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  You are here : Home | World | Middle East | Israel
 
 

 

 

 

Israel

 

 

Israel is a small yet diverse Middle Eastern country with a long coastline on the eastern Mediterranean Sea and a small window on the Red Sea at the Gulf of Eilat (Aqaba). Israel is bordered by Egypt and Gaza Strip to the southwest, by Jordan and the West Bank to the east (with which it shares a border along the Jordan River and the Dead Sea), and by Syria and Lebanon to the north.

Although Israel was established specifically for the Jewish people, Israel is considered a Holy Land (together with areas of Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Territories), to three major world religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - as well as a vibrant modern history and culture, based in no small part on the diverse, mostly immigrant origins of its inhabitants from the Arab world and the Jewish Diaspora. These aspects make Israel a fascinating (if sometimes challenging) destination for many travellers and pilgrims.

Israel is a highly urbanized and economically developed society and is therefore best divided for the traveller into its main cities and towns, followed by the regions and other sites.

Cities

  • Akko (Acre) — a fascinating historical city on the far north coast of Israel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a pilgrimage site for the Bah?'?s.
  • Beer Sheva — the capital of the Negev region.
  • Eilat — the 'Goa of the Middle East', Israel's window on the Red Sea, a vibrant resort city.
  • Haifa — Israel's third largest city, main port and industrial city in the north of the country. Also world center of the Bah?'? Faith, home of the beautiful Shrine of the B?b and Terraces and home to an interesting German Quarter.
  • Jerusalem — the political and spiritual capital of Israel, as well as city sacred for millennia to three religions: Jews (the site of the Temple), Christians (the scene of Christ's Passion), and Muslims (site of the al-Aqsa Mosque.). Containing the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old City.
  • Nazareth — the hometown of Jesus, now the largest Arab city in Israel
  • Rishon LeZion — "The First to Zion"
  • Tel Aviv — first Hebrew city in 2000 years and one of the three largest, the most vibrant city in the country, a mere century old but incorporating the ancient port city of Jaffa and a sprawling metropolis along the coastal plain - includes the White City cultural UNESCO World Heritage site of Bauhaus architecture.
  • Tiberias — located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, a modern resort town with an ancient background\
    The Golan Heights is now officially a part of Israel proper (according to Israeli law).

History
Following World War II, the British withdrew from their mandate of Palestine, and the UN partitioned the area into Arab and Jewish states, an arrangement rejected by the Arabs. Subsequently, Israel's Arab neighbors invaded the nation with the hope of regaining territory previously held by the Ottoman Empire. The Israelis defeated the Arabs in a series of wars without ending the deep tensions between the two sides. On 25 April 1982, Israel withdrew from the Sinai pursuant to the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. Outstanding territorial and other disputes with Jordan were resolved in the 26 October 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace. In addition, on 25 May 2000, Israel withdrew unilaterally from southern Lebanon, which it had occupied since 1982. In keeping with the framework established at the Madrid Conference in October 1991, bilateral negotiations were conducted between Israel and Palestinian representatives (from the Israeli-occupied West Bank) and Syria, to achieve a permanent settlement. But progress toward a permanent status agreement has been undermined by the outbreak of Palestinian-Israeli violence since September 2000.

Economy

Azrieli Center towers in Tel Aviv represent just some of Israel's breathtaking architectural marvelsIsrael has a technologically advanced market economy with substantial government participation. It depends on imports of crude oil, grains, raw materials, and military equipment. Despite limited natural resources, Israel has intensively developed its agricultural and industrial sectors over the past 20 years. Israel is largely self-sufficient in food production except for grains. Cut diamonds, high-technology equipment, chemicals and chemical products, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, rubber, plastics, and textiles are the leading exports. For many years Israel posted sizable current account deficits, which were covered by large transfer payments from abroad and by foreign loans. However, the tight fiscal policy of recent years and the high growth rates have led Israel to a budget surplus in 2006. Roughly half of the government's foreign debt is owed to the US, which is its major source of economic and military aid. The influx of Jewish immigrants from the former USSR during the period 1989-99 coupled with the opening of new markets at the end of the Cold War, energized Israel's economy, which grew rapidly in the early 1990s. But growth began moderating in 1996 when the government imposed tighter fiscal and monetary policies and the immigration bonus petered out. Growth was a strong 6.4% in 2000. But the bitter Israeli-Palestinian conflict, increasingly the declines in the high-technology and tourist sectors, and fiscal austerity measures in the face of growing inflation have led to declines in GDP in 2001 and 2002.

People
The most obvious division in Israel's society is between Jews, who make up 80% of the population in Israel proper and 15% in areas currently controlled by Israel (West Bank) and non-Jewish Israeli-Arabs, who make nearly all of the rest. In terms of religious loyalty, 77% are Jewish, 16% are Muslim, 4% are Christian and 2% are Druze (a Muslim offshoot considered heretical by mainstream Islam). While equality is theoretically guaranteed, in practice there are many restrictions on the Arab population, both legal and de facto (difficulty in obtaining building permits, onerous security and travel restrictions, positive discrimination, etc). There are also deep divisions within Jewish society, although it is more than over hyped about. First is the so-called ethnic division between the Ashkenazim, who lived in Europe for nearly 2000 years and are generally considered wealthier and politically better connected, and the Sephardim and Mizrahim, who immigrated from the Middle East and North Africa. (Sephardi immigrants from Europe tend to match the socio-economic profile of Ashkenazim.) In recent years, the divide between these ethnic groups has, however, grown much less acute, in part owing to widespread understanding.

While divisions have weakened as the native-born population has increased, religious tensions between secular and orthodox Jews have increased. The spectrum ranges from the stringently-orthodox haredim, only 10% of the population but able to wield a disproportionate amount of power thanks to Israel's fractious coalition politics, to 15% who are Modern Orthodox40% who see themselves as "traditional" and 35% who consider themselves secular. While secular Jews are widespread throughout all of Israel, orthodox Jews tend to concentrate mostly in certain cities such as Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Ashdod.

Culture
Israelis sometimes compare themselves to the prickly pear or sabra: said to be tough and prickly on the outside yet sweet on the inside. Israelis are direct in a way that might seem abrupt, even rude, in other parts of the world. Directness and honesty are often valued over politeness and projection of niceness. Direct personal questions are common, and should not be taken as offensive. The information Israelis collect on you is meant to help you in a good way, not to set traps for you. Israelis are used to fighting for their right to exist and have to hold their own against the pressures of the family, religion, the army and other Israelis. Loud and heated debates and arguments are socially acceptable and should not be taken as a sign of hostility. Israelis are typically careful not to be perceived as a FRIAR, often translated as "sucker", meaning someone who pays too much, stands in line quietly as others jostle past and in general is taken advantage of instead of standing up.

But Israelis are also very kind and hospitable. When you make a friend here they will do the best to take care of you while you're in his country.

Common Israeli humour is one which knows no boundries. Subjects such as war and death, which are hardly a laughing stock in other countries, are occasionaly tackled humoursly in Israel. Rather then a sign of disrespect or insensitivity, such behavior is often seen as an legitimate effort to lighten things up when conversing about heavy topics. Many people would joke about things they take very seriously. In Israel wild humour, serious thoughts and deep emotions go very well together.

Israel's time is + 2 hrs from GMT so when it's 6 pm (GMT), 1 pm (EST), it's 8 pm in Israel. Daylight saving time (Summer time) begins on the last Friday before April 2nd, and ends on Saturday between the Jewish holidays of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.

 

 
             
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