Israel is one of the most famous countries in the world or at least one of the most discussed, so discussed that many people don’t even acknowledge its existence or its right to exist. We will talk a little about that, but this is not a political article nor a political statement. The point of this article is to explore the many things Israel is famous for, from the obvious Israeli-Palestine conflict to the many technological advances and the famous historical sights.
Located in Middle-East, Israel borders Lebanon (north), Syria (northeast), Jordan (east), Egypt (southwest), and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (east and west). Israel is a hotspot for religious tourism, but it’s also popular among young people due to its nice beaches, adventure tourism, historic sites, and most importantly, Tel-Aviv – the most modern and liberal city in the region.
But, without further ado, let’s dive in and explore what is Israel famous for?
15 things Israel is famous for
#1 Jewish country
Israel is the only Jewish country in the world. In fact, Israel defines itself as a Jewish (and democratic) state and the Jewish people’s nation-state. Despite this, only roughly 74% of the people living in Israel are Jewish. The other major group is the Arabs, with Muslims (18%) and Christians (2%).
The state of Israel was established in the aftermath of WWII and the holocaust to create a Jewish people’s home state. However, even before, hundreds of thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors and refugees sought a new life far from their destroyed communities in Europe.
The UN’s original recommendation was for having a dual state, with the creation of an independent Arab and Jewish state and an internationalized Jerusalem. Though this led to the ongoing Israeli-Palestine conflict that we will talk about below.
#2 The Israeli-Palestine conflict
The Israeli-Palestine conflict is the ongoing struggle between the Israelis and Palestinians that started after the creation of the modern Israeli state amidst the Arab-Israeli wars. Early tensions began at the end of the 19th century and escalated later. This has been referred to as the “most intractable conflict,” and the many attempts to resolve the conflict haven’t been much successful.
This is a very complex issue, and as we are in no way specialists about it, we won’t go deep into it. Yet, it is clearly one of the things Israel is mostly talked about – it’s constantly on the news, and everyone seems to have a strong opinion about it. It’s definitely one f the things Isreal is famous for.
#3 The Dead Sea
The dead sea is a salt lake share by Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. It is located in the Jordan rift valley and has the Jordan River as the main tributary. With 50 km long and 15 km wide, the dead sea has a water surface of about 600 km2; however, it’s quickly receding, as in 1930 it had 1050 km2. It is world-famous for two things, the altitude and the salty water.
This natural landmark has its surface and shore at an altitude – 430 meters, or 430 meters below sea level, making it the world’s lowest altitude on land. The Dead Sea is also a hypersaline lake. With a salinity of 34.2% (almost 10 times more than the ocean), it is one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water.
The hypersalinity makes swimming similar to floating and creates the possibility of taking some amazing photos of people reading while floating. It also makes the dead sea a harsh environment in which animals and plants cannot flourish, justifying the name.
#4 Military Forces
The Israeli Military Forces are one of the most powerful and reputable in the world. Created right after WWII, in 1948, IDF (Israel Defense Forces) are usually considered one of the best trained and well-equipped military in the world. In fact, if we take into account the short history and the number of wars and conflicts it has been involved it’s also one of the most battle-trained armed forces in the world.
Israel is also one of the few nuclear powers in the world, making it even more powerful and dangerous. With a small population of only about 9 M people, Israel spends a whopping 20 Billion USD each in their Military. It’s understandable due to its past and present, but it’s a huge amount!
These huge amounts spent and the investment in technologies mean that Israel invented some of the best weapons available, including Merkava main battle tank, Achzarit armored personnel carrier, high tech weapons systems, the Iron Dome missile defense system, Trophy active protection system for vehicles, and the Galil and Tavor assault rifles. The iconic historic Uzi was also developed in Israel, but it’s no longer in use.
#5 Conscription of Women
Continuing on the topic, the Israel Defense Forces are world-famous for an almost unique characteristic: the mandatory conscription of women. Due to its small population and the number and size of not-so-friendly neighbors, it’s both a question of necessity and equality. This is also a cultural issue – Women participated in combat even before the IDF existed in Israeli’s war of independence in 1948.
Despite this, the IDF said in 2014 that fewer than 4 percent of women are in combat positions. Instead, they are concentrated in “combat-support” roles. In general, 65% of Israeli women serve in the army, while 25% opt-out on religious grounds. The remainder is exempted for physical, emotional, or marital reasons.
