Palm trees, causeways, and old buildings along the coast of Tel Aviv in Israel

36 Interesting Facts About Israel, Ancient and Modern

In this blog post, we delve into some very interesting and unique facts about Israel. Let’s get started.

Israel is by far one of the most interesting countries in the world. From ancient historical sites to cutting-edge technology hubs, Israel’s dynamic blend of culture, history, and progress makes it incredibly unique.

General Israel Facts

1. Israel is a country in the Middle East, bordered by Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan. The Mediterranean Sea borders Israel to the west and its landscape includes deserts, coastal plains, and mountain ranges.

2. Israel borders Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which is a land bridge between Asia and Africa. Israel is considered to be entirely on the Asian continent. 

The golden dome of the Dome of the Rock mosque rises above the stone Wailing Wall in Jerusaem
Dome of the Rock is sacred to Muslims while the Wailing Wall is sacred to Jews

3. The country is culturally, religiously, and politically significant, but geographically, it is tiny. Three-quarters of the world’s countries are larger than Israel. If Israel were a US state, it would be the 10th smallest one, between West Virginia and Maryland in size. Compared to other countries, it is between El Salvador and Slovenia. 

4. The official language of Israel is Hebrew. Arabic was also an official language until 2018 when it was downgraded to a “special language”. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in major protests

5. Israel is one of the most controversial countries in the world. Jews consider it their homeland, and hundreds of thousands of them have returned there mostly from Europe in the last 150 years. In doing so, they displaced and came into many conflicts with the local Palestinians, who have been living there for over 1000 years, and other neighboring Arabic countries.

6. Two countries claim Jerusalem as their capital. Both Israel and Palestine (which includes the West Bank and Gaza Strip) have a long history in the city and claim it as their capital. Most countries in the world don’t recognize either claim.

Flag of Israel on a pole with the light blue Dead Sea in the background
The Israeli flag beside the Dead Sea

7. Israel’s current population sits at 9.66 million. Even though the desert covers more than half the country, Israel is highly urbanized, with most Israelis living in large cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – the latter is considered the country’s commercial capital.

8. The Dead Sea is partially in Israel. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth’s land surface. Its elevation is -430 meters (-1,410 feet). The western shore of the Dead Sea is shared by the West Bank and Israel, while the eastern shore is in Jordan. 

Interesting Facts about Israeli History

9. Before ancient Israel existed, early modern humans and Neanderthals inhabited the country. The oldest fossils of early humans with human traits were found in Northern Israel. Their history dates back more than 120,000 years.

10. Ancient Israeli men and women wore makeup. They used black eye paint from a substance called “kohl” to color the area around their eyes. This was the most common cosmetic product at the time.

Some ancient walls and other ruins
Ancient ruins at Masada in Israel

11. Men and women in Ancient Israel wore similar clothes. A typical wardrobe would consist of a loincloth that was covered by a tight tunic. This would then be covered by a robe known as a mantle.

12. Pomegranates were highly fashionable in ancient Israel. Not only were they a popular fruit, but they also had symbolic significance. They appeared in art, architecture, and even on the hems of the high priest’s robes.

13. Honey was an essential sweetener in ancient Israel. Evidence suggests that beekeeping was practiced in hives made of clay pots and the Bible references “the land flowing with milk and honey.”

14. Perfumes and ointments were highly valued in ancient Israel. They would often be used for religious rituals, personal grooming, and even currency in some cases.

15. Ancient Israel had a great early understanding of public health. The country had a system of hygiene regulations outlined in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), including rules on cleanliness, quarantines, and waste disposal.

Close up of a large book with a person pointing a pen at a line in it
Jews read from the Torah at the Wailing Wall

16. Burial practices varied across ancient Israel. Tombs carved into limestone were common, and some bodies were wrapped in shrouds and placed in niches. In some cases, bones were later collected and placed in ossuaries.

17. Ancient Israelites believed in the healing power of music. In the Bible, King Saul sought relief from his troubled spirit through David’s harp playing.

