The scenes are surreal: A Chinese man getting his picture taken next to a “Beware of Mines” sign. A fully clothed woman submerged in the Jordan river. And a man covered in mud in nothing but his Speedos.
In the past 18 months, more tourists have visited Israel than any other time in its history (3.6 million in 2017 alone). Many of these tourists come in groups – pilgrims roaming religious and historic sites – while others are drawn to the “sin city” of Tel Aviv, known for its splashy gay parades, beautiful beaches and nonstop nightlife.
In Haifa, the sun beats down on a group of tourists heading to the Baha’i Gardens – one of Israel’s more exquisite and mysterious religious sites, perched on Mount Carmel. Often it seems that the heat is somehow more attracted to tourists than locals, whose skin has grown accustomed to Israel’s climate, and the sun reflects off of them like a shiny menorah.
Fresh off the bus, they all look lost and not quite sure of their surroundings. With unbreakable confidence, their tour guide points his hand heavenward and, in a seemingly cautionary tone, yells: “That’s north, Nazareth, the Golan Heights … [and] Syria” – it’s all over there.”
The group relaxes. It seems the fact they now know where they are has had a calming effect, as they proceed to pull out their phones and snap shots of the view and themselves over and over ... and over again.