Israel and Palestine - Land of Opposites

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and Palestine Land of Opposites

Israel and Palestine Land of Opposites


Kiki Streitberger is a London-based photographer. She spent most of 2009 in Israel, travelling by train, bus, car, motorbike, taxi and on foot to every corner of the country. She climbed Massada at the crack of dawn, swam in the Dead Sea, crossed checkpoints, nearly lost her camera on several occasions, and met countless wonderful people. She got to know a place where the traces of an ancient history are omnipresent within a country that is continuously reinventing itself. In its landscapes as well as its cultures, Israel‘s versatility is second to none. A selection of photos taken during that time have been put together in this book, with the intention of giving the reader an insight into this unique land of opposites.


and Palestine Land of Opposites by Kiki Streitberger

Israel (Hebrew: ‫ מדינת ישראל‬Medinat Jisra‘el, Arabic: Isra‘il), was founded in 1948 and, at only 22,072 square kilometres, it is one of the smallest countries in the world. Located at the juncture of three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa, the immigrant population of Israel is diverse. From north to south the country measures 470 kilometres. Across, it measures 135 kilometres at its widest point and 15 kilometres at its narrowest. Its altitude ranges from 418 metres below sea level at its lowest point by the Dead Sea to 2,248 metres at the summit of Mount Hermon. Israel is located in a sub-tropical region with a moderate climate all year round. Its national parks sustain a very diverse flora and fauna. Israel has a population of approximately 7.4 million people, which equates to around 305 inhabitants per square kilometre. More than 75% of the population are Jews, a further 20% are Arabs and the remaining 5% are made up of other minorities and denominations. There are two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic. With 2.75 births per woman, Israel has the highest birth rate of all the developed countries. Life expectancy is also among the highest in the world, being 78.8 years for men and 82.5 for women. 92% of Israelis are city dwellers, with the biggest cities being Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Haifa, Rishon LeZion and Ashdod. In Israel, both men and women have to undertake national service in the military for three and two years respectively. The local currency is the New Shekel (NIS), which is made up of 100 Agorot. Major industries are the high-tech sector, armaments, chemicals, nuclear power and food production. Each year, more than 1.9 million visitors come to Israel to visit its holy places or to simply enjoy the beaches and nightlife.

A kosher certificate states that ‘All food served in this restaurant is kosher and may be consumed by Jews’ (left).

Galilee and the Sea of Galilee Galilee (Hebrew: ‫ הגליל‬Ha Galil, Arabic: al-Jaleel) is the most northern part of Israel. It is divided into Upper Galilee, Lower Galilee and Western Galilee. Most of the region is very rocky but ample rain and a multitude of streams and rivers make the area one of the greenest in the country. This explains why so many typical Israeli settlements, known as kibbutzim and moshavim, have developed here, often providing off the beaten track tourist accommodation. With endless hiking opportunities in 23 national parks and nature reserves, and a multitude of festivals and leisure activities, Galilee has become a very popular holiday destination for tourists from Israel and abroad. The Sea of Galilee (Hebrew: ‫ ים כנרת‬Jam HaKinneret, Arabic: Bahr Tubariya) is situated in the eastern part of Galilee and, at 212 metres below sea level, is the lowest freshwater lake in the world. Depending on the water level, it is approximately 21 kilometres long, 13 kilometres wide and, at its lowest point, 43 metres deep. The Sea of Galilee is the biggest water reservoir in Israel. Beneath the lake are salt-water springs, which make the deep waters saline. Pressure from the upper layers of freshwater, however, has prevented the salinisation of this freshwater lake. Due to a lack of rainfall in recent years and high levels of water consumption by the local communities, the current freshwater level is alarmingly low; as a result, the lake is now at risk of becoming irreversibly salinised.

The Greek Orthodox Church of the Seven Apostles in Capernaum (above).

The church on the Mount of Beatitudes (left).

