Israel

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Israel

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This article is about the modern country. For other uses, see Israel (disambiguation).

Coordinates: 31°N 35°E / 31°N 35°E / 31; 35

State of Israel
  • מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל (Hebrew)
  • دَوْلَة إِسْرَائِيل (Arabic)
Centered blue star within a horizontal triband Centered menorah surrounded by two olive branches
Flag Coat of Arms
Anthem: "Hatikvah" (Hebrew)
"The Hope"
Projection of Asia with Israel in green
Capital
and largest city
Emblem of Jerusalem.svg Jerusalem (disputed)
31°47′N 35°13′E / 31.783°N 35.217°E / 31.783; 35.217
Official languages
Ethnic groups (2013)
Demonym Israeli
Government Unitary parliamentary republic
 -  President Reuven Rivlin
 -  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Legislature Knesset
Independence from Mandatory Palestine under British administration
 -  Declared 14 May 1948 
 -  Recognition 1 May 1949 
Area
 -  Total 20,770 / 22,072 (153rd) km2
8,019 / 8,522 sq mi
 -  Water (%) 2.12 (440 km2 / 170 mi2)
Population
 -  2014 estimate 8,238,3001 (96th)
 -  2008 census 7,412,2002 (99th)
 -  Density 387.63/km2 (34th)
1,004.00/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2014 estimate
 -  Total $286.840 billion3
 -  Per capita $35,6583 (25th)
GDP (nominal) 2014 estimate
 -  Total $305. 707 billion 3
 -  Per capita $38,0043 (25th)
Gini (2008) 39.24
medium · 66th
HDI (2013) Steady 0.8885
very high · 19th
Currency Israeli new shekel (‎) (ILS)
Time zone Israel Standard Time (UTC+2)
 -  Summer (DST) Israel Summer Time (UTC+3)
Date format
  • dd-mm-yyyy (CE)
Drives on the right
Calling code +972
ISO 3166 code IL
Internet TLD .il

Israel /ˈɪzrəl/, officially the State of Israel (Hebrew: מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, Medīnat Yisrā'el, IPA: [mediˈnat jisʁaˈʔel] ( ); Arabic: دولة إِسرائيل‎, Dawlat Isrāʼīl, IPA: [dawlat ʔisraːˈʔiːl]), is a country in Western Asia, situated at the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It shares land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan on the east, the Palestinian territories comprising the West Bank and Gaza Strip6 on the east and southwest, respectively, and Egypt and the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea to the south. It contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area.78 Israel's financial center is Tel Aviv,9 while Jerusalem is the country's most populous city and its designated capital, although Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is not recognized internationally.note 110

On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly recommended the adoption and implementation of the Partition Plan for Mandatory Palestine, although it was never ratified by the United Nations Security Council. The end of the British Mandate for Palestine was set for midnight on 14 May 1948. That day, David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the Zionist Organization and president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared "the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel," which would start to function from the termination of the mandate.111213 The borders of the new state were "within the frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations", as stated in the letter from the authorised agent of The Jewish Agency in Palestine, Eliahu Epstein, to President Truman dated 14 May 1948 14. Neighboring Arab armies invaded the former Palestinian mandate on the next day and fought the Israeli forces.1516 Israel has since fought several wars with neighboring Arab states,17 in the course of which it has occupied the West Bank, Sinai Peninsula (1956–1957, 1967–1982), part of South Lebanon (1982–2000), Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. It annexed portions of these territories, including East Jerusalem, but these territories are considered, by both the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council, as parts of the occupied Palestinian territory. 18192021 Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and with Jordan, but efforts to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict have so far not resulted in peace.

The population of Israel, as defined by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, was estimated in 2014 to be 8,146,300 people. It is the world's only Jewish-majority state; 6,110,600 citizens, or 75.3% of Israelis, are Jewish. The country's second largest group of citizens are designated as Arabs, with 1,686,000 people (including the Druze and most East Jerusalem Arabs).2223 The great majority of Israeli Arabs are settled Muslims, with smaller but significant numbers of semi-settled Negev Bedouins; the rest are Christians and Druze. Other minorities include Maronites, Samaritans, Dom people, Black Hebrew Israelites, other Sub-Saharan Africans,24 Armenians, Circassians, Roma and others. Israel also hosts a significant population of non-citizen foreign workers and asylum seekers from Africa and Asia.

In its Basic Laws, Israel defines itself as a Jewish and Democratic State.25 Israel is a representative democracydisputed with a parliamentary system, proportional representation and universal suffrage.2627 The Prime Minister serves as head of government and the Knesset serves as Israel's legislative body. Israel is a developed country and an OECD member,28 with the 43rd-largest economy in the world by nominal gross domestic product as of 2012. The country has the highest standard of living in the Middle East and the fifth highest in Asia,29 and has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.30

Etymology

The Merneptah Stele. While alternative translations exist, the majority of biblical archeologists translate a set of hieroglyphs as "Israel," representing the first instance of the name Israel in the historical record.

Upon independence in 1948, the country formally adopted the name "State of Israel" (Medinat Yisrael) after other proposed historical and religious names including Eretz Israel ("the Land of Israel"), Zion, and Judea, were considered and rejected.31 In the early weeks of independence, the government chose the term "Israeli" to denote a citizen of Israel, with the formal announcement made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Moshe Sharett.32

The names Land of Israel and Children of Israel have historically been used to refer to the biblical Kingdom of Israel and the entire Jewish nation respectively.33 The name "Israel" in these phrases refers to the patriarch Jacob (Standard Yisraʾel, Isrāʾīl; Septuagint Greek: Ἰσραήλ Israēl; "struggle with God"34) who, according to the Hebrew Bible was given the name after he successfully wrestled with the angel of the Lord.35 Jacob's twelve sons became the ancestors of the Israelites, also known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel or Children of Israel. Jacob and his sons had lived in Canaan but were forced by famine to go into Egypt for four generations until Moses, a great-great grandson of Jacob,36 led the Israelites back into Canaan during the "Exodus". The earliest known archaeological artifact to mention the word "Israel" is the Merneptah Stele of ancient Egypt (dated to the late 13th century BCE).37

The area is also known as the Holy Land, being holy for all Abrahamic religions including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Bahá'í Faith. From 1920 the whole region was known as Palestine (under British Mandate) until the Israeli Declaration of Independence of 1948. Through the centuries, the territory was known by a variety of other names, including Judea, Samaria, Southern Syria, Syria Palaestina, Kingdom of Jerusalem, Iudaea Province, Coele-Syria, Retjenu, and Canaan.

History

Main article: History of Israel

Antiquity

Kingdom of Israel, 1020 BCE–930 BCE

The notion of the "Land of Israel", known in Hebrew as Eretz Yisrael, has been important and sacred to the Jewish people since Biblical times. According to the Torah, God promised the land to the three Patriarchs of the Jewish people.3839 On the basis of scripture, the period of the three Patriarchs has been placed somewhere in the early 2nd millennium BCE,40 and the first Kingdom of Israel was established around the 11th century BCE. Subsequent Israelite kingdoms and states ruled intermittently over the next four hundred years, and are known from various extra-biblical sources.41424344

The first record of the name Israel (as ysrỉꜣr) occurs in the Merneptah stele, erected for Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah c. 1209 BCE, "Israel is laid waste and his seed is not."45 This "Israel" was a cultural and probably political entity of the central highlands, well enough established to be perceived by the Egyptians as a possible challenge to their hegemony, but an ethnic group rather than an organised state;46 Ancestors of the Israelites may have included Semites native to Canaan and the Sea Peoples.47 McNutt says, "It is probably safe to assume that sometime during Iron Age I a population began to identify itself as 'Israelite'", differentiating itself from the Canaanites through such markers as the prohibition of intermarriage, an emphasis on family history and genealogy, and religion.48

Villages had populations of up to 300 or 400,4950 which lived by farming and herding, and were largely self-sufficient;51 economic interchange was prevalent.52 Writing was known and available for recording, even in small sites.53 The archaeological evidence indicates a society of village-like centres, but with more limited resources and a small population.54 Modern scholars see Israel arising peacefully and internally from existing people in the highlands of Canaan.55

The Iron Age kingdom of Israel and kingdom of Judah (8th century BCE)

Around 930 BCE, the kingdom split into a southern Kingdom of Judah and a northern Kingdom of Israel. From the middle of the 8th century BCE Israel came into increasing conflict with the expanding neo-Assyrian empire. Under Tiglath-Pileser III it first split Israel's territory into several smaller units and then destroyed its capital, Samaria (722 BCE). An Israelite revolt (724–722 BCE) was crushed after the siege and capture of Samaria by the Assyrian king Sargon II. Sargon's son, Sennacherib, tried and failed to conquer Judah. Assyrian records say he leveled 46 walled cities and besieged Jerusalem, leaving after receiving extensive tribute.56

In 586 BCE King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon conquered Judah. According to the Hebrew Bible, he destroyed Solomon's Temple and exiled the Jews to Babylon. The defeat was also recorded by the Babylonians5758 (see the Babylonian Chronicles).

In 538 BCE, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon and took over its empire. Cyrus issued a proclamation granting subjugated nations (including the people of Judah) religious freedom (for the original text see the Cyrus Cylinder). According to the Hebrew Bible 50,000 Judeans, led by Zerubabel, returned to Judah and rebuilt the temple. A second group of 5,000, led by Ezra and Nehemiah, returned to Judah in 456 BCE although non-Jews wrote to Cyrus to try to prevent their return.

Classical period

Treasures, including the Menorah, carried in a Roman triumph after the 70 CE Siege of Jerusalem (original relief from the Arch of Titus, Rome).

