands (based on history and who was here first), because there are so many civilizations who can claim the same, it’s not normal anymore. The Canaan ruled here for more than 4,000 years, Muslims for 684 years, Israelites 613 years, Ottoman for 400 years, Romans for 350 years, Persians for 207 years, and so many other civilizations ruled here too. The Israelites invaded these lands, just like the Muslims and others did. All of those civilizations and peoples had their own valid reasons to do so.
We can find the first Homo Sapiens (early humans) living here already for 17,000 years. Then the Canaan ruled here for almost 4,000 years. The Israelites ruled for 613 years, followed by the Persians for 207 years. Israel fell under Hellenistic rule for 192 years, under Hasmonean rule for 103, taken over by the Romans for 350 years. The Byzantine time lasted 308, followed by the Arab dynasties for 561 years before they were beaten by Crusaders, who ruled for 88 years. The Islamic rule came back for 123 years, when they were being taken over by the Ottoman rule for 400 years. Israel was ruled after the Ottoman by the British Mandate for 31 years, when finally the Israeli state was created and still exists for 68 years.
Note – What happened with the Canaan population? Where did the Canaan go to after it was occupied by the Israelites? The Bible claimed God ordered the Canaanites to be wiped out, but a new genetic research study (July 2017) suggests the ancient people survived that initial order. In later excerpts of Judges and Ezra, there is evidence that not all Canaanites were destroyed by the Israelites—some fled or became servants. Over the years, little information had been discovered about the Canaanites—until a new genetic research study found their DNA, confirming they did survive. The Canaanite’s DNA lives on in Lebanon, where over 90% of Lebanese derive their ancestry from Canaanites, according to a study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.
Many countries were involved one way or the other by the history of these lands, but not many countries can be compared with the various cultural and historical heritages Israel currently has. It’s a merger of the tens of thousands of years of many civilizations and cultures, which makes Israel as it is now. Historical ownership of the lands can’t be claimed or monopolized, because too many civilizations and peoples have historical roots in these lands and can claim the same … but nobody does. But what everyone can do is sharing in peace.
Muslim historical supposing claims on the lands of Israel is overshadowed by the Christian roots, and they are again overshadowed by the Israelites, and they are overshadowed by many thousands of years rule by the Canaan tribes. The Israelites ruled Israel for 613 years, Christians for 396 years, but the Muslims ruled Israel for 684 years. But the Muslims were not here as first, neither the Christians and neither the Israelites! No, they were easily overshadowed by the Canaan empire for more than 4,000 years of their rule. Jerusalem as example is not a Muslim city, neither Jewish city or a city from the Israelites; it’s a Canaan city.
Even with the long Muslim occupation of Israel for 684 years (longer then the Israelites), their surviving culture didn’t impact Israel as the Christians and Israelites did. You see some historical Mosques, small Muslim communities, but actual Muslim cultural sights you will not see in Israel, except on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Jewish impact of these lands are everywhere, as is the Christian impact. You can see this easily at the number of available Muslim sights and its variations here on this site.
Israel is the birth of the Jews and the Christians, because their roots started here. But Christianity is a religion (not a people or nation or tribe) more then 2,000 years ago, derived from the Jewish religion and the birth of Jesus, while the Jews are a tribe, who lived here at 1,200 AD, when the Israelites under Joshua enter Promised Land or the founding patriarch Abraham (who himself came from the city state Ur, an ancient 4,900 year old Sumerian City State from ancient Mesopotamia) and his tribe settle in what becomes Judea in 2,000 AD. The Muslim religion didn’t start in Israel (but in Mecca and Medina), but it shares the founding patriarch Abraham, parts of the Torah and the Christian bible and it has their third most holiest Al Aqsa Mosque at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Palestinians are rooted from the so called Boat People and are from Crete (Greece), who settled in Palestine (1100-722 BCE). According to biblical tradition (Deuteronomy 2:23; Jeremiah 47:4), the Philistines came from Crete (Caphtor). They occupied the coastal plain of Palestine from Joppa (modern Jaffa) southward to the Gaza Strip. The area contained the five cities of the Philistine confederacy (Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron) and was known as Philistia (source).
