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on religious travel: palestine â?– f you have not been to Palestine, please park your perceptions at the door and let me share with you our experience that involved 12 days of travel to visit, film and meet the people of Palestine. This journey took us to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Nablus, Ramallah, Jericho, Hebron, Taybeh and the Dead Sea. During my career as a reporter, I have had the privilege of covering over 30 developing countries and have connected with nearly all. But Palestine is different. The land is special, and the people stand out and make a lasting impression. Their integrity, passion for life and the strength of their communities are what will stay with you. You will find group travel, large or small, the best way to get around Palestine. Motorcoaches and smaller buses and vans are state-of-the-art, the drivers

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are amazing contortionists, and restaurants can handle large groups. Vegetarians will experience food heaven. Much of the fresh food is brought in from Jericho, where it is grown organically and distributed throughout Palestine. From the orange juice to the hummus, the Mediterranean diet is loaded with nutrition. The Palestinian Heritage Center in Bethlehem offers a hands-on approach to learning about the culture. Try on authentic dresses, sit in a real Bedouin tent, enjoy tea and listen to cultural expert Maha Saka talk about the proud history of Palestine. You will find olive wood-carving factories, along with mother-ofpearl factories, scattered around the country. In Nablus, the olive soap factory turned out to be a real treat as we watched a manufacturing

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The Armenian Convent bell tower marks the Church of the Nativity complex in Bethlehem.

PALESTINE Religious tour groups find sacred shrines, archaeological treasures, Photos courtesy of TravelTalkMEDIA

great shopping and friendly people in the Manger Square is a gathering place for Christian pilgrims in Bethlehem. 18 February 2010

Holy Land LeisureGroupTravel.com

process that has not changed in hundreds of years. The markets in all the villages and cities are colorful and authentic. Palestine is a land of many faiths. It’s a humbling experience to realize you are standing, sleeping and eating in places where three major religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – began. When you come to Palestine, you will witness communities joining in on each other’s celebrations. Christians come to Bethlehem to celebrate the town where Jesus Christ was born. His parents, Joseph and Mary, entered Bethlehem on a narrow path that led to His birthplace – where the Church of the Nativity now stands. It

begin to celebrate its 10,000th birthday this October. A fitting date has been established to formally launch the celebration on 10/10/10. Jerusalem, it goes without saying, is an important city for three religions. Throughout the markets and holy places, you feel a festive yet respectful mood. Women are advised to dress modestly in public, yet you can certainly see the modern Western influences in the styles worn by many younger women. The city of Nablus stays with me, as I had never been welcomed by so many friendly people. During my visit, I dropped some shekels on the sidewalk

break the trip is your guide. He or she is the heartbeat and compass of the group. Guides are certified after years of education focused on Palestinian culture and history. There is no formal title for a guide, but perhaps “Palestinologist” comes closest. Travel choices range from first class to economy. Pilgrimage tourism can be done for as low as US$150 per day, but we recommend expanding your trip with a montage of experiences that include all aspects of life in Palestine. Olive-picking tours, walking tours, eco-tours, homestays and educational tours are just a few of the threads in the fabric of Palestinian tourism. If you

Palestine at a Glance Capital: Jerusalem Population: 4 million in the Palestinian Territories (West Bank 2.5 million, Gaza Strip 1.5 million) Location: In the heart of the Holy Land, surrounded by Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. Language: English and Arabic Religion: 88% Muslim, 9% Jewish, 2.4% Christian, Money: Shekels, Jordanian dinars and American dollars as well as euros and UK pounds accepted by most merchants. Major credit cards are accepted by many merchants and all hotels. ATMs are available throughout the land. Visas: Not required of U.S. citizens Contact: Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities, travelpalestine.ps

was one of the first sites we experienced in Bethlehem, and it seemed so fitting just a few days before Christmas. Walking that path is one of the highlights of Bethlehem – simple, yet amazingly memorable. And you can walk through the fields where 2,000 years ago shepherds saw the star over Bethlehem. Besides Bethlehem, you will find faith-based sites in almost every city and village. Jericho is one of the most intriguing with cable cars climbing from the ruins of the Jericho Walls up to Mount of Temptation. The biblical sycamore tree, Elisha’s Springs and Hisham’s Palace go back thousands of years. Jericho is the oldest continuously occupied city in the world and will LeisureGroupTravel.com

and a little boy ran up to me to return the money. One of our colleagues dropped 200 shekels in a Jerusalem store and was reunited with her money by one of the young gentlemen working at the counter. Another common practice is gift-giving by shop owners. These are the kinds of experiences you can expect throughout Palestine. Travelers bound for the Middle East, of course, have safety and security on their minds. Bad things can happen anywhere, but Palestine is safe and welcoming. Flights go through Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, where airline security was invented. It truly is one of the safest airports in the world. The one person who can make or

would like to volunteer your time, there are opportunities to serve communities through nonprofit organizations. The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities provides ample support and can supply complete information on destinations and events. The Holy Land Incoming Tour Operators Association has links to its nearly 40 inbound tour operator members, and the Arab Hotel Association has a directory of hotels in Palestine. Like never before, Palestine is keeping the faith for a bright future. LGT Sandy Dhuyvetter is executive producer and host of TravelTalkMEDIA, a travel news network that includes radio, TV and web-based programming. Contact: traveltalkmedia.com. February 2010 19


Tourist Highlights of Palestine