During my trip to Israel, I decided to stay a few extra days to explore more cities. I figured that since I didn’t know the next time I’d be in Israel, this was the logical thing to do. However, after a whirlwind trip full of thrilling adventures, I was beyond exhausted but eagerly trudged along. I checked into a hostel in Jerusalem and planned a day trip to Bethlehem and Jericho.
Since Palestine requires a border crossing, I decided to make things simple by taking part in an organized trip. I chose to go with Vered Hasharon, one of several tour companies offering daily and multi-day trips throughout Israel. The driver explained to me that since he held an Israeli ID card (he was born in Israel and currently lives there) but was technically Palestinian, by default he was given a Jordanian passport. This allowed him to cross between both Israel and Palestine.
I met my tour guide Abu once we passed to the Palestinian territory and we immediately went to Church of the Nativity, which is the oldest church still active today. Most tourists visit here to see ancient mosaics, the birth cave (where Jesus is said to have been born) and the birth place (where Mary gave birth to Jesus.) I was lucky because I was able to enter the birth cave during the Armenian morning prayers.
Known as the oldest city in the world, Jericho was also a town where Jesus passed through during his years spreading the faith. We stopped here to learn more about the many ancient civilizations that have lived in Jericho. Also in Jericho is the Mount of Temptation, the site where Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and was tempted by the devil, making this a popular tourist destination for religious pilgrims.
The Tree of Life
Often called Hisham’s Palace, Khirbet El-Mafjar is a short distance from Jericho. The Umayyad palace was modeled after a Roman bath house, and although only ruins remain, there are clear signs of what the palace looked like many years ago. My personal highlight was seeing the “Tree of Life” floor design. The entire site is comprised of a palace, courtyard, bath house, mosque, and a collection of mosaic art.