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The story of this land and its people is truly like nowhere else on earth. The first five books of the Bible itself are about the origins and cosmology of the ‘people of Israel’, the Jews, from around 2000BC. Fleeing slavery to conquer and settle in Canaan (broadly the same land as modern Israel), Jewish culture evolved around worship at their Temple in Jerusalem, built around 1000BC. Several attempts by foreign powers to eradicate Israel ended in failure, until in AD135, after some 70 years of war with Jewish rebels, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, expelled the Jews, and renamed Israel as ‘Palestine’.

Practical Information

Area: 22 145 km² (8 550 miles²)

Capital: Jerusalem. Population: 724 000

Population: 7.04 million

Currency: New Shekel (ILS) = 100 agorot (singular, agora)

Government: Republic. The state of Israel was founded in 1948.

Tipping: A 15% service charge is added to restaurant, cafe and hotel bills by law. There is no need to add any further tip.

Legal drinking age: 18

Time zone: GMT + 2 (GMT + 3 during summer Daylight Saving Time)

Languages: Hebrew and Arabic

Additional descriptions

Israel: Social customs

Israelis are usually very informal but with the European style of hospitality. Israelis are typically blunt and direct in speech, which should not be misinterpreted as rudeness. Visitors should observeRead more normal courtesies when visiting someone’s home and should not be afraid to ask questions about the country as most Israelis are happy to talk about their homeland, religion and politics. The expression shalom (‘peace’) is used for hello and goodbye. Dress is casual, but in the holy places of all religions modest attire is worn. For places such as the Western Wall, male visitors are given a smart cardboard yarmulke (skull cap) to respect the religious importance of the site. Businesspeople are expected to dress smartly, or at least in smart casual style, although ties are often not worn, while the most expensive of restaurants and nightclubs may expect a similar standard. If formal evening wear is required this will be specified on invitations. It is considered a violation of Shabbat (Sabbath, on Saturday) to smoke on that day. There is usually a sign to remind the visitor of this, and to disregard the warning would be regarded as discourteous.

Israel: Food and local specialties

Israeli eating has distinctive characteristics, especially the fondness for fresh, finely chopped salads, eaten at every meal including breakfast. In general the cuisine is a fusion of East and West, plusRead more many dishes and flavours brought by Jewish immigrants from all over the world. Most restaurants are moderately priced. Table service is the norm, except at the many low-cost snack bars. Restaurants, bars and cafes catering for tourists usually have menus in both Hebrew and English. Things to know: The Hebrew word kosher means conforming to Jewish religious laws. Milk, cream or cheese may not be served in the same meal as meat. Pork and shellfish are not kosher, and rarely seen, although imitation seafood is common and may be indistinguishable from the real thing. The national specialties are: Falafel (deep fried balls of mashed chickpeas) in pitta, with hummus (ground chickpeas), tahina (sesame seed sauce) and salads. Salads, which include savoury vegetable dishes served cold, such as aubergines. Shishlik (charcoal grilled meat on a skewer). Shwarma (slices of grilled meat served in a pitta bread with salad). Bean stews, with ful beans. Ashkenazi classics like cholent (Shabbat meat stew) and gefilte fish, a white fish dish. Soft drinks - Israelis are among the world’s largest consumers. Fresh fruit juices - very popular and widely available, made from all kinds of fruit. The wines of Israel range from light white to dry red and sweet rosé. The best come from the Golan and Carmel regions. Gold Star and Maccabe, Israeli beers. Sabra (chocolate and orange liqueur). A centre for liqueurs is the monastery at Latrun on the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

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