With successive Persian rule, the region, divided between Syria-Coele province and later the autonomous Yehud Medinata, was gradually developing back into urban society, largely dominated by Judeans. The Greek conquests largely skipped the region without any resistance or interest. Incorporated into Ptolemaic and finally Seleucid Empires, southern Levant was heavily hellenized, building the tensions between Judeans and Greeks. The conflict erupted in 167 BCE with the Maccabean Revolt, which succeeded in establishing an independent Hasmonean Kingdom in Judah, which later expanded over much of modern Israel, as the Seleucids gradually lost control in the region.

The Roman Empire invaded the region in 63 BCE, first taking control of Syria, and then intervening in the Hasmonean civil war. The struggle between pro-Roman and pro-Parthian factions in Judea eventually led to the installation of Herod the Great and consolidation of the Herodian Kingdom as a vassal Judean state of Rome.

Kfar Bar'am, an ancient Jewish village, abandoned some time between the 7th-13th centuries AD.59

With the decline of Herodians, Judea, transformed into a Roman province, became the site of a violent struggle of Jews against Greco-Romans, culminating in the Jewish-Roman Wars, ending in wide-scale destruction, expulsions, and genocide. Jewish presence in the region significantly dwindled after the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE.60 Nevertheless, there was a continuous small Jewish presence and Galilee became its religious center.6162 The Mishnah and part of the Talmud, central Jewish texts, were composed during the 2nd to 4th centuries CE in Tiberias and Jerusalem.63 The region came to be populated predominantly by Greco-Romans on the coast and Samaritans in the hill-country. Christianity was gradually evolving over Roman paganism, when the area under Byzantine rule was transformed into Deocese of the East, as Palaestina Prima and Palaestina Secunda provinces. Through the 5th and 6th centuries, dramatic events of Samaritan Revolts reshaped the land, with massive destruction to Byzantine Christian and Samaritan societies and a resulting decrease of the population. After the Persian conquest and the installation of a short-lived Jewish Commonwealth in 614 CE, the Byzantine Empire reinstalled its rule in 625 CE, resulting in further decline and destruction.

Middle Ages and caliphates

Beit Knesset Abuhav, is a 15th-century synagogue in Safed, Israel.64

In 635 CE, the region, including Jerusalem, was conquered by Arabs. It remained under Muslim control and predominately Muslim occupancy for the next 1300 years under various caliphates.65 Control of the region transferred between the Umayyads,65 Abbasids,65 and Crusaders throughout the next six centuries,65 before the area was conquered in 1260 by the Mamluk Sultanate.66

Siege and Capture of Jerusalem in 1099, where the Jews had participated in its defense

In 1099, the Jews were among the rest of the population who tried in vain to defend Jerusalem against the Crusaders. When the city fell, a massacre of 6,000 Jews occurred when the synagogue they were seeking refuge in was set alight. Almost all perished.67 The Jews almost single-handedly defended Haifa against the crusaders, holding out in the besieged town for a whole month (June–July 1099) in fierce battles. At this time, a full thousand years after the fall of the Jewish state, there were Jewish communities all over the country. Fifty of them are known and include Jerusalem, Tiberias, Ramleh, Ashkelon, Caesarea, and Gaza.6869

In 1165 Maimonides visited Jerusalem and prayed on the Temple Mount, in the "great, holy house".70 In 1141 Spanish poet, Yehuda Halevi, issued a call to the Jews to emigrate to the Land of Israel, a journey he undertook himself. In 1187 Ayyubid Sultan Saladin defeated the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin and took Jerusalem and most of Palestine. In time, Saladin issued a proclamation inviting all Jews to return and settle in Jerusalem,71 and according to Judah al-Harizi, they did: "From the day the Arabs took Jerusalem, the Israelites inhabited it."72 al-Harizi compared Saladins decree allowing Jews to re-establish themselves in Jerusalem to the one issued by the Persian Cyrus the Great over 1,600 years earlier.73

In 1211, the Jewish community in the country was strengthened by the arrival of a group headed by over 300 rabbis from France and England,74 among them Rabbi Samson ben Abraham of Sens.75 Nachmanides, the 13th-century Spanish rabbi and recognised leader of Jewry greatly praised the land of Israel and viewed its settlement as a positive commandment incumbent on all Jews. He wrote "If the gentiles wish to make peace, we shall make peace and leave them on clear terms; but as for the land, we shall not leave it in their hands, nor in the hands of any nation, not in any generation."76

In 1260, control passed to the Egyptian Mamluks. In 1266 the Mamluk Sultan Baybars converted the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron into an exclusive Islamic sanctuary and banned Christians and Jews from entering, which previously would be able to enter it for a fee. The ban remained in place until Israel took control of the building in 1967.7778

In 1470, Isaac b. Meir Latif arrived from Ancona and counted 150 Jewish families in Jerusalem.79 Thanks to Joseph Saragossi who had arrived in the closing years of the 15th century, Safed and its environs had developed into the largest concentration of Jews in Palestine. With the help of the Sephardic immigration from Spain, the Jewish population had increased to 10,000 by the early 16th century.80

In 1516, the region was conquered by the Ottoman Empire; it remained under Turkish rule until the end of the First World War, when Britain defeated the Ottoman forces and set up a military administration across the former Ottoman Syria. In 1920 the territory was divided under the mandate system, and the area which included modern day Israel was named Mandatory Palestine.668182

Zionism and the British mandate

Jews praying at the Western Wall, 1870s

Since the Jewish diaspora, some Jews have aspired to return to "Zion" and the "Land of Israel",83 though the amount of effort that should be spent towards such an aim was a matter of dispute.8485 The hopes and yearnings of Jews living in exile were articulated in the Hebrew Bible,86 and are an important theme of the Jewish belief system.84 After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, some communities settled in Palestine.87 During the 16th century, Jewish communities struck roots in the Four Holy CitiesJerusalem, Tiberias, Hebron, and Safed—and in 1697, Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid led a group of 1,500 Jews to Jerusalem.88 In the second half of the 18th century, Eastern European opponents of Hasidism, known as the Perushim, settled in Palestine.899091

Black and white portrait of a long-bearded man.
Theodor Herzl, visionary of the Jewish State

The first wave of modern Jewish migration to Ottoman-ruled Palestine, known as the First Aliyah, began in 1881, as Jews fled pogroms in Eastern Europe.92 Although the Zionist movement already existed in practice, Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl is credited with founding political Zionism,93 a movement which sought to establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, by elevating the Jewish Question to the international plane.94 In 1896, Herzl published Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews), offering his vision of a future Jewish state; the following year he presided over the first World Zionist Congress.95

The Second Aliyah (1904–14), began after the Kishinev pogrom; some 40,000 Jews settled in Palestine, although nearly half of them left eventually.92 Both the first and second waves of migrants were mainly Orthodox Jews,96 although the Second Aliyah included socialist groups who established the kibbutz movement.97 During World War I, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to Baron Rothschild (Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild), a leader of the British Jewish community, that stated that Britain intended for the creation of a Jewish homeland within the Palestinian Mandate.9899

The Jewish Legion, a group primarily of Zionist volunteers, assisted, in 1918, in the British conquest of Palestine.100 Arab opposition to British rule and Jewish immigration led to the 1920 Palestine riots and the formation of a Jewish militia known as the Haganah (meaning "The Defense" in Hebrew), from which the Irgun and Lehi, or Stern Gang, paramilitary groups later split off.101 In 1922, the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate over Palestine under terms similar to the Balfour Declaration.102 The population of the area at this time was predominantly Arab and Muslim, with Jews accounting for about 11%,103 Christians 9.5%.104

The Third (1919–1923) and Fourth Aliyahs (1924–1929) brought an additional 100,000 Jews to Palestine.92 Finally, the rise of Nazism and the increasing persecution of Jews in the 1930s led to the Fifth Aliyah, with an influx of a quarter of a million Jews. This was a major cause of the Arab revolt of 1936–1939 and led the British to introduce restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine with the White Paper of 1939. With countries around the world turning away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, a clandestine movement known as Aliyah Bet was organized to bring Jews to Palestine.92 By the end of World War II, the Jewish population of Palestine had increased to 33% of the total population.105

Independence and first years

After World War II, Britain found itself in fierce conflict with the Jewish community, as the Haganah joined Irgun and Lehi in an armed struggle against British rule.106 At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors and refugees sought a new life far from their destroyed communities in Europe. The Yishuv attempted to bring these refugees to Palestine but many were turned away or rounded up and placed in detention camps in Atlit and Cyprus by the British. In 1947, the British government announced it would withdraw from Mandatory Palestine, stating it was unable to arrive at a solution acceptable to both Arabs and Jews.

On 15 May 1947, the General Assembly of the newly formed United Nations resolved that a committee, United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), be created "to prepare for consideration at the next regular session of the Assembly a report on the question of Palestine".107 In the Report of the Committee dated 3 September 1947 to the UN General Assembly,108 the majority of the Committee in Chapter VI proposed a plan to replace the British Mandate with "an independent Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem ... the last to be under an International Trusteeship System".109 On 29 November 1947, the General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the adoption and implementation of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union as Resolution 181 (II).110 The Plan attached to the resolution was essentially that proposed by the majority of the Committee in the Report of 3 September 1947.

