The State of Israel (Hebrew: מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, transliteration: '; Arabic: دَوْلَةْ اِسْرَائِيل, transliteration: Dawlat Isrāʾīl') is a country in the Middle East on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a parliamentary democracy and, by national policy, a "Jewish state." Israel is the birthplace of Judaism in the 17th century BCE and Christianity at the beginning of the first century CE. The Israeli population is predominantly Jewish with a large non-Jewish minority, mostly comprising Muslim, Christian, and Druze Arabs. The territory Israel controls, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, borders the states of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt (listed clockwise from north to south). Israel shares the coastlines of the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aqaba (also known as Gulf of Eilat), and the Dead Sea.
Main article History of Israel
Jews have long considered Israel to be their national home — as a Holy Land and a Promised Land. The Land of Israel holds a special place in Jewish religious obligations, including the remains of the Second Temple. It is the place where both Judaism and Christianity were born, and contains many other sites of great spiritual significance in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. A series of Jewish kingdoms and states existed intermittently in the region for over a millennium until the failure of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire resulted in widescale expulsion of Jews from their homeland and beloved capital, Jerusalem (about 25% of the Jewish population, see Destruction of Jerusalem and in "Propyläen der Weltgeschichte", ed. Golo Mann). After crushing Bar Kokhba's revolt in 135, Emperor Hadrian renamed Provincia Judaea to Provincia Syria Palaestina, a Greek name derived from Philistine (Hebrew פלשת Pəléšeṯ).  See also Names of the Levant.
Caliphate, Crusades, and the Ottoman Empire
The Muslim Caliphate conquered the land from the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantines) in the seventh century and attracted Arab settlers. The local language, Aramaic, gradually disappeared. The Crusades marked a lengthy struggle between European Christians and Middle Eastern Muslims for control of the land. Throughout the centuries the size of Jewish population in the land fluctuated. Before the birth of modern Zionism, by the early 19th century, more than 10,000 Jews lived in the area that is today's Israel. (Dan Bahat, Twenty Centuries of Jewish Life in the Holy Land, 1976, pp. 61-63)
Following centuries of Diaspora, the nineteenth century saw the rise of Zionism, the Jewish national movement, a desire to see the creation of a Jewish political entity in Palestine, and significant immigration. Zionism remained a minority movement until the rise of Nazism in 1933 and the subsequent attempted extermination of the Jewish people in the Shoah, or Holocaust, in which over six million Jews were murdered. In the late 1800's large numbers of Jews began moving to the Turkish and later British-controlled region (the British Mandate of Palestine). In 1917, the British endorsed a Jewish homeland in Mandate Palestine by issuing the Balfour Declaration. The Jewish population in the region increased from 11% of the population in 1922 to 30% by 1940.
In 1937, following the Great Arab Revolt, the partition plan proposed by the Peel Commission was rejected by the Palestinian Arab leadership, but accepted tentatively by Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion. This was notable, as Ben-Gurion showed a willingness to essentially accept about 1/3 of the land that would ultimately be won by Israel in the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli War. As a result, in 1939, the British gave in to Arab pressure because of support needed for WW2, abandoned the idea of a Jewish national homeland, and abandoned partition and negotiations in favour of the unilaterally-imposed White Paper of 1939, which capped Jewish immigration, and subjected it to review under further agreement with the Arabs. Its other stated policy was to establish a system under which both Jews and Arabs were to share one government. The policy was viewed as a significant defeat for the Jewish side, as it placed severe restrictions on Jewish immigration, while placing no practical restrictions on Arab immigration from surrounding Arab states. Due to these limitations, it was predicted that the proposed government would be dominated by the Arab side. As a result of the impending Second World War, the plan was never fully implemented, but the White Paper of 1939 policy was implemented well into the end of WW2, and enforced even when refugees who survived Holocaust were fleeing from Nazi persecution (See Struma).
Declaration of the Establishment of the State
see Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948, 1948 Arab-Israeli War
In 1947, following increasing levels of violence by militant groups, alongside unsuccessful efforts to reconcile the Jewish and Arab populations, the British government withdrew from the Palestine Mandate. Fulfillment of the 1947 UN Partition Plan would have divided the mandated territory into two states, Jewish and Arab, giving about half the land area to each state. Under this plan, Jerusalem was intended to be an international region under UN administration to avoid conflict over its status. Immediately following the adoption of the Partition Plan by the United Nations General Assembly, the Palestinian Arab leadership rejected the plan to create the as-yet-unnamed Jewish state and launched a guerilla war.
