Israel / PalestineBlog

Palestinians, Pilgrims and Politics

What happens if you put a Palestinian Muslim, a Palestinian Lutheran, a Catholic and an Evangelist in a small family car and send them on a road trip through the Holy Land?

I write this (the 'answer') on the journey home having just spent the last five days in Israel and occupied Palestine as part of just such a group.

My understanding of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, religious extremism and cultural tolerance (and intolerance) has been fundamentally challenged.

My awareness of geopolitical issues in the Middle East has reached new highs, and emotional lows.

My knowledge of history and change in the most contested area of land in the history of our world has been thoroughly advanced.And my waistline, thanks to an unrestrained supply of Palestinian hospitality, has expanded far more than I hoped.

It is fair to say that I return with the conviction that Israel and Palestine are the nirvana of educational travel and somewhere every school should have on their overseas trip programme. Religion, history, geography, politics, culture – all of unfathomable international importance, all wrapped up in a few square miles and served up with passion and friendliness in equal proportions.

I went to recce our trips in the region and was the guest of our ground operator, the lovely and very well connected, Dalia, a Palestinian Christian living in Jerusalem. Hassan was our Palestinian guide and a font of knowledge on all things - from Jewish hairstyles to why an Arab family have, for generations, held the keys to Christianity's most sacred church.


For five days we travelled through the Promised Land, saw Israeli settlements on the Palestinian West Bank, stood in front of the place of Christ's crucifixion and witnessed Bar Mitzvahs just a stone's throw from Islam's third holiest shrine. We visited the holocaust memorial, walked in vast barren deserts, descended by car to 400m below sea-level, saw extra-ordinary hill top fortresses more than 2000 years old and marvelled at views of peaceful lush green vineyards and fields of barley stretching from the Golan Heights towards southern Syria just a few kilometres away.

I've stayed in a convent, a kibbutz and a Palestinian run hotel located directly opposite Jerusalem's ancient city walls.


I've eaten Jerusalem's best falafels, imbibed Jewish ales and traditional Arab mint tea. I've dived into a smorgasbord of colourful mezzes prepared by a Moroccan Jewish chef living in the Muslim quarter of ancient Jaffa - just a few hundred metres from the hot bronzed bodies and cool youth of Tel Aviv's beaches.

If ever there was a destination that warranted the description of a cultural melting pot, this is it.

Not once did I feel unsafe or threatened.

I've had some of the most interesting, funny, thought provoking and humbling conversations I can ever remember as our small car criss-crossed the land: Sharia Law, Catholic women's houses in Ireland, the Holocaust, football, toad-in-the-hole, Syria, the Arab uprisings, eco-tourism, education, women's rights - nothing was off limits. Everything was open for discussion in a tolerant atmosphere of furthering understanding.

I come home a richer man.

Whether you are religious or not, you should go. And you should take your students with you. This is somewhere every school should have on their overseas trip programme.

I guarantee you won't be disappointed.


Find out more about our school trips to Israel and Palestine.