Introduction to Israel

Welcome to the Holy Land. While actress Natalie Portman, Kiss frontman Gene Simmons and model Bar Refaeli top Israel’s most famous list today, the country is home of THE Messiah and other ‘Great Ones’ of religious significance. Israel is a special place for Judaism, Islam and Christianity alike. A turbulent past has contributed to shaping today’s politically-sensitive country, but visitors can leave this all behind when exploring the plethora of cultural and religious sites and contrasting natural landscape (there’s snow in the north and desert in the south!).

Israel is a Middle Eastern country bordering Syria and Lebanon to the north, Jordan to the east and Egypt and the notorious Gaza Strip to the southwest. It also borders the Jordan River and the Dead Sea with Jordan and the West Bank, which together with the Gaza Strip has been under Israeli defacto rule since the late 60s. Anyone who has read the news, well, this century, will know the latter is an area stricken with turbulence to say the least.

Established as a Jewish state in 1967 after World War II, today some 80 per cent of the 8 million-strong Israeli population identify themselves as Jewish and the remaining Arab, Palestinian, Bedouin or Druze. Its diversity, in part, is due to the return of inhabitants from the Jewish Diaspora.  The majority of the population occupy the coastal plain near the Mediterranean Sea to the West.

The ‘living museum’ city of Jerusalem is Israel’s largest city and capital, even though many do not consider this holy city part of Israel. Tel Aviv is the economic and cultural seaside hub of Israel as well as the country’s second largest city. Old cities Nazareth and Tzfat are historically wowing, whereas Haifa and Eilat form part of Israel’s cosmopolitan modernity alongside Tel Aviv. Away from the cities there are barren deserts to the south, the Dead Sea (the lowest point on the Earth’s surface) and the green ‘Biblical’ hills in the north.

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