On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed. Hoping to annihilate the new Jewish state, the armies of six Arab nations attacked the fledgling state. Israel captured an additional 26% of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan river and annexed it to the new state. Jordan captured about 21% of the Mandate territory (which became known as the West Bank), including parts of Jerusalem that included the old city and eastern environments and separated the city into West and East Jerusalem. Jordan's annexation of those territories in 1950 was recognized only by the United Kingdom and Pakistan. The Gaza Strip was captured by Egypt and came under its control.
Basis for the conflict
After the war, 14-25% (depending on the estimate) of the Arab population remained in Israel, the rest fled during the war. The continuing conflict between Israel and the Arab world resulted in a lasting displacement that persists to this day; see Palestinian refugee and Palestinian Exodus for a discussion of the circumstances. Immigration of Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab lands doubled Israel's population within one year of independence. Over the following decade approximately 600,000 Mizrahi Jews, who fled or were expelled from surrounding Arab countries, came to Israel, along with Jews from Iran and Europe. Israel's Jewish population continued to grow at a very high rate for some years, fed by further waves of Jewish immigration, most notably recently following the collapse of the USSR.
In 1957, at the UN, 17 maritime powers declared that Israel had a right to transit the Strait of Tiran. Moreover, the Egyptian blockade prior to the 1956 Suez War violated the Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone , which was adopted by the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea on April 27, 1958.
On May 23rd, 1967, Egypt again cut off the Straits of Tiran (Israel's main shipping route to Asia and other major places of trade) to Israeli shipping, and also blockaded the port of Eilat. Egypt ordered United Nations peacekeeping forces to leave the Sinai, and in their place, Egyptian tanks and troops were concentrated on the border with Israel. In accordance with international law (United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, (Geneva: UN Publications 1958, pp. 132-134.), Israel considered the blockade of its port a casus belli, and launched an attack on Egypt, especially the Egyptian Air Force. Hostilities came to include Jordan (after Jordan reluctantly chose to dismiss Israeli appeals for neutrality and undertook shelling of Tel Aviv in adherence to its defense treaty with Egypt), Syria, and the Iraqi air force. This was the Six-Day War (June 5 - 10, 1967), during which Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. In 1978 Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt under the Camp David Accords, and in 1981 Israel annexed East Jerusalem. The status of the West Bank and Gaza, populated mostly by Palestinians with some Israeli settlers, is also undecided and has been the focus of several unsuccessful peace conferences (see Geography below for more).
The status of the Golan Heights is currently the subject of a territorial dispute between Israel and Syria who are still in a technical state of war with each other. The Heights, originally part of the British Mandate of Palestine and ceded to the French Mandate of Syria in the early 1920s, were officially annexed by Israel in 1981, although United Nations Security Council Resolution 497 deemed Israel's annexation "null and void and without international legal effect".
In the years since 1948, Israel and the United Nations have often suffered an adversarial relationship. The UN General Assembly passed the non-binding Resolution 194 in December 1948, granting a conditional "right of return" to Palestinian refugees - however, the resolution only refers to "refugees", arguably implying that it was intended for both Arab and Jewish refugee populations. UN Security Council Resolution 242 (November 1967), calls for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" (Six-Day war); and UN Security Council Resolution 446 (March 1979), declared settlements on the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights to be "illegal". While most of the 65 Security Council and General Assembly resolutions passed against Israeli actions, and the 41 Security Council resolutions vetoed by the United States, have had near universal support in the UN (often with the United States and Israel near alone among the dissenting), supporters of Israel claim that the resolutions often misconstrue International Law, that their supporters selectively apply them, and that the assemblies themselves are biased.
Israel is the only state that is barred from joining any of the five geographical groupings that would make it eligible for Security Council membership according to accepted practice. It has indefinite temporary membership of the "Western Europe and Others" group but agreed to not seek UNSC membership on that basis. More than half of the UN's emergency meetings have been to respond to the regional crisis.
The refusal of Arab countries to recognize the establishment of the State of Israel, in 1948 has been a source of repeated wars and other conflicts with Arab nations such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The state of war between Egypt and Israel ended with the signing of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty on March 26, 1979. The state of war with Jordan officially ended with the signing of the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace on October 26 1994. Sporadic negotiations with Lebanon and Syria, Israel's remaining belligerent neighbours, have not as yet resulted in peace treaties. Israel is currently also embroiled in an ongoing conflict with Palestinians in the territories controlled since the Six Day War in 1967, despite the signing of the Oslo Accords on September 13 1993, and the ongoing efforts of Israeli, Palestinian and global peacemakers.
Politics and Law
Main article Politics of Israel
Israel is a parliamentary democracy based on universal suffrage and proportional representation. Israel's legislative branch is a 120-member parliament known as the Knesset. Membership in the Knesset is allocated to parties based on their proportion of the vote. Elections to the Knesset are normally held every four years, but the Knesset can decide to dissolve itself ahead of time by a simple majority.
