7. Tel Aviv feels like its own country
An hour away from Jerusalem, over on the coast, secular-minded Tel Aviv swings along amid beach parties, designer brands and hipster attitudes.
During the Jewish Shabbat -- the day of rest, which runs from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset -- western Jerusalem remains quiet in prayerful contemplation, but Tel Aviv lives the high life, with seaside promenades, crowded stores and lounge bars packed.
This hedonistic city, gazing west into the Mediterranean sunset, has also carved out a new identity as a gay capital, offering a uniquely accommodating welcome to LGBT visitors and residents.
In a country where the Jewish religious establishment generally calls the shots, Tel Aviv embodies a bubble of liberality and easygoing apathy.
8. Countryside walks are fantastic
The West Bank is crisscrossed by walking trails. Many are devoted to nature, some -- such as Birzeit's Sufi Trails -- to culture.
One of the best is the Abraham Path, linking the Palestinian cities of Nablus, Bethlehem and Hebron in a two-week trek. It's also manageable in shorter day-stages, with overnight stops at homestays and rural guesthouses.
Israelis have a long tradition of nature tourism, centered on national parks, wildlife reserves and forest walks, including the stunning Jesus Trail, which coils through the hills above the sparkling Sea of Galilee.
Visitors can plug into Israel's network of "zimmers" -- rural B&Bs ranging from farm stays to exclusive country retreats.
9. When you visit Israel, you're also visiting biblical Palestine
When you visit as a tourist, you're visiting two distinct places.
See only one, and you see only part of the whole picture.
The sovereign state of Israel came into being -- apologies for the euphemism, and for glossing over the previous few millennia of history -- in 1948, on a sliver of land along the Mediterranean coast, in the northern hills and the southern deserts, adding the western districts of Jerusalem after an initial outbreak of fighting with its Arab neighbors.
This is where Israeli culture and the Hebrew language thrive.
The eastern parts of Jerusalem (including the ancient walled Old City), plus the kidney-shaped piece of West Bank that surrounds Jerusalem on three sides, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights did not form part of the modern state of Israel at its creation in 1948, but they came under Israel's control during the 1967 war.
Since then, Israel has effectively annexed East Jerusalem, putting it and other adjacent areas in the West Bank under full Israeli government control, while greatly expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank. At the same time, it unilaterally pulled its military and settlers out of Gaza, but has maintained control over the area's borders (with the exception of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt).
The international community deems Israel's presence in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as an illegal occupation.
These areas are where Palestinian culture and the Arabic language are strongest.
A Palestinian state, should one ever materialize alongside Israel, is likely to be centered on that kidney-shaped territory, known to most of the world as the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip along the Mediterranean.
Pockets of Israeli culture thrive across the West Bank in "settlements" -- Jewish-only townships whose presence is widely seen as contravening international law.
And pockets of Palestinian culture remain strong across Israel, from the urban clamor of Jaffa and Haifa to rural hamlets in the countryside and desert.
10. It's prickly outside, but sweet inside
Sabra is the Hebrew word for cactus fruit -- prickly on the outside, sweet in the middle. It's also how native-born Israelis proudly describe themselves.
The metaphor is apt. Social graces aren't high on Israel's list of priorities, and service in shops and restaurants can be brusque.
But if you peel away the prickly exterior, there's generally warmth and affability beneath. Maybe even a smile.
Intriguingly, the same word in Arabic, saber, connotes patience and tenacity. Tough hedges of cactus are still used to mark land boundaries across the West Bank, and the idea is linked to a key concept in Palestinian self-identity -- sumud, meaning steadfastness or quiet resolve.
One plant, two people, three interpretations. So typical.