The name Israel often conjures up images of missile strikes, conflict zones and mass protests along the wall. Not to say none of this is true, but there is so much more to Israel than what meets the eye, that will make you want to pack your bags and book the ticket right away! I was fortunate to spend a week in this absolutely delightful country in April 2019 and hope this blog helps you get over any pre conceived notions you might have and compels you to book that ticket.
Israel is a beautiful country, with incredible weather, world class food, ultra-modern technology and incredibly beautiful places to visit. It is also a very tiny country situated right in the heart of a massively unstable region of the world.
From the Mediterranean shores of Tel Aviv, Israel’s fraught geo-political presence is non-existent. Tourists and locals alike sip Goldstar, Israel’s dark lager, as the waves roll in and out and children laugh and splash in the water and the sun paints the sky in hues of orange.
After a 2 hour drive east, on the edge of Jerusalem, Israel looks starkly different. In one part of the city a stunning golden dome, ancient ruins and a labyrinthine market dating back centuries, in another part of the city – poverty and a massive wall. Welcome to Israel!often
Israel is the world’s only Jewish country and is one of the oldest countries in the world, with a history dating back to over 2000 BC in the Old Testament. It has seen multiple wars and conquests, battles and victories. The new history of Israel dates back to 1948 AD when the country of Israel was formed post World War 2, when millions of Jews from across the world fled home towards their land. The formation of Israel led to the Palestine-Israel conflict which continues to be one of the most tensed areas of the world till today. Palestinians, refer to the territory as Palestine, and want to establish a state by that name. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is over who gets what land and how it is controlled. An early United Nations plan to give each group part of the land failed, and Israel and the surrounding Arab nations fought several wars over the territory. Today’s lines largely reflect the outcomes of two of these wars, one waged in 1948 and another in 1967. The 1967 war is particularly important for today’s conflict, as it left Israel in control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, two territories home to large Palestinian populations. Today, the West Bank is nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority and is under Israeli occupation. This comes in the form of Israeli troops, who enforce Israeli security restrictions on Palestinian movement and activities. Gaza is controlled by Hamas, an Islamist fundamentalist party, and is under Israeli blockade. The primary approach to solving the conflict today is a so-called 2 state solution that would establish Palestine as an independent state in Gaza and most of the West Bank, leaving the rest of the land to Israel. Though the two-state plan is clear in theory, the two sides are still deeply divided over how to make it work in practice.
Fun Tip: While passing through the Israeli checkpoint from Jerusalem into Bethlehem, the lights of the Walled Off Hotel pierce the darkness. The Walled Off Hotel was built by the British artist Banksy in 2017 to bring to light the plight of the conflict and tell the gut wrenching story of millions of Palestinians. The Banksy museum which is a part of the hotel is impactful and heart breaking. For me, this was an incredible experience as I personally grew up with one view on the conflict and the occupation and the museum gave me a counter view, reframed my thoughts about the situation in the West Bank. It is now a quiet tourist destination in the city where Jesus Christ was born: a hotel, museum, bookstore and spray paint shop. It is part whimsy with the plastic greeter chimp in red and part serious, the very real Israeli security cameras.milliom
The city of Jerusalem lays the foundation to Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Judaism and Christianity originated in Jerusalem, while Muslims consider Jerusalem the third most Holy City after Mecca and Medina. The famous golden Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount headlines the city. Next to it is the Western (Wailing) Wall, which is considered the holiest spot for Jews and a stone’s throw away is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the place where Jesus was crucified, died and rose again. Old Jerusalem with its Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian quarters, with winding streets and old city walls, where the call to prayer from the Al-Asqa Mosque, clash with the peeling of the bells at the Holy Sepulchre Church and Yom Kippur and Jewish Passover celebrations at the Wailing Wall, O Jerusalem you are definitely the City of the Lord.
Defining Israeli culture is a tough one: I found it to be a fascinating and distinctive blend of cuisines and customs, ethnicities and religions, the old and the new. The best way to learn about Israel’s culture is to spend several days in Israel and experience it first-hand, like I did. Israel is a truly unique melting pot of cultures. Over the last 100 years or so, Jews have immigrated to Israel and brought with them their cultures and customs. Its Jewish population originates from all over the world: Russia, Poland, Brazil, Ethiopia, Morocco, Iraq, Yemen and many more. Thus, from cuisine to celebrations, Israeli society is a captivating mix of Eastern and Western influences that have amalgamated to form some kind of shared Israeli culture. Add to that Israel’s sizeable Arab (Jews, Muslim and Christian) population and other ethnic minorities, and you can trace the diversity that exists!
Israelis are often perceived by foreigners as brash and aggressive. However this is not at all the case. It is an outcome of the Hebrew language, which is characterised by its brevity and commanding nature. A native English speaker would say, ‘May I have some water please’, an Israeli would say “Efshar mayim”? literally meaning “It’s possible, water?”
Israelis – whether they are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or Druze–tend to be very warm and hospitable. Any shop I walked into, I was greeted with kisses and handshakes. Tell a Jewish Israeli you want to experience a Shabbat dinner but don’t have anywhere to go, and you will have a personalized invitation awaiting you.
Food and Nightlife
Thanks to its location, Israeli food has heavy influences from Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine and represents one of the most healthy and delicious foods in the World.My personal favourite is Hummus (I am pretty sure I devoured on humus at each meal, every day and still crave it back home) which originates from Israel and comes in a variety of flavours. With every meal you will get a plate of hummus either as an appetizer or as mains. This is accompanied with falafel, olives, tahini, aubergines, zucchini, avacados (colorful and fresh) Medjool dates and spices like zaatar. You will often find restaurants serving ‘Kosher’ food which is a religious rule and basically similar to Halal food for Muslims.
As the saying goes, Pray in Jerusalem and Play in Tel Aviv. While Old Jerusalem is soaked in tradition, Tel Avis the capital city and an hour’s drive from Jerusalem is one of the party capitals of the world. In fact, Tel Aviv is considered a global gay capital with a huge gay pride parade that attracts thousands of foreigners. The best travel tip is to see the city at night. Tel Aviv’s beauty comes out at night. Unlimited bars and pubs, the place is bustling inside the bar and outside on the patio.
The vibe in the air is positive and upbeat, you wouldn’t feel like you are in place which is tension filled, although it is. People in Israel live in a state of conflict their whole lives, and are enlisted in the army at the age of 18 – male and female are made to serve in the military (unless married, Orthodox, or a few other reasons).
While strolling through the streets of Jerusalem, seeing soldiers became a common sight for me, military presence is constant. This is one of the major reasons, why the city feels safe and life goes on as normal. During my 1 week stay in Israel, I wandered round the streets of Israel and West Bank, Palestine during the day and post sunset, but didn’t stumble upon anything that made me feel remotely unsafe. Just because Israel is a place of conflict, does not mean it is unsafe. The Israeli government does enough and more to ensure that travellers and tourists are safe, respected and protected.
Do they stamp your passport? This is a biggie for some. You may know that with an Israeli stamp in your passport you cannot travel to some Middle Eastern countries at all. Israel does not stamp your passport when you fly in and out of the country and cross through land borders. You are given a slip of paper that needs to be kept in your passport as an entry stamp at all times during your stay in Israel.
So there you go, everything you need to know about Israel. So should you visit Israel? Definitely without a doubt!
One of the most fascinating countries, Israel will puzzle you with its paradox of beliefs and culture, war torn conflicts zones and its technology advancements, pray and play culture.
It will give u a chance to see the beauty, the crazy and the holy all under one roof!