BY MIKE PUIA
IN a word, the State of Israel is simply “amazing”. This is why I decided to use this word for this series. This series is intended to share my experience whilst in Israel.
My travel to Israel started on 11th June 2018. I arrived back in Honiara on 26th June 2018. I spend eight days in Israel while the other eight days were for traveling to Israel and back.
Before I start, let me thank the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs for giving me, and my pacific colleagues, the opportunity of a lifetime to visit and learn about Israel.
Israel is well known to Solomon Islanders. Most learn about this place through the bible. This is where the story of Jesus, the son of God who saves human kind, took place.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, does most of his work around Galilee and was crucified in Calvary. All the places and sites recorded in the story of Jesus are found in Israel. This is why Israel is called the holy land.
Others learn about Israel through secondary school history studies. The famous six days war was fought by Israel. Maybe others learn about Israel through the news. News seems to tell more about bombing between Israel and its neighbouring Arab nations. I learn about Israel probably through everything above- bible, school text books and news.
So, my travel started four days early. I arrive in Nadi, Fiji, on 11th June and spend four days there before I continue to Seoul, South Korea, on board a Korean Air flight. It was a 10 hour flight.
On arrival in Seoul, I was told I have been arranged to accommodate in a hotel outside Seoul’s terminal. My other colleagues from Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea were not allowed to go out of the terminal. That means I don’t need a visa to enter Seoul. I prefer an accommodation inside the terminal and that was arranged.
The next day, we boarded another Korean Air flight to Tel Aviv, the second most populous city in Israel after Jerusalem.
After 12 hour in the air, we were above the Mediterranean Sea through Turkey on the north. Looking across the horizon, eastward, are Tel Aviv’s city lights. We landed at Ben Gurion International Airport in the evening on Saturday 16th June 2018.
Tel Aviv is located on Israel’s Mediterranean coastline. The young but fast growing city is the financial and technological center of Israel. It has the third-largest economy in the Middle East after Abu Dhabi and Kuwait City.
The city has the 31st highest cost of living in the world and it receives over 2.5 million international visitors annually.
The city was founded in 1909 by Jews as a modern housing estate on the outskirts of the ancient port city of Jaffa.
Tel Aviv was at first called “Ahuzat Bayit”. The name changes to Tel Aviv, meaning “ancient hill of spring”.
There is a saying in Israel that goes “Jerusalem pray, Tel Aviv parties and Jaffa works”. Indeed, Tel Aviv is a party capital in the Middle East with a lively nightlife.
The team of 12 pacific media practitioners were given a VIP treat on arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport.
Two black private mini buses were there waiting to pick us. We had to skip the long queues to the last gate where our passports are checked before we collected our luggage.
We were introduced to a new guy who then led us to a white private mini bus that was parking outside the terminal waiting for us. The bus has a Wi-Fi so we had to access the internet after long hours.
We were transferred to Leonardo Plaza hotel in Jerusalem. Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is about 54 kilometers. At about 10pm we checked-in in our hotel rooms. By that time it was about 6am in Honiara.
We woke on Sunday morning to the start of an exciting journey. Sundays are like Mondays here in Honiara being the first day of the week. Every offices and businesses opened for business.
For the next couple of days I spend in different parts of Israel, everything I thought about Israel changes- most opposite to what I imagine.
I often wonder how people cope with having to live with fear every day and how restricted movements in the country must have been. The Israel I visited is so peaceful and free. The people coming from different tribes enjoy so much freedom. They practice their faith even in public places without fear.
Israel is a shining example of how people of different backgrounds can live in harmony with each other.
In the second part of this series, I will share my experience while visiting the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Yad Vashem, the world holocaust remembrance center, on Sunday 17th June.