The advantages of exploring Bible Lands with a small group of friends are many. Priorities and agenda are not dictated by company interests. The racket of commissioned group shopping and guide-kickbacks are eliminated. Heightened interaction with local culture is possible. Pace is whatever the fellowship decides. In short, the tyranny of the program is eliminated.
We recently enjoyed this kind of tidy fellowship with two couples: Mark and Dee-Dee and Jon and Tammie. The five of us spent 14 days together in Israel-Palestine. Needless to say we had a blast!
Along the way we visited numerous archaeological sites, churches, and national parks. Many of them were part of a standard introduction to the land: Caesarea Maritima, Megiddo, Nazareth. Others were a step off the beaten path; these included the Pools of Solomon, Arad, Kursi.
Our accommodations varied. In Old Joppa we stayed in boutique hotel adjacent to 3,000 year old harbor. In Tiberias, we slept in a European style hostel near the Sea of Galilee. From our modern balcony in Ein Boqeq we peered out to the Dead Sea (and later went for a swim). In Bethlehem, we bunked in a genuine Ottoman-period palace. Finally, in Jerusalem, we made our home in the Ritz.
In-country wheeled travel was provided by our gracious host, Gabriel Abdallah and Sindbad Tours. Our driver, Lutfi, was a true professional. He not only navigated the highway in our private van (and possibly saved our lives on one occasion!), but displayed intimacy with back roads and alleyways.
The later was important, as our visit to Israel-Palestine was marked by four competing events.
1. President Donald Trump's visit to Israel/Palestine.
2. The 50-year anniversary of Jerusalem Day
3. al-Nakba Day (or the Day of Catastrophe)
4. The beginning of Ramadan.
Of the four, the visit of the U.S. President proved to be the most disruptive. We were scheduled to leave Bethlehem on the same morning that Trump arrived. We managed to slip out, but only with some difficulty. Roads were blocked, security was high, and guns were everywhere.
Even with these wrinkles it was a delightful trip. After dinner, we bid our friends ma‘a as-salaama and look forward to the arrival of a new group in June.