The Jewish Agency, which was the recognized representative of the Jewish community, accepted the plan, but the Arab League and Arab Higher Committee of Palestine rejected it.111 On 1 December 1947, the Arab Higher Committee proclaimed a three-day strike, and Arab bands began attacking Jewish targets.112 The Jews were initially on the defensive as civil war broke out, but gradually moved onto the offensive.113 The Palestinian Arab economy collapsed and 250,000 Palestinian-Arabs fled or were expelled.114

A man reads a document to a small audience assembled before him. Behind him are two elongated flags bearing the Star of David and portrait of a bearded man in his forties.
David Ben-Gurion proclaiming Israeli independence on 14 May 1948, below a portrait of Theodor Herzl

On 14 May 1948, the day before the expiration of the British Mandate, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, declared "the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel".115116 The only reference in the text of the Declaration to the borders of the new state is the use of the term, Eretz-Israel.117

An example of Israel's first visas from 1948

The following day, the armies of four Arab countries—Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq—entered what had been British Mandatory Palestine, launching the 1948 Arab–Israeli War;118119 Saudi Arabia sent a military contingent to operate under Egyptian command; Yemen declared war but did not take military action.120 In the introduction to the cablegram121 from the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States to the UN Secretary-General of 15 May 1948, the Arab League gave reasons for its intervention, "On the occasion of the intervention of Arab States in Palestine to restore law and order and to prevent disturbances prevailing in Palestine from spreading into their territories and to check further bloodshed". After a year of fighting, a ceasefire was declared and temporary borders, known as the Green Line, were established.122 Jordan annexed what became known as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. The United Nations estimated that more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled during the conflict from what would become Israel.123

Kibbutznikiyot (female Kibbutz members), during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The Kibbutzim, or collective farming communities, played a pivotal role in establishing the new state.124

Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations by majority vote on 11 May 1949.125 In the early years of the state, the Labor Zionist movement led by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion dominated Israeli politics.126127 One such policy, the One Million Plan, led to an an influx of Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab and Muslim lands, many of whom faced persecution and expulsion from their original countries.128 Consequently, the population of Israel rose from 800,000 to two million between 1948 and 1958.129 During this period, food, clothes and furniture had to be rationed in what became known as the Austerity Period. Between 1948 and 1970, approximately 1,150,000 Jewish refugees relocated to Israel.130 Some arrived as refugees with no possessions and were housed in temporary camps known as ma'abarot; by 1952, over 200,000 immigrants were living in these tent cities.131 The need to solve the crisis led Ben-Gurion to sign a reparations agreement with West Germany that triggered mass protests by Jews angered at the idea that Israel could accept monetary compensation for the Holocaust.132

The immigrants came to Israel for differing reasons. Some believed in the Zionist ideology, while others moved to escape persecution. There were others that did it for the promise of a better life in Israel and a small number that were expelled from their homelands, such as British and French Jews in Egypt after the Suez Crisis.133 According to Tom Segev, the refugees were often treated differently according to where they were from. Jews of European descent were considered critical to the strengthening and peopling of Israel, so they were generally allowed to enter Israel first and thus were given abandoned Arab houses to live in. On the other hand, Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries were viewed by many Ashkenazi Jews as lazy, poor, culturally and religiously backward, and a threat to established communal life in Israel and remained in transit camps for longer periods of time.134 During the 1950s, the standard of living gap between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews widened so much that tensions developed between the two groups. This tension first moved to hostility during the Wadi Salib riots in 1959; other instances of domestic turmoil would occur over the following decades.135

Immigration to Israel during the late 1940s and early 1950s was aided by the Israeli Immigration Department and the non-government sponsored Organization for Illegal Immigration, called Mossad le-aliyah bet. Both groups facilitated regular immigration logistics like arranging transportation, but the latter also engaged in clandestine operations in countries, particularly in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, where the lives of Jews were believed to be in danger and exit from those places was difficult. The Organization for Illegal Immigration continued to take part in immigration efforts until its disbanding in 1953.136

In the 1950s, Israel was frequently attacked by Palestinian fedayeen, mainly from the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip,137 leading to several Israeli counter-raids. In 1950 Egypt closed the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping and tensions mounted as armed clashes took place along Israel's borders. In 1956, Israel joined a secret alliance with Great Britain and France aimed at regaining control of the Suez Canal, which the Egyptians had nationalized (see the Suez Crisis). Israel overran the Sinai Peninsula but was pressured to withdraw by the United Nations in return for guarantees of Israeli shipping rights in the Red Sea and the Canal.138139

In the early 1960s, Israel captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and brought him to Israel for trial.140 The trial had a major impact on public awareness of the Holocaust.141 Eichmann remains the only person executed after conviction by an Israeli civilian court.142

Further conflict and peace treaties

Territory held by Israel:
  before the Six-Day War
  after the war
The Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt in 1982.

Since 1964, Arab countries, concerned over Israeli plans to divert waters of the Jordan River into the coastal plain,143 had been trying to divert the headwaters to deprive Israel of water resources, provoking tensions between Israel on the one hand, and Syria and Lebanon on the other.

Arab nationalists led by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser refused to recognize Israel, and called for its destruction.17144145 By 1966, Israeli-Arab relations had deteriorated to the point of actual battles taking place between Israeli and Arab forces.146 In 1967, Egypt expelled UN peacekeepers, stationed in the Sinai Peninsula since 1957, and announced a partial blockade of Israel's access to the Red Sea. In May 1967 a number of Arab states began to mobilize their forces.147 Israel saw these actions as a casus belli. On 5 June 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. In a Six-Day War, Israeli military superiority was clearly demonstrated against their more numerous Arab foes. Israel succeeded in capturing the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.148 Jerusalem's boundaries were enlarged, incorporating East Jerusalem, and the 1949 Green Line became the administrative boundary between Israel and the occupied territories.

Following the war, Israel faced much internal resistance from the Palestinians and Egyptian hostilities in the Sinai. Most important among the various Palestinian and Arab groups was the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), established in 1964, which initially committed itself to "armed struggle as the only way to liberate the homeland".149150 In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Palestinian groups launched a wave of attacks151152 against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world,153 including a massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. The Israeli government responded with an assassination campaign against the organizers of the massacre, a bombing and a raid on the PLO headquarters in Lebanon.

On 6 October 1973, as Jews were observing Yom Kippur, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a surprise attack against Israeli forces in the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights. The war ended on 26 October with Israel successfully repelling Egyptian and Syrian forces but having suffered over 2,500 soldiers killed in a war which collectively took between 10-35,000 lives in just 20 days.154 An internal inquiry exonerated the government of responsibility for failures before and during the war, but public anger forced Prime Minister Golda Meir to resign.155

In July 1976 Israeli commandos carried out a rescue mission which succeeded in rescuing 102 hostages who were being held by Palestinian guerillas at Entebbe International Airport close to Kampala, Uganda.

Operation Gazelle, Israel's ground maneuver, encircles the Egyptian Third Army, October 1973

The 1977 Knesset elections marked a major turning point in Israeli political history as Menachem Begin's Likud party took control from the Labor Party.156 Later that year, Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat made a trip to Israel and spoke before the Knesset in what was the first recognition of Israel by an Arab head of state.157 In the two years that followed, Sadat and Begin signed the Camp David Accords (1978) and the Israel–Egypt Peace Treaty (1979).158 Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and agreed to enter negotiations over an autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.159

On 11 March 1978, a PLO guerilla raid from Lebanon led to the Coastal Road Massacre, in which 38 Israeli civilians were killed and 71 injured. Israel responded by launching an invasion of southern Lebanon to destroy the PLO bases south of the Litani River. Most PLO fighters withdrew, but Israel was able to secure southern Lebanon until a UN force and the Lebanese army could take over. The PLO soon resumed its policy of attacks against Israel. In the next few years, the PLO infiltrated the south and kept up a sporadic shelling across the border. Israel carried out numerous retaliatory attacks by air and on the ground.

Meanwhile, Begin's government provided incentives for Israelis to settle in the occupied West Bank, increasing friction with the Palestinians in that area.160 The Basic Law: Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel, passed in 1980, was believed by some to reaffirm Israel's 1967 annexation of Jerusalem by government decree, and reignited international controversy over the status of the city. No Israeli legislation has defined the territory of Israel and no act specifically included East Jerusalem therein.161 The position of the majority of UN member states is reflected in numerous resolutions declaring that actions taken by Israel to settle its citizens in the West Bank, and impose its laws and administration on East Jerusalem, are illegal and have no validity.162 In 1981 Israel annexed the Golan Heights, although annexation was not recognized internationally.163

On 7 June 1981, the Israeli air force destroyed Iraq's sole nuclear reactor, which was under construction just outside Baghdad. Following a series of PLO attacks in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon that year to destroy the bases from which the PLO launched attacks and missiles into northern Israel.164 In the first six days of fighting, the Israelis destroyed the military forces of the PLO in Lebanon and decisively defeated the Syrians. An Israeli government inquiry – the Kahan Commission – would later hold Begin, Sharon and several Israeli generals as indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre. In 1985, Israel responded to a Palestinian terrorist attack in Cyprus by bombing the PLO headquarters in Tunis. Israel withdrew from most of Lebanon in 1986, but maintained a borderland buffer zone in southern Lebanon until 2000.

