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Israel Watch

Let’s Take a Break

I reserve the right to, from time to time, write about something other than Israel’s perpetual wars (forced on the Jewish state by her neighbors, of course). My trips to Israel can give some different perspectives.

Also, I am frankly tired of some observers that only give us dark, scary forecasts.

You know me, I never worry that Israel will disappear. Scripture tells me she won’t. Others though traffic in fear and dread and skirt the issue of whether “Israel will survive or not.”

Not for me.

Today I want to take a real departure from our regular topics and present something I’ve wanted to do for some time.

The topic today is, Visiting Israel on a Budget!

Of course, some are more adventurous than others, but I’m here to tell you, you can go to Israel solo and save money. I am not discounting tours—no pun intended—because they are fantastic. It gives you a great overview and if you are blessed to go with a teaching pastor, a deluxe teaching pastor like Chris Quintana, then you will never forget it.

But if tour money intimidates you, let me explain some things to you. I’ve been to Israel 10 times, almost always on my own. Rent a car, book my hotels as I go, and do my own customized trip. You can also see some places not normally included on tours, such as Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, or the Haganah Museum (military museum) across the street.

It’s not really that hard, and unless there’s a war on—cough, cough—you’re as safe as you are at home.

One of my favorite things is to try as many different hotels as I can. I tend to stay away from international chain hotels (we can do that at home) and look instead for historical places or culturally interesting. Now, I am presenting this as a budget trip, but that doesn’t mean you eat bologna sandwiches all week. In fact, you can have a lot of fun splurging here and there based on money you’re saving elsewhere.

For example, let’s start with accommodations. I’ve stayed in most of the nicest hotels in Israel, and I highly HIGHLY recommend you save your pennies and stay at least one night at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. You will never regret it. It’s very expensive ($500 or more per night), but absolutely worth it. See if you can get an “Old City” view, which means your room will face east and the beautiful Old City is so close you feel like you can touch it. The breakfast is extraordinary; the room is so big you’ll think you’re in a warehouse. The architecture is Old World, in fact so Old World it will remind you of a Babylonian city.

Others that are wonderful are the American Colony Hotel, just north of the Old City. Here though you will be in Palestinian neighborhoods, but you’re very close to such sites as Gordon’s Calvary, etc. The building originally belonged to an Arab sheik, but was taken over by American missionaries in the 19th century. Such luminaries as Winston Churchill, Marc Chagall, and Mark Twain have stayed there. Like at the King David, I stayed three nights and enjoyed it immensely. A great pool and a gathering place frequented by international media types. Never know who you’ll run into!

The Mt. Zion Hotel is also close by and the amazing feature is, it overlooks the “fabled” Valley of Gehenna, spoken of in the Bible. A few yards away is the traditional site of Judas’s hanging.

But let me spring something on you here. On my last trip, exactly a year ago, I found the courage within myself to stay in a…pod! I had read about them and decided I wanted to try it, if I could stand it, so that I could report back to my friends.

It was a fantastic experience. I found one in Tel Aviv, right across the street from the beach and two doors down from the luxurious David Intercontinental Hotel and the Dan Panorama. I figured if I couldn’t stand living in a commune for a night, I could switch! I didn’t want to. What you get is a large, box-shaped sleeping quarters, with a locking door. Each unit has air-conditioning and lighting. Also charging stations. Three feet from mine was the private shower. Listen to me: if I could do it, you can do it. I’m a private person but I never felt uncomfortable. It was a great experience. The selling point? I stayed for $40 per night! Amazing.

I wanted to be able to stay I’ve stayed everywhere in Israel!

Before I forget, at the time I got my plane ticket through Expedia, I only paid about $1,000—the cheapest ticket I’d had in 25 years. So, add that expense to your hotel stuff and you can get there and have lodgings for about $1,000 if you play it right. I rented a car for a couple hundred dollars and was able to eat economically. Remember, almost all hotels have a free breakfast.

Souvenirs are cheap, too. You can fill a suitcase with t-shirts for not a lot.

As I said, not everyone is adventurous, but don’t worry about your safety. I drove all over the country. I simply avoid Palestinian areas and the rest is a picnic. Dead Sea, the Galilee, Jaffa, Jerusalem…all within easy driving range. Use the GPS or rely on old-fashioned printed maps…the highway signs in Israel are good and easy to understand. All signs in the country are printed in Hebrew, English, and Arabic.

I would recommend noting the phone number and address of some official channels, such as the U.S. Embassy, but I’ve never used such. I want to keep reiterating the point that Israel is a very safe country to visit.

So think about it: for around half what a tour would cost, you could go solo to the Land of Israel. Something to think about.

One last thing for now. If you want to know my no. 1 site to visit in Israel, it is the Temple Mount. It’s the spiritual center of the universe and where the Jewish Temples once stood. Very few people will be able to say they’ve been there, this side of heaven, but when I go, I spend hours up there. It’s usually not hard to get up there. You just go early, then get in line by the security checkpoint to the right of the Western Wall. You then head up the ramp and before you know it, you’re walking where Jesus and the apostles walked. Where David bought the threshing floor. Where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac. And don’t forget to look east, to the Mount of Olives. I always imagine Jesus coming through the clouds and standing on the Mount of Olives, then walking through the Kidron Valley, to enter the Temple Mount and take His rightful place.

Well, I hope this has been beneficial to you. If you’d like to know more, as I said, I’ll be posting something soon on my site, with more detail.

Happy travels!

-Jim Fletcher

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