#6 The Start-up Nation
Israel has been nicknamed the Start-up Nation, and it’s widely known as the country with the largest amount of start-up companies per capita. It is also the 3rd in the world in terms of venture capital availability and the fifth most innovative country (according to Bloomberg). In fact, Israel ranks really high in almost every ranking possible related to innovation, from scientific articles to filed patents and technology literacy.
All of this made Israel, and Tel-Aviv in particular, the second most important high-tech industry center in the world (after silicon valley). Consequently, many Israeli innovations made an impact globally on very different fields like IT, health, military, and agriculture. We will explore some of the hundreds of tech developments in the heading below.
#7 Israeli Inventions
As we said above, Israel is famous for its investment in innovation which led to inventions in several areas, from everyday things like USB drives to some almost sci-fi medical devices. Some of the most famous Israeli inventions include:
- Waze – the famous navigation app that includes traffic and road work information;
- WaterGen- produces clean drinking water out of thin air using nothing more than a portable generator;
- Drip irrigation – the scarcity of water lead Israelis to invent this amazing agriculture technology that allowed the world to produce more with less water;
- USB drivers that we can see in every computer around the world.
- ICQ – the first instant global messenger
- Firewall – Israelis also invented this safety device for computers;
- Pillcam – swellable medical cam;
- Rewalk – an exoskeleton robot that allows paraplegics to walk;
#8 The Holy City
Jerusalem is one of the most famous cities in the world. It’s also one of the most important cities in history. Nicknamed “the holy city”, it is a significant place for Jewish, Christians, and Muslims. In fact, it’s considered the most important city for Jew and Christians and the third most important for Muslims (after Mecca and Medina).
The status of Jerusalem is one of the main reasons for the ongoing conflict we have talked about before. Israel considers Jerusalem part of their territory and their capital – and in practice, it’s where the Israeli government is. However, this is not accepted by the general international community and Palestine.
#9 Religious sites and tourism
Millions of tourists travel to Israel and Jerusalem for religious reasons, and much more would love the same. The most interesting thing is that it’s not only one religion attracting people but thee, as Israel is home to the holy sites of the three main monotheistic faiths (Jewish, Christian, and Muslim). Most of the more important sites are located in Jerusalem, but a few others are spread over Israel and the Palestine territories.
There are numerous major Christian sites in Israel. From the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jesus final resting place) to the Via Dolorosa (both in Jerusalem), but also the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem (where Christ was born) or the Sea of Galilee (where the miracle of Jesus walking on water supposedly occurred). These sites attract millions of Christian pilgrims and tourists.
The Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque inside the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem is one of the holiest places in the Muslim world. It’s labeled Jerusalem’s most recognizable landmark due to its beautiful golden roof. Muslims believe that the rock at the center of the Dome of the Rock is where Muhammad started his night journey to heaven, making it a unique monument of Islamic culture.
The Foundation Stone inside the Dome of the Rock is also the most sacred site in the Jewish faith, but due to restrictions, the Jewish pray in the Western Wall – we will talk about the Western Wall below.
#10 The Western Wall
The Western Wall is an ancient limestone wall originally erected as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple. It’s the western wall of the huge rectangular structure built to create a space for the temple itself and the auxiliary buildings.
The Western Wall isn’t holy in itself but as a result of its proximity to the foundation stone inside Temple Mount. The foundation stone is the most sacred site in Judaism, though because of the Temple Mount’s entry restrictions, the western-wall is the closest to the foundation stone, thus the holiest place where Jews are allowed to pray.
Besides being crucial to Judaism and one of the most famous landmarks in Israel (even the world), the western wall is famous for the practice of Jews weeping at the site over the Temples’ destruction. Thus, the Western Wall is also called “the Wailing Wall,” and the images of the Jewish praying and weeping to the wall are some of the most famous things in Israel.
#11 Famous Landmarks
Israel may be small, but it has one of the longest and most turbulent histories in the world. Such a land obviously has many famous landmarks, from Roman ruins and religious sites to more recent buildings and a few natural landmarks. We have already talked about the old town of Jerusalem, the western wall, and the Dead Sea, but the list is much longer and includes:
- Walls and old town of Acre– Medieval walls from the Crusades;
- Masada – The famous Ring Herod Palace overlooking the Dead Sea.
- Ein Gedi – famous Oasis very close to the dead sea;
- Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa – the main site of Bahá’í faith are astonishing.
