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Israel: The Royal Tour

Why and How We Made Israel: The Royal Tour

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Israel_1Tonight, Israel: The Royal Tour premieres on public television in New York and Los Angeles (click here to check your local listings). Before the show’s start, read about why Peter chose Israel for the latest in his Royal Tour series and how this show provides unprecedented access inside a sacred land that is at once ancient and modern.

I first went to Israel when I was a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Not because I was a student. Not because of any religious tour group. Not because of a burning desire to see the Middle East. Improbably, I was sent there as a 19-year-old “foreign correspondent” by my school’s newspaper to cover the events there. Yes, we really had the budget back then on the Daily Cardinal to send me there. So off I went, convinced that I would never let school interfere with my education.

I was about to get a serious education, thousands of miles from the dairy state—and I’ve been going back there ever since. This wasn’t just about covering current events. You can’t do that in a vacuum in Israel, for one very compelling reason: quite literally, every step you take is bringing you close to history. This leaves an indelible impression, shifting your view of the rest of the world.

Israel_2I then got the chance to travel to Egypt, to Jordan, to Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Syria to meet with their leaders. One friendship that resulted—more than 15 years ago—was with the then prince of Jordan, who later became king when his father died. We talked often about the region, his hopes and his concerns, and his desire to show me his country…through his eyes and experiences.

In 2001, this became the first Royal Tour television special, as King Abdullah II was my personal tour guide to Jordan for a one-hour television special. It opened the door to me—and to millions of viewers worldwide—to a country that few had seen or experienced. It was soon followed by other Royal Tour Specials—in New Zealand with Prime Minister Helen Clark, in Peru with President Alejandro Toledo, in Jamaica with Prime Minister PJ Patterson and, in Mexico, with President Felipe Calderón.

Now we’ve come full circle, back to the Middle East with one of the most challenging—and rewarding—television events in Israel: The Royal Tour, with my very special guide, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Over six intense days, the Prime Minister takes me in, around, over, and under his country, by dune buggy, helicopter, and boat. We head to the Lebanese border and the stunning grottoes of Rosh Hanikra, down to the Red Sea to swim with wild dolphins, and under the Western Wall, to the Top of Masada.

Israel_the_royal_tourBut, that’s just the beginning. We also sit down for a frank discussion of the current situation in the region, his own family history, and how the raid on Entebbe forcibly shaped his public life and positions on terrorism and on his hopes for Israel. It was a remarkable experience from an entirely different perspective. One important rule of all of these programs I’d like to share: no one in the government or the ministry of tourism has any control over content or the right of review or content approval. It is a real, unrehearsed, and open dialogue, and it offers an up close and personal view (often unvarnished) of the country through the eyes of its leader. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience with unprecedented access.

So, I hope you’ll join me in watching Israel: the Royal Tour. The program premieres on public television tonight, March 6, and airs throughout the U.S. in March and April. Click here to check local listings.

Check out Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu’s introduction to the show and CBS This Morning’s First Look.

By Peter Greenberg for