Out and about in the ‘Holy Land’

Israel is one of the countries that I have been hearing about since my childhood days in Sunday school.

So I jumped at the chance when the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry offered to host nine journalists from Africa for an educational tour dubbed “Bringing Israel to Africa.”

After a smooth flight to Tel Aviv, my first night was spent in Mount Zion Hotel at the heart of Jerusalem. This iconic hotel has a rustic feel, which makes it look like it has been there since the times of Jesus Christ.

The hotel overlooks a breathtaking view of Old Jerusalem aged buildings on hilly ground, most of them white.

On the first day of the visit, we toured religious sites, including the Temple Mount compound and the Western Wall, sacred to the Jews, and the Dome of the Rock, a 7th-century Islamic shrine with a gold dome.

Israel is just 424 km in length and 15 kilometres at its narrowest point.

On the second day, we went to the northeast to the Sea of Galilee. Our first stop was the Mount of Beatitudes. Jesus is believed to have given the Sermon on the Mount there.

At the site is the octagonal-shaped Church of the Beatitudes.

We later went to see the area where Jesus multiplied fives loaves and two fish to feed more than 5,000 people.  There is a church there, which our tour guide informed us receives close to a million international visitors annually.

The country is 60 per cent desert, but surprisingly has beautiful views and landscapes with green trees. Using an efficient system, all the water used in households and industries is recycled and used for drip irrigation.

We visited the River Jordan, where it is believed that Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist. Some of my colleagues were baptised, along with other Christian pilgrims.

On day three, we set out to the Gaza Strip at the Israel-Egypt border. In one week, there are more than 10 rocket missiles fired from Palestine. A high security wall that separates the two countries keeps most of the missiles out.

Coming to the end of my visit, I looked forward to shopping and buying gifts for friends at home. Israel is however a very expensive country. The one thing I could take back was some “holy water” from the River Jordan.

However, liquids were not allowed on board. So I returned, with lots of pictures of the Holy Land.