On Wednesday December 3rd at 21:00 GMT, BBC Two will air an edition of the documentary travel series ‘Great Continental Railway Journeys’ – presented by Michael Portillo – titled ‘Haifa to the Negev’.
Already in the programme’s synopsis audiences are inaccurately informed that the Western Wall is “the holiest of all monuments for Jews” as well as that Portillo will be seen visiting “the Haram ash Sharif”, to which one of course doubts he gained access “in the Muslim quarter” as stated because entry to non-Muslims is via the Mughrabi Gate, located near the Western Wall.
“Following his 1913 Bradshaw’s guide, Michael ventures beyond Europe to the Holy Land. His journey begins in Haifa in modern-day Israel. Struck by the spectacular shrine of the Baha’i and its beautiful gardens on the slopes of Mount Carmel, Michael learns about the faith and how, at the time of his guide, it spread to Britain.
Michael is shown how to cook a takeaway, middle-eastern style, before heading to Haifa’s original station to find out about its branch line to the famous Hejaz Railway.
In Tel Aviv, Michael marvels at the city’s futuristic skyscrapers and railway lines, threaded along the centre of modern highways. He hears the story of its birth, which was just before his guidebook was published, discovers how its population was swelled by refugees from Europe and learns the roots of the modern-day conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
On his way to Jerusalem, Michael hears how the Jaffa to Jerusalem railway was the first line to be built in the Holy Land. Constructed for pilgrims to journey to the holy places, it encouraged more modern tourists to explore these exotic destinations.
In Jerusalem’s Christian quarter, Michael meets British tourists at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and finds out about a surprising Holy Land tradition, subscribed to by the most illustrious visitors, among them British royalty. In the Jewish quarter, he visits the holiest of all monuments for Jews – the Western Wall. In the Muslim quarter, admission to the Haram ash Sharif, to see the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, hangs in the balance. In 1913, as now, application must be made to the authorities.
Crossing the separation barrier between Jerusalem and the West Bank in the company of his Palestinian guide, Michael heads for Bethlehem where he meets the embroiderers of the Arab Women’s Union and finds out about their handiwork.
Heading south, Michael arrives at the lowest point on earth – the Dead Sea, where he takes to the buoyant waters.
On the train south to Beersheba, Michael learns about the work of the London-based Palestine Exploration Fund at the turn of the 20th century. In the Negev Desert, he learns about a celebrated British military hero with railways in his sights.”
One can only hope that more attention is paid to accuracy in the programme itself.