The Holy Land makes for inspiring, fascinating, confusing travel.
To some, the chunk of territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is all Israel.
To others, it's all Palestine.
For most -- as is true so often in this region of shifting truths and manipulated historical narratives -- it's a bit of both.
1. For beaches, it's Red, Med or Dead
Israel is hemmed in by sea.
Eilat has snorkeling and beach activities on the Red Sea side.
Rosh HaNikra has stunning cliffs on the Mediterranean Sea side.
At the Dead Sea you can float away at Ein Bokek, where the salty waters of this inland lake effortlessly support your body.
2. Identity is complicated
Onlookers frequently cast the conflict here as simply between Jews and Arabs.
Axe-grinders on both sides like to evoke an enduring death-struggle between Muslims and Jews.
But for long stretches of history, no such struggle existed.
In truth, the problems of the last century or so are both religious and political -- and it's worthwhile knowing who's who.
Most Israelis (a political identity) are Jewish (a religious identity) -- and most take pride in their country's ethnic diversity. European Jews, Russian Jews, African Jews, American Jews, Arab Jews and many others mix more or less freely.
There's a reason for that. If you can satisfy Israel's religious establishment that you're Jewish -- according to complicated rules of birth, ancestry or conversion -- you instantly become entitled to Israeli citizenship and state benefits.
Palestinians (a political identity) -- most of whom are Arab (a cultural identity) -- are chiefly Muslim, but there are substantial minorities of Palestinian Christians and others.
3. The security barrier is worth seeing
Take a walking tour of East Jerusalem, such as those run by Green Olive Tours, or a pilgrimage to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem -- where Jesus was born -- and you'll run into Israel's infamous security barrier.
Israel built this barrier to keep suicide bombers from getting to Israel. It's eight meters (26 feet) high in places and includes concrete barricades, gates, barbed wire and patrol roads. While it has reduced the number of bombing attempts, it has also kept Palestinians from moving freely between the West Bank and Israel proper.
Most of the barrier runs inside West Bank territory, rather than on the boundary line.
This fact prompted the International Court of Justice to rule that the construction of the barrier violated international law.
With its armed guards, watchtowers and fortified gateways, for travelers it can be a stark symbol of Israel's military control over the territory.
4. Eco travelers will love the desert
Vast, scorching desert fills Israel's southern third -- known as the Negev in Hebrew or Naqab in Arabic.