14 pupils from DIVS, Fifths and the Sixth Form spent six extraordinary days in Israel & Palestine during October half-term. They visited Tel Aviv, Arad, Masada, Jericho, the Dead Sea, Bethelehem and Jerusalem to name a few!
Having flown in to Tel Aviv we drove down to the edge of the Negev desert and stayed in the small town of Arad for our first night, taking in the rolling arid countryside on our journey south, including everyone’s favourite warning sign ‘Danger: Camels crossing’. Day 2 saw us journey to the Ramon crater, an extraordinary geographical anomaly, called a ‘makhtesh’ formed through massive erosion. From there we drove north to get our first glance of the Dead Sea and Jordan beyond it. Staying in a bond-villain style Youth Hostel at Masada, we enjoyed a dip in the pool and steeled ourselves to climb the Snake Path to Herod’s Palace at Masada the next morning. The climb was epic and the views worth the hike. Our guide for the week, Mahdi, found the climb quite a challenge but found his breath eventually and gave us a great insight into the history and aims of the palace complex, including the account of the famous to-the-death defence of it.
From Masada we headed on to Jericho, met our first camel and enjoyed some seriously tacky shopping, before descending to the Dead Sea for a mud-bath and a float; it really does work! From the Dead Sea we decamped to Bethlehem and set up base for the more ‘political’ side of the trip. We hiked to the Palestinian village of Battir, walking through biblical olive groves and discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict with our guide before a stellar brunch overlooking the UNESCO terracing to celebrate Theo’s 17th birthday. From Battir we went to an Israeli settlement on contested land and heard from a ‘settler’ who explained to us why he didn’t consider himself to be a settler. After visiting the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, we then went to Banksy’s Walled-Off Hotel, considered the case against the separation wall and saw the graffiti and political declarations first hand. We needed a thorough de-brief that evening which we did before dinner!
Day 5 was a full-day visit to Jerusalem, seeing the Dome of the Rock, Western Wall and Church of the Holy Sepulchre in short order, all of which are within a few hundred metres of each other. Seeing this conflagration of religious expression was quite something. The afternoon was spent at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial museum that was a moving and important experience; the boys rose to the occasion.
Before we knew it we were heading back to Jaffa for a final walk along the Med coast, a enormous kebab lunch and then returning to Tel Aviv airport for our exit interviews and return home. It was a superb trip, full of fun and great food, but also hugely engaging and helpful for all who came. We may not have come up with a resolution to the Middle East peace problem, but we certainly understand it better now. Why not join us on our next visit, planned for October 2021?