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Israel: The Holy Land & Timeless Cultures 2014

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Itinerary : Tel Aviv Masada

Trip Extensions

Post-trip: Palestinian Discovery

The Palestinian Territories encompass some of the world’s most revered religious sites and archaeological treasures—from Bethlehem to ancient Jericho, the oldest city in the world. Journey beyond the headlines and witness this disputed region’s great natural beauty, ancient cities, and proud and resilient people.

It's Included:
Accommodations for 2 nights in Bethlehem and 3 nights in Jericho
13 meals—5 breakfasts, 3 lunches, and 5 dinners
8 small group activities
Services of our own resident OAT Trip Leader, who speaks English and the native language
All transfers
    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    This morning, we check out of our hotel and travel to one of the Holy Land’s most impressive sites, the desert monastery of Mar Saba—one of the world’s oldest monasteries. Founded in AD 478 by Saint Sabas of Cappadocia, this Greek Orthodox monastery remains active today, with about 20 monks in residence. Then we’ll continue on to Bethlehem, our home for the next two nights. Like Jerusalem, which lies just six miles to the north, Bethlehem holds a special place in the hearts of Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. An important Palestinian stronghold and cultural center, it is also believed by Christians to have been the birthplace of Jesus, and the Jewish faith holds that it was David’s childhood home and site of his coronation as King of Israel.

    Upon our arrival in Bethlehem, we’ll visit a local market and enjoy lunch on our own. Then we'll enjoy an overview tour of the city, including a stop at the Church of the Nativity, first built by Constantine and his mother St. Helena in AD 339 over the cave where Christ was believed to have been born. Though that church was destroyed, a larger church was built at the site in AD 530 and remains there to this day. We’ll view the Door of Humility, built to force all visitors to dismount from their horses before entering; floor and wall mosaics; a silver star said to mark the spot where Jesus was born; and the Chapel of the Manger. Our tour of Bethlehem also includes a visit to Shepherds’ Field, where an Angel of the Lord is said to have informed a group of shepherds of Jesus’ birth; and a local market. This evening we'll enjoy dinner together at our hotel. Please note: Many ancient traditions are still observed at Mar Saba, including a restriction against women entering the main compound. From the neighboring Women’s Tower, however, all travelers can enjoy splendid views of the complex, with its view overlooking the Kidron Valley.

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    After breakfast, we journey to the divided West Bank town of Hebron. Referred to in Judaism as the City of the Patriarchs because it is here that Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Rebecca, and Leah are buried. Hebron is also one of the Four Holy Cities of the Jewish faith (along with Jerusalem, Tiberias, and Sefad). Today, it is the most populous city on the West Bank.

    Here, we’ll visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a shrine complex that is Judaism’s second-most sacred site, after the Western Wall of Jerusalem. Muslims and Christians also revere this holy pilgrimage destination, built over a cave where Abraham and his descendants Isaac and Jacob are buried. First built under Herod in the first century BC, the complex was later added to by the Crusaders in the twelfth century. We also visit a local market before we venture to Ma’ale Amos, an ultra-Orthodox desert settlement. Our discovery of the many different lifestyles in this unique region then continues, as we enjoy a late lunch with a group of Bedouins who live in the Judean desert. Then we’ll visit a settlement of Jewish colons, and learn about the life of Jewish settlers in the former Palestine.

    We return to our hotel in the late afternoon, where we’ll have some time at leisure before gathering for dinner here this evening.

  • After breakfast, we head to Ramallah, literally “God’s Hill.” A vibrant West Bank cultural center, as well as administrative headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah is a harmonious city set on a major crossroads of the West Bank. We’ll enjoy a brief walking tour of the city that includes the old section of Ramallah, its colorful food market, and a stop at Yasser Arafat’s memorial. We continue on to Jericho, where we enjoy lunch in a local restaurant upon our arrival. The oldest known continuously inhabited city in the world and—at 853 feet below sea level—the lowest town on Earth, Jericho was a military fortress built on the route to Canaan in biblical times. According to legend, Joshua, an apprentice of Moses and leader of the Israelites, conquered the city around 1400 BC in his quest to lead his people into the Promised Land. Now dominated by its Arab population, Jericho is a quiet and verdant city, with refreshing natural springs and an abundance of outdoor cafés and garden restaurants.

    We first visit the ruins of the ancient city of Tel Jericho before traveling just north of the city to visit Hisham’s Palace. In the eighth century, Umayyad Caliph Hisham bin Abdul Malek ruled a vast empire stretching from the Pyrenees mountain range to India. Hisham’s Palace, a former winter palace and hunting lodge that bears his name, is now believed that it was actually built by his successor, Al-Walid bin Yazid. Although the palace was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 747, its ruins still yield treasures of Islamic art and architecture. We’ll explore the old synagogue and other fascinating remains of the complex and admire its exquisite mosaics. Dinner is at our hotel this evening.

  • Today is at leisure to explore Jericho at your own pace.

    Or you may join an optional tour that begins with a cable-car ride to the Mount of Temptation and continues to the pilgrimage site of Nabi Musa, believed to be where the prophet Moses is buried. After lunch at a local restaurant, we travel to Bethany, a small first-century village on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives to visit a 2,000-year-old dwelling thought to be the house of Lazarus, whom Jesus is said to have raised from the dead. Then, we visit the St. George Monastery in the Judean Desert.

    Dinner this evening is included at our hotel.

  • After breakfast, we first stop for panoramic views of Nablus, one of the largest Palestinian cities. Ruled by many empires over its 2,000-year history, Nablus is also known as the biblical city of Shechem, where Abraham traveled on his way to Canaan. Then we stop to visit the ruins of a Samaritan temple and citadel on Mount Gerizim, where each year Samaritans come to make an annual Passover sacrifice.

    Perhaps you’ll sample musakhan, a traditional Palestinian dish of chicken and onions, as we pause for lunch in a local restaurant. Then, we continue on to Sabastia, an ancient royal city in the Samarian hills, which contains the ruins of six successive cultures stretching back 10,000 years. Enjoy spectacular views as we explore the ruins of a Roman theater where Salome is said to have performed her notorious “Dance of the Seven Veils,” immortalized in a one-act play by Oscar Wilde and an opera by Richard Strauss.

    Late in the afternoon, we arrive back in Jericho, and enjoy dinner together at the hotel.

    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, you will transfer to the airport for your return flight to the U.S.