The Yehudiya Forest Nature Reserve is situated in the Golan Heights. The reserve surrounds the rivers of Meshushim, Yehudiya, Daliyot, Zavitan and Gamla. Impressive canyons and waterfalls have formed along the riverbeds, providing plenty of opportunity for adventurous hiking in beautiful surroundings.

The Hula Valley (Hebrew: ‫ עמק החולה‬Emek HaChula, Arabic: Wadi Hula) is an agricultural area to the west of the Golan Heights. In the 1960s, great parts of the area were turned into a nature reserve. In autumn and spring, huge flocks of migrating birds such as cranes, herons and storks come here. More observant visitors may also spot kingfishers and pelicans as well as beavers, nutria, water buffalo and wildcats. Monarch butterflies (top left); a nutria (middle left); a swamp in the Hula Valley (bottom left); cranes seen through a telescope (middle).

Nazareth Nazareth (Hebrew: ‫ נצרת‬Natzeret, Arabic: an-Nasira), with 65,000 inhabitants, is the largest city in the north of the country. Due to its mainly Arabic population it has been nicknamed the ‘Arab capital of Israel’. The city holds great significance for Christians as Nazareth is deemed to be the place where the birth of Jesus was announced. The modern Basilica of the Annunciation is the main attraction of the city. It was built on the place where, according to the New Testament, the angel Gabriel appeared before the Virgin Mary to tell her that she would soon bear the Son of God. Each year many Catholics, Anglicans and Orthodox Christians visit the basilica. The souvenir shops which line the main street are heavily reliant on selling religious paraphernalia of all denominations. It is possible to see Jewish kippas peacefully displayed next to Palestinian kufiyas, Orthodox icons and hand-carved nativity scenes. Currently such peaceful co-existence can only be found amongst inanimate objects in the souvenir shops. Outside, amongst the people, where profit is less important than emotional faith, the reality is very different. Plans to build a mosque close to the Basilica have created an ongoing conflict between the Christian and Muslim communities of Nazareth. As well as a visit to the Basilica, a stroll through the market is a must. Everything is for sale here, from pots and pans to gold jewellery and live chickens. For those not in the mood for shopping, there is always the option of simply enjoying a freshly roasted coffee and watching the world go by.

The Basilica of the Annunciation was built between 1955 and 1969, and was designed by the architect Giovanni Muzio. Its roof is in the shape of a lily, a symbol for the Virgin Mary (left). Images of the Madonna and Child from all over the world decorate the Basilica and the cloisters (middle). Inside view of the roof (right). Following pages from left: Keeping the shelves of the souvenir shop stocked; Coffee roaster; Market life; The White Mosque.

Rosh HaNikra Rosh HaNikra (Hebrew: ‫ ראש הנקרה‬Rosh Ha Nikra, Arabic: Ra’s an-Naqura) is situated on the Mediterranean Sea close to the Lebanese border. It is famous for its white chalk cliffs, which the sea has carved into caves and grottos over time.

Haifa and the surrounding area Haifa (Hebew: ‫ חיפה‬Cheifa, Arabic: Hayfa) is situated on the slopes of Mount Carmel in the north of Israel, by the Mediterranean Sea. It is the third largest city in the country, after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Haifa has over 270,000 inhabitants belonging to five different religions. The city can proudly boast that Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Baha’i all live together in harmony. For a long time Haifa was of little significance. It was only in the 1800s, when the port was developed, that Haifa emerged as an important settlement. With the arrival of large freighters, Haifa managed to secure a dominant position over the nearby port of Akko, which was too small to accommodate these large vessels. In the late 19th-century, German Templars settled in Haifa. They brought new knowledge and expertise to the country and drove modernisation in a variety of sectors. Today, apart from its port, the city has large industrial zones, a university and a world-renowned research institute. A well-known saying captures the spirit of Israel’s three big cities:

Jerusalem prays, Tel Aviv parties and Haifa works.

As well as being a hard-working city, Haifa is one of the most beautiful in Israel. It is home to the Baha’i World Centre, whose captivating gardens have been described as the eighth wonder of the world.

