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Discovering Israel

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Israel is a small Middle-Eastern country boasting both an incredibly rich historical and religious background and a buoyant contemporary scene. An overwhelming majority of Israelis are Jews who immigrated from all around the world to the country, bringing along their respective cultural heritage.

History of Israel

The State Of Israel is the only contemporary Jewish nation. It was founded in 1948 to provide the Jews with a safe haven where they could congregate and freely express their religion and lifestyle, sheltered from the waves of anti-semitic persecution that plagued the 20th century.

Before the official establishment of the State of Israel, the region, commonly known as Palestine, witnessed many watersheds in world history. Backdrop of biblical tales and cradle of both Judaism and Christianity, it was by turns a dominion of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Islamic caliphate and the Ottoman Empire.

Its main city, Jerusalem, regarded as holy by all three monotheistic religions, has been the object of relentless disputes, exacerbated at the times of the Crusades and still not settled to date, as there are still disputes over ownership of part of the territory - notably the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. The Jewish state today maintains a precarious peace marked by continued tensions and occasional outbreaks of violence with its Arab neighbours.

Geography and climate of Israel

Israel sits in the Middle East, at the far eastern end of the Mediterranean sea. It shares borders with Muslim-majority countries, namely Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. The country’s main cities include Jerusalem (seat of the government and proclaimed capital), Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Albeit relatively small, with a surface area of about 20,770 km2, Israel is geographically diverse: the Mediterranean coastal areas are formed of sandy plains, in contrast to the hilly northern and central regions, which culminate with the Galilee mountains, while the southern half of the country is formed of the arid Negev desert.

Overall, Israel experiences two distinct seasons: rather cool and rainy winters from October through to April and dry and hot summers from May to September, often marked by water shortages. However, the country’s diverse topography induces temperature disparities: while milder and more humid coastal areas witness an average of 16 °C in January and 29 °C in August, temperatures in the Negev can rise as high as 46 °C in the summer.

Economy and politics in Israel

Israel is a parliamentary democratic republic run by a government led by a prime minister (Benyamin Netanyahu since 2009 and as of 2017). The president is officially head of state and holds a mostly ceremonial role. The Israeli Parliament is known as the Knesset.

Despite scarce natural resources and a somewhat small domestic market, Israel has grown into a strong economic power, with a GDP nearing USD 300bn as of 2015. The country has achieved integration into world markets thanks to its top-notch expertise in advanced technologies and science-based industries, and is a net exporter of high-tech software and electronics products. A highly skilled workforce, sustained thanks to massive national investment in education as well as a continued influx of trained Western immigrants, further strengthens this edge.

Tourism is another pillar of Israel’s economy, as the country’s religious and historic wealth - with such landmarks as the Western Wall or the Dome of the Rock - keeps attracting countless visitors each year.

Demography and culture of Israel

Survivors from the Holocaust and Jews from Western and Arab countries flocking to Israel since its inception have translated into soaring demographics. To date, Israel's population approximates 8,680,000, 10-fold the 1948 figure.

Jews represent about 80% of the population, most of the rest being Palestinian Arabs. Consequently, the country has two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic. If you do not have command of either of these languages, do not panic: many Israelis also speak English.

In addition to this dual identity, Israel, as a country of immigrants, incorporates the diverse cultural heritages of its citizens - mostly hailing from the Middle East, Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, the Americas - in a dazzling melting pot.

Israeli people are open, friendly, warm and welcoming, even if you are not Jewish.

 Attention:

Be prepared to make adjustments to your weekly routine: Shabbat, the Jewish weekly rest, runs from Friday to Saturday at sundown; during this time, most shops and services are off. Sunday, on the other hand, is business as usual.

 Useful link:

Official Website of Tourism in Israel

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