Tourism in Palestine

After a couple of days in Palestine, I am really impressed by how much fun it is to simply be here. There’s a resilience, a welcoming spirit, and a warmth that is striking. While I haven’t seen a single American here (except for a few Christian and political tour groups), everywhere we go, we hear, over and over, “Welcome to Palestine!” It’s as if people are just thrilled that they have a name for their country…and someone from the outside world is here to see it.

I like classic old tour posters like this one, which remind me that until WWII, this region was called Palestine. The recent international recognition (via the UN) of the “State of Palestine” — also known as the West Bank and Gaza Strip — revives that tradition, and helps remind us that the Holy Land is shared by both Israelis and Palestinians. While there are different perspectives on this, from the Arab side I keep hearing that the norm until after the creation of Israel in 1948 was that Jewish and Muslim communities lived here in relative harmony.

We intended to film the Dead Sea later in the shoot. But as we came down from the fabled mountain fortress of Masada on the last gondola (at 5:00 p.m.), the light was plush along the Dead Sea. The mountains of Jordan melted like hot buttered rum into the glassy sea, and bathers bobbed like little marshmallows on vacation. We stopped at a resort and took full advantage of the “magic hour” light, filming the whole bit in about half an hour. Here’s the script: “The road ends where the Jordan River does, at the lowest place on earth: the fabled Dead Sea. Officially, Palestinians in the West Bank don’t control any seaside, riverbank, or lakefront — including the Dead Sea shoreline, which is controlled by Israel. But when tensions are low, Palestinian families who can afford the admission are welcome to enjoy the Israeli Dead Sea resorts. The Jordan continually empties into this inland sea. Because there’s no outlet for the water and the scalding sun causes constant evaporation, the minerals concentrate. That’s why the water is more than one-third minerals — about six times as salty as the ocean. You’ll float like a cork. If you have any little cuts, you’ll sting like mad. Keep the water out of your eyes and bathe near a shower. Locals come here for the black mud, filled with natural minerals. Women count on it to keep their skin young.”

A frustration when traveling in Palestine is being overfed. I don’t like to overeat or to waste food. And it seems I have to do both twice a day when traveling here. Then my local friend taught me that, according to Palestinian culture, whenever a guest finishes his plate, it’s only hospitable to refill it. So I found the solution: not to finish my plate. There’s also a rhythm of eating here. Routinely you’re presented with a delicious and irresistible array of little appetizer plates — humus, salads, cheeses, meats, eggplant, and various dips to eat with pita bread. Then, just when you’re about full, the real meal arrives — generally a plate full of various meats and grilled vegetables. And save room for dessert! If food is love, there’s an abundance of that in this land.

I’ll continue this Holy Land series until November 21st. Then, to celebrate my homecoming, I’ll give a live, free slideshow lecture on Thursday, November 21st at 7 p.m. P.S.T. in Edmonds, Washington. You can attend in person (registration required)…or watch the live webcast from anywhere in the world (no registration required). Learn more at Rick Steves – Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today.

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