Can you tour Israel freely?

Let’s get down to the point. My familyhas just spent 7 days travelling round the north of Israel, including the Galilee and the Golan Heights. And I want people to know what we did and why it was such a great success.

We left Jerusalem via the road to Jericho. The Jordanian Valley is rich with Bedouin, Palestinian, Christian villages and sites. The main road, which travels the West Bank  was open to all, and the camel owners appeared to have no problems encouraging tourists to part with their dollars.

We eventually stopped just south of the Sea of Galilee at Neharayim Park, right on the River Jordan. This was the site of an electricity power station, set up by Zionists in 1931, which even supported towns stretching into modern Syria and Jordan.

Here’s what is fascinating. A small section of the area is called “the island of peace”. Under the 1994 peace agreement, it officially belongs to Jordan, but is under the complete management of Israel. Both flags fly near to each other. The murder of 7 Israeli schoolgirls in 1997 have not stopped this wonderful project.

We spent 3 nights at the hotel on Kibbutz Hagoshrim. The Kibbutz lies along the northern ridge of the Hula swamp, drained by pioneers 100 years ago. In 1940, Emir Fa’ur, a powerful tribal leader, sold his lands to the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet) and left his palace . 13 years later, the hotel was established, and in the lobby you can still discern the original structure.

The hotel hosted a multitude of languages; English, French, Arabic, Hebrew and more could be heard. As for nationalities, the dining room was a ready match for the UN, both amongst staff and guests.

10 miles to the west of Hagoshrim is Kibbutz Manara. It is perched about 1,000 meters above the hotel and stares straight at the Golan Heights, into villages divided by the Lebanese border, and into surrounding Israeli towns. It proides a commanding view.

It backs on to an area, which possesses a rare mix of religions; Druze, Muslim, Circassian, Christian, Jewish and several more, living together. It is only the threat of the Hizbollah and its consistent rearmament that clouds the tranquility.

From Hagoshrim, we moved to Had Nes, located on the lower Golan Heights and just above the Sea of Galilee. It is almost a decade since the late President Assad refused to make peace with Prime Minister Barak, because the Syrian leader would have had to concede a 10 meter wide strip along the lake.

Meanwhile, Israeli development continues in the Golan, where over 50 ancient Synagogues have now been excavated. The Golan winery challenges the best vintages from Europe. Red grapefruits are big seller in Japan.

One of the highlights of the week was our walk through the gorge of the River Yehudiya. At the top, we passed an abandoned Syrian village, which in turn had been built on the ruins of a former Jewish town. Below, we struggled along the heavy basalt rocks, wading in and out of the river. We dropped from ledges into small lakes. fantastic challenge.

I could describe other parts of the holiday. Watching and talking to Druze picking sabra fruit – a rare but simple technique. Meeting up with European volunteers on kibbutz enjoying themselves. etc etc.

There were many reasons why our family had a great holiday. Maybe the most important factor was the beauty of the region, open to all. Long may it stay that way.

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