At times, Israel can seem like a country obsessed by religion. In Jerusalem, you may hear the Muslim call to prayer clash with the clanging of bells from Christian churches, while Jews sway back and forth in prayer before the Western Wall. In other parts of the country, you'll find yourself walking in the exact places where the events of the Bible unfolded. Everywhere you turn, you'll see reminders of the three religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—that have shaped this part of the world.

You'll also see evidence of the conflicts that continue to plague the region, many of them at least partly based on religion. Relations between Israelis and their Palestinian neighbors have been heated and at times violent. Despite the fact that Israel has signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, chances for a lasting peace with an independent Palestinian neighbor remain a pipe dream that even the most hopeful optimist can't envision for the near future.

More than half a century of conflict has not prevented Israel from developing a modern industrial society able to absorb immigrants from vastly differing cultural and economic backgrounds. Its natural beauty is complemented by a rich variety of cultural activities and sightseeing opportunities. Moreover, it remains the Middle East's sole participatory democracy with a highly opinionated population (reflecting a complete spectrum of political allegiance and outlook), an unfettered press and a totally independent judiciary.

In the Palestinian "Intifadas" of 1987-93 and 2000-05, major terrorist attacks took place in Israel, and as a result, the country is very security-conscious. Tourists are again flocking to Israel's inspiring and interesting sights, but they do so while keeping abreast of the latest developments in the region.

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