The Shrine of the Báb (left) in the centre of the Baha’i Gardens (top).

Haifa port (right); The ‘Rocket’ (middle); A reminder of days gone by (below).

Akko Akko (Hebrew: ‫ עכו‬Akko, Arabic: Akka) is an ancient seaport in Galilee. The picturesque old town is surrounded by a magnificent fortress. The new town has a mainly Jewish population, while the inhabitants of the old town are predominantly Arabs. To this day Akko is one of the most Arabic towns in Israel.

Caesarea Caesarea (Hebrew: ‫ קיסריה‬Kisaria, Arabic: Kaysaria) is an ancient seaport which was built by Herod the Great on the Mediterranean Sea in around 22 BC. In Herod’s time Caesarea was an architectural miracle, with an impressive aqueduct, an amphitheatre, a race course, numerous baths and more. Modern Caesarea is close to the archaeological excavation site of the original port and is home to the Israeli elite. It boasts exclusive residential areas and Israel’s only full-size golf course.

Tel Aviv Tel Aviv (Hebrew: ‫ תל אביב‬Tel Aviv, Arabic: Tall Abib) is on the Mediterranean and is the second-largest city in Israel. The name means ‘Hill of Spring’. It was founded in 1909 next to the old seaport of Jaffa; in 1950 the two towns merged and the resulting city is now officially known as Tel Aviv-Yafo. Tel Aviv is Israel’s financial centre and one of the richest cities in the country. Well beyond Israel’s borders, Tel Aviv is famous for its modern architecture, particularly the Bauhaus style, which was introduced by German-Jewish architects in the 1920s and ‘30s. The ‘White City’ in central Tel Aviv has more than 5,000 Bauhaus buildings and was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003. The city’s art scene today is manifold with many creative professionals choosing to live and work in the Florentin Quarter. From fine and modern art in galleries, to graffiti on the walls, the creative soul of Tel Aviv is constantly on display for all to enjoy. As the undisputed culture capital of Israel, Tel Aviv boasts a vast selection of museums and theatres, as well as the Israeli Opera and the world famous Batsheva Dance Company. Perhaps as a result of the heady mix of the financial and cultural worlds which dominate this metropolis, Tel Aviv has also become famous for a thriving clubbing scene. The city is young and dynamic and people here throw themselves into the social scene. With a wealth of clubs, bars, restaurants, cafés, shops and beaches shimmering beneath a constantly blue sky, Tel Aviv is without doubt one of Israel’s most popular tourist destinations. It certainly lives up to its name as the ‘Mediterranean metropolis that never sleeps’.

The high-rises of Ramat Gan.

Tel Aviv’s shopping scene offers something for everyone: trendy and elegant on Dizengoff and Shenkin Street and old books and antiques on Allenby.

The Azrieli Center (right).

Heichal Yehuda Sephardic Synagogue.

Art on Dizengoff (left); Dizengoff Centre (right); Following page: the Yemenite Quarter.

The Carmel Market; Orthodox Jews invite people to pray; girl selling band-t-shirts (previous pages).

Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv’s ‘White City’ (previous page); Fire and Water Fountain by the Artist Yaacov Agam on Dizengoff Square (above).

Exterior of the Dan Tel Aviv Hotel by Yaacov Agam.

Parasols on one of Tel Aviv’s many beaches.

The Opera Tower received its elegant name because of its location on the site of the former Tel Aviv Opera House (top left). Yotvata Restaurant, an offshoot from the Yotvata kibbutz in the southern Negev, which is famous for its dairy products (bottom left). A stroll along the promenade (above).

Sun and fun on the Mediterranean Sea (left); Beach and city effortlessly merge into one (above).

Tupim (‘drums’) beach took its name from the impromptu dance and drum sessions which take place here at sunset on Fridays.

A sofa on the promenade - an invitation to rest.

