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
- 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
- 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
- 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
The Golan Heights is now officially a part of Israel proper
(according to Israeli law).
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.
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.
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.
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
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