Yes, I know, Israel is in Asia. Geographically speaking. But so is Cyprus, and Cyprus is a member of the EU. Obviously, the EU is no authority on geography, since they denied Morocco the membership based on Morocco not being a European country, while admitting Cyprus. Also, the EU would readily admit Armenia into the union, even though Armenia is entirely in Asia. Geologically, Europe is just a peninsula of the Eurasian continent anyway so the whole discussion of “what is a European country” is a political rather than a geological one. Since Israel is a full-fledged member of UEFA, for the purposes of this weblog its a European country.
More than twenty years ago, I came to Israel from the then still existing Soviet Union. The thing I remember the most as a first impression is a very non-European feature of Israel, are the cactus groves. Seemingly everywhere, huge cactus bushes were growing, heavy with yellow-reddish fruit. Since then, I never ceased to be surprised by Israel. The amount of languages spoken on the streets, for example. Or the huge diversity of the landscape, the result of the geographical location on the meeting point of Europe, Asia and Africa. Or the road signs to places such as “Armageddon” or “Sodom”. While Israel is genuinely Middle-Eastern in (political) climate, its population and cultural genome are certainly European to a large extent. Descendants of probably all European countries live in Israel, establishing Romanian grill restaurants, Societies of former Thessaloniki inhabitants and Scottish Jews Clubs. If you want to visit all of Europe in one country – come to Israel.
Nowadays, I keep being surprised by Israel, especially by the intensity of emotions it arouses in Europeans. Time and again I am astonished as to how little Europeans know about Israel and the Middle East in general and how strongly they believe that they are entitled to assign “right” and “wrong” labels and allow themselves to pass moral judgement on all parties.
Politics aside, visiting Israel as a tourist is a very special delight, and one always returns wishing one has had more time to spend there. So while the winter is briefly coming back to Europe this week, I am planning my next trip to Israel, where the sun is bright and the falafel is good.