Barbaric scenes as everyone can witness today with ISIS and the regime of the Syrian President Assad from Syria, the involvement of third parties like the US, Turkey, Russia and Iran are barbaric and inhuman, but not different what happened here in the region some hundreds of years ago, or 20,000 years ago. The only difference actually is the scale. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs are currently slaughtered in front of the cameras and the world is maintaining the slaughter instead of stopping it.
Israel has armed itself heavily to be able to defend itself against incursions and invasions and it’s very successful until now. The so called peace process between Israel and the Palestinians is an ongoing process already for more then 60 years and lately it’s reduced to a political battle and the battle of the hearts and minds of the local populations. The fragmentation of the Palestinian people also doesn’t help, and neither is the radicalization of its leadership.
The one thing what the international media and the Palestinian leadership fail to mention is the fact that thousands of Palestinians are being tortured and murdered in the jails of Assad in Syria, and this shows the level of politicization in the region. Israel is the only country in the region which is stable.
And walking in Israel alone at night is safer then walking in New York at day.
Pre-Biblical and early Biblical times
c. 20,000: First settlements of humans near Sea of Galilee
c. 7000: Jericho is a walled settlement
c. 5000-4000: Land of Canaan is occupied by Canaanites, then Amorites and Jebusites.
c. 2000: Founding patriarch Abraham and his tribe settle in what becomes Judea.
c. 1500: Abraham’s descendants, led by Joseph, settle in Egypt.
c. 1260: Moses leads Israelites in Exodus from Egypt.
c. 1200: Israelites under Joshua enter Promised Land.
c. 1000: David captures Canaanites city of Jerusalem and makes it his capital.
c. 970: Solomon builds First Temple.
c. 930: Israel splits into northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah (including Jerusalem).
c. 720: Northern kingdom conquered by Assyria and its 10 tribes sent into exile.
c. 700: Southern kingdom’s King Hezekiah cuts tunnel from Gihon Spring to Pool of Siloam.
701: Assyrians conquer much of southern kingdom; Jerusalem is besieged but survives.
597: Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon captures southern kingdom and Jerusalem.
587: Following rebellion, Nebuchadnezzar destroys Jerusalem and First Temple, deporting most of population to Babylon (in present-day Iraq).
539: Cyrus the Great of Persia conquers Babylon and allows Jews to return from captivity.
515: Second Temple is completed.
444: Nehemiah rebuilds city walls of Jerusalem.
332: Alexander the Great conquers Persian Empire, including all of Palestine.
323: Alexander dies and his kingdom is divided into four parts; Palestine falls under Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt, then under Seleucid Empire of Syria.
175: King Antiochus IV of Syria bans traditional Jewish practices and desecrated Temple.
167: Judas Maccabeus leads successful revolt against Seleucid Empire, rededicate Temple and restores religious freedom.
140: Simon Maccabeus, a brother of Judas, establishes Hasmonean Dynasty, which rules an independent Jewish kingdom for 103 years.
63: Rivalry between Simon Maccabeus’ great-grandsons, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, brings civil war that ends with Roman general Pompey controlling the kingdom.
37: Rome proclaims Herod as King of Israel, now a Roman client state, ending the Hasmonean Dynasty.
20: Herod expands Temple Mount and rebuilds Temple.
c. 6: Jesus Christ is born in Bethlehem.
4: Herod dies and his kingdom is divided among his sons, Philip, Antipas and Archelaus.
26: Pontius Pilate becomes procurator of Roman province of Judea.
c. 27: Jesus is baptized by his cousin John the Baptist and begins his public ministry.
c. 30: Jesus is condemned to death and crucified.
c. 32: Stephen, first Christian martyr, is stoned to death.
c. 34: Paul is converted on the way to Damascus.
41-44: Jerusalem’s “Third Wall” is built by King Agrippa I.
c. 50: Council of Jerusalem, first recorded council of Christian leaders, is held.
c. 45-120: Books of the New Testament are written.
67: During First Jewish-Roman War, Christians in Palestine flee to Pella in Jordan.
70: Romans destroy Jerusalem and Second Temple.
73: Masada falls to Romans.
130: Emperor Hadrian rebuilds Jerusalem, renaming it Aelia Capitolina, and puts pagan temple over site of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
135: Hadrian crushes Second Jewish Revolt and expels Jews from Palestine.