Israel's ethnic diversity expanded in the 1980s and 1990s due to immigration. Several waves of Ethiopian Jews immigrated to Israel in the 1980s and 1990s and between 1990 and 1994, Russian immigration to Israel increased Israel's population by twelve percent.165

The First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule,166 broke out in 1987, with waves of uncoordinated demonstrations and violence occurring in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Over the following six years, the Intifada became more organised and included economic and cultural measures aimed at disrupting the Israeli occupation. More than a thousand people were killed in the violence.167 Responding to continuing PLO guerilla raids into northern Israel, Israel launched another punitive raid into southern Lebanon in 1988. Amid rising tensions over the Kuwait crisis, Israeli border guards fired into a rioting Palestinian crowd near the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. 20 people were killed and some 150 injured. During the 1991 Gulf War, the PLO supported Saddam Hussein and Iraqi Scud missile attacks against Israel. Despite public outrage, Israel heeded US calls to refrain from hitting back and did not participate in that war.168169

Bill Clinton watches Jordan's King Hussein (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (right) sign the Israel–Jordan peace treaty

In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin became Prime Minister following an election in which his party called for compromise with Israel's neighbors.170171 The following year, Shimon Peres on behalf of Israel, and Mahmoud Abbas for the PLO, signed the Oslo Accords, which gave the Palestinian National Authority the right to govern parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.172 The PLO also recognized Israel's right to exist and pledged an end to terrorism.173 In 1994, the Israel–Jordan Treaty of Peace was signed, making Jordan the second Arab country to normalize relations with Israel.174 Arab public support for the Accords was damaged by the continuation of Israeli settlements175 and checkpoints, and the deterioration of economic conditions.176 Israeli public support for the Accords waned as Israel was struck by Palestinian suicide attacks.177 Finally, while leaving a peace rally in November 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a far-right-wing Jew who opposed the Accords.178

At the end of the 1990s, Israel, under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, withdrew from Hebron,179 and signed the Wye River Memorandum, giving greater control to the Palestinian National Authority.180 Ehud Barak, elected Prime Minister in 1999, began the new millennium by withdrawing forces from Southern Lebanon and conducting negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and U.S. President Bill Clinton at the 2000 Camp David Summit. During the summit, Barak offered a plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but Yasser Arafat rejected it.181 After the collapse of the talks and a controversial visit by Likud leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, the Second Intifada began, which was allegedly pre-planned by Yasser Arafat.182183184 Sharon became prime minister in a 2001 special election. During his tenure, Sharon carried out his plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and also spearheaded the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier,185 defeating the Intifada.186187188189190191192193194195196197

In July 2006, a Hezbollah artillery assault on Israel's northern border communities and a cross-border abduction of two Israeli soldiers precipitated the month-long Second Lebanon War.198199 On 6 September 2007, Israeli Air Force destroyed a nuclear reactor in Syria. In May 2008, Israel confirmed it had been discussing a peace treaty with Syria for a year, with Turkey as a go-between.200 However, at the end of the year, Israel entered another conflict as a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel collapsed. The Gaza War lasted three weeks and ended after Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire.201202 Hamas announced its own ceasefire, with its own conditions of complete withdrawal and opening of border crossings. Despite neither the rocket launchings nor Israeli retaliatory strikes having completely stopped, the fragile ceasefire remained in order.203 In what it said was a response to more than a hundred Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israeli cities,204 Israel began an operation in Gaza on 14 November 2012, lasting eight days.205206207 Israel started another operation in Gaza following an escalation of rocket attacks by Hamas in July 2014.208

Geography and climate

A satellite image of Israel

Israel is at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, bounded by Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank to the east, and Egypt and the Gaza strip to the southwest. It lies between latitudes 29° and 34° N, and longitudes 34° and 36° E.

The sovereign territory of Israel, excluding all territories captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, is approximately 20,770 square kilometers (8,019 sq mi) in area, of which two percent is water.7 However Israel is so narrow that the exclusive economic zone in the Mediterranean is double the land area of the country.209 The total area under Israeli law, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, is 22,072 square kilometers (8,522 sq mi),210 and the total area under Israeli control, including the military-controlled and partially Palestinian-governed territory of the West Bank, is 27,799 square kilometers (10,733 sq mi).211 Despite its small size, Israel is home to a variety of geographic features, from the Negev desert in the south to the inland fertile Jezreel Valley, mountain ranges of the Galilee, Carmel and toward the Golan in the north. The Israeli Coastal Plain on the shores of the Mediterranean is home to 57 percent of the nation's population.212213214 East of the central highlands lies the Jordan Rift Valley, which forms a small part of the 6,500-kilometer (4,039 mi) Great Rift Valley.

Ramon Crater, a unique type of crater that can be found only in Israel and the Sinai peninsula

The Jordan River runs along the Jordan Rift Valley, from Mount Hermon through the Hulah Valley and the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the surface of the Earth.215 Further south is the Arabah, ending with the Gulf of Eilat, part of the Red Sea. Unique to Israel and the Sinai Peninsula are makhteshim, or erosion cirques.216 The largest makhtesh in the world is Ramon Crater in the Negev,217 which measures 40 by 8 kilometers (25 by 5 mi).218 A report on the environmental status of the Mediterranean basin states that Israel has the largest number of plant species per square meter of all the countries in the basin.219

Temperatures in Israel vary widely, especially during the winter. The more mountainous regions can be windy, cold, and sometimes snowy; Jerusalem usually receives at least one snowfall each year.220 Meanwhile, coastal cities, such as Tel Aviv and Haifa, have a typical Mediterranean climate with cool, rainy winters and long, hot summers. The area of Beersheba and the Northern Negev has a semi-arid climate with hot summers, cool winters and fewer rainy days than the Mediterranean climate. The Southern Negev and the Arava areas have desert climate with very hot and dry summers, and mild winters with few days of rain. The highest temperature in the continent of Asia (53.7 °C or 128.7 °F) was recorded in 1942 at Tirat Zvi kibbutz in the northern Jordan river valley.221

From May to September, rain in Israel is rare.222223 With scarce water resources, Israel has developed various water-saving technologies, including drip irrigation.224 Israelis also take advantage of the considerable sunlight available for solar energy, making Israel the leading nation in solar energy use per capita (practically every house uses solar panels for water heating).225

Four different phytogeographic regions exist in Israel, due to the country's location between the temperate and the tropical zones, bordering the Mediterranean Sea in the west and the desert in the east. For this reason the flora and fauna of Israel is extremely diverse. There are 2,867 known species of plants found in Israel. Of these, at least 253 species are introduced and non-native.226 There are 380 Israeli nature reserves.227

Politics

The Knesset chamber, home to the Israeli parliament

Israel operates under a parliamentary system as a democratic republic with universal suffrage.7 A member of parliament supported by a parliamentary majority becomes the prime minister—usually this is the chair of the largest party. The prime minister is the head of government and head of the cabinet.228229 Israel is governed by a 120-member parliament, known as the Knesset. Membership of the Knesset is based on proportional representation of political parties,230 with a 2% electoral threshold, which in practice has resulted in coalition governments.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled every four years, but unstable coalitions or a no-confidence vote by the Knesset can dissolve a government earlier. The Basic Laws of Israel function as an uncodified constitution. In 2003, the Knesset began to draft an official constitution based on these laws.7231 The president of Israel is head of state, with limited and largely ceremonial duties.228

Media

In 2014, Israel proper was ranked 96th of 180 according to Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index, 2nd below Kuwait (at 91) in the Middle East and North Africa region.232 The 2013 Freedom in the World annual survey and report by U.S.-based Freedom House, which attempts to measure the degree of democracy and political freedom in every nation, ranked Israel as the Middle East and North Africa's only free country.233

Legal system

Supreme Court of Israel, Givat Ram, Jerusalem

Israel has a three-tier court system. At the lowest level are magistrate courts, situated in most cities across the country. Above them are district courts, serving both as appellate courts and courts of first instance; they are situated in five of Israel's six districts. The third and highest tier is the Supreme Court, located in Jerusalem; it serves a dual role as the highest court of appeals and the High Court of Justice. In the latter role, the Supreme Court rules as a court of first instance, allowing individuals, both citizens and non-citizens, to petition against the decisions of state authorities.234235 Although Israel supports the goals of the International Criminal Court, it has not ratified the Rome Statute, citing concerns about the ability of the court to remain free from political impartiality.236

Israel's legal system combines three legal traditions: English common law, civil law, and Jewish law.7 It is based on the principle of stare decisis (precedent) and is an adversarial system, where the parties in the suit bring evidence before the court. Court cases are decided by professional judges rather than juries.234 Marriage and divorce are under the jurisdiction of the religious courts: Jewish, Muslim, Druze, and Christian. A committee of Knesset members, Supreme Court justices, and Israeli Bar members carries out the election of judges.237 Administration of Israel's courts (both the "General" courts and the Labor Courts) is carried by the Administration of Courts, situated in Jerusalem. Both General and Labor courts are paperless courts: the storage of court files, as well as court decisions, are conducted electronically. Israel's Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty seeks to defend human rights and liberties in Israel.

Administrative divisions

Main article: Districts of Israel
Golan Heights Northern District (Israel) Haifa District Haifa District Central District (Israel) Central District (Israel) Tel Aviv District Southern District (Israel) Jerusalem District Judea and Samaria Area West BankA clickable map of Israel.
About this image

The State of Israel is divided into six main administrative districts, known as mehozot (מחוזות; singular: mahoz) – Center, Haifa, Jerusalem, North, Southern, and Tel Aviv Districts, as well as the Judea and Samaria Area in the West Bank. All of the Judea and Samaria Area and parts of the Jerusalem and North districts are not recognized internationally as part of Israel. Districts are further divided into fifteen sub-districts known as nafot (נפות; singular: nafa), which are themselves partitioned into fifty natural regions.238

District Main city Sub-district Population
North Nazareth Acre, Karmiel, Kiryat Shmona, Nazareth, Nazareth Illit, Qatsrin, Safed, Tiberias 1,242,100
Haifa Haifa Haifa, Hadera 880,000
Center Ramla Herzliya, Kfar Saba, Modi'in, Netanya, Petah Tikva, Ra'anana, Ramla, Rehovot, Rishon LeZion 1,770,200
Tel Aviv Tel Aviv Bat Yam, Bnei Brak, Giv'atayim, Holon, Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv 1,227,000
Jerusalem Jerusalem Jerusalem, Mevaseret Zion 910,300 (Including approximately 200,000 Israeli settlers and 208,000 Palestinians.239240241)
South Beersheba Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheba, Eilat, Kiryat Gat, Sderot 1,053,600
Judea and Samaria (West Bank) Ariel Ariel, Beitar Illit, Ma'ale Adumim, Modi'in Illit 375,000 Israeli citizens‏‏242

For statistical purposes, the country is divided into three metropolitan areas: Tel Aviv metropolitan area (population 3,206,400), Haifa metropolitan area (population 1,021,000), and Beer Sheva metropolitan area (population 559,700).243 Israel's largest municipality, both in population and area,244 is Jerusalem with 773,800 residents in an area of 126 square kilometres (49 sq mi) (in 2009). Israeli government statistics on Jerusalem include the population and area of East Jerusalem, which is widely recognized as part of the Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation.245 Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Rishon LeZion rank as Israel's next most populous cities, with populations of 393,900, 265,600, and 227,600 respectively.244

Israeli-occupied territories

Map of Israel showing the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights

In 1967, as a result of the Six-Day War, Israel took control of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. Israel also took control of the Sinai Peninsula, but returned it to Egypt as part of the 1979 Israel–Egypt Peace Treaty.246 Between 1982 and 2000, Israel occupied part of southern Lebanon, in what was known as the Security Zone.

