I spent two weeks in Israel, enjoying the AMAZING food, meeting awesome people,
….and constantly realizing just how WRONG I was about the country.
Literally, almost everything I had heard or assumed about Israel was totally and completely incorrect.
From funny stuff (how to eat and even pronounce “hummus”) to more serious (how an Israeli visa stamp in your passport can harm future Middle East travels), I had a changed perspective upon leaving Israel.
I was humbled by my ignorance, and reminded of the harms of assumptions.
In search of setting things straight, I’ll let you in on the reality of the 7 biggest myths about Israel.
Israel is a big desert.
I didn’t see very much desert. And only one camel (SADLY!)
Israel didn’t look ANYTHING like I’d imagined it.
I have never seen such a small country with such a varied and beautiful landscape.
Seas, beaches, lakes, mountains, green fields, gardens, vineyards, farms (and yes a bit of desert).
In Israel they speak… Yiddish? Arabic? Israeli?
In Israel, all signs are in Hebrew, Arabic, and English – the two official languages of the country being Arabic and Hebrew, though Enlish is used frequently as well.
Most commonly – Israelis speak Hebrew.
The younger generation (especially us millenials) speak excellent English as well.
After you visit Israel, you won’t be able to visit other Middle Eastern countries because of the Israeli visa stamp. Israelis can’t go there, and once you visit Israel, you can’t either.
An Israeli visa stamp might prevent you from visiting other countries in the Middle East.
But it doesn’t matter.
Because they don’t exist!
Instead of getting an Israeli visa stamp / Israeli entry stamp, you get a visa CARD – so there is not evidence in your passport book of any visit to Israel.
(It is correct, however, that in most circumstances, Israelis cannot visit most Islamic countries, including countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, etc as these nations do not recognize the existence of Israel and refuse diplomatic relations)
All the Arabic and Muslim people have been pushed to the West Bank and Gaza and are treated as second class citizens, like in an apartheid state.
There are many Arabic and Muslim people living within Israel (about 16% of the population is Muslim). They have the same rights as Jewish Israelis, and receive the same treatment. They own businesses, homes, and go to school the same as anyone else.
They can serve in the army, vote, and have Israeli passports, just the same as any other citizen.
Many Arabic people who live in Israel call themselves Israelis and recognize the validity of Israel without dispute (they do not call themselves Palestinians).
Everyone who lives in Israel is Jewish.
As mentioned above, Israel has a Muslim population, as well as Druze, Christians, Baha’i, and atheist/agnostic as well. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that recognizes freedom of religion and equal treatment of religions.
(Baha’is have created this beautiful garden and center in Israel – the only country in the middle East that does not persecute them. More on the Bahai Gardens of Haifa here)
Israel is REALLY hot.
I went to Israel in the spring, right after visiting Italy.
Israel was the same temperature as Rome – I needed a sweater or jacket most mornings and evenings, and wore boots.
It even snowed in Northern Israel during my visit!
Make sure to check the weather before planning your trip (and don’t pack only sandals and sundresses).
It doesn’t sound like “hum”+”us”. It sounds like “HOOM”+”iss”. And they don’t eat it with the chips you’re thinking of.
In the US, hummus has become a trendy and ubiquitous health food (especially for us vegetarians!).
But – I’ve never said it right. We’ve definitely adapted it to our American nasal twang.
And, we eat it “wrong” (at least in the midwest US), or more specifically, not as its traditionally eaten. No one eats it with tortilla chips, nor with chopped veggies.
In Israel, a common order is “Hoomis, chips, salad”.
It’s actually Brit chips (to us Americans, FRENCH FRIES), and salad (green chopped salad.. which is also eaten for breakfast but that’s another story), and hummus, and pita, and probably some olives and pickles on the side.
And sometimes, the hummus is super creamy with whole garbanzo beans thrown in, and some greens, and spices, and there MUST be olive oil across the top.
No matter what – it’s delicious (as is all of the other food in Israel!).
Bonus myth – Pita bread is crumbly and dry.
The pita we eat in the U.S. is shameful.
The pita in Israel is this soft, hearty naan-style bread that tastes and feels like a pillow from heaven.
I MISS IT!
Have you ever been surprised by how WRONG you were about a place?
All of June, I’ll be writing about Israel. I absolutely fell in love with the people, the culture, the food (ohmygawwwwwwd the food).
Want to learn more about Israel?
Check out all of my articles on my time in the unique and hotly contested country including: interviews with Israelis, a recap of the underrated and amazing cuisine, the wonders and wines of Golan Heights, and the beautiful Bahai Gardens of Haifa.