Jaffa’s old town (above); The lighthouse (top right); Nets in the harbour (bottom right).

Jaffa Jaffa (Hebrew: ‫ יפו‬Yafo, Arabic: Yafa) is the oldest town on the Mediterranean Sea. Since 7,500 BC people have lived here and over the centuries its natural port has played an important role. Referred to in the Old Testament, legend has it that it was from here that the prophet Jonah sailed out to sea before being swallowed by a whale. Jaffa’s highest point, Tel Yafo, offers breathtaking views along the coast. The Tel is 40 metres high, having grown in height since the Bronze Age due to debris and landfill being deposited here over the centuries. Excavations have unearthed finds from various periods, many of which have been covered up again and lie beneath the town’s communal gardens. Jaffa has a strong Arabic influence: a visit to the Friday flea market is a feast for the eyes and the ears and, like all good flea markets, is unlikely to cause much damage to the wallet.

Jaffa harbour (above); An art gallery in the old town (middle); Church of Saint Peter (right). Following pages: flea market in Jaffa.

Bnei Brak Bnei Brak (Hebrew: ‫ בני ברק‬Bnei Brak) is a town to the east of Tel Aviv whose population consists mainly of ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews. It is one of the poorest and most densely populated areas in Israel. Haredi can be roughly translated as ‘one who trembles in awe of God’ and the inhabitants of this town live up to their name, adopting very strict religious rules in their daily lives. On the Shabbat most of the roads are closed to vehicles and special ‘kosher’ mobile phone tariffs can be found here. While phone calls during the week are extremely cheap, rates for weekend calls are extortionate. Fortunately, Orthodox rules forbid phone calls on the Shabbat, so this tends not to be an issue for the ultra-religious resident population. Interestingly, most phone calls made in Bnei Brak take place in Yiddish as Hebrew is technically reserved for the study of religious texts. Furthermore, Bnei Brak is one of the few remaining areas where one can catch a ‘kosher bus’ with specifically allocated seating for men and women. Like all other food and drink, the Coca-Cola sold in Bnei Brak is kosher as well. Right in the centre of Bnei Brak is one of the largest Coca-Cola bottling plants in the world, which produces the kosher variety of this famous drink.

Life on Bnei Brak’s streets. Following pages: most families in Bnei Brak have many children, it is therefore very common to see children of all ages playing in the street.

Jerusalem Jerusalem (Hebrew: ‫ ירושלים‬Yerushalaim, Arabic: al-Qudsֹ) is the capital of the State of Israel. It is situated in the Judean mountains between the Mediterranean and Dead Seas. Its name is made up of the Hebrew words ‘ir’ meaning city and ‘shalom’ meaning peace, which together translate as ‘City of Peace’, a name which at present reflects an aspiration rather than reality. There are references to the town dating back to around 1800 BC, which makes it one of the oldest known cities in the world. The Old City is divided into Jewish, Christian, Armenian and Muslim Quarters. In 1981 the Old City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Jerusalem holds some of the most important holy places of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Modern Jerusalem grew up around the walls of the Old City and with 760,000 inhabitants, it is the biggest city in the country. Besides the religious centres, it is home to the Knesset, the seat of the Israeli parliament, as well as various ministries and political organisations. Furthermore, Jerusalem is the home of the Hebrew University, the Israel Museum, the National Library and the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. But that is not all. Jerusalem’s social scene also has a lot to offer with 26 wineries and numerous restaurants and bars, as well as a fine selection of clubs. There is certainly something for everyone! There is one thing, however, that visitors must be careful to guard against: falling prey to the ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’. This ‘syndrome’ is said to affect between 50 and 200 people per year and is caused by the extreme spirituality of the Holy City. It manifests itself in delusions whereby the victim totally identifies him or herself with a biblical figure. Sufferers wear white robes – often made out of bed sheets – and preach, sing and pray loudly, warning hapless passers-by of the imminent apocalypse.