The President of Israel is head of state, serving as a largely ceremonial figurehead. The President selects the leader of the majority party or ruling coalition in the Knesset as the Prime Minister, who serves as head of government.2
The Judiciary branch of Israel is made of a three-tier system of courts: at the lowest level are the Magistrate Courts. Above them, serving both as an appelate court and as a court of first instance are the District Courts. At the top of the judicial pyramid is the Supreme Court. Judges in Israel retire at the age of 70 and are appointed by a committee made up of representatives of the Knesset, Supreme Court justices and the Israeli Bar. The Israeli Supreme Court is regarded by many as Israel's guardian of civil rights, but by others as the most activist Supreme Court in the world .
Israel has not completed a written constitution. Its government is based on the laws of the Knesset, especially by "Basic Laws of Israel", which are special laws (currently there are 15 of them), by the Knesset legislature which will become the future official constitution. The declaration of the State of Israel has a significance in this matter as well. Israel's legal system is a western legal system best classified as "mixed": it has a strong Anglo-American influence, but in some parts has borrowed heavily from civil law tradition. Marital issues are governed by religious law.
Because of its Proportional representation electoral system, coalitions in the Knesset can often be unstable and are usually made up of at least two parties. Coalitions can be difficult to form and hard to keep together because of the large number of political parties, many of whom run on very specialized platforms, often advocating the tenets of particular interest groups.
In the past thirty years, the largest parties have been the conservative Likud Party and the Social-democrat Labour Party. However, they do not attract sufficient support to govern without the help of smaller parties such as Shas, a Sephardi Haredi party which has a network of religious schools, and supports social spending; Shinui, a fervently secularist party that sees itself representing Israel's middle class and a foe of religious (particularly Haredi) parties, that works to reduce social spending; the National Union Party, a right-wing nationalist party advocating "voluntary transfer" of Palestinian refugees and their descendents for resettlement in Arab countries; the Mafdal - the National Religious Party, affiliated with nationalist religious Zionists (kipot srugot), who favor creating a Jewish constitutional theocracy in the entire Land of Israel; and Yachad (former Meretz), a democratic socialist party which is supportive of the Palestinian cause. Most governments have so far avoided forming a coalition with parties representative of the Israeli Arab minority, such as the Arab-Jewish communist Hadash party, the Arab-nationalist Balad party or the conservative-Islamic bloc United Arab List party Raam . Exceptions were the 'external' coalition agreements between Yitzhak Rabin's second government and Hadash and Raam, which were declared de facto coalition agreements by the Israeli Supreme Court.
Parties of the Left dominated Israel's elections until 1974, when following the Yom Kippur War, the ruling Labour party began to lose popularity. On the Right, the Likud party was formed by a union of the Liberals and the nationalist Herut party. The beginning of right-wing dominance in Israeli politics began in 1977 with the ascendance of Likud's Menachem Begin as prime minister. With the exception of the Labour-Meretz coalitions between 1992-1996 and 1999-2001, the Likud continued to form most Israeli governments since 1977, sometimes in coalition with the Labour Party. In 2003, left-wing parties fared poorly in elections won by Likud government of prime minister Ariel Sharon.
The premiership of Ariel Sharon is one of the most controversial since Israel's founding, with hostility emanating from both Left and Right. In 1983, the Israeli Kahan Commission found Ariel Sharon "indirectly responsible" for the 1982 Phalangist-led Sabra and Shatila Massacre, leading to his dismissal as Defence Minister by Menachem Begin. Some of his military tactics, such as repeated assassinations of Palestinian leaders and military operations in the West Bank and Gaza, have come under fire from the Israeli self described "peace movement" (see Peace Now and Jews For Peace ) and sections of the international community, such as the European Union. On the Right, his acceptance in principle to establish a "state of Palestine" and his call for the evacuation of all communities in the Gaza Strip and some isolated outposts in the West Bank is opposed by nationalist organisations, the Orthodox religious parties and many in his own Likud party. Sharon's supporters see his strategy as having reduced the threat of Palestinian terrorism, and as laying the basis for a lasting peace in the Middle East by resolving the "Palestinian problem" with finality.
Main article Military of Israel
Israel's military consists of a unified Israel Defense Forces (IDF), known in Hebrew by the acronym Tzahal. Historically, there have been no separate Israeli military services. The Navy and Air Force are subordinate to the Army. There are other paramilitary government agencies which deal with different aspects of Israel's security (such as MAGAV and the Shin Bet). See further discussion: Israel Security Forces.
