By Douglas E. Duckett
The Israel travel guide you are reading is a greatly expanded version of one I first prepared for an American friend some two decades ago. In it, I have tried to share my experiences and knowledge of Israel based on a lifetime of study and seventeen visits to the country, most recently in November 2018.
I enjoy independent travel, and this guide was written primarily with such travelers in mind, though the information should be helpful to those on group tours as well.
As an American, I have produced a guide that, no doubt, reflects that identity and experience. I hope my readers from other countries will forgive that and will still find useful information to help plan their trips.
I am not in the travel industry. Rather, I am a labor lawyer who loves Israel passionately and wants to encourage others to travel there and experience this wonderful land.
My first visit was in November 1988, and I caught the bug; thus, I started visiting every other year or so thereafter, except for 2000-2004, the truly terrible years of the second Palestinian uprising and the terror bombings in Israel cities. Now, with partial retirement, I can go every year.
Even with the mostly peaceful conditions prevailing since then, some friends still asked, “are you sure you want to go back to Israel?” Flare-ups with Gaza from time to time exacerbate those concerns. So, how do I answer that? Each trip has been a dream, and travel to Israel is one of the great joys of my life.
The security situation is nothing like you imagine or fear. My trips have all been calm and peaceful, and while there is more security than you may be used to in North America or parts of Europe, I have never been afraid, and Israelis are not either.
In recent trips I have found the country and even Jerusalem calm and very little affected. Tourism is booming. In any event, attacks have not targeted tourists, and most of the country has been almost completely unaffected.
Even in tenser times, the streets of Jerusalem are safer than the street crime one would risk in any major American city—before we get to the gun violence and mass shootings now routinely plaguing the US. And, of course, the risk of terrorism is everywhere, even at home. So, I encourage you not give in to irrational and uninformed fears, and don’t pay much attention to friends who have never been there who say, “I can’t believe you’re going to Israel!!”
Terror can happen anywhere, and does—New York, Madrid, London, Sydney, Ottawa, Paris—that sad list goes on—but those places are fundamentally safe, and so is Israel. Within hours of your arrival, you will wonder why you ever worried. This is the consistent report of first-time visitors. So, go already! I hope you find the information I have prepared about traveling in Israel and life in that country interesting and helpful in planning your trip.
This is a personal guide by an amateur writer, not a comprehensive, professional guide, so I have some suggestions for more detailed resources to help you prepare for the trip.
In my view, the best guidebook remains Frommer’s Israel (last edition 2017). Fodor’s Israel is another good option. Avoid the Lonely Planet Guide for Israel; it has far too many inaccuracies and significant bias against Israel. For an excellent look at life in this complex country, read Donna Rosenthal’s The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land. It is the best book of its kind today.
If you want to know more about the history of the country from a Palestinian perspective, I suggest
Sari Nusseibeh’s Once Upon a Country. A magnificent book on the history of Jerusalem in particular is Jerusalem: A Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore. It’s an exhaustive but fascinating history of this city, which is holy to more people than any other on Earth.
Print guidebooks are fading largely because the Internet offers the most current and helpful information on travel, with unparalleled chances to learn from fellow travelers. The best resource by far is the Israel travel forum and customer reviews of hotels and restaurants found on TripAdvisor. Search for Israel forums to get there.
I seldom travel anywhere without consulting TripAdvisor. I’m a frequent poster on that forum (under the name “Douglas D”) as you’ll see, and we have many Israelis, including tour guides, who participate and help travelers.
I blog my trips under Douglas’s Trip Report (2018 or whatever the year), sometimes by city—search for that term, and you’ll find my detailed reports. The Israel forum on TripAdvisor is a great place to pose questions and get answers from people with experience in the country, often within hours. You probably found me through that forum. Of course,
TripAdvisor neither endorses nor is in any way responsible for the content of this guide.
A podcaster and travel writer named Chris Christensen has a wonderful, Internet interview program on travel at https://amateurtraveler.com. My podcast interview on Israel travel is Episode 167, and I also did an interview focusing specifically on Jerusalem at Episode 192. Check out his site for other destinations, by the way—it’s an extraordinary resource.
Where I recommend specific hotels, restaurants, or guides in this guide, all I ask is that you tell them that Douglas Duckett of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA sent you. I receive no compensation, commissions, or kickbacks from these people, but I do like them to know I made the referral, so please let them know.
Other than considering a donation to the YMCA as I suggest below, that is all I ask for providing you this information. There are many other wonderful people and places in Israel, to be sure, but I generally list only what I have personally experienced, unless otherwise noted.
As noted above, I don’t hold this out as a comprehensive guide, and when I call it a “personal guide,” it is exactly that. With my guide come my opinions and they are mine alone, as are any mistakes. But you must admit, the price is right!
Finally, before proceeding to my specific recommendations, many people to whom I have sent this guide over the years have asked if they can pay me for it. The answer is, “Thank you, but no.” But if you do find this information useful, you might consider donating $25 or more to the Jerusalem International YMCA for its Jewish-Arab Peace Preschool, called “Gan ha-Shalom,” and please tell them that I sent you.
The Jerusalem International YMCA offers interfaith programs that emphasize reconciliation and co existence in this troubled land, and its work is remarkable. It was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize at one point. You’ll read more about it later in this guide. But I am particularly passionate about Gan ha-Shalom, a program that is committed to building bridges of understanding across the Jewish-Arab divide while children are young and have not yet learned to hate or fear.
It is truly remarkable, and many families, particularly Arab families, cannot afford the more than $8,000 USD annual tuition, threatening the multicultural nature of the program. Please be generous. The easiest and best way to do this is through the Friends of the Jerusalem International YMCA website at www.friendsofjiy.org. Click “Give,” and then click “Select a designation,” then click “Peace Preschool.” In the comments section, you can write that you are making the donation in honor of Douglas Duckett’s guidebook.
For more information about the Jerusalem International YMCA and its other, vital programs, see www.jerusalemymca.org.
Thanks for considering a donation to this very worthy cause. And fornon-Christian readers, I assure you that the YMCA offers programming for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, with members from all three communities, Israeli Jews and Muslims who have served as CEO, and a varied and integrated staff and board that includes Jews, Christian and Muslim Arabs, and expatriates who are living in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem International YMCA is a very resource for Israel and all the diverse communities that make up the rich mosaic that is Jerusalem.
©2004-2019 Douglas E. Duckett, All rights reserved.