Following Israel's capture of these territories and until this day, settlements (Jewish civilian communities) and military installations were built within each of them. Israel applied civilian law to the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, incorporating them into its sovereign territory and granting their inhabitants permanent residency status and the choice to apply for citizenship. In contrast, the West Bank has remained under military occupation, and Palestinians in this area cannot become citizens. The Gaza Strip is independent of Israel with no Israeli military or civilian presence, but Israel continues to maintain control of its airspace and waters. The UN Security Council has declared the annexation of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem to be "null and void" and continues to view the territories as occupied.247248 The International Court of Justice, principal judicial organ of the United Nations, asserted, in its 2004 advisory opinion on the legality of the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier, that the lands captured by Israel in the Six-Day War, including East Jerusalem, are occupied territory.249

The status of East Jerusalem in any future peace settlement has at times been a difficult hurdle in negotiations between Israeli governments and representatives of the Palestinians, as Israel views it as its sovereign territory, as well as part of its capital. Most negotiations relating to the territories have been on the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which emphasises "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war", and calls on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories in return for normalization of relations with Arab states, a principle known as "Land for peace".250251252

The West Bank was annexed by Jordan in 1950, following the Arab rejection of the UN decision to create two states in Palestine. Only Britain recognized this annexation and Jordan has since ceded its claim to the territory to the PLO. The West Bank was occupied by Israel in 1967 during the Six-Day War. The population are mainly Palestinians, including refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.253 From their occupation in 1967 until 1993, the Palestinians living in these territories were under Israeli military administration. Since the Israel–PLO letters of recognition, most of the Palestinian population and cities have been under the internal jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, and only partial Israeli military control, although Israel has on several occasions redeployed its troops and reinstated full military administration during periods of unrest. In response to increasing attacks as part of the Second Intifada, the Israeli government started to construct the Israeli West Bank barrier.254 When completed, approximately 13% of the Barrier will be constructed on the Green Line or in Israel with 87% inside the West Bank.255256

The Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt from 1948 to 1967 and then by Israel after 1967. In 2005, as part of Israel's unilateral disengagement plan, Israel removed all of its settlers and forces from the territory. Israel does not consider the Gaza Strip to be occupied territory and declared it a "foreign territory". That view has been disputed by numerous international humanitarian organizations and various bodies of the United Nations.257258259260261 Following June 2007, when Hamas assumed power in the Gaza Strip,262 Israel tightened its control of the Gaza crossings along its border, as well as by sea and air, and prevented persons from entering and exiting the area except for isolated cases it deemed humanitarian.262 Gaza has a border with Egypt and an agreement between Israel, the European Union and the PA governed how border crossing would take place (it was monitored by European observers).263 Egypt adhered to this agreement under Mubarak and prevented access to Gaza until April 2011 when it announced it was opening its border with Gaza.

Foreign relations

  Diplomatic relations
  Diplomatic relations suspended
  Former diplomatic relations
  No diplomatic relations, but former trade relations
  No diplomatic relations

Israel maintains diplomatic relations with 157 countries and has 100 diplomatic missions around the world.264 Only three members of the Arab League have normalized relations with Israel: Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties in 1979 and 1994, respectively, and Mauritania opted for full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1999. Despite the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, Israel is still widely considered an enemy country among Egyptians.265 Under Israeli law, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Yemen are enemy countries266 and Israeli citizens may not visit them without permission from the Ministry of the Interior.267

The Soviet Union and the United States were the first two countries to recognize the State of Israel, having declared recognition roughly simultaneously.268 The United States regards Israel as its "most reliable partner in the Middle East,"269 based on "common democratic values, religious affinities, and security interests".270 The United States has provided $68 billion in military assistance and $32 billion in grants to Israel since 1967, under the Foreign Assistance Act (period beginning 1962),271 more than any other country for that period until 2003.271272273 Their bilateral relations are multidimensional and the United States is the principal proponent of the Arab-Israeli peace process. The United States and Israeli views differ on some issues, such as the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, and settlements.274

India established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992 and has fostered a strong military, technological and cultural partnership with the country since then.275 According to an international opinion survey conducted in 2009 on behalf of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, India is the most pro-Israel country in the world.276277 India is the largest customer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest military partner of India after the Russian Federation.278 India is also the third-largest Asian economic partner of Israel279 and the two countries have military as well as extensive space technology ties.280281 India became the top source market for Israel from Asia in 2010 with 41,000 tourist arrivals in that year.282

Germany's strong ties with Israel include cooperation on scientific and educational endeavors and the two states remain strong economic and military partners.283284 Under the reparations agreement, by 2007 Germany had paid 25 billion euros in reparations to the Israeli state and individual Israeli holocaust survivors.285 The UK has kept full diplomatic relations with Israel since its formation having had two visits from heads of state in 2007. Relations between the two countries were also made stronger by former prime minister Tony Blair's efforts for a two state resolution. The UK is seen as having a "natural" relationship with Israel on account of the British Mandate for Palestine.286 Iran had diplomatic relations with Israel under the Pahlavi dynasty287 but withdrew its recognition of Israel during the Islamic Revolution.288

The Indian Air Force's A-50EI, equipped with the Israeli EL/W-2090 airborne radar. India is Israel's largest Asian economic partner.289

Although Turkey and Israel did not establish full diplomatic relations until 1991,290 Turkey has cooperated with the State since its recognition of Israel in 1949. Turkey's ties to the other Muslim-majority nations in the region have at times resulted in pressure from Arab and Muslim states to temper its relationship with Israel.291 Relations between Turkey and Israel took a downturn after the Gaza War and Israel's raid of the Gaza flotilla.292 IHH, which organized the flotilla, is a Turkish charity that has been challenged on ties to Hamas and Al-Qaeda.293294295296297

Relation between Israel and Greece have improved since 1995 due to the decline of Israeli-Turkish relations.298 The two countries have a defense cooperation agreement and in 2010, the Israeli Air Force hosted Greece’s Hellenic Air Force in a joint exercise at the Uvda base. The joint Cyprus-Israel oil and gas explorations centered on the Leviathan gas field are also an important factor for Greece, given its strong links with Cyprus.299 Israel is the second largest importer of Greek products in the Middle East.300 In 2010, the Greek Prime minister George Papandreou made an official visit to Israel after many years, in order to improve bilateral relations between the two countries.301

Israel and Cyprus have a number of bilateral agreements and many official visits have taken place between the two countries. The countries have ties on energy, agricultural, military and tourism matters. The prospects of joint exploitation of oil and gas fields off Cyprus, as well as cooperation in the world's longest sub-sea electric power cable has strengthened relations between the countries.302303304

Azerbaijan is one of the few majority Muslim countries to develop bilateral strategic and economic relations with Israel. The relationship includes cooperation in trade and security matters and cultural and educational exchanges. Azerbaijan supplies Israel with a substantial amount of its oil needs, and Israel has helped modernize the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan. In the spring of 2012, the two countries reportedly concluded an arms deal worth $1.6 billion.305306 In 2005, Azerbaijan was Israel's fifth largest trading partner.307308

In Africa, Ethiopia is Israel's main and closest ally in the continent due to common political, religious and security interests.309 Israel provides expertise to Ethiopia on irrigation projects and thousands of Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) live in Israel.

As a result of the 2009 Gaza War, Mauritania, Qatar, Bolivia, and Venezuela suspended political and economic ties with Israel.293310

Israel is included in the European Union's European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) which aims at bringing the EU and its neighbours closer.

International humanitarian efforts

Israel has a history of providing emergency aid and humanitarian response teams to disasters across the world. For the past 26 years, Israel has sent out 15 aid missions to countries struck by natural disasters.311 In Haiti, immediately following the devastating 2010 earthquake, Israel was the first country to set up a field hospital. Israel sent over 200 medical doctors and personnel to start treating injured Haitians at the scene.312313 At the end of its humanitarian mission, the Israeli delegation treated more than 1,110 patients, conducted 319 successful surgeries, delivered 16 births and rescued or assisted in the rescue of 4 individuals.314 Despite radiation concerns, Israel was one of the first countries to send a medical delegation to Japan following the devastating earthquake and tsunami disaster.315 Israel sent a medical team and set up a field clinic in tsunami-stricken city of Kurihara, which included a pediatric ward, surgical ward, maternity and gynecological wards and intensive care unit.316 Overall, medical care was given to more than 2,300 people in afflicted areas, and 220 were saved from certain death.

