Even the name makes people all over the world stop in their tracks: Israel. There is no other place that is as well-known for so wide a variety of reasons as this country the size of New Jersey smack-dab in what is probably the most passionately driven region in the world. But beyond all that tension and conflict lies a land as breathtaking as any. The effect it has on people is like no other place, and the awe it inspires is both keenly felt and wholly unique in its power.

Many people are surprised to discover that Israel is located in the eastern part of the Mediterranean. Indeed, its coast with that famous sea that has cradled civilization for so many thousands of years is one of the most beautiful in the region. Israel's port cities include urban centers like Tel Aviv and Haifa as well as smaller seaside towns like Ashdod and Netanya. But, of course, wherever you go along the coast of Israel proper, you will be treated to the same magnificent views and weather that have lured people to the Mediterranean for millennia.

No discussion of Israel is complete without addressing its history, which began almost unfathomably long ago. Indeed, this land was first settled thousands of years ago, and its history is told in some of the most influential religious texts in the world. The Jewish Bible, or Torah, tells of the earliest history of the land and its settlement by the Jewish people; the Christian Bible tells of its later history; and the Koran, or Muslim Bible, tells of Islamic inhabitants in the region. Needless to say, these and other groups of people interpret this history in their own unique way, and the disputes about these differences still resonate today.

In our times, however, "The first wave of modern immigration to Israel...started in 1881 as Jews fled persecution" in other parts of the world, particularly Eastern and Central Europe. By the middle of the 20th Century, however, "The...Holocaust in Europe led to additional immigration [of Jews]...[Eventually,] The UN General Assembly approved the 1947 UN Partition Plan dividing the territory into two states, with the Jewish area consisting of roughly 55% of the land, and the Arab area roughly 45%. Jerusalem was planned to be an international region administered by the UN to avoid conflict over its status.

Immediately following the adoption of the Partition Plan by the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947, David Ben-Gurion tentatively accepted the partition, while the Arab League rejected it. Several Arab attacks on Jewish civilians soon turned into widespread fighting between Arabs and Jews, this civil war being the first 'phase' of the 1948 War of Independence.

[Finally,] on May 14, 1948...the State of Israel was proclaimed." Today, however, Israel is rocked by seemingly incessant violence in the form of suicide bombings, and the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians has devolved into a sad state of seeming intractability. This, of course, does not mean that students should avoid studying in Israel. Quite the contrary, in fact. They should simply be careful and aware of their surroundings at all times, just as they would anywhere else in the world.

Israel, of course, is also one of the most exciting cultural centers in the world. From the archaeology at sites like Tel Megiddo to the excellent music scenes in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to the resort-like ethos of Eilat, on the Red Sea, Israel offers students and visitors alike a plethora of options from which to choose when it comes to exploration, tourism, and relaxation.

So despite all that you may hear on the news, it is important to remember that Israel is a wonderful place to visit and an even better one in which to study. Spending some of your four college years there will not only benefit you academically, but it will also afford you the opportunity to understand the world better than you ever thought possible. Indeed, there is no aspect of your life that will not be touched by spending an extended period of time in Israel. The wonders await you.

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