Sunday, June 8, 2014

State of Israel

I’ve got a birthday coming up in July and just happened to find a great deal on flight from Prague to Tel Aviv.  So I’ll get to spend my birthday weekend in Israel.  It’s a place that I’ve wanted to visit for some time.  So here’s a bit about it.

The State of Israel, מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, is in the Middle East.  It sits on the Mediterranean Sea and is bordered by Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories (the West bank and Gaza Strip).  Israel is about the same size as Maryland and is home to about 8.1 million people.  It is the only Jewish-majority state in the world.  
Israel's capital is Jerusalem which is where the Knesset (Israel's parliament) is.  However, this is not internationally recognized and all of the foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv

Hebrew alphabet
The population is about 75% Jewish and 20% Arab.  Hebrew and Arabic are both official languages.  The Law of Return grants all Jews, and those with Jewish lineage, the right to Israeli citizenship.  Since the break up of the Soviet Union, more than 950,000 people have immigrated to Israel so Russian is a commonly spoken language.

No more Israeli passport stamps
There several Arab countries that will not let travellers in if their passport has an Israeli entry/exit stamp.  The way around this is to have a second passport or to request that the Israeli border guard not to stamp your passport.  As of 2013, Israel no longer stamps passports.  Instead, a small separate piece of paper is given as your visa so there is no evidence in your passport of having visited Israel.  

The Shekel (₪) is the official currency
Israel now has peaceful relations with Egypt and Jordan.  However, there are still problems with other countries in the Middle East.  So when it comes to sporting events Israel competes in the European championships.  

People seems to be either Pro-Israel, Anti-Palestine or Pro-Palestine, Anti-Israel.  The problems in the Middle East are quite complex and, personally, I think that both sides have valid claims and that both sides are guilty of prolonging the problems.

There has never been a country called Palestine.  The area known as Palestine was ruled for centuries as part of the Ottoman Empire.  After WWI, the area was placed under British mandate by the League of Nations. In 1947, the United Nations recommended the British Mandate for Palestine be divided to create two countries – Israel and Palestine.  The Jews accepted the recommendation but the Arabs did not.  On 14 May 1948, the Israeli state was established.  The very next day, the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq invaded.  Israel won and they claimed more land.  Over the years there have been several wars with its Arab neighbors but Israel keeps winning.  Some land gained in wars has been returned for peace. 

I'm quite looking forward to a long weekend in Tel Aviv.  I know that I won't get to see everything but I would need at least two weeks to see all of the places I want to see in Israel and the West Bank.  But it's a start.  I'm sure that my mom will worry about me going over there but let's face it, there's always something going on between Israel and the Palestinians.  Fortunately, things haven't been too bad lately so it's as good a time as any to visit. 

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