- Jaffa’s old port – one of the most important old ports of Israel
- Eilat’s barrier reefs – small but beautiful coral reefs on the southern tip of Israel
- Sea of Galilee – the site where Jesus is said to have walked on water
- Roman ruins of Caesarea – Remains of the Caesarea Maritima port city built by Herod.
#12 Jesus Christ
When talking about Israel, sometimes it isn’t easy to separate the country from the people and the religion from ethnicity and nationality. If we are to include the old Jewish states and Jewish people, we need to talk about Jesus Christ/ Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus may well be the most famous and the most influential person ever born.
Born a Jewish, Jesus was a preacher and religious leader who became the central figure of Christianity, the world’s largest religion. Yet, Jesus is also an important prophet for Muslims. They believe Jesus was born of a virgin but not the son of God. The Quran says Jesus never claimed divinity. Furthermore, Muslims do not believe that he was killed or crucified, but he was raised into Heaven by God.
Like Jesus, most of the early Christianity personalities were Jewish or from the land that it is now Israel. These include:
- Mary, mother of Jesus
- Mary Magdalene
- John the Baptist
- Judas Iscariot
- The Apostles
- Herod Antipas
#13 Famous Israelis
More than any other country on Earth, the people (in this case, the Jewish people) made Israel. Even before the modern Israel country was born, Jewish already existed for millenniums, spread themselves through the world, and impacted it hugely. Israelis and Jewish people are one of the main reasons why Israel is such a well-known country.
We have already talked about the famous Christian characters born in what it’s today Israel, let’s explore some of the most famous Israelis, both ancient and modern-day.
Ancient Israel famous people
- King Salomon – ruled the United Monarchy of Israel for an unprecedented 40 years of highest prosperity and grandeur;
- King David – Legend says he is a young shepherd who gains fame first as a musician and later by killing the enemy champion Goliath; He later becomes the King of Israel;
- Ezekiel – Hebrew prophet and protagonist of the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible
- Daniel – Prophet, and protagonist in the Book of Daniel of the Hebrew Bible;
- Josephus – Ancient historian and writer
Modern day famous Israreli
- Ariel Sharon – Statesman, General, and Prime-minister of Israel;
- Bar Rafaeli – Model and TV presenter;
- Natalie Portman – actress and Oscar winner (Black Swan);
- Gene Simmons – bass guitarist/co-lead vocalist of Kiss;
- Yitzhak Rabin – Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize together with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat
- Shimon Peres – President and Prime minister of Israel who won Nobel Peace Prize with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin;
- Daniel Kahneman – Psychologist, writer, and winner of a Nobel Prize.
- Gal Gadot – Actress (wonder woman) and Model;
Full disclose: Matkot may not be that well-known outside Israel, but it’s one of the favorite activities in the country, and it’s a very curious thing, we had to include it.
Matkot is a padel ball game similar to beach tennis, and it’s usually considered the national beach sport of Israel. The goal is to hit a rubber ball (similar to a squash ball) with a racket from a player to the other as many times as they can without dropping it. It’s usually played between 2 players but can be played with more.
The most curious thing about Matkot is that it doesn’t have rules, doesn’t have a court or court size, there are no winners, and it can go one forever. It is much more about cooperation than winning. Though sometimes, players can take roles, with one playing offense (slamming the ball hard) and the other defense (trying to absorb the impact and keep the ball at play)
It is possible to see people playing it on every beach in Israel, but it’s particularly popular in Tel Aviv. Some people finding a little a annoying as it is noisy, but we love it. It’s pretty entertaining to watch.
#15 Covid vaccination
We are writing this post during the Covid-19 pandemic, in a phase where the vaccines are already available, and countries are starting to vaccinate the population. Amidst this chaotic year, Israel seems to the in front of every other country on earth due to its early investment in Covid vaccines.
From early on, Israel has been one of the first countries to start vaccination and the one that has been able to vaccinate quicker than anybody else. At the time we are writing this, Israel has already fully vaccinated 45% of the population, while the US hasn’t achieved 10% or the EU is way below 5%.
Thus, recently the news about Israel has shifted from the never-ending conflict with Palestine to how it has been so successful, about the vaccinations’ impacts and simply having the world’s fastest vaccination. Consequently, it will probably be the first country to achieve herd immunity. So, as of today, Israel is worldwide famous for quickly vaccinating and protecting its population.
Did you enjoy reading this? Have a look at our other Israel articles:
- 50 things you need to know before traveling to Israel;
- Things to do in Acre;
- Jerusalem in Winter;
- Day trips from Tel Aviv;
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