18. Tons of Biblical events took place in Israel, including the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. These include when Abraham (the founder of monotheism) settled in Israel (17th century BCE), Moses wandering the desert for 40 years, the eras of King David and King Solomon, and the life and crucifixion of Christ. 

19. The Ten Commandments were received in Israel. This civil and legal code bound Israel’s culture together socially and religiously. It is believed by many that the commandments were revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai 3,500 years ago. Considered part of Israel at the time, Mt. Sinai is today in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

20. In 586 BC, the Ark of the Covenant went missing in Israel. Babylonian invaders destroyed the temple that housed it but the ark was never found. It was mostly hidden somewhere else before the invasion took place. Today, there are claims that the golden ark is in Ethiopia

A replica of the Ark of the  Covenant, a golden box with wings on it
Replica of the Ark of the Covenant in Israel

21. The largest-ever wine presses were found in Israel. Each 1,500-year-old wine press found in Yavneh measured more than 225 square meters. The gigantic factory that housed the presses was capable of making 2 million liters of wine annually.

22. In ancient times, exotic animals were regularly used as diplomatic gifts. The Queen of Sheba is said to have gifted King Solomon with spices, gold, and rare animals like peacocks.

23. Israel has been ruled by numerous cultures, groups, and civilizations. These have included Byzantines, Arabs, Israelites, Crusaders, Mamluks, Greeks, Ottomans, Romans, Persians, and more. 

Unusual Facts about Modern Israel

24. Israel’s name has changed multiple times. The country was originally called Canaan and has also been referred to as Palestine and The Holy Land. Today, Israel’s official name is the State of Israel. This became the country’s official name at midnight on May 14, 1948. 

25. Despite being one of the smallest countries in the world, Israel is very densely populated. It is the 22nd most densely populated country in the world. In the US, New Jersey is the only state which is more densely populated than Israel. Israel is almost the same size as Wales in the UK.

26. Israel is home to the south of the most sacred sites of the Baha’i religion. These include the Shrine of the Báb in Haifa and the Shrine of Baháʼu’lláh in Acre.

A long staircase leading up to a gold-topped round Bahai temple
Shrine of the Bab in Haifa

27. Israel ranked 4th for best-performing economy among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in 2022. 38 member countries make up this group, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, and the United States.

28. In rare instances of heavy rainfall, Israel’s Negev Desert can experience a phenomenon called “desert blooms.” During this event, flowers burst into colorful displays across the desert. These include irises and daffodils.

29. Israel’s Ashalim Power Station features the world’s tallest solar tower. It harnesses solar energy to provide electricity for thousands of homes. It stands at a height of 260 meters (853 feet).

30. Tel Aviv has a monument dedicated to Albert Einstein. It is a large statue of Einstein’s head and it can be found outside Tel Aviv University. Einstein was born to Jewish parents in Germany.

31. Hummus is regarded as the unofficial national dish of Israel. In 2010, Israeli chefs set a world record by creating the largest serving of hummus. The total weight of the dish was more than 4 tons. Unfortunately, the record was broken again just 5 months later.

A round plate of hummus with olive oil and green herbs as garnish, on top of a table with a glass of water
A plate of hummus in Israel

32. Israel has a tradition where people write letters to God and place them in the cracks and crevices of the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem. More than a million prayer notes and letters are placed on the wall every year. The wall is part of an ancient retainer wall of the Temple Mount, where an important temple once stood.

33. During the Passover Seder, it’s a tradition to eat bitter herbs like horseradish. The taste of the horseradish is supposed to symbolize the bitterness of slavery.

34. Young Israelis love backpacking all over the world, but they’ve acquired a reputation. In part, this is because they tend to travel in large groups, often right after completing their mandatory military service.  

35. Young Israelis also love to party, and the country is known for its extremely diverse music scene. Some popular genres today include psychedelic trance, heavy metal, hip hop, jazz, classical, and many traditional genres.

36. Over 20,000 people have died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The majority of them have Palestinians. It is considered one of the world’s most enduring conflicts.

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