Israel's humanitarian efforts officially began in 1958, with the establishment of MASHAV, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Agency for International Development Cooperation.317 MASHAV has provided humanitarian aid to over 140 countries, trained thousands in capacity building skills, distributed food to poverty-stricken countries, built medical treatment facilities and provided medical training across the world.318 There are additional Israeli humanitarian and emergency response that are work with the Israel government, including IsraAid, The Fast Israeli Rescue and Search Team (FIRST), Israeli Flying Aid (IFA), Save a Child's Heart (SACH) and LATET.319

Military

Israel has the one of the highest ratios of defense spending to GDP of all developed countries, only topped by Oman and Saudi Arabia.320 The Israel Defense Forces is the sole military wing of the Israeli security forces, and is headed by its Chief of General Staff, the Ramatkal, subordinate to the Cabinet. The IDF consist of the army, air force and navy. It was founded during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War by consolidating paramilitary organizations—chiefly the Haganah—that preceded the establishment of the state.321 The IDF also draws upon the resources of the Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman), which works with the Mossad and Shabak.322 The Israel Defense Forces have been involved in several major wars and border conflicts in its short history, making it one of the most battle-trained armed forces in the world.323324

Most Israelis are drafted into the military at the age of 18. Men serve three years and women two to three years.325 Following mandatory service, Israeli men join the reserve forces and usually do up to several weeks of reserve duty every year until their forties. Most women are exempt from reserve duty. Arab citizens of Israel (except the Druze) and those engaged in full-time religious studies are exempt from military service, although the exemption of yeshiva students has been a source of contention in Israeli society for many years.326327 An alternative for those who receive exemptions on various grounds is Sherut Leumi, or national service, which involves a program of service in hospitals, schools and other social welfare frameworks.328 As a result of its conscription program, the IDF maintains approximately 176,500 active troops and an additional 445,000 reservists.329

Merkava tanks have been operated since 1979. This Mk 4 Merkava is equipped with the Trophy active protection system.

The nation's military relies heavily on high-tech weapons systems designed and manufactured in Israel as well as some foreign imports. Since 1967, the United States has been a particularly notable foreign contributor of military aid to Israel: the US is expected to provide the country with $3.15 billion per year from 2013–2018.330331 The Arrow missile is one of the world's few operational anti-ballistic missile systems.332 Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile air defense system gained worldwide acclaim after intercepting hundreds of Qassam, 122 mm Grad and Fajr-5 artillery rockets fire by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip.333334

Since the Yom Kippur War, Israel has developed a network of reconnaissance satellites.335 The success of the Ofeq program has made Israel one of seven countries capable of launching such satellites.336 Since its establishment, Israel has spent a significant portion of its gross domestic product on defense. In 1984, for example, the country spent 24%337 of its GDP on defense. By 2006, that figure had dropped to 7.3%.7

Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons338 as well as chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.339 Israel has not signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons340 and maintains a policy of deliberate ambiguity toward its nuclear capabilities.341 Since the Gulf War in 1991, when Israel was attacked by Iraqi Scud missiles, all homes in Israel are required to have a reinforced security room, Merkhav Mugan, impermeable to chemical and biological substances.342

Israel is consistently rated very low in the Global Peace Index, ranking 145th out of 153 nations for peacefulness in 2011.343

Israel is one of the world's largest arms exporters, reaching the world's 4th largest arms-exporter in 2007.344 The majority of Israel's arms exports are unreported for security reasons.345

Economy

Main article: Economy of Israel
Israeli new shekel banknotes and coins
Graphical depiction of Israel's product exportsvague in 28 color-coded categories.

Israel is considered one of the most advanced countries in Southwest Asia in economic and industrial development. In 2010, it joined the OECD.28350 The country is ranked 3rd in the region and 38th worldwide on the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index351 as well as in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report.352 It has the second-largest number of startup companies in the world (after the United States)353 and the largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies outside North America.354

In 2010, Israel ranked 17th among the world's most economically developed nations, according to IMD's World Competitiveness Yearbook. The Israeli economy was ranked as the world's most durable economy in the face of crises, and was also ranked first in the rate of research and development center investments.355

The Bank of Israel was ranked first among central banks for its efficient functioning, up from 8th place in 2009. Israel was also ranked as the worldwide leader in its supply of skilled manpower.355 The Bank of Israel holds $78 billion of foreign-exchange reserves.356

Despite limited natural resources, intensive development of the agricultural and industrial sectors over the past decades has made Israel largely self-sufficient in food production, apart from grains and beef. Imports to Israel, totaling $77.59 billion in 2012, include raw materials, military equipment, investment goods, rough diamonds, fuels, grain, consumer goods.7 Leading exports include electronics, software, computerized systems, communications technology, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, fruits, chemicals, military technology, and cut diamonds;357 in 2012, Israeli exports reached $64.74 billion.7

Tel Aviv is a technological and economic hub.358

Israel is a leading country in the development of solar energy.359360 Israel is a global leader in water conservation and geothermal energy,361 and its development of cutting-edge technologies in software, communications and the life sciences have evoked comparisons with Silicon Valley.362363 According to the OECD, Israel is also ranked 1st in the world in expenditure on Research and Development (R&D) as a percentage of GDP.364 Intel365 and Microsoft366 built their first overseas research and development centers in Israel, and other high-tech multi-national corporations, such as IBM, Google, Apple, HP, Cisco Systems, and Motorola, have opened R&D facilities in the country.

Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) in Jerusalem, one of Israel's largest Venture Capital firms.

In July 2007, American business magnate and investor Warren Buffett's holding company Berkshire Hathaway bought an Israeli company, Iscar, its first non-U.S. acquisition, for $4 billion.367 Since the 1970s, Israel has received military aid from the United States, as well as economic assistance in the form of loan guarantees, which now account for roughly half of Israel's external debt. Israel has one of the lowest external debts in the developed world, and is a net lender in terms of net external debt (the total value of assets vs. liabilities in debt instruments owed abroad), which in June 2012 stood at a surplus of US$60 billion.368

Days of working time in Israel are Sunday through Thursday (for a five-day workweek), or Friday (for a six-day workweek). In observance of Shabbat, in places where Friday is a work day and the majority of population is Jewish, Friday is a "short day", usually lasting till 14:00 in the winter, or 16:00 in the summer. Several proposals have been raised to adjust the work week with the majority of the world, and make Sunday a non-working day, while extending working time of other days, and/or replacing Friday with Sunday as a work day.369

Science and technology

Israel has nine public universities that are subsidized by the state.370371372 The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel's second-oldest university after the Technion,373374 houses the National Library of Israel, the world's largest repository of Judaica and Hebraica.375 The Technion, the Hebrew University, and the Weizmann Institute consistently ranked among world's 100 top universities by the prestigious ARWU academic ranking.376377378 Other major universities in the country include Tel Aviv University (TAU), Bar-Ilan University, the University of Haifa, The Open University, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Ariel University, in the West Bank, is the newest university institution, upgraded from college status, and the first in over thirty years. Israel's seven research universities (excluding the Open University) are consistently ranked among top 500 in the world.379 Israel has produced six Nobel Prize-winning scientists since 2002380380381 and has been frequently ranked as one of the countries with the highest ratios of scientific papers per capita in the world.382383384

A horizontal parabolic dish, with a triangular structure on its top.
The world's largest solar parabolic dish at the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center.385

Israel has embraced solar energy; its engineers are on the cutting edge of solar energy technology360 and its solar companies work on projects around the world.359386 Over 90% of Israeli homes use solar energy for hot water, the highest per capita in the world.225387 According to government figures, the country saves 8% of its electricity consumption per year because of its solar energy use in heating.388 The high annual incident solar irradiance at its geographic latitude creates ideal conditions for what is an internationally renowned solar research and development industry in the Negev Desert.359360386

Dan Shechtman, a materials science professor from the Technion, one of six Israelis to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in under a decade.381389

Israel is one of the world's technological leaders in water technology. In 2011, its water technology industry was worth around $2 billion a year with annual exports of products and services in the tens of millions of dollars. The ongoing shortage of water in the country has spurred innovation in water conservation techniques, and a substantial agricultural modernization, drip irrigation, was invented in Israel. Israel is also at the technological forefront of desalination and water recycling. The Ashkelon seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) plant, the largest in the world, was voted 'Desalination Plant of the Year' in the Global Water Awards in 2006. Israel hosts an annual Water Technology Exhibition and Conference (WaTec) that attracts thousands of people from across the world.390391 By the end of 2013, 85 percent of the country's water consumption will be from reverse osmosis.dated info As a result of innovations in reverse osmosis technology, Israel is set to become a net exporter of water in the coming years.392

Israel has led the world in stem-cell research papers per capita since 2000.393 In addition, Israeli universities are among 100 top world universities in mathematics (Hebrew University, TAU and Technion), physics (TAU, Hebrew University and Weizmann Institute of Science), chemistry (Technion and Weizmann Institute of Science), computer science (Weizmann Institute of Science, Technion, Hebrew University, TAU and BIU) and economics (Hebrew University and TAU).394

Shavit space launch vehicle, which carry Israel's Ofeq satellites into space.

