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Israel & the Palestinian Territories - Culture


Israel & the Palestinian Territories Culture

Until recently, Israel's culture has been predominantly religious, be it Jewish, Christian or Muslim. Although the scoutlike kibbutz feeling is still in evidence, and although Judaism is the state religion, Israel is rapidly turning into a cosmopolitan consumerist society. Most Jewish Israelis play it both ways, leading a largely secular life but still taking part in the occasional religious ceremony. This is not to say that orthodoxy has died out: on the contrary, orthodox factions are becoming stronger and stronger, and their calls for a return to religion are louder and louder. Many Orthodox - and particularly Hasidic - Jews are recognisable by their dark clothes, beards and curly sideburns (although women tend to forego the beards and sideburns).

In Palestinian parts of the country, Muslim culture is more evident: you'll generally see fewer women, and those that you do see will be dressed more modestly. Sunni is the predominant Muslim sect. Family and hospitality are very important in Palestinian life, and most Palestinians are extremely friendly and helpful to strangers, going so far as to welcome them into their homes.

Israel is renowned for its classical music, with artists such as violinist Yitzhak Perlman strutting the world stage. Klezmer, the knees-up violin-based Yiddish folk music, is hugely popular in Israel and has spread its tentacles to Jewish communities around the world. The founders of the Zionist movement were writers, and literature is still strongly supported in Israel - successful exports have included Amos Oz and David Grossman. The Palestinian community also has a strong literary tradition, born out of adversity and struggle - poetry is particularly popular. In their passion to impose a Jewish identity on their new homeland, the new Israelis took to architecture with a passion, resulting in the form-over-function Internationalist style as well as the spread of Bauhaus buildings. Few Islamic buildings have survived into the 20th century, but there is some beautiful Mamluk architecture in Old Jerusalem.

Israeli eating habits are dictated to some extent by religious laws - Jews cannot eat dairy and meat products together, nor can they eat 'unclean' birds or fish, and neither Muslims nor Jews can eat pork. The waves of immigrants have all brought their own cuisine with them, and you will find Yemeni Jewish food (flame-grilled meats, stuffed vegetables and an astonishing array of offal) and Eastern European Jewish food (schnitzel, goulash, gefilte fish and blintzes). Observant Jews are not permitted to cook on the Sabbath, so for most of Saturday they will eat cholent, a heavy stew cooked on Friday night. Arab dishes include felafel (ground chickpeas flavoured with spices and deep fried), tahina (sesame paste), houmus (chickpea and garlic paste) and flatbreads. Religious laws proscribe alcohol for Muslims, so tea (Arab-style with mint and a truckload of sugar) and coffee are popular beverage mainstays. Palestinians also make juices from tamarind, dates and almonds.



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