We take in Jericho soon after crossing the Allenby (King Hussein) Bridge from Jordan into the West Bank and Palestine. The term Palestine has been in use since ancient Greek times and Herodotus. It referred to the southeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea beside Syria. Or, the modern State of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. as defined by the British Mandatory Palestine (1920-1948).

The State of Palestine is officially governed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It claims the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip as its territory, though the entirety of that territory has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War. The West Bank is currently divided into 165 Palestinian enclaves that are under partial Palestinian National Authority (PNA) rule. The remainder, including 200 Israeli settlements, is under full Israeli control. The Gaza Strip is ruled by the militant Islamic group Hamas and has been subject to a long-term blockade by Egypt and Israel (since 2007).

As I wrote under Israel, the current geopolitical situation in this region is complex and ongoing and I am not going to attempt to explain it further. Please read up for yourself. My understanding is, that according to international law Israel currently occupies land (see above), that legally belongs to Arab nations, Palestine in particular. So I have included those areas in this, Palestine, post.


Jericho is believed to be the world's oldest continually inhabited city and it dates back 11,000 years. In 7,000 BC Jericho had a population of 2,000 and was the largest city in existence. It was sustained by water from the nearby River Jordan. Jericho is probably most famous for its walls . They came later, of course. and were sloped (to make them difficult to climb), about 15 feet wide and over 10 feet high, with stone towers of about 25 feet.

This wall features in the biblical story in the book of Joshua and in musicals (Joshua fit the battle of Jericho). When Moses died Joshua took over leadership of the exodus of the Hebrew peoples from Egypt into Canaan, the Promised Land. But Jericho lay in their way. God told the Israelites to walk around the wall, chanting and blowing trumpets, for several days. They did as they were told and the walls 'came tumbling down'. Perhaps that's why there's little sign of them in the scanty ruins. This is also the area in which Jesus was baptised (in the Jordan) and the home of the Mount of the Temptation. Not to mention the several monasteries.

Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

A side trip from Jericho to Qumran, home of the Essenes, believed to have been the authors of the 2,000 year old Dead Sea scrolls. Nine hundred of these  priceless documents were found amongst eleven rocky hillside caves in 1947. The site is managed by the Israelis.


Into Jerusalem, (claimed by both Palestine and Israel as their capital), via the Mount of Olives. This city, one of the oldest in the world, dates back to the fourth millennium BC. It is hugely important to Moslems, Jews and Christians. East Jerusalem, where we are headed, contains the Old City, the City of David. By the eighth century BC, the city had developed into the religious and administrative centre of the Kingdom of Judah. Over the ensuing years Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, and attacked 52 times. There's too much to relate here. Again, the Bible tells the story better.

In 1538, the city walls were rebuilt for a last time by order of Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire. Today, those walls still stand, surrounding the Old City. This has traditionally been divided into four areas – the Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim quarters. There are eight gates.

Exploring The Old City of Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock stands proudly above the city, a symbol to both Muslims and Jews and the site of Mohammed's ascension to heaven. The Temple Mount, alongside  is more vibrant than the rest of the metropolis (especially, today, as many workers are on strike). The Western (or Wailing) Wall is believed by Jews to be the last remnant of the second Temple and so, is the most revered of all Jewish sites. It  is lined with worshippers, leaving prayers in the crevices and reciting their scriptures.

Close by, is the renowned Christian site designated as the Garden of Gethsemane. Here, there is the Roman Catholic Church of All Nations, also known as the Church or Basilica of the Agony. It's built over the rock where Jesus is said to have prayed before his betrayal and arrest. Then, the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa,. This is traditionally believed to be the route taken by Christ on the day of his execution. It leads to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the reputed place of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sadly, the close and convenient juxtaposition of these important sites in one building is hard to swallow.

Apparently my scepticism is shared by some experts. I've read that there's a strong chance that this is the place of the crucifixion. Golgotha. (There is a hill inside the church). The Romans attempted to distract attention with a temple to Aphrodite, thus marking the spot. But, as I suspected, it's unlikely that the tomb was so close. and it is believed that the original, provided by Joseph of Arimathea, was further afield and destroyed in the eleventh century. The Via Dolorosa, is based on later, European constructions with continually expanding numbers of stations of the cross. The jury is out on Gethsemane.

This would all be irrelevant if the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was a spiritual experience. Sadly, with all the marshalling, by competing religious representatives, and the tourist paraphernalia (hawkers in all the surrounding streets), it is far from that. I can only sympathise when some of my fellow tourists are ejected from the queue for the Holy Sepulchre by irate priests, because they are giggling.


South, through the West Bank, to Bethlehem. Rocks are hurled at the bus. Fortunately, they only dent the paintwork.

The biblical birthplace of Jesus is a major Christian pilgrimage destination. It's marked by an inlaid silver star, in a grotto under the sixth-century Church of the Nativity. This shares Manger Square with the 15th-century Church of St. Catherine and the 1860 Mosque of Omar. The nativity church is decorated with glittery lights, surrounded by tacky souvenir shops and surmounted by another illuminated star. Again, I was a little sceptical, but I've read that the actual birth site was indeed a cave. The manger was stone cut nomad feeding trough, sadly replaced by a silver one. The site was again unintentionally preserved by the Romans. The pagan emperor Hadrian ordered a grove dedicated to the god Adonis to be planted around the cave.

Now, back into Israel ...

