Saturday, December 25, 2010

Israel's Tourism

Israel Cities - Short Definition:
* Akko (Acre) - an ancient town with a historic port the most sacred Baha'i site
* Beer Sheva - the de facto capital of the Negev region
* Eilat - the 'Goa of the Middle East', Israel's window on the Red Sea, a vibrant resort city
* Haifa - center of the Bahá'í Faith, home to the Shrine of the Báb and Terraces and the German Quarter
* Jerusalem - a city sacred for millennia to three religions: Jews, Christians and Muslims
* Nazareth - the hometown of Jesus, now the largest Arab city in Israel
* Tel Aviv - the most vibrant city in the country, includes the White City, a site of Bauhaus architecture
* Tiberias - a modern resort town with an ancient background on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee
* Safed (Tzfat) - fascinating city filled with artists and mystics, home to ARI who established Kabbalah school of thought

Other destinations
* Beth Guvrin - a chain of caves which was used for various purposes in ancient times
* Caesarea National Park - ancient Roman city and much of it remains
* Dead Sea - a sea of hypersalinated water that keeps people afloat and the lowest point on Earth
* Ein Avdat - beautiful steep canyon and a popular hiking spot
* Masada - high on a plateau above the Dead Sea, the scene of the Zealots' last stand against the might of Rome
* Megiddo - an ancient Canaanite and Israelite city and the location of several key battles, both ancient and modern
* Mitzpe Ramon - crater/cliff in the middle of the Negev desert and the largest of three similar craters found in Israel
* Sea of Galilee - the home of Christ and the largest freshwater lake of the country
* Zippori - an archaeological site with the best preserved mosaics in a Roman town

Israel Country Guide:
Israel means many things to many people. For millions of travelers around the world, this is the ‘Holy Land', spiritually sacrosanct for the three great monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Archaeology buffs, eco-tourists and beach bums all find their own reasons to visit. For others, Israel evokes images of war, suicide bombings and broken peace treaties. However you view the country; Israel is an undeniably beautiful slice of the world, with alternating scenes of sea, desert, ancient towns and verdant nature reserves.

Israel's past
Weeding through Israel's convoluted history is both exhilarating and exhausting. There are crumbling temples, ruined cities, abandoned forts and hundreds of places associated with the Bible. One minute you're snooping around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the next you're amid dancing rabbis at the Western Wall. A short itinerary will leave you breathless. And while a sense of adventure is required, most sites are safe and easily accessible.

Urban centers
Israel's three big cities each have a distinct character and atmosphere. Jerusalem is forever holy and the domain of the ultra-religious. In Tel Aviv you're more likely to spot latte-sipping liberals, internet entrepreneurs and late-night ravers. Haifa has a gritty industrial feel but, as the world center for the Baha'i faith, it has an added complexity making it all the more intriguing. From the Dead Sea to the sea grottoes at Rosh HaNikra, there is plenty to see in between.

Israel's people
Most of all, Israel is about its incredibly diverse population. Jews come from all over the world to live here while about 20% of the population is Arab. Politics are hard to get away from in Israel as everyone has an opinion on how to move the country forward - with a ready ear you're sure to hear opinions from every side of the political
spectrum.

The most obvious division in Israel's society is between Jews - who make up 77% of the population in Israel proper and 15%-40% in areas currently controlled by Israel (parts of the West Bank) - and non-Jews (mostly 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, increased security checks, etc).

There are also deep divisions within Jewish society. First is the 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, Hadramaut and North Africa (Sephardi and Mizrahi 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.

While ethnic 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 15% (2008 est.) of the population but able to wield a disproportionate amount of power thanks to Israel's fractious coalition politics, to 50% who are 'modern orthodox' and finally 45% who consider themselves secular, although still adhere to some traditions. 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.

Holidays of Bahai Faith
Shrine of the Báb is the second holiest site to the Bahai Faith, located in the northern city of Haifa
Shrine of the Báb is the second holiest site to the Bahai Faith, located in the northern city of Haifa

Israel's time is + 2 hrs from GMT so when it's 6PM (GMT), 1PM (EST), it's 8PM 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 Yom Kippur.

