For centuries, Jerusalem has stood as the single most revered, contested and loved city in the world © Olgysha, Shutterstock
Israel is a land of dramatic and poignant contrasts, a land whose tumultuous existence often casts a shadow over the rich and vibrant life that beats beneath it. It is a land of incredible beauty, variety and character. Upon this soil have walked some of the greatest figures of our past, a ground that has seen the birth of some of the world’s main religions and the passionate battles that ensued to protect them.
It is a sad yet realistic state of affairs that the word ‘Israel’ has today become synonymous with conflict, religious tension and political debate, and historically this tiny stretch of land has formed the gladiatorial arena where empires and faiths have risen and fallen, a fact that remains as true today as it did 2,000 years ago. Yet behind the television cameras and glare of the international limelight, Israel’s tourist appeal is simply enormous. From the snow capped peaks that straddle the northern border with Syria, to its barren and eerily beautiful expanse of rock deserts that form the gateway to Egypt, the country leaves few landscapes unrepresented. As a meeting point between the cold steppes of Europe and the desert lands of the Syrian-African Rift Valley, Israel is a country geographically (and politically) divided. The swirl of green valleys, tree-studded hills and trickling streams that form the northern region are dotted with towns that have stood the tests of time, their inhabitants displaying a vibrant mesh of beliefs, traditions and cultures that remain proud and strong. In contrast are the arid lands of the south, vast craters, tiny isolated settlements and the inhospitable beauty of the Dead Sea swallowed up in their midst.
The lively, cosmopolitan hub of Tel Aviv takes pleasure in its role as the country’s economic, commercial and diplomatic centre, its wild beaches and secular way of life providing Jerusalem’s diametric opposite. Jerusalem: few cities on this planet can attest to the life that this incredible city has lived, its willpower, determination and passion to survive having seen it rise above all that has come its way. Forming the cross on the map where the world’s three biggest religions converge, it is a place like no other, one that leaves even the most religiously apathetic of visitors in awe. Israel is a modern country that embodies, thanks to its millions of immigrants, countless faiths and innumerable cultures, a charm and uniqueness like nowhere else on earth. Combine this with its rich historic, geological and natural treasures, and it is instantly apparent why so many have fought for so long to keep it.
Only a few kilometres apart, Tel Aviv and Jaffa are strikingly different, epitomising the stark differences throughout the country between ancient and modern © JekLi, Shutterstock
It was by pure chance that I found myself living in the heart of the Middle East, a region I have grown to love for so many reasons. Perhaps it is its unconventionality, passion, staggering beauty or maybe even its drama; I couldn’t say for sure. Friends and acquaintances would ask me why I lived in such a politically sensitive and volatile country, to me a sad opening question about life in Israel. There is so much more to this small yet incredibly fascinating place, and I was driven by this to share my intrigue and discoveries with others. And so I embarked on a thorough (and thoroughly enjoyable) exploration of every corner of Israel, from its mountain peaks to its Red Sea coast and every kibbutz in between.
Along the way, my project and I were greeted with an enthusiasm, gratitude and assistance I could never have predicted, the people of Israel desperate for others to share in the country of which they are so fiercely proud. In this way, while I may have put pen to paper, this is truly the work of so many who share a common love of this vibrant and colourful little land.