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Sightseeing in Israel

The land of Israel has long attracted many with its wealth of biblical sites. Every place you visit, and every sight you see and almost everything you touch is informed by a history and a present that is important, and most times a future that hangs uncertain.

The holy cities of Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem and Nazareth, the beaches of the Mediterranean, Eilat on the Red Sea and the Dead Sea spas, a thoroughly cosmopolitan Tel Aviv where Jews from all corners of the earth arrived to build one nation.

Israel is a land that promises the traveller a uniquely interesting visit. For the sunny beaches and the Mediterranean air head for the resort town of Ashkelon or the cities of Netanya, Haifa and Nahariya.

Eilat on the Red Sea bordering the Negev in southern Israel is also a popular beach resort in the winters. The Negev Desert , unbearable in the summer, is the scene of much activity in the cooler months from November to April. Its chief attractions are camel safaris and hiking, besides that the desert itself is beautiful. Take along your swimsuit and dark glasses, slap on the sun block, go ahead soak up the sunny goodness.

The town of Caesarea is among the most important archaeological sites in the region. Under excavation for the remains of a 1st century BC city built by Herod, the town has ancient ruins of a theatre, aqueducts, a harbour and many Byzantine murals. Relics from the crusades have also been discovered here.

Of supreme importance to Christians are the towns of Bethlehem where Christ was born, Nazareth in Galilee where he spent his childhood, Bethany where Christ raised Lazarus from the dead and where the tomb of Lazarus can still be seen.

And then, of course, there is Jerusalem . Jerusalem is a sacred site for Muslims, Christians and Jews. For Muslims, Haram ash Sharif or the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock are second only to Mecca in religious import. Haram ash Sharif, the third most important religious place for Muslims, is where the Prophet began his night journey to heaven.

Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jaffa are cosmopolitan and modern. Museums, discotheques, nightclubs and universities make all three cities interesting tourist destinations. While Haifa has Israel's biggest port, Jaffa has one of the world's oldest harbours to be still functional. Tiberias , the only major city on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, has health spas and tombs of revered saints.

The tension ridden region of West Bank, which along with the Gaza Strip is still under dispute, contains the important religious cities of Bethlehem, Jericho and Hebron. Hebron , holy for Jews and Muslims, was where the biblical figure King David established the first capital of the ancient Jewish kingdom. It has the Tombs of the Patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca and Leah. Known to the Jews as the Cave of Machpelah and to the Muslims as Il Ibrahimi Mosque, this is currently administered by the Wakf. There is also a Byzantine church here.

In Bethlehem , where Jesus was born, the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square attracts more than a million Christian pilgrims every year. Jericho is the world's oldest city and since it is within easy striking distance of Jerusalem, is usually included in the tourist circuit of Masada, the Dead Sea and the Mount of Olives at Jerusalem.

Golan is attractive for its great natural beauty, opportunities of white-water rafting, hiking, and perhaps perversely for the high-profile international dispute that it is mired in. Undoubtedly, Israel is a destination for pilgrims of three great religions. But, and this often gets overlooked, it is a land of great natural beauty. The seas - the Dead Sea, Sea of Galilee, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, the deserts - of Negev and Judea, and rolling hills touch the land with a grace that must be divinely endowed. As the legend goes: when the world was created, God gave it ten parts of beauty. One part He gave to the rest of the world, nine parts He gave to Israel.

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