Israel had a modern electric car infrastructure involving a countrywide network of recharging stations to facilitate the charging and exchange of car batteries. It was thought that this would have lowered Israel's oil dependency and lowered the fuel costs of hundreds of Israel's motorists that use cars powered only by electric batteries.395396397 The Israeli model was being studied by several countries and being implemented in Denmark and Australia.398 However, Israel's trailblazing electric car company Better Place shut down in 2013.399

The Israeli Space Agency coordinates all Israeli space research programs with scientific and commercial goals. In 2012 Israel was ranked ninth in the world by the Futron's Space Competitiveness Index.400 Israel is one of only seven countries that both build their own satellites and launch their own launchers. The Shavit is a space launch vehicle produced by Israel to launch small satellites into low earth orbit.401 It was first launched in 1988, making Israel the eighth nation to have a space launch capability. Shavit rockets are launched from the spaceport at the Palmachim Airbase by the Israeli Space Agency. Since 1988 Israel Aerospace Industries have indigenously designed and built at least 13 commercial, research and spy satellites.402 Some of Israel's satellites are ranked among the world's most advanced space systems.403 In 2003, Ilan Ramon became Israel's first astronaut, serving as payload specialist of STS-107, the fatal mission of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Transport

Main article: Transport in Israel

Israel has 18,096 kilometers (11,244 mi) of paved roads,404 and 2.4 million motor vehicles.405 The number of motor vehicles per 1,000 persons was 324, relatively low with respect to developed countries.405 Israel has 5,715 buses on scheduled routes,406 operated by several carriers, the largest of which is Egged, serving most of the country. Railways stretch across 949 kilometers (590 mi) and are operated solely by government-owned Israel Railways407 (All figures are for 2008). Following major investments beginning in the early to mid-1990s, the number of train passengers per year has grown from 2.5 million in 1990, to 35 million in 2008; railways are also used to transport 6.8 million tons of cargo, per year.407

Israel is served by two international airports, Ben Gurion International Airport, the country's main hub for international air travel near Tel Aviv-Yafo, Ovda Airport in the south, as well as several small domestic airports.408 Ben Gurion, Israel's largest airport, handled over 12.1 million passengers in 2010.409

On the Mediterranean coast, Haifa Port is the country's oldest and largest port, while Ashdod Port is one of the few deep water ports in the world built on the open sea.408 In addition to these, the smaller Port of Eilat is situated on the Red Sea, and is used mainly for trading with Far East countries.408

Tourism

Main article: Tourism in Israel

Tourism, especially religious tourism, is an important industry in Israel, with the country's temperate climate, beaches, archaeological, other historical and biblical sites, and unique geography also drawing tourists. Israel's security problems have taken their toll on the industry, but the number of incoming tourists is on the rebound.410 In 2013, a record of 3.54 million tourists visited Israel with the most popular site of attraction being the Western Wall with 68% of tourists visiting there.411412 Israel has the highest number of museums per capita in the world.413

Demographics

Percentage changes of the main religious groups in the years 1949–2008

In late 2014, Israel's population was an estimated 8.2 million people, of whom 6,135,000 are Jews.414 Arab citizens of Israel comprise 20.7% of the country's total population.23 Over the last decade, large numbers of migrant workers from Romania, Thailand, China, Africa and South America have settled in Israel. Exact figures are unknown, as many of them are living in the country illegally,415 but estimates run in the region of 203,000.416 By June 2012, approximately 60,000 African migrants had entered Israel.417 About 92% of Israelis live in urban areas.418

Retention of Israel's population since 1948 is about even or greater, when compared to other countries with mass immigration.419 Emigration from Israel (yerida) to other countries, primarily the United States and Canada, is described by demographers as modest,420 but is often cited by Israeli government ministries as a major threat to Israel's future.421422

In 2009, over 300,000 Israeli citizens lived in West Bank settlements423 such as Ma'ale Adumim and Ariel, and communities that predated the establishment of the State but were re-established after the Six-Day War, in cities such as Hebron and Gush Etzion. 20,000 Israelis live in Golan Heights settlements.163 In 2011, there were 250,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem.424 The total number of Israeli settlers is over 500,000 (6.5% of the Israeli population). Approximately 7,800 Israelis lived in settlements in the Gaza Strip, until they were evacuated by the government as part of its 2005 disengagement plan.425

Israel was established as a homeland for the Jewish people and is often referred to as a Jewish state. The country's Law of Return grants all Jews and those of Jewish lineage the right to Israeli citizenship.426 Over three quarters, or 75.5%, of the population are Jews from a diversity of Jewish backgrounds. Around 4% of Israelis (300,000), ethnically defined as "others", are Russian-descendants of Jewish origin or family who are not Jewish according to rabbinical law, but were eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.427428429 Approximately 73% of Israeli Jews are Israeli-born, 18.4% are immigrants from Europe and the Americas, and 8.6% are immigrants from Asia and Africa (including the Arab World).430431 Jews from Europe and the former Soviet Union and their Israeli-born descendants, including Ashkenazi Jews, constitute approximately 50% of Jewish Israelis. Jews who left or fled Arab and Muslim countries and their descendants, including both Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews,432 form most of the rest of the Jewish population.433434435 Jewish intermarriage rates run at over 35% and recent studies suggest that the percentage of Israelis descended from both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews increases by 0.5 percent every year, with over 25% of school children now originating from both communities.436

 
Largest cities or towns of Israel
Israel Central Bureau of Statistics437
Rank Name District Pop.
Jerusalem
Jerusalem
Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv
1 Jerusalem Jerusalem 796,200* Haifa
Haifa
Rishon LeZion
Rishon LeZion
2 Tel Aviv Tel Aviv 404,500
3 Haifa Haifa 269,300
4 Rishon LeZion Central 231,700
5 Ashdod Southern 211,400
6 Petah Tikva Central 210,800
7 Beersheba Southern 195,800
8 Netanya Central 188,200
9 Holon Tel Aviv 182,000
10 Bnei Brak Tel Aviv 161,100

 * This number includes occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank areas.

Language

Main article: Languages of Israel
Road sign in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.

Israel has two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic.7 Hebrew is the primary language of the state and is spoken by the majority of the population, and Arabic is spoken by the Arab minority. Many Israelis communicate reasonably well in English, as many television programs are broadcast in this language and English is taught from the early grades in elementary school. As a country of immigrants, many languages can be heard on the streets. Due to mass immigration from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia (some 130,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel),438439 Russian and Amharic are widely spoken.440 More than one million Russian-speaking immigrants arrived in Israel from the former Soviet Union states between 1990 and 2004.441 French is spoken by around 700,000 Israelis,442 mostly originating from France and North Africa (see Maghrebi Jews).

Religion

Main article: Religion in Israel
A large open area with people bounded by old stone walls. To the left is a mosque with large golden dome.
The Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall, Jerusalem.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, venerated by Christians as the site of the Burial of Jesus.443

Israel and the Palestinian territories comprise the major part of the Holy Land, a region of significant importance to all Abrahamic religions – Jews, Christians, Muslims and Baha'is.

The religious affiliation of Israeli Jews varies widely: a social survey for those over the age of 20 indicates that 55% say they are "traditional", while 20% consider themselves "secular Jews", 17% define themselves as "Religious Zionists"; 8% define themselves as "Haredi Jews".444 While the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim, represented only 5% of Israel's population in 1990,445 they are expected to represent more than one-fifth of Israel's Jewish population by 2028.446

Making up 16% of the population, Muslims constitute Israel's largest religious minority. About 2% of the population are Christian and 1.5% are Druze.447 The Christian population primarily comprises Palestinian Christians, but also includes post-Soviet immigrants and the Foreign Laborers of multinational origins and followers of Messianic Judaism, considered by most Christians and Jews to be a form of Christianity.448 Members of many other religious groups, including Buddhists and Hindus, maintain a presence in Israel, albeit in small numbers.449 Out of more than one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union in Israel, about 300,000 are considered not Jewish by the Orthodox rabbinate.450

The city of Jerusalem is of special importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians as it is the home of sites that are pivotal to their religious beliefs, such as the Israeli-controlled Old City that incorporates the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.451

Other locations of religious importance in Israel are Nazareth (holy in Christianity as the site of the Annunciation of Mary), Tiberias and Safed (two of the Four Holy Cities in Judaism), the White Mosque in Ramla (holy in Islam as the shrine of the prophet Saleh), and the Church of Saint George in Lod (holy in Christianity and Islam as the tomb of Saint George or Al Khidr).

A number of other religious landmarks are located in the West Bank, among them Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, the birthplace of Jesus and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

The administrative center of the Bahá'í Faith and the Shrine of the Báb are located at the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa and the leader of the faith is buried in Acre. Apart from maintenance staff, there is no Bahá'í community in Israel, although it is a destination for pilgrimages. Bahá'í staff in Israel do not teach their faith to Israelis following strict policy.452453454

Education

Main article: Education in Israel
Brain Research Center at Bar-Ilan University

Israel has a school life expectancy of 15.5 years455 and a literacy rate of 97.1% according to the United Nations.456 The State Education Law, passed in 1953, established five types of schools: state secular, state religious, ultra orthodox, communal settlement schools, and Arab schools. The public secular is the largest school group, and is attended by the majority of Jewish and non-Arab pupils in Israel. Most Arabs send their children to schools where Arabic is the language of instruction.457

Education is compulsory in Israel for children between the ages of three and eighteen.458459 Schooling is divided into three tiers – primary school (grades 1–6), middle school (grades 7–9), and high school (grades 10–12) – culminating with Bagrut matriculation exams. Proficiency in core subjects such as mathematics, the Hebrew language, Hebrew and general literature, the English language, history, Biblical scripture and civics is necessary to receive a Bagrut certificate.370 In Arab, Christian and Druze schools, the exam on Biblical studies is replaced by an exam on Muslim, Christian or Druze heritage.460 Christian Arabs are one of the most educated groups in Israel.461 Maariv have describe the Christian Arabs sectors as "the most successful in education system",461 since Christian Arabs fared the best in terms of education in comparison to any other group receiving an education in Israel.462

In 2003, over half of all Israeli twelfth graders earned a matriculation certificate.463 The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University are ranked among the world's top 100 universities by Times Higher Education magazine.464 Israel ranks third in the world in the number of academic degrees per capita (20 percent of the population).465466

Culture

Main article: Culture of Israel

Israel's diverse culture stems from the diversity of the population: Jews from diaspora communities around the world have brought their cultural and religious traditions back with them, creating a melting pot of Jewish customs and beliefs.467 Israel is the only country in the world where life revolves around the Hebrew calendar. Work and school holidays are determined by the Jewish holidays, and the official day of rest is Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.468 Israel's substantial Arab minority has also left its imprint on Israeli culture in such spheres as architecture,469 music,470 and cuisine.471

Literature

Main article: Israeli literature
Amos Oz's works have been translated into 36 languages, more than any other Israeli writer.472

Israeli literature is primarily poetry and prose written in Hebrew, as part of the renaissance of Hebrew as a spoken language since the mid-19th century, although a small body of literature is published in other languages, such as English. By law, two copies of all printed matter published in Israel must be deposited in the National Library of Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2001, the law was amended to include audio and video recordings, and other non-print media.473 In 2011, 86 percent of the 6,302 books transferred to the library were in Hebrew.474

The Hebrew Book Week is held each June and features book fairs, public readings, and appearances by Israeli authors around the country. During the week, Israel's top literary award, the Sapir Prize, is presented.

