The word אלא is used for a different meaning of but. I think it's not very common in English nowadays.
When the second part is complementing the first part use אלא
It was not me, but him - זה לא היה אני אלא הוא
When but adds a certain contrast, it's אבל
I ate it but I didn't like it - אכלתי את זה אבל לא אהבתי את זה
Yes! I once co-translated a book from English to Hebrew. We pretty much had a comma for comma. Then the our wonderful language editor removed like 80% of the commas, and we immediately saw how more Hebrew the text became. I'm not sure why it is, however - just tradition, or something deep about the two languages?
Thank you for the story. Reading the article הַפִּסּוּק וּכְלָלֵי־הַפִּסּוּק of the Adademy about interpunction, two statements support your observation: הַמִּבְנֶה הַצָּמוּם שֶׁל הַמִּשְׁפָּט הָעִבְרִי גָּרַם לְרִבּוּי־פְּסִיקִים בְּיַ֫חַס לְמִסְפַּר־הַמִּלִּים וּלְהַרְגָּשַׁת־קִטּוּע בְּרֶ֫צֶף־הַקְּרִיאָה The narrow structure of the Hebrew sentence caused the number of commas to be multiplied by the number of words and to feel fragmented in the reading sequence, and quite funnily, פְּרוֹפ׳ אַהֲרֹן מִירְסְקִי פִּרְסֵם מַסָּה שֶׁבָּהּ טָעַן כִּי הַפִּסּוּק הָעִבְרִי הַמְּקוֹרִז טָמוּן בְּדֶ֫רֶךְ־הַנִסּוּחַ וְלָכֵן הַטֶּקְסְט הָעִבְרִי אֵינוֹ דּוֹרֵשׁ סִימָנֵי־פִּסּוּק, וּכְדֵי לְהוֹכִיחַ זֹאת כָּתַב אֶת הַמַּסָּה כֻּלּוֹ לְלֹא סִימָנֵי־פִּסּוּק Prof. Aharon Mirsky published a dissertation in which he claimed that the original Hebrew punctuation lies in the wording and therefore the Hebrew text does not require punctuation, and to prove this he wrote the entire dissertation without any punctuation ;-)