For a Christian, whether you go just before Christmas for a renewal of your faith or at Easter to experience the passion of Christ, a visit to Israel will never leave you the same.
PIC: The delegation that visited Israel
Israel is the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Christians. Yet, without a doubt it is one of the few top tourist destinations in the world, which is open all-year-round.
At least, that is the impression I got as soon as we landed at Ben Gurion International Airport, 19km southeast of Tel Aviv. One thing for sure, Israel has invested heavily in its tourism industry and it shows.
Everywhere you turn there is a billboard or signpost announcing the wonders of the Holy Land. And the best part is, you can visit this miracle of a desert country anytime of the year. For a Christian, whether you go just before Christmas for a renewal of your faith or at Easter to experience the passion of Christ, a visit to Israel will never leave you the same.
Not only has Israel captured the imagination of the world, but they have also packaged a visit to their country as a high value non-tangible commodity for which millions are glad to spend millions of dollars, just to get this exclusive experience. No wonder, over 3.5 million tourists visit the sacred sites in Jerusalem annually.
For both the Christian and non-Christian, I must add that the experience is worth every dollar spent. And to think that Israel is not what you would nominally describe as a Christian country, yet it has taken the trouble to preserve sites and the story that is the core of the Christian faith, is truly remarkable.
Going by the numbers, Judaism is the top faith in Israel followed by Islam and Christianity comes in a distant third position. According to the majority of Jews, their Messiah is yet to come.
But for Christians, Jesus Christ is the Messiah proclaimed from ancient times. And that is the story, the Jewish state has been repackaging and selling to the world since it was established in 1948, thanks to its historic and religious sites.
The storyline is simple, Jesus Christ lived and walked on this land, ‘come and share this exclusive experience.' I, too fell for the advertising, although I did not come as a pilgrim, but as a guest of the state, that story captured my imagination afresh. I was overwhelmed by a sense that I was in the Holy Land.
I had come to Israel with a team of African journalists, at the invitation of the Israeli government on a familiarization tour of their strategic development and cultural sites in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in November (2017).
In comparison to Uganda, Israel has no resources to boast of. It is located in a desert. The weather is harsh, but thanks to strategic planning and foresight by its leadership, Israel has become a jewel in the Middle East. It has invested in areas, such as tourism, agriculture, security and technology where it has comparative advantage over other countries
and this has paid off handsomely. If Uganda invested a sizeable fraction of its annual budget towards developing its tourism industry, the returns would be astronomical considering the path Israel has taken as an example.
TOURISM Indeed, there is no shortage of tourist sites to visit in Israel. Each has its own allure. Within the Old City, one will ﬁnd the Temple Mount complex, which is home to the Dome of the Rock shrine, the historic Western Wall, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The Dead Sea with its resorts and the Masada ruins are also another instant hit with tourists. Better known for its Bauhaus architecture and beaches, Tel Aviv happens to be Israel's ﬁnancial hub.
Both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv boast of well-developed infrastructure - road network, modern commercial and administrative buildings, yet what seems to stand out is the ancient look of the old city of Jerusalem, which has been preserved.
For those interested in Jewish history, a visit to the Yad Vashem, the Holocaust History Museum will give you a fresh perspective. Opened in 2005, it has nine galleries of interactive historical displays showcasing the holocaust through photographs, ﬁlms, documents, letters, works of art and personal items recovered from the camps and ghettos.
In 1953, Yad Vashem started as an organisation, which sought to document memories of the holocaust victims and the history of the Jews during the holocaust for posterity.
The hall of names, which is a list of over three million holocaust victims, is another attraction I the museum. These names were submitted by the families and relatives of the holocaust victims.
SECURITY Contrary to international media reports that paint a grim security situation in the country surrounded by hostile neighbours, Israel is an oasis of peace.
This has, however, not come on a silver platter. The country has invested heavily in security to protect the 8.5 million inhabitants from terrorist incursions from Syria, Lebanon and Palestinian held territories.
According to Miki Rosenfeld, the Israeli police spokesperson, their focus is on crime prevention through sensitization of the public. He says every adult citizen is security conscious and equipped with self-defense skills, thanks to the mandatory government policy, which requires them to undergo a three-year military service training.
A cursory evaluation of the security checks and checkpoints right from the airport highlights why Israel, arguably is the world leader in counterterrorism, they leave nothing to chance. While the checks are thorough, they are not obtrusive. After ﬁve eventful days, I ﬂew out of the country with one thing on my mind, Uganda has a lot to learn from Israel.
Story by Geoffrey Kulubya