301: Armenia becomes first nation to make Christianity its state religion.
313: Emperor Constantine I legalizes Christianity.
325: At Council of Nicaea, Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem asks Constantine to reclaim site of crucifixion and Resurrection and build a church there.
326-7: Constantine’s mother, Helena, visits Holy Land, finds True Cross and orders churches built on sacred sites; large-scale pilgrimages begin.
330: Constantine moves his capital from Nicomedia to Byzantium (renamed Constantinople, now Istanbul).
335: Church of the Holy Sepulchre is consecrated.
380: Emperor Theodosius I makes Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire.
386-420: Jerome produces Vulgate translation of Bible in his Bethlehem cave.
395: Roman Empire splits into East and West.
c. 500: Jerusalem Talmud completed by rabbinic schools in Galilee.
570: Birth of Muhammad.
614: Persians capture Jerusalem, destroying many churches and burning Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
622: Muhammad escapes assassination in Mecca and flees to Medina, his flight marking first year of Islamic calendar.
629: Emperor Heraclius I re-establishes Byzantine rule in Jerusalem and recovers True Cross stolen by Persians.
638: Islamic forces conquer Jerusalem, beginning rule by succession of Arab dynasties.
661-1000: Palestine variously ruled by Arab caliphs in Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo.
692: Dome of the Rock completed on Temple Mount.
1009: Sultan al-Hakim destroys Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
1048: Church of the Holy Sepulchre restored by Emperor Constantine Monomachus.
1054: Great Schism splits Christian Church into Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) branches.
1071: Seljuk Turks capture Jerusalem, persecuting Christians, desecrating churches and barring pilgrims.
1099: First Crusade captures Jerusalem and establishes Latin kingdom; Dome of the Rock becomes church called Templum Domini (Temple of the Lord).
1149: New Church of the Holy Sepulchre completed.
1187: Sultan Saladin defeats Crusaders at Horns of Hattin above Sea of Galilee, then takes Jerusalem.
Islamic rule again
1219: St Francis of Assisi visits Egypt and meets Sultan Melek al-Kamil.
1229: During Sixth Crusade, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II negotiates return of Jerusalem and other Christian sites to Crusader kingdom.
1229: Franciscans establish themselves in Jerusalem near Fifth Station of Via Dolorosa.
1244: Jerusalem is sacked by Khwarezmian Tartars; control quickly passes to Egyptian Ayyubids and then Mamluks, who rule until 1517.
1291: Crusaders’ last foothold, Acre, falls to Mamluks.
1342: Pope Clement VI formally establishes Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
1517: Ottoman Turks take control of Palestine from Mamluks.
1517: Martin Luther begins Protestant Reformation in Europe.
1538: Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent builds present walls of Old City of Jerusalem.
1757: Ottoman Turkish edicts give Greek Orthodox major possession of Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other holy places.
1808: Fire rages in Church of the Holy Sepulchre; Tomb of Christ is severely damaged when dome falls in.
1812: Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovers Nabatean city of Petra.
1839: British Jew Sir Moses Montefiore proposes idea of a modern Jewish state.
1842: First Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, Michael Solomon Alexander, a converted Jewish rabbi, arrives.
1849: Christ Church in Jerusalem, oldest Protestant church in Middle East, is built.
1852: Under pressure from Russia, Ottoman Sultan Abd-ul-Mejid directs that possession of holy places remains according to 1757 edict.
1853-56: Possession of holy places is one cause of Crimean War between Russia and major European powers.
1860: First Jewish immigrant neighborhood outside Old City of Jerusalem is established, funded by Sir Moses Montefiore.
1878: “Status Quo” defining possession of holy places is incorporated into international law by Treaty of Berlin.
1883: General Charles Gordon proposes Skull Hill as Calvary and Garden Tomb as place where Christ was buried.
1884: Mosaic map of Holy Land discovered in floor of 6th-century church at Madaba, Jordan.
1909: Joseph Baratz and 11 others establish first kibbutz in Palestine, called Kvutzat Degania (“Wheat of God”), at southern end of Sea of Galilee.
1917: British government’s Balfour Declaration backs establishing Jewish homeland in Palestine, without prejudice to “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish population.
