Holy Land is number one without a bullet
Israel has become the holy grail for night-life as the hip crowd turns the centre of the religious Middle East into party central, writes Frank Barrett
TIME for a travel quiz: “Where are we?”.
Identify the place recently named as the World’s Best Gay City (it’s also in the top 10 of the world’s Ultimate Party Cities). It’s packed with nightclubs and cocktail bars – and it has a seaside so excellent it’s been dubbed “Miami Beach on the Med”.
You may be surprised to learn that the place in question is Israel’s second city, Tel Aviv.
Really? Israel is a deeply religious country, you’re thinking. After all, this is where some Orthodox Jews take their religious observation so seriously that they are unable even to turn on an electric light on the Sabbath.
For Christians who view Israel as the custodians of some of their religion’s holiest places, the idea that the country is turning into party central may be a little uncomfortable.
Now, improbably, Israel is on the threshold of a major comeback to the world’s holiday market.
Is Israel ready for a new tourist invasion? And is there more to the country than the Holy Land places?
I had good reason to go and find out because some 40 years ago, it was here I almost met a violent death. I was aged 14 and on a Christmas tour of the Holy Land with my aunt.
On our way back to Jerusalem from a visit to the place where Jesus is said to have delivered his Sermon on the Mount, our tour party stopped for a meal at a somewhat shabby seaside restaurant.
After declining most of the menu – vegetarianism was not a well-understood concept in the 1960s, particularly in Israel – I took the chance to break away from the rather suffocating ambience of the group and wandered alone on the seashore in the gathering dusk.
For someone who had been a reluctant Sunday school attendee, being in the Holy Land was surprisingly heady stuff. Here I was by the very sea upon which Jesus had miraculously walked and where two fish were caught which he then used to feed the 5000.
Perhaps it was this that might have sent a sudden chill down my spine.
Actually, it was an uncanny whoosh that made me suddenly nervous. The quiet of the evening was occasionally interrupted by a whining noise of something passing quickly over my head.
A waiter from the restaurant appeared behind me on a meal break, puffing on a cigarette. “What’s that noise?” I asked him as the whining noise happened again.
The waiter smiled. “Bullets,” he said, pointing towards the Golan Heights. “The Syrians fire their guns hoping they might hit something – they rarely do.” Rarely? I rapidly headed back to the safety of the restaurant.
House of the holy: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is arguably Christianity’s most sacred site.
Visiting Israel in 1967 in the aftermath of the Six Day War was probably not a brilliant idea. It may have been officially a “Six Day War”, but clearly, some six months after it had supposedly ended, hostilities were still very much in evidence – there were burnt-out tanks and bullet holes everywhere.
Forty-six years later I returned to Israel to see what the country is offering now as a holiday destination.
I admit that I had suffered some degree of anxiety.