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The Beaten Path

  • The Beaten Path epilogue: Is this the place? (Part 13)

    Nothing in the Holy Land is very imposing in and of itself. What visitors seek is a connection to holiness, to an ancient story or to one currently unfolding. The deconstructed tourist trail ends with a realization: Everything here is a trace. The final installment in Yuval Ben-Ami's journey to Israel and Palestine's most-trodden tourist sites. On the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, overlooking the Salt Lake Valley, is a park with a peculiar name. It is called: "This is the Place Heritage Park" and features the imposing "This is the Place Monument." Ironically, it is not the place, and the bronze…

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  • The Beaten Path: Jericho, city of flexible time (part 11)

    On we go, deconstructing the tourist trail, except this time it melts in our hands, much like Salvador Dali's clocks. Welcome to Jericho, oldest city on earth, established right this moment. Part 11 of Yuval Ben-Ami's latest journey. When I visit Jericho with groups, the visit is typically brief. This sweet, ultra-historical desert town is an attractive destination, but is sadly stuck between two far more attractive ones: Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. It ends up being no more than a way station for most. We usually swing into town, scale "Tel al-Sultan," the mound that marks Jericho's original Neolithic…

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  • The Beaten Path: Time traveling in Bethlehem (part 7)

    Seeking the past in a land with an overwhelming present can be challenging, and ever more so in the extremely compact city of Bethlehem. Part seven of Yuval Ben-Ami’s journey. If you want the world to hate you, turn Bethlehem into a prison. I can't fully fathom why my government wants the world to hate it (and me), but this is exactly what it has been doing in a lengthy, gradual process that has only intensified over the past decade. The separation barrier runs along the northern edge of the city. A monstrous concrete wall hugs the urban core like the…

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  • The Beaten Path: Fixing a hole in Safed (part 6)

    The deconstructed tourist trail reaches the mystical Galillean town and its many ghosts. Safed is the incredible shrinking city, forever threatened by its own capacity to be more than one thing. Part six of Yuval Ben-Ami's journey. Safed makes me sick. Literally. As soon as I hop off the bus, take in the obligatory breath of fresh mountain air and settle at the "Baghdad Café" for an Americano, my stomach begins to torment me. I know this isn't only the snack I had in Geinosar. This place makes my spirit sad, and my body sympathizes. Safed is one of many cities…

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  • The Beaten Path: Fishing for the real at the Sea of Galilee (part 5)

    In an over-mythologized, pre-imagined land of promise, the Sea of Galilee is a dream waiting to be shattered. Here it is, deconstructed. Part five of Yuval Ben-Ami’s journey.  Ruthie, My girlfriend, hates movie spoilers. Tell her so much as one detail of the plot, any detail, and she'll pass on the entire film. I joke that even knowing the genre would kill her fun. Actually, it's worse. We once decided to watch "The Long Goodbye." While waiting for it to download, I hummed the theme song, and she yelled: "don't ruin it for me!" Oddly, the very same Ruthie isn't bothered…

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  • The Beaten Path: The unholy hierarchies of Nazareth (part 4)

    If the heart of Nazareth is sacred, its outskirts are very much the opposite. If anything, they provide a perfect example of a system that stubbornly preserves a hierarchy of communities: Arabs below, Jews on top. The third stop on the reconstructed tourist trail. There is a painting by an Italian master, the great Pierro della Francesca, called "Madonna del Parto." Two angels hold up the folds of a tent in which Mary stands. She is pregnant, wearing a blue gown with a crack in it, just where her belly pokes out the furthest, allowing for a white undergarment to show through.…

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  • The Beaten Path: Baha'i Haifa, Banana St. and the ultimate Other (part 3)

    From afar, the flight of the fancy complex and the boxy city appear rather harmonious. It is upon close inspection that they are revealed to be made up of entirely contradicting notions. The second stop on Yuval Ben-Ami's journey to deconstruct Israel's well-worn tourist trail is something of an exception, in every sense of the word. Welcome to Haifa's Baha'i Gardens. A few weeks ago, my dear friend Osnat had an interesting experience on the slopes of Mt. Carmel. It happened when she came to visit the famed Baha'i Gardens: an astounding pillar of greenery rising up from Haifa's port district,…

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  • The Beaten Path: The Western Wall as military parade grounds (part 2)

    It's still beautiful and moving, but recent decades have done something strange to the 'Kotel,' our first stop along the deconstructed tourist trail. What happens when a site is the object of both religious longing and military identity? Read part one of The Beaten Path, 'An introduction, or how to ruin a good story' There are so many advantages to not being a tourist. For one, I know the best way to get to Jerusalem from Tel-Aviv. Busses only reach the main terminal, which is located on the western outskirts of town and requires a further trip by the light rail.…

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  • The Beaten Path: An introduction, or how to ruin a good story (part 1)

    In a new series of adventures, travel writer Yuval Ben-Ami sets out to deconstruct the Holy Land's most famous and heavily trodden tourist attractions. To begin, he deconstructs the entire country. The Holy Land has no history. I mean it. It is a land without any history at all, insofar as "history" can be said to describe what is past. The wheels of history keep turning, of course, but the past, you will agree, is what most people mean by the word, especially when they travel. Rarely will someone roll into a town and say: "I'm here for the history.…

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