Lively Tel Aviv and Historic Jerusalem

There’s so much to say about Israel – it’s an extraordinary, unique country. Since TheEye‘s last visit (working with talented students at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy, founded in the late 40s by Bauhaus alumnae escaping Nazi persecution). A great deal has changed for the better, but sadly not the politicians.

Friday afternoon, Jaffa Beach

Early morning surfers Jaffa Beach

A bit of this and a bit of that – Jaffa market

This was a short visit – Tel Aviv (Jaffa) and Jerusalem with a side trip to Bethlehem. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and a good time was being had by all.

Young Israelis are attractive, friendly, hardworking and polite, which is definitely an improvement on the grumpy old men that largely made up the taxi driver community in years gone by and whose policy seemed to be ‘the customer is always wrong’. Tel Aviv is a dynamic city, pulsating with energy. You could be in Rio walking along the seafront alongside joggers, cyclists and early morning surfers, sailors and kayakers. Unlike Rio, it feels safe apart from the high speed motorised scooters manufactured in Israel. They are the new craze and watch your step  – they are incredibly fast and it’s a case of pedestrians get out of the way. The food is delicious and, again, very different from the past when it was, to be blunt, grim, similar in fact to the way things used to be in Britain. But Tel Aviv is not typical of Israel. It’s a buzzing, hedonistic metropolis where ‘anything goes’. It has the reputation of being the gay capital of the world and gay tourism is a big money-making industry. Gay clubs and bars attract huge numbers. Tattooing is also big business and most young Israelis are covered in tattoos. Some bodies resembling human art galleries! But what amazing bodies.

Culturally, there is a huge amount to entice you to leave the beach  – The relatively new Steinhardt Museum Of Natural History is a revelation in the way it opens visitor’s eyes to nature through interactive displays which highlight the implications of urban development and climate change. A magical dream come true for children- apparently at weekends when it is full of families, guards have to be on extra alert to stop children from hugging the exhibits. It is one of the most exciting museums TheEye has visited.

The Design Museum in the otherwise dreary suburb of Holon is another great place – not only for Ron Arad’s architecture. An undulating building in bronze coloured steel would be reason enough to visit, but the constantly changing exhibitions are always relevant and fascinating. Currently, it’s The Conversation Show.

Jerusalem old city, Young Hassidic boy

Lost in prayer – Jerusalem

The markets are wonderful. The variety of produce, nuts, spices and bakeries made TheEye wish she could bring it all home. Frustratingly, she could only manage some nuts, a couple of small bottles of rose water, aromatic spices and some special Halva. No wonder her clothes now smell of smoked paprika and ginger!

Arab bakery – traditional breads baked in an open fire oven, Jaffa

Shakshuka from the famous Doctor Shakshuka in Jaffa Market

Jerusalem is another story and it’s like walking backwards in time.

Western Wall notice: Women must be dressed ‘appropriately’. Arms covered, no shorts or ‘suggestive’ garments. Men must wear long trousers.

If you are in Jerusalem on Friday evening or Saturday, walk around the ultra-Orthodox area of Mea Shearim. For anyone who watched the Netflix series, Shtisel, it is pure Shtisel territory. Hassidic men in long black coats and tall, wide-brimmed hats with their curly ringlets, known as payots, peeping out. On High Days and Holy days, some wear frock coats (for want of a better description) in beautiful gold fabric, white socks and high brimmed fur hats which apparently vary in cost according to the quality of the fur. Interestingly, Jean Paul Gaultier based one of his collections many years ago on these outfits. They look incredibly dapper and elegant, in a Fiddler On The Roof-kind-of-way. The men walking together and women likewise –  modestly clothed with their arms, legs, and hair covered. Often accompanied by a gaggle of children. If you choose to go you really do need to be respectful and honour the rigid dress code rules or chances are some fanatic will pelt you with stones.

TheEye narrowly avoided this unpleasant fate, taking photos – another ‘no no’. No stones thank goodness, but some angry shouting and her camera was swiftly hidden from view.

Challah wine and goblet for Sabbath dinner


The Church of the Nativity is visited by large groups of Christian pilgrims and it’s possible to visit the crypt with the manger and spot where Christ was born.

Pile it high: can’t leave for home without a Holy Land memento and this is only the window – plenty more inside!

A group of devout Polish pilgrims singing Mass in the crypt of the Church of the Nativity

A Polish pilgrim kissing the star marking the spot where Jesus was born

Greek Orthodox section of the Church Of The Holy Nativity where the decor is decidedly ‘Christmas’

The tranquil garden courtyard of Saint Jerome with a statue of the saint

First stop in Bethlehem was the Walled Off Hotel, conceived by the inscrutable Banksy.

The hotel faces The Wall which Banksy and his crew covered with political graffiti.

Uncomfortably provocative and if it makes you feel uncomfortable, that is the point. The hotel is full of Banksy’s artwork and objects, including a carefully curated small museum and gift shop.

How you react to the museum’s powerful messages depends on your views. Banksy is very clear about this and he is a brilliant communicator.


The Wall – Artwork by Banksy


A settlement within the separation wall that Israel has built.

TheEye had no idea what a ‘settlement’ really implied. A group of houses, with perhaps a small provisions store? A village with more houses and a few basic shops? Or something like a town suburb?

No, they can be the size of cities accessed by the settlers who are free to go in and out of Israel. Israelis are not allowed beyond the wall.

Israel is an extraordinary, progressive, impressive country. High profile creatives such as maestro Daniel Barenboim, whose East-Western Divan Orchestra funded in 1999 started as an experiment for Israeli, Palestinian and other musicians from Arab countries to replace ignorance with knowledge and understanding and imagine a better future of co-existence through music. The experiment succeeded and the orchestra travels the world. Dance companies, such as Hofesh Schechter. Chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Palestinian-Israeli Sami Tamimi bring their delicious blend of Middle Eastern cooking into our lives. These Israelis and Palestinian and numerous others work together and collaborate with mutual respect and a common goal: to overcome the hatred and mistrust on both sides.

If only politicians were willing to follow their example.


  1. Having heard your account, and now reading you blog which is very thoughtful. I really want to go there.
    What a complicated world we live in. Thank you for all your observations.

  2. As always a stunningly diverse visual guide to the beautiful land of milk and honey. If only the politics were as sweet. Great to have included examples such as Daniel Barenboim and Yotam ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi as examples of co-existence.

  3. I always look forward to reading TheEye’s blogs, they are interesting and well written with a good pinch of humour. These images are quirky and inspiring, showing the many sides of Israel. It is nice to be reminded of some of the people that try tirelessly to keep the peace effort alive by bringing people together. Thank you.

  4. Felicity Osborne June 21, 2019 at 11:44 am

    What a really wonderful selection of diverse, beautiful, lively and interesting pictures trying to make sense of it all – some joyous, some sad. I’m afraid it’s sectarianism and extremism that spoils an otherwise idyllic part of the world. I think your lesson may be that on all sides we must learn to share and thank you for reminding us of those like Barenboim who try to bring people together.

  5. Love the picture .. surfers jaffa xx

  6. Patricia Montalto June 19, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    Haven’t been there for years , but your descriptions are good , there is so much happening technological too

  7. You give a quick overall feel of what is this extraordinary country that has developed with great achievement, given the magnitude of endless hurdles in their history which they somehow manage to overcome.
    Love the photographs.

  8. Interested to know more about THEEYE.

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