Israel’s parliament building, the Knesset, is where the government meets to debate, pass laws, elect the President and basically this is where the government runs the country from. Although this is not one of the “top 10” Israeli attractions it is certainly a close runner up.
The Knesset is located on a hill top in western Jerusalem’s Givat Ram neighborhood; it is near to the Israel Museum, Supreme Court, Jewish National Library and other government offices. The building was completed in 1966 and since then has undergone several renovations and extensions including the addition of new wings in 1992 and 2007. Today it is one of the “greenest” parliament buildings in the world with solar panels covering the roof, auto-close air-conditioners, recycled paper and thermally insulated double-paned windows. The country’s 120 Members of Parliament meet at the Knesset and serve a term of four years.
The tour of the Knesset stops at 25 stations starting with the three iron gates designed by Jerusalem sculptor David Palombo (1920-1966). See the large seven branch candelabrum, a symbol of the Jewish people designed by English sculptor Benno Elkan. Pass the guards, the Usher Unit, which protects the building and pay your respects at the Eternal Flame in the Knesset courtyard. This brings you to the entrance of the building where there are massive doors designed by Shraga Weil called the Gate of the Tribes. See the cornerstone of the building laid in 1958 and enter the breathtaking Chagall Hall. The Chagall Hall is used for official receptions and was designed by famed artist Marc Chagall. The hall has 12 floor mosaics, a wall mosaic and 3 Gobelin tapestries. Visit the Plenum where the MPs meet and debate the laws of the country. See the Bureau of the Secretary General’s office and the Government Room where meetings are held and important guests are hosted. The tour takes you to the committee rooms where government committees work and see an MP’s office. There is also a synagogue, library and archives.
Visiting the Knesset
Knesset tours are run on most Sundays and Thursdays in Hebrew, English, Arabic, Spanish, French, German, Amharic and Russian. The English tours are at 8:30am, 12 noon and 2pm. The tours last 1 hour and are free of charge. You will need your passport or picture ID to visit the Knesset and there is no need to book in advance. It is possible to observe a debate from the plenum public gallery at 4pm on Mondays, Tuesdays 4pm and Wednesdays 11am. To find out more about the tours and visiting the Knesset you can call the Visitors Center at 02-6753337. Note that there is a dress code in the Knesset for all those over 14 years old; wearing shorts, torn pants, shirts with political slogans, sleeveless shirts, ¾ pants, belly tops and flip-flops are prohibited. You can park in the HaLe’om Car Park near the Supreme Court and take the free shuttle up to the Knesset building. The shuttle leaves every fifteen minutes. Take your parking ticket to be stamped after the tour to receive free parking.
The general public tour covers the basics of democracy, the role of the Knesset and the main works of art in the building. You will see the committee rooms, the Plenary, the Chagall Hall and the Declaration of Independence which is on display. If you are visiting in a group it is possible to arrange a tour with a particular emphasis. There are tours which focus on the democratic practices; the art and photography in the Knesset; the Knesset architecture; the green aspects of the Knesset’s environmental projects; the laws from legislation to enforcement and the archaeological park.
The Archaeology Park tour is self-guided and open to all (no matter if visiting alone or with a group). On display are articles excavated in Jerusalem dating back to several historic periods as far back as the Second Temple Period. The items are labeled with a detailed background and historical information.
Knesset Art Work
In addition to finding out about the workings of the Knesset visitors can see some of the outstanding art work which adorn the halls and corridors of the Knesset building. There is an exhibition of photography by David Rubinger, the Knesset’s resident photographer; work by Moshe Castel; Reuven Rubin; Byzantine mosaics; the eternal Flame Memorial; several ornate Menorah and work by Chagall. You will also see work by Joseph Kuzkovsky, Josheph Israels, Marc Hirschberg, Ahuva Sherman, Pinhas Litvinovsky and Yaacov Eisenscher. Works of art on display include the 17th century Holy Ark which came from the Jewish community in Saragna, Italy. Near to the Knesset building is the Wohl Rose Park which stands between the Knesset and the Supreme Court. The garden boasts 400 varieties of roses including a rose from each country in the world, miniature roses and experimental hybrid species of roses.