In 1966, Shmuel Yosef Agnon shared the Nobel Prize in Literature with German Jewish author Nelly Sachs.475 Leading Israeli poets have been Yehuda Amichai, Nathan Alterman and Rachel Bluwstein. Internationally famous contemporary Israeli novelists include Amos Oz, Etgar Keret and David Grossman. The Israeli-Arab satirist Sayed Kashua (who writes in Hebrew) is also internationally known.

Israel has also been the home of two leading Palestinian poets and writers: Emile Habibi, whose novel The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist, and other writings, won him the Israel prize for Arabic literature; and Mahmoud Darwish, considered by many to be "the Palestinian national poet."476 Darwish was born and raised in northern Israel, but lived his adult life abroad after joining the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Music and dance

Main article: Music of Israel

Israeli music contains musical influences from all over the world; Sephardic music, Hasidic melodies, Belly dancing music, Greek music, jazz, and pop rock are all part of the music scene.477478

Celebrated Israeli ballerinas, Valery and Galina Panov, who founded the Ballet Panov, in Ashdod.479

The nation's canonical folk songs, known as "Songs of the Land of Israel," deal with the experiences of the pioneers in building the Jewish homeland.480 The Hora circle dance introduced by early Jewish settlers was originally popular in the Kibbutzim and outlying communities. It became a symbol of the Zionist reconstruction and of the ability to experience joy amidst austerity. It now plays a significant role in modern Israeli folk dancing and is regularly performed at weddings and other celebrations, and in group dances throughout Israel.

Modern dance in Israel is a flourishing field, and several Israeli choreographers such as Ohad Naharin, Rami Beer, Barak Marshall and many others, are considered to be among the most versatile and original international creators working today. Famous Israeli companies include the Batsheva Dance Company and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company.

Among Israel's world-renowned481482 orchestras is the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which has been in operation for over seventy years and today performs more than two hundred concerts each year.483 Israel has also produced many musicians of note, some achieving international stardom. Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Ofra Haza are among the internationally acclaimed musicians born in Israel.

Israel has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest nearly every year since 1973, winning the competition three times and hosting it twice.484485 Eilat has hosted its own international music festival, the Red Sea Jazz Festival, every summer since 1987.486

Israel is home to many Palestinian musicians, including internationally acclaimed oud and violin virtuoso Taiseer Elias, singer Amal Murkus, and brothers Samir and Wissam Joubran. Israeli Arab musicians have achieved fame beyond Israel's borders: Elias and Murkus frequently play to audiences in Europe and America, and oud player Darwish Darwish (Prof. Elias's student) was awarded first prize in the all-Arab oud contest in Egypt in 2003. The Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance has an advanced degree program, headed by Taiseer Elias, in Arabic music.

Cinema and theatre

Ten Israeli films have been final nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards since the establishment of Israel. The 2009 movie Ajami was the third consecutive nomination of an Israeli film.487 Continuing the strong theatrical traditions of the Yiddish theatre in Eastern Europe, Israel maintains a vibrant theatre scene. Founded in 1918, Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv is Israel's oldest repertory theater company and national theater.488 Palestinian Israeli filmmakers have made a number of films dealing with the Arab-Israel conflict and the status of Palestinians within Israel, such as Mohammed Bakri's 2002 film Jenin, Jenin and The Syrian Bride.

Museums

A gray semi-hemispherical structure with a protruding top, standing in the middle of a fountain, with several jets of water falling on the structure
Shrine of the Book, repository of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem is one of Israel's most important cultural institutions489 and houses the Dead Sea scrolls,490 along with an extensive collection of Judaica and European art.489 Israel's national Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, is the world central archive of Holocaust-related information.491 Beth Hatefutsoth (the Diaspora Museum), on the campus of Tel Aviv University, is an interactive museum devoted to the history of Jewish communities around the world.492

Apart from the major museums in large cities, there are high-quality artspaces in many towns and kibbutzim. Mishkan Le'Omanut on Kibbutz Ein Harod Meuhad is the largest art museum in the north of the country.493

Several Israeli museums are devoted to Islamic culture, including the Rockefeller Museum and the L. A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art, both in Jerusalem. The Rockefeller specializes in archaeological remains from the Ottoman and other periods of Middle East history. It is also the home of the first hominid fossil skull found in Western Asia called Galilee Man.494 A cast of the skull is on display at the Israel Museum.495

Cuisine

Main article: Israeli cuisine
Sufganiyot served on Hanukkah

Israeli cuisine includes local dishes as well as dishes brought to the country by Jewish immigrants from the diaspora. Since the establishment of the State in 1948, and particularly since the late 1970s, an Israeli fusion cuisine has developed. Most Israeli food is kosher and cooked in accordance with the Jewish Halakha. As most of its population is either Jewish or Muslim, pork is very rarely consumed in Israel.

Israeli cuisine has adopted, and continues to adapt, elements of various styles of Jewish cuisine, particularly the Mizrahi, Sephardic, and Ashkenazi styles of cooking, along with Moroccan Jewish, Iraqi Jewish, Ethiopian Jewish, Indian Jewish, Iranian Jewish and Yemeni Jewish influences. It incorporates many foods traditionally eaten in the Arab, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, such as falafel, hummus, shakshouka, couscous, and za'atar, which have become common ingredients in Israeli cuisine. Schnitzel, pizza, hamburgers, French fries, rice and salad are also very common in Israel.

Sports

Main article: Sports in Israel
An all-seated roofless stadium with a football pitch.
Ramat Gan Stadium, Israel's largest stadium

The Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style event for Jewish athletes and Israeli athletes, was inaugurated in the 1930s, and has been held every four years since then. In 1964 Israel hosted and won the Asian Nations Cup; in 1970 the Israel national football team managed to qualify to the FIFA World Cup, which is still considered the biggest achievement of Israeli football.

The 1974 Asian Games held in Tehran, were the last Asian Games in which Israel participated, and was plagued by the Arab countries which refused to compete with Israel, and Israel since ceased competing in Asian competitions.496 Israel was excluded from the 1978 Asian Games due to security and expense involved if they were to participate.497 In 1994, UEFA agreed to admit Israel and all Israeli sporting organizations now compete in Europe.

The most popular spectator sports in Israel are association football and basketball.498 The Israeli Premier League is the country's premier football league, and the Israeli Basketball Super League is the premier basketball league.499 Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem are the largest sports clubs. Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv have competed in the UEFA Champions League and Hapoel Tel Aviv reached the UEFA Cup quarter-finals. Maccabi Tel Aviv B.C. has won the European championship in basketball six times.500 Israeli tennis champion Shahar Pe'er ranked 11th in the world on 31 January 2011.

Boris Gelfand, chess Grandmaster

Chess is a leading sport in Israel and is enjoyed by people of all ages. There are many Israeli grandmasters and Israeli chess players have won a number of youth world championships.501 Israel stages an annual international championship and hosted the World Team Chess Championship in 2005. The Ministry of Education and the World Chess Federation agreed upon a project of teaching chess within Israeli schools, and it has been introduced into the curriculum of some schools.502503504 The city of Beersheba has become a national chess center, with the game being taught in the city's kindergartens. Owing partly to Soviet immigration, it is home to the largest number of chess grandmasters of any city in the world.505506 The Israeli chess team won the silver medal at the 2008 Chess Olympiad507 and the bronze, coming in third among 148 teams, at the 2010 Olympiad. Israeli grandmaster Boris Gelfand won the Chess World Cup in 2009508 and the 2011 Candidates Tournament for the right to challenge the world champion. He only lost the World Chess Championship 2012 to reigning world champion Anand after a speed-chess tie breaker.

Krav Maga, a martial art developed by Jewish ghetto defenders during the struggle against fascism in Europe, is used by the Israeli security forces and police. Its effectiveness and practical approach to self-defense, have won it widespread admiration and adherence round the world.

To date, Israel has won seven Olympic medals since its first win in 1992, including a gold medal in windsurfing at the 2004 Summer Olympics.509 Israel has won over 100 gold medals in the Paralympic Games and is ranked about 15th in the all-time medal count. The 1968 Summer Paralympics were hosted by Israel.510

See also

Notes

  1. ^ The Jerusalem Law states that "Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel" and the city serves as the seat of the government, home to the President's residence, government offices, supreme court, and parliament. United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 (20 August 1980; 14–0, U.S. abstaining) declared the Jerusalem Law "null and void" and called on member states to withdraw their diplomatic missions from Jerusalem. The United Nations and all member nations refuse to accept the Jerusalem Law (see Kellerman 1993, p. 140) and maintain their embassies in other cities such as Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, and Herzliya (see the CIA Factbook and Map of Israel). The U.S. Congress subsequently adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which said that the U.S. embassy should be relocated to Jerusalem and that it should be recognized as the capital of Israel. However, the US Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel concluded that the provisions of the act "invade exclusive presidential authorities in the field of foreign affairs and are unconstitutional". Since passage of the act, all Presidents serving in office have determined that moving forward with the relocation would be detrimental to U.S. national security concerns and opted to issue waivers suspending any action on this front. The Palestinian Authority sees East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The city's final status awaits future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (see "Negotiating Jerusalem," Palestine–Israel Journal). See Positions on Jerusalem for more information.

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