Church of the Dormition on Mount Zion where, according to legend, the Virgin Mary died (left); King David’s Tomb (right).

The Church of St. Anne on the site of the home of the Virgin Mary’s parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim. A chapel beneath is claimed to be Mary’s birthplace.

The entire city is full of official and unofficial holy sites.

The Wailing Wall was the western wall of the old Temple and is one of Judaism’s holiest sites. Every day, hundreds of people flock here to pray. Many worshippers also place their written prayers into the cracks of the wall. For those who can’t come to the wall in person, there is even an email service available whereby prayers can be sent via email and placed in the wall by a local. For many Jews, the Western Wall is the symbol of the eternal bond between God and His people.

The Dome of the Rock is one of the holiest sites for Muslims, Jews and Christians and is probably Jerusalem’s most famous landmark. The Islamic shrine erected above the rock is said to be the place of Mohammed’s ascent to heaven. It is also extremely significant in Christianity and Judaism as it is where, according to both the Bible and the Torah, Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son. Jews believe that it marks the site of the Holiest of Holies during the Temple Period and thus regard the rock as the holiest spot on earth.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of Christianity’s holiest sites. Legend has it that it was built on the very place where Jesus Christ was buried. The church is shared by six Christian denominations and a precise schedule determines who gets to pray when and for how long. In order to keep disputes between the various Christian denominations at bay, the key to the only gate is held by the members of two Muslim families. It is their responsibility to open the gate in the morning and to lock it at night. Following page: the Arabic Quarter.

Previous pages: Jewish graves on the Mount of Olives (left); The Russian Church of Mary Magdalene (middle); The Church of All Nations, also known as the Basilica of the Agony, in the Garden of Gethsemane (right).

The Tomb of the Virgin Mary - the place where Mary was supposedly laid to rest (left and this page).

Ben Yehuda Market. An Orthodox Jew blows his horn to welcome the Shabbat and to remind stallholders that it is time to stop trading (top middle).

The Shrine of the Book - part of the Israel Museum (left and above); Santiago Calatrava’s elegant Bridge of Strings is reminiscent of the strings of King David’s harp (middle); The Knesset (top right); The Menorah in front of the Knesset (bottom right).

The Chagall Windows at the Abbell Synagogue, part of the Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Kerem. The windows represent the 12 tribes of Israel.

�I will put my breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil...� (Ezekiel 37:14)

Yad Vashem (Hebrew: ‫)יד ושם‬, situated on the Mount of Remembrance, is a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The name means ‘A Memorial and a Name’ and is taken from Isaiah 56:5: “To them I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial, and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.” The centre is visited by more than two million visitors each year. A stop at Yad Vashem is obligatory for all visiting dignitaries to Israel.

The Holocaust History Museum was designed by the Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, and opened in 2005.

Following pages: Hall of Remembrance (left); The Pillar of Heroism (middle); Gate to the Hall of Remembrance (top right); Sculpture in the memorial park (middle right); Inside the Holocaust Museum (bottom right).

Hall of Names (right); Korczak and the Ghetto‘s Children - sculpture by Boris Saktsier (middle); Children’s memorial (below).

Bethlehem and the West Bank Bethlehem (Hebrew: ‫ בית לחם‬Beit Lehem, Arabic: of approximately 30,000 inhabitants. Most citizens are Christian and Muslim Arabs.

Bayt Lahm) is a town in the West Bank

Bethlehem’s city council is made up of 15 elected members. The law states that the majority of members as well as the mayor have to be of the Christian faith. The remaining seats are open to members of other denominations. In the centre of Bethlehem is the Church of the Nativity, one of Christianity’s holiest sites. It was commissioned in 326 AD by the Emperor Constantine and is said to be the oldest operating church in the world. A silver star in the Grotto of the Nativity marks the spot where, according to the Bible, the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. For a long time tourism has been the main source of income for the town. The main streets are lined with shops selling needlework, olive-wood carvings, gold jewellery and oriental spices. Sadly, the self-proclaimed tourist guides must compete for customers and most shopkeepers complain that business is slow. The town has changed since 2003 when an eight-metre wall was built, overshadowing the town and separating the West Bank from Israel. Tourists still come to the town but in much lower numbers than before. Most come for the day and very few choose to stay in the town over night, forcing many hotels to drastically reduce their capacities or close altogether.

