We landed at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv 40 minutes early (when does that ever happen) on Tuesday evening after a non-eventful flight from Luton. We hopped in a taxi from the airport and headed into the centre of the bustling Tel Aviv, known locally as the city that never sleeps. It was 10pm and the restaurants were jam packed with people sat outside having dinner and making the most of the extended happy hours. Knowing that we had to be up early in the morning, we went straight to our Airbnb and after a brief unpacking session, fell straight asleep.
We woke up the next morning at 5am and walked for about half an hour from our flat near Dizengoff Square to the Central Bus Station and hopped on a Sherut. I had researched the best way to get from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at that time in the morning and was a bit apprehensive about it as we don’t have anything like it in England but it went perfectly to plan! A Sheruts are also known as service taxis, they’re kind of like if a public bus and a taxi had a baby. In a nut shell, you pay the price of a public bus and have the convenience of a taxi, as long as you’re willing to share the ride with others and go on a predetermined route. Although we were travelling on a Wednesday, a major plus of Sheruts is that they run on Shabbat while the public bus does not. It was only NIS 23 each for a one-way journey and we jumped into the Sherut on Tzemach David Street after checking which one was going to Jerusalem. One of the downfalls is that you have to wait until it’s full before it’ll leave but we were one of the last to get on and only had to wait another 10 minutes or so for a couple more people. Once the driver gets in, everyone passes their money forwards and change is returned back to you. If fuel efficient driving and lane discipline are your forté, then this may not be the option for you, but it took about an hour and we saw a beautiful sunrise on the journey.
Once we’d arrived in Jerusalem, we went to a corner shop to grab some breakfast and snacks for the day and then went into the lobby of the Abraham Hostel where we were meeting our tour guide from Abraham Tours. He took us to the bus station in Jerusalem where we had to go through security (every bus station, train station, shopping mall and busy indoor public place in Israel insists on bag checks) and then we hopped on a bulletproof public bus. We drove out of Jerusalem and towards Hebron where we got out and sat on the grass outside the Cave of the Patriarchs.
Hebron is one of the four holy cities in Judaism and a sacred place in Islam. We spent the first half of the day with our Palestinian guide, Mohammed, who had been banned from leaving the West Bank by Israeli officials for 99 years.
We headed into the Muslim side of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, known as the Ibrahimi Mosque and then went into the bustling city centre.
We were able to speak to a variety of locals about the ongoing conflicts and the difficult conditions of Palestinian residents and shop owners living in close proximity to the nearby settlements, some which have been built as close as on top of the Palestinian’s roofs.
We then finished off with a lovely home cooked lunch with a local Palestinian family in their house.
Once we were back in ‘H2’, the Israeli controlled area of Hebron, we begun a tour of the Jewish ‘settler’ neighbourhoods of the city. We visited the Avraham Avinu Quarter and restored synagogue as well as the Beit Hadassah museum about Jewish life in Hebron before the riots of 1929 and the ‘Shavei Hevron Yeshiva’ in Beit Romano.
After climbing up the hilltop Tel Rumeida, the site of a Bronze Age archeological site, army base and the tomb of Ruth and Jesse from the Bible, we went back into the divided Tomb of the Patriarchs. The Jewish side is home to the symbolic tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Issac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah – even Adam and Eve are said to be buried in the cave beneath.
It was amazing to spend the morning in the Palestinian part of the city and the afternoon with Jewish ‘settlers’ and hear such a balanced insight into life in Hebron, the city of Abraham, and the site of the burial place of the Biblical Patriarchs and Matriarchs. I’d recommend this organised tour to anyone looking to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but would definitely say that you should be cautious visiting anywhere within the West Bank without an experienced guide.