Over the Allenby Bridge through the West Bank from Jordan and into the West Bank of Palestine/ Israel. The wait at immigration isn’t too bad - though the bus is comprehensively vetted. The Arabs taking through their trucks and buses are having a much harder time. Our entry visas are stamped on pieces of paper, to be collected when we return to Jordan. The Jordanians won’t object. They don’t recognise the State of Israel at this time. So we aren’t deemed to have strayed over the border.


Israel is synonymous with the Biblical Holy Land. The earliest known archaeological artefact to mention the word "Israel" is the Egyptian Merneptah Stele (dated to the late 13th century BC). The name Israel (Struggle with God in Hebrew), derives from the Biblical patriarch, Jacob,who successfully wrestled with the angel of the Lord. Jacob's twelve sons became the ancestors of the Israelites, - the Twelve Tribes of Israel. as we all know from the musical, Jacob and his sons had lived in Canaan but were forced by famine to go into Egypt for four generations, lasting 430 years. Moses, a descendant of Jacob, eventually led the Israelites back into Canaan during the "Exodus".

It's thought that the kingdom of Israel centred around the capital Samaria, with Judah to the south. The Israeli people were subject to invasions by different empires - the Bible tells this story much better than me.

Around 1000 B.C. King David ruled the region. David’s’ son, Solomon, built the first temple in Jerusalem. From 722 B.C. onwards the area was invaded and conquered by the Assyrians, the Babylonians (who destroyed the first temple, which was replaced by a second temple in about 516 B.C), the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Fatimids, Seljuk Turks, Crusaders, Egyptians, Mamelukes, Islamists and others and the Jewish population was dissipated around the world. Many Jews maintained links with their ancient homeland, especially following Nazi persecution and the Zionist movement grew up. In the late nineteenth century Jews began to relocate in what became known as Palestine (modern-day Israel, Palestine and Jordan).

Great Britain took control of the area, at the end of World War WI, after the defeat of the Turks. After much negotiation, the independent state of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948 with David Ben-Gurion as the prime minister. Throughout Israel’s long history, tensions between Jews and Arab Muslims have existed. The complex hostility between the two groups dates all the way back to ancient times when they both populated the area and deemed it holy. War erupted shortly after the State of Israel was declared and hostilities have continued since, most notably with the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Suez Crisis, the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War

The geo politics of the region, are contentious and not easy to explain. There is ongoing conflict. Please read up for yourself. My understanding is, that according to international law, Israel currently occupies land on the West Bank, East Jerusalem and other areas, which legally belongs to Arab nations, Palestine in particular. So I have written about those areas in a separate post, under the heading Palestine.

Nazareth and Galilee, Israel

North to Nazareth, huge and bustling. I'm thinking it's very different to the scenes in the Bible, where it is described as the home of Mary and Joseph. In the old city, the turreted Basilica of the Annunciation is, some believe, where the angel Gabriel told Mary she would bear a child. St. Joseph’s Church is said to be the site of Joseph’s carpentry workshop. The underground Synagogue Church is reputedly where Jesus studied and prayed.

Next, Lake Galilee (very little fishing going on today),the scene of miracles, such as the Wedding at Cana, and the Feeding of the Five Thousand with the loaves and the fishes. It's also the spot where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount (before he fed the attendees). The loaves and fishes are represented in one of the mosaics in the church at Tabgha, as this area is where the miracle is said to have taken place.


In New Testament times, Capernaum was a fishing village located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Archaeological excavations have revealed two ancient synagogues built one over the other. They're amongst the oldest synagogues in the world. A house turned into a church by the Byzantines is also believed to have been the home of Saint Peter.


South to Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world and, considered to be a holy city for the three major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Both Palestine and Israel claim it as their capital, and it is currently the seat of government for Israel. Most of the major world powers have failed to recognise either claim, as the dispute between Palestine and Israel is ongoing and long running. East Jerusalem (mainly the Old City) and the Bethlehem city area are designated legally as belonging to Palestine. So, read about those visits here. Jerusalem is exceptionally quiet. Most of the stall holders are on strike, so the souks are empty, the shops all shuttered.

Ein Gedi

From Palestine, south into the Israeli Desert. Ein Gedi, (spring of the kid), is an oasis, an archaeological site and a nature reserve, to the west of the Dead Sea. It's a relaxing place to stop, admire the data palms and the sprinkle of water in the falls.


Onto the isolated hilltop fortress city of Masada. Herod the Great (many mentions in the Bible) captured the area and built his palace on the table like top (400 metre drop in one direction 90 metres in the other), in anticipation of further revolts. It sprawls over three rock terraces. There's a Roman-style bathhouse with mosaic floors and it is notoriously difficult to access.

Here, we are persuaded that this is one of those views that is best experienced at sunrise. So we are  forced to arise at 3 a.m. to trek up countless steps and slippery paths and  appreciate the sunrise over the Dead Sea.

To be fair, it’s a worthwhile enterprise, if a starkly brown vista. It brings home the sadness and courage of the splinter group, the Sicarii, who made their last stand against the Romans, here in AD70. They committed mass suicide, rather than surrender, setting most of the buildings ablaze. (960 men, women, and children in total only two women and five children were found alive.

We are rewarded  an hour to recuperate after our exertions, by bobbing  in the Dead Sea. It’s so saline that your arms and legs stick upwards and it's almost impossible to swim properly.  (I think there’s a cable car at Masada now.)

The story of the remainder of this journey is to be found under Jordan.

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