1917: British forces under General E. H. Allenby capture Palestine from Ottoman Turks.
1922: League of Nations approves British mandate of Palestine.
1946: Jordan gains independence from Britain.
1947: United Nations Partition Plan calls for a Jewish state and an Arab state in Palestine, with Greater Jerusalem (including Bethlehem) under international control; most Jewish groups accepts the plan but Arabs reject it.
1947: Dead Sea Scrolls are discovered at Qumran.
1948: Amid civil unrest and violence, Britain withdraws from mandate.
Israel and Palestinian Territories
1948: After Jewish provisional government declares Israel an independent state, Arab forces invade.
1949: Israel prevails in Arab-Israeli War, though Egypt holds Gaza, and Jordan the West Bank and East Jerusalem; more than 700,000 Palestinians become refugees.
1967: In Six-Day War against Egypt, Jordan and Syria, Israel occupies Sinai, Gaza, Golan Heights, West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Horns of Hittim is a steep hill that dominates the area around it. It is an extinct volcano, and due to its twin peaks (“horns”) on each side of the crater it has the form of a bull. A Canaanite and Israelite city were located at each side, perhaps the site of the Biblical city of Adamah”. Map.
The decisive battle of the Crusaders and Saladin was held in the valley below it in 1187, signaling the beginning of the end for the Crusaders Kingdom in the Holy Land. From the site is a great view of the area and is a recommended site to visit.
On top of the hill there are traces of walls that were built around the edges. In the center of the hill is the crater, with traces of very large stones that were part of its inner defense line. In the south side of the hill, on a higher peak, are dual defense walls.
Below the hill was the Roman and Arabic village of Hittim, now in ruins. A spring (Hittim) flows there all year long, and was the place where the thirsty Crusaders tried to get to during the battle.
Near it is the holy Druze tomb (Nebe Shueb), which is according to their tradition the tombs of Jethro (father-in-law of Moses) and Zipporah (wife of Moses). The modern agriculture village (a Moshav) of Ein-Zeitim is located north to Nebe Shueb. Map.
Another Moshav, Hittim, is located closer to Tiberias.
Daliyat el-Carmel is a Druze village high on the slopes of Mt. Carmel and has an exceptionally unique character. It is a colorful village that offers wonderful hospitality with a smile and is also very interesting. The Druze is an ethnic group that split off from Islam in Egypt about 1,000 years ago.
According to the Druze, their religion is the renewal of an ancient faith that became a secret known only to the group’s sages. Daliyat el-Carmel was founded in the 17th century by Druze from Mt. Lebanon. To the south of Daliyat el-Carmel is another Druze village, Isfiya, which was united with Daliyat el-Carmel in 2003 into a single town whose official name is Carmel.
Daliyat el-Carmel’s colorful market, open on Saturdays, is only an excuse to come to this special place. On the main street dozens of stores offer their varied wares and one can get lost in the abundance and variety.
Between the stores are many restaurants serving genuine Druze ethnic foods, bakeries that fill the air with the sweet smell of baklava pastries. Other food stands sell high quality olive oil, olives, pita bread and locally produced labaneh cheese. The flurry of activity, the colors, the new beside the old, and the village bustling with people are a multi-sensational experience not to be missed. The market also has a few galleries where cultural evenings can be held, alongside the Druze hospitality.
Apart from Daliyat el-Carmel’s main street, with its tourist center, on 22nd Street there is the house of Sir Laurence Oliphant, an Englishman who loved the Holy Land and moved here in 1880 to help the Jews during the period of the First Aliya wave of immigration. Today his house serves as a military memorial to village residents who served in the Israel Defense Forces and gave their lives for their country.
The front courtyard of the house is a plaza that overlooks the slopes of the Carmel hills. The Druze heritage house is on 8th Street houses an exhibit about the Druze lifestyle. One can also just wander around the village to no specific place; walk through the narrow passageways that wend their way between old houses, prayer halls and holy sites, beside olive oil presses, textile workshops and art galleries.
In recent years the villagers have begun hosting groups in their homes, and such a visit offers a glimpse of their houses, culture and tradition. The local residents offer tourists and genuine ethnic foods, wear their traditional clothes, tell stories about the Druze heritage and there are even guest houses designed with an authentic Druze décor.