Public Holidays in Israel follow the Jewish calendar and as such vary from year to year although tend to fall within the same few-week period. Different levels of activity stop in Israel depending on the festival or holiday, and different areas will see different levels of activity on these days. The public transportation, for example, tends to completely stop its activity in many holidays. In the Jewish tradition, a new day begins with the appearance of three stars in the sky, which means that Jewish holidays begin in the afternoon hours a day before the official date. In general, Israel is a secular country, so most festivals won't see big changes in the levels of activity. Official national holidays are bolded.

Holidays
* Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), Falls between Sept 5 & Oct 5
* Fast Day of Gedaliah (Tsom Gedalyah ben Ahikam), Falls two days after the first day of Rosh Hashanah (New Year)
* Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), Falls between Sept 14 & Oct 14. The holiest day of the year - this is the day 'when everything stops', including all shopping, public and private traffic, etc.
* Feast of Tabernacles (Booths) (Sukkot*), Falls between Sept 19 & Oct 19 (Only the first and last days are national holidays, however there may be some disruption during the intermediate days)
* Assembly of the Eighth Day (Simchat Torah/Shemini Atzeret), Falls between Sept 26 & Oct 26. Street festivals and dancing are common in most cities and towns on the preceding evening.
* Yitzhak Rabin's Remembrance Day (Yom Hazikaron le Yitzhak Rabin)
* Feast of Rededication (First Day) (Hanukkah), Falls between Nov 27 & Dec 27. Celebrated much less than in the US.
* Tenth of Tevet Fast (Tsom Asarah b-Tevet)
* Fifteenth of Shvat (Tu Bishvat). New Year of the Trees (similar to an Arbor Day)
* Fast of Esther (Ta`anit Ester)
* Memorial Feast for the Triumph of Esther (Purim*), Falls between February 24 & March 26. Street parades are common on this day.
* Passover (Pesach), Between March 26 & April 25 (Only the first and last days are national holidays, however there may be some disruption during the intermediate days). No bread or grain products are sold or served in most places during this week.
* Seventh day of Passover (Shvi'i shel Pesach), Falls between April 1 & May 1
* Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaZikaron LaShoah VeLaGevurah), Falls between April 7 & May 7. At 10 AM, air raid sirens sound and the entire country comes to an eerie standstill for two minutes. Places of entertainment are closed on this day and its eve.
* Fallen Soldiers Remembrance Day (Yom Hazikaron), Falls between April 14 & May 14. Air raid sirens sound and the entire country observes a minute of silence in the morning and preceding evening.
* Independence Day (Yom Ha-Atzmaut), Falls between April 15 & May 15. Large street festivals, city-wide parties and fireworks are common on the preceding night.
* 33rd day of the `Omer (Lag Ba'omer), Bonfires are common on the preceding night.
* Jerusalem Day (Yom Herut Yerushalayim), Large parades and festivals occur in Jerusalem.
* Pentecost (Shavuot), Falls between May 15 & June 14
* Seventeenth of Tammuz fast (Tsom Shiva` Asar b-Tammuz)
* Ninth of Av fast (Tisha B'Av). Destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples
* Fifteenth of Av (Tu B'Av). Festival of Love

Regions
Israel possesses a number of diverse regions, with landscapes varying between coast, mountain, valley and desert landscapes, with just about everything in between. Beyond the towns and cities, each region of Israel holds its own unique attractions. The metropolitan areas of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv form very much their own regions; from north to south, however, Israel's regions are as follows:
Regions of Israel.

Galilee
Can be divided into the Upper Galilee and Lower Galilee hill ranges, as well as the Jezreel Valley and the Sea of Galilee

Israeli North Coast
Sometimes called "Western Galilee", extends along the Mediterranean shore from Haifa to Rosh Haniqra and the Lebanese border. Also includes the Carmel Range.

Israeli Coastal Plain
Most developed part of Israel, between the Carmel Range and Gaza. The part north of Tel Aviv is known as the Sharon.

Shephelah
The fertile, hilly hinterland between the Coastal Plain and the Judean highlands

Negev
Desert covering much of the south of Israel, including Machtesh Ramon

Disputed Territories
Golan Heights
Mountainous area north-east of the Sea of Galilee. Occupied in 1967 by Israel, annexed in 1980, but still claimed by Syria.

Palestinian Territories
Two physically separate territories, the West Bank in the east and the Gaza Strip in the southwest. Internationally recognized as not a part of any country, government services (security, medical service, etc.) are provided by Israel, the Palestinian Authority, or a combination, depending on the exact location as a result of the Oslo Accords.

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