Israel is a small yet diverse Middle Eastern country with a long coastline on the eastern Mediterranean Sea and a small window on the Red Sea at the Gulf of Eilat (Aqaba). Israel is bordered by Egypt and the Gaza Strip to the southwest, by Jordan and the West Bank to the east, and by Syria and Lebanon to the north. It shares borders to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea with the West Bank and Jordan. The West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip have been under Israeli de-facto rule since 1967. In addition to the majority Palestinian Arab populations living in these regions, the Israeli Government has built many Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as in the annexed Golan Heights.
Although Israel was established specifically for the Jewish people, following the Second World War, Israel is considered part of the Holy Land (together with areas of Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Territories). The three monotheistic religions -Judaism, Christianity, and Islam- all have historical ties to the region. Israel thus contains a vibrant modern history and culture, based in part on the diverse, immigrant origins of its inhabitants returning from the Jewish Diaspora. These aspects make Israel a fascinating destination for many travellers and pilgrims. As a result of this vast mix of culture, in addition to the official languages of Hebrew and Arabic, Russian and Yiddish are also spoken by a significant minority of Israelis. Within Israel's recognized pre-1967 borders, about 90% of Israelis identify themselves as Jewish, the remainder classify themselves as either as Arab and or Palestinian, Bedouin or Druze.
Israel is a highly urbanized and economically developed society and is therefore best divided for the traveller into its main cities and towns, followed by the regions and other sites.
Jerusalem is the three times holy city (to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), whilst being the modern capital of the State of Israel and the country`s largest city. The City of Gold, as it has come to be known in both languages, is a fascinatingly unique place where the first century rubs shoulders with the twenty-first century, each jostling for legitimacy and space, and where picturesque "old" neighborhoods nestle against glistening office towers and high-rise apartments. It is one of those places which has to be seen to be believed.
The Old City and its Walls form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old City of Jerusalem is that part of Jerusalem surrounded by the impressive 16th century Ottoman city walls and representing the heart of the city both historically and spiritually. In a city already divided, the Old City is further divided culturally and historically into four Quarters: (clockwise from the south-east) the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, the Christian Quarter and the Muslim Quarter. You do not need to be Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, or even be overly concerned with religion, to be overwhelmed. Anyone with a sense of history, spirituality or the human species should be absorbed by the tremendous weight of human civilization that cloaks nearly every part of the city. It is an inhabited, living city - not a deserted museum or monument. Humanity's passion play has been constant revival at this location for most of the length of recorded history.
The Christian Quarter, the result of rapid expansion under Byzantine rule, is located in the northwest corner of the city and is home to a bewildering array of churches, patriarchates and hospices of the city's many Christian denominations. The quarter is served by the Jaffa Gate and the New Gate. Sites include the Dome Of The Rock, the Church Of The Holy Sepulcher and the Wailing Wall (or Western Wall). Other notable sites in the Christian Quarter include the Lutheran Church Of The Redeemer, the Christian Quarter Road shopping precinct and the Church Of John The Baptist.
The Muslim Quarter is the largest and most densely populated quarter of the Old City. The quarter has changed hands many times from the 12th through 15th centuries, resulting in decay since the 16th century. It is one of the most fascinating and least explored parts of Jerusalem. The Muslim Quarter features St. Anne's Church, Monastery of the Flagellation (the traditional site of Christ's flogging), Chapel of the Condemnation (the traditional site of Jesus' trial under Pontius Pilate) and the Ecce Homo Arch, which was built by the Romans during their siege of Jerusalem in AD70.
The Jewish Quarter feels distinctly different from the rest of the Old City. Razed by the Jordanians after the partition of the former British Mandate of Palestine in 1948, most buildings in it have been rebuilt from scratch since Israel assumed control of the Old City in 1967. Despite strict laws mandating the use of Jerusalem sandstone in all facades in order to maintain uniformity, the buildings look and feel new. In a somewhat tit-for-tat move, the current wide plaza in front of the Western Wall was created by bulldozing a neighborhood called the Moroccan Quarter. In the Jewish Quarter, sites include Saint Mary's Hospice, Hurva Square, The Broad Wall (built by King Hezekiah in the 8th Century BC, the Wohl Archaeological Museum, the Ophel Archeaological Park and the Temple Institute.
The Armenian Quarter is the smallest and quietest of the four. The quarter runs itself as a city within a city (within a city...), shutting all gates when night falls. Sites in the Armenian Quarter include the Citadel, an imposing fortress dating back to King Herod, and St. James Cathedral, which dates back to the 11th century.
Outside of the city walls lie the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. Historic sites abound. These include the Church of the Dormition, King David's Tomb, Chamber of the Holocaust, City of David (featuring ruins dating back to the 13th century BC), Hezekiah's Tunnel (which kept Jerusalem watered during sieges), St. Peter in Gallicantu, Schindler's Tomb, Rockefeller Archaeological Museum and the Garden Tomb.
West Jerusalem is the secular Israeli part of Jerusalem, also known as New Jerusalem, it is the mode