A tea vendor (top left); A cab driver in a typical yellow taxi (bottom left); Palestinian flags on the roundabout (middle); The typical six-door taxis are the main mode of transport in the town (above).

Daily life in Bethlehem.

The Jesus business.

The Milk Grotto Chapel is a place where, according to legend, the Virgin Mary nursed her child. A drop of milk fell onto the red rock, turning the whole grotto white. The grotto is a place of pilgrimage for couples looking to conceive (top, far left). Liturgy of the hours, crypt of the Milk Grotto Chapel (bottom, far left); The Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church (left); St Mary’s Syrian Orthodox Church (below); The Mosque of Omar (right). Previous pages: Christian souvenirs for sale on every corner. Following pages: Church of the Nativity.

Women at the market wearing hand-embroidered dresses.

Residents of the Dheischeh refugee camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Following pages: the wall that separates the West Bank from Israel.

Ramallah Ramallah (Hebrew: ‫ רמאללה‬Ramallah, Arabic: Ram Allah) which means ‘Height of God’, is located 900 metres above sea level in the hilly region of central Palestine, just 15 kilometres north of Jerusalem. The town serves as the administrative capital of the Palestinian National Authority and is the seat of the Palestinian government. During the 17th and 18th-centuries, Ramallah grew to be a predominantly Christian town, and to this day it is home to a sizeable Christian community. Having been totally destroyed in 2002, it is amazing to see apartment blocks and shiny glass high-rise buildings springing up everywhere. Ramallah now offers an array of trendy bars and cafés just like any other town of its size. A significant part of the money for the reconstruction and development comes from foreigners, but also from Palestinians who have settled overseas and are now re-investing in property in the town. During the 1950s, nearly 30% of Ramallah’s population left for the United States. Many have since returned, bringing American culture with them. These days it is possible to enjoy an ‘Ice Frape’ Chino’ at ‘Stars & Bucks’ or to order an American Deep Pan Pizza next door at ‘Chicago Pizza’. Even top of the range mobile phones and gigantic flat screen televisions are no longer a rarity and can be picked up in any electronics shop on the high street. Ramallah is trendy! With its wide range of art and culture events, exhibitions, concerts, festivals and parties, the town attracts not just locals but also its fair share of visitors from abroad.

Churches and Madonnas grace every part of the town. Previous pages: traditional Ramallah and modern Ramallah.

Jericho Jericho (Hebrew: ‫ יריחו‬Yeriho, Arabic: Ariha), at 250 metres below sea level, is the lowest town in the world. With 10,000 years of history, it is also the oldest continuously inhabited town in the world. It is located within the richest oasis in the Middle East on an old caravan track in the Judean desert. The town is home to 25,000 Palestinians. A large percentage of Jericho’s population is involved in agriculture; the small, deliciously sweet ‘Jericho bananas’ and juicy dates are famous well beyond the town’s borders. Jericho is also well-known for its archaeological excavations. The walls and towers of Old Jericho are between 7,000 and 9,000-years-old, making the town more than 4,000 years older than the pyramids in Egypt! These ancient remains of Old Jericho can be found on the Tel Essultan. Modern Jericho has been under Palestinian rule since 2005. Initially belonging to Jordan, it was captured by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, together with the rest of the West Bank. In 1994 it was one of the first towns to be handed over to Palestinian Authority control as agreed in the Oslo accords. It was subsequently taken back under Israeli control during the Second Intifada in 2000. People wanting to enter the town today have to pass an Israeli-Palestinian checkpoint, and entry is prohibited to Israelis.

Jericho: City of the Moon - and of Palm Trees.

