I have, however, been around long enough to figure out that even though Israel is one of the world's most "well-known" countries, most of the world doesn't really understand it. I include myself in this, though I thought I had a good sense of the place from reading books, blogs, and news sources. Most of the world makes it into a symbol - of identity, of ideals, of religion, of their view of how the world works - and frequently respond to both Israel and the Palestinians according to ideas that have little to do with life as it is actually lived in this little corner of the world. This is not a political statement in favor of any side in the regional conflict or a set of policies, but simply an observation.
Now that I've reached a point in my dissertation writing where I feel I can slow down a bit, I'm going to start taking things in more. Tomorrow, I'm planning to visit Bethlehem, mainly to see the sites, but it is in the West Bank and the security barrier and at least one checkpoint I've heard of lie between here and there. Unlike, say, London, you really can't get away from the reality of life here by sticking to the tourist sector. I'm also mentally plotting to within the next few weeks hit Tel Aviv, more areas of Jerusalem, and before mid-January I will have sacked Haifa.
Hopefully I'll learn something in all of this.