Israel as a nation-state has only been around since 1947. Israel as an idea, however, has been around far longer. It would be hard to overstate the cultural and historical significance of Israel and the West Bank. These are the ‘Holy Lands’, sacred to each of the world’s three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
As such, Israel attracts millions of visitors from around the world each year. The divisive political reality also keeps many would-be visitors away. And that’s unfortunate, because Israel, particularly Jerusalem, is SO central to the story of western civilization, that I think everyone should try to visit.
When it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian divide, it seems clear, to me at least, that without a ‘two state solution’, there will never be peace in the Holy Lands. Like many others, I’ve tried to understand both sides in the conflict. To be sure, both sides have legitimate concerns and both sides have suffered terrible violence over the years. The reason my heading here only says ‘Israel’ is that I have not yet been able to spend much time visiting and photographing the West Bank.
In fact, most of my time visiting Israel has been spent in Jerusalem because the layers of history here run so deep, both literally and metaphorically. This is especially true of the ‘Old City’, the ancient, walled, labyrinthine city where the very stones paving the streets have been polished smooth from untold centuries of foot traffic.
Here you can walk the ‘Via Dolorosa’, the route Jesus took to his crucifixion on Golgotha, where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher now stands. Or offer a prayer and touch the 3000 year-old stones of the ‘Western Wall’, the holiest site in Judaism and all that remains of the ‘Second Temple’ and its enhancements that were built by King Herod in the 1st century, BCE, and destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.