The town’s economy is based on agriculture. A great variety of fruit and vegetables are grown here and sold all over the world.

Ancient windows and the elaborately decorated ‘Tree of Life’ mosaic (left); Pillars and relief blocks of the ruined palace (right).

The winter palace of the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik dates back to the 8th century AD. The original palace consisted of several courtyards, as well as a number of chambers and bath houses. The highlight would have been the baths at the end of the audience hall, one of the most magnificent of the early Islamic Period. The bath house was a place for conversation and for social gatherings. People didn’t just come here to bathe - it was a place for drinking and singing as well as a venue for entertainment.

The Dead Sea and the Judean Desert The Dead Sea (Hebrew: ‫ ים המלח‬Yam HaMelach, Arabic: al-Bahr El-Mayyit), also known as the Salt Sea, is a salt lake with no outlet. It is fed by the Jordan River. At 418 metres below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. It has an average salinity of 28%, which is more than eight times the salinity of ordinary sea water. Such a high salt content allows no life forms to survive and makes it possible to ‘sit down’ on the water. Additionally, the rich minerals in the Dead Sea have properties that are beneficial to those suffering from skin conditions such as psoriasis. The Dead Sea is situated to the east of the Judean desert. Being only 1,500 square kilometres in size, the Judean desert is a comparatively small desert. However, with its mountains, steep and rugged rocks, and breathtaking canyons, it offers stunning and ever-changing views. Several rivers cross the desert, some carrying water all year round, others spending most of the year waiting for rain. When the rain comes, the dry riverbeds miraculously transform from seemingly barren ground into spectacular rivers of flowers. The Judean desert also contains a wealth of historical palaces and monasteries which now, thousands of years after they were first built, are as much a part of the desert landscape as the mountains and canyons surrounding them. In 2003, large areas of the Judean desert were declared a nature reserve. It is possible to spot ibexes, eagles and even tigers - animals, which have long been extinct in other parts of the country.

Hidden away in the Wadi Qelt (Hebrew: ‫תרפ לחנ‬ Nahal Perat, Arabic: Wadi al-Qult), a valley running west to east across the Judean desert in the West Bank, is St George’s Monastery. It was founded in 480 AD by the Egyptian priest John of Thebes, in honour of the Virgin Mary. At the time, the monastery consisted of several churches, monks’ cells and caves, with space for more than 300 monks. In 614 AD however, the original complex was destroyed by the Persians and it wasn’t rebuilt until the 19th-century when a Greek Orthodox brotherhood took over the monastery. To this day, the monastery remains in use and some of the caves in the vicinity are once again inhabited by hermits. Legend has it that the prophet Elijah spent three and a half years in a cave just above the monastery, where he was fed by ravens.

Nabi Musa (Arabic: Nabi Musa) is an important Muslim pilgrimage site in the Judean desert. Nabi Musa means ‘Prophet Moses’ and Palestinian folklore has it that on this spot Moses found his final resting place. With its numerous white domes and impressive minaret, the mosque is a spectacular sight, lying in the midst of a Muslim burial ground with the barren desert landscape in the background.

One of many beaches on the northern coast of the Dead Sea (above); The browns of the soil, the white from the salt and the blue water form impressive stripes. (right).

Hotels reflected in the Dead Sea (left); Salt deposits in the Dead Sea (right, top and middle); ‘Salt dunes’ at the Dead Sea Works (bottom right).

This formation is said to be all that remains of Lot’s wife, who, according to legend, was turned into a pillar of salt (left); A stop sign in the desert, just in case... (middle); A bus stop in the middle of nowhere (right).

Masada (Hebrew: ‫ מצדה‬Metzada, Arabic: Mas’ada) is a fortress on a rock plateau in the Judean desert. It was constructed between 40 and 30 BC by King Herod I on the site of an older fortress, and was regarded as impregnable at the time. Inside the battlements were palaces, bath houses, store houses and stables, the remains of which can still be seen today. Masada was under Roman control in 66 AD when a small group of Zealots managed to conquer the fortress. In 72 AD however, the Roman governor Flavius Silva marched against Masada with the 10th Roman legion, a 15,000 strong army of men, and besieged the fortress. Despite holding out for eight months, the Zealots were eventually overcome and the fortress once again returned to Roman control. In order to escape slavery or execution at the hands of their conquerors, the 960 men, women and children occupying Masada committed mass suicide.

The North Palace (left, middle, bottom right); View of the Dead Sea from Masada at sunrise (top right); Remains of some palace out buildings (middle right).

Beersheva Beersheva (Hebrew: ‫ באר שבע‬Be‘er Sheva, Arabic: Bi‘r as-Sab), often referred to as the ‘Capital of the Negev’, is regarded as Israel’s fourth metropolis. The city has a big university and, owing to its remote location, is an important regional hub. Archaeological excavations on the Tel Beersheva to the east of the city uncovered traces of human settlements dating back to the 4th-millennium BC. A heavily fortified Israelite town dating back to 1,100 BC was also discovered. Tel Beersheva was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. The Old Town of Beersheva was once an impressive Ottoman town. Sadly only a few traces of its former splendour remain. The modern city feels almost like a training ground for modern architecture, some of the results of which are truly impressive, others less so. On the whole, the city seems to have lost its once unique desert flair. The much-vaunted Bedouin market still lures tourists to this desert capital. It used to be a place where Bedouins sold their livestock, carpets, clothes and jewellery. Today it is the place to buy cheap Nike and Dolce&Gabbana imitations or drink extremely sweet coffee and play backgammon. The fact that most of the neighbourhoods in the town are nameless, having simply been assigned a letter from the Hebrew alphabet, only adds to the generally bleak feeling surrounding the city.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Previous pages: the Bedouin market.

Eilat and the Arava Eilat (Hebrew: ‫ ֹאילת‬Eilat, Arabic: Ilat), Israel’s southernmost city, is in the south of the Negev. It is the only town that borders the Red Sea, and on a clear day it is possible to see four countries at once: Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Eilat has a population of approximately 60,000 inhabitants. The town’s main source of income, besides its commercial harbour, is tourism. Magical coral reefs, deep blue seas and permanent sunshine make the town a favourite with divers, holidaymakers and sunbathers. Windsurfers appreciate the consistent winds, while scuba divers and snorklers love the angel and clown fish that appear before you as soon as you dip your head under water. For those who prefer larger sealife, there is always the possibility of swimming with dolphins. Eilat isn’t just a place for water lovers however - the desert landscape of the Arava Rift Valley offers fascinating rock formations, the most striking of which can be admired in Timna. Awe-inspiring sculptures of red sandstone, which time has carved into the landscape over millions of years, take one’s breath away. The fact that they are set against a permanently clear blue sky only makes them more striking. The 50-metre high King Solomon’s Pillars, rock arches and caves, stunning mushroom-shaped rocks, ancient cave drawings and copper nuggets can all be found at Timna Park and never fail to impress. Eilat is also a tax-free zone and modern shopping centres offer top labels such as Hilfiger and Billabong at rock bottom prices, leaving the shopper at risk of maxing out their credit cards!

Rock formations in Timna Park: King Solomon’s Pillars (left); the Mushroom (right).

Easily accessible coral reefs with huge numbers of coloured fish make Eilat a paradise for divers.

I would like to thank my Mum for helping to make this book possible, my friends Elena and Tim for finding mistakes, and most of all I would like to thank Ohad, as without him I wouldn’t have seen any of these wonderful places.

First Edition Published, produced and originated by crazeebee books, London, 2010 Copyright Š Kirsten Streitberger 2010 email: All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher. ISBN: 978-0-9565789-0-7 Manufactured in the Czech Republic Edited by Jo Caird, London Distributed by Marston Book Services. P.O. Box 269 Abingdon OX1 4YN


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