The IDF is considered one of the strongest military force in the Middle East and among the most technologically advanced in the world. It relies heavily on technology, training, and expert manpower, rather than on overwhelming manpower, which Israel lacks. Much of Israel's military hardware is bought from the United States and Germany (Althogh perhaps 60% of arms are Israeli-invented and Israeli-made, such as the legendary Uzi and the Merkava tank) and frequently enhanced by Israel's own military industries, usually making the upgraded equipment stronger than that available on the open market. Israel's military doctrine aims to maintain a qualitative edge over all possible enemies..
Most Israelis, males and females, are drafted into the military at the age of 18. Exceptions are Israeli Arabs, confirmed pacifists, and women who declare themselves religiously observant. Compulsory service is three years for men, and 20 months for women. Circassians and Bedouin actively enlist in the IDF. Since 1956, Druze men have been conscripted in the same way as Jewish men, at the request of the Druze community. Men studying full-time in religious institutions can get a deferment from conscription; most Haredi Jews extend these deferments until they are too old to be conscripted, although there has been some change in Haredi society, with a small group of single Haredi annually joining in to serve in various fields.
Following compulsory service, Israeli men become part of the IDF reserve forces, and are usually required to serve several weeks every year as reservists, until their 40s.
Israel is widely regarded as being an undeclared nuclear power — it operates nuclear facilities and is generally believed to be in possession of nuclear weapons. Because it is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israel rejects international inspections of its purported nuclear facilities and maintains a public policy of "nuclear ambiguity". For further information, see: Israel and weapons of mass destruction.
Israel is formally at war with Iraq, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. A 1973 armistice agreement governs relations with its most immediate military adversary, Syria, and a de facto armistice persists with the other states as well. The chances for peace negotiations and/or full diplomatic relations with most Arab nations appear a more likely prospect once an independent Palestinian Entity is established.
Map of Israel
Main article: Geography of Israel
Israel, located in Southwest Asia, is a country whose exact territorial boundaries and borders are widely disputed. It is also considered to be one of the fifteen states that comprise the so-called Cradle of Humanity. The total area—excluding East Jerusalem and other territories taken over by Israel in the 1967 war—is 20,770 square km; the total area—including the aforementioned territories—is 22,145 square km.
The territories taken over by Israel since the 1967 war are not included in the Israel country profile, unless otherwise noted. In keeping with the framework established at the Madrid Conference in October 1991, bilateral negotiations are being conducted between Israeli and Palestinian representatives (from the Israeli-controlled West Bank and Gaza Strip) to achieve a permanent settlement. These talks generated the Oslo Accords in 1993, which established mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, and granted the new Palestinian Authority partial autonomy in areas of the Judea/Samaria and Gaza Strip. Talks were also held between Israel and Syria. On April 25 1982, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula pursuant to the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. Outstanding territorial and other disputes with Jordan were resolved in the 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace.
Main article: Districts of Israel
Six districts (mehozot; singular, mehoz) and 13 sub-districts (nafot; singular, nafa)
See also List of cities in Israel.
Main article: Economy of Israel
Israel has a technologically advanced market economy with substantial government participation. It depends on imports of fossil fuels (crude oil, natural gas, and coal), grains, beef, raw materials, and military equipment. Despite limited natural resources, Israel has intensively developed its agricultural and industrial sectors over the past 20 years. Israel is largely self-sufficient in food production except for grains and beef. Diamonds, high-technology, military equipment, software, pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals, and agricultural products (fruits, vegetables, and flowers) are leading exports. Israel usually posts sizable current account deficits, which are covered by large transfer payments from abroad and by foreign loans. Israel possesses extensive facilities for oil refining, diamond polishing , and semiconductor fabrication.
Roughly half of the government's external debt is owed to the U.S., which is its major source of economic and military aid. A relatively large fraction of Israel's external debt is held by individual investors , via the Israel Bonds program. The combination of American loan guarantee's and direct sales to individual investors, allow the state to borrow at competitive and sometimes below-market rates.
The influx of Jewish immigrants from the former USSR topped 750,000 during the period 1989-1999, bringing the population of Israel from the former Soviet Union to 1 million, one-sixth of the total population, and adding scientific and professional expertise of substantial value for the economy's future. The influx, coupled with the opening of new markets at the end of the Cold War, energized Israel's economy, which grew rapidly in the early 1990s. But growth began slowing in 1996 when the government imposed tighter fiscal and monetary policies and the immigration bonus petered out. Those policies brought inflation down to record low levels in 1999.
Main article: Demographics of Israel
At the end of 2003, of Israel's 6.7 million people, 81% were "Jews and others", and 19% were Arabs. By religion, 77% were Jewish, 16% were Muslim, 4% were Christian, 2% were Druze and the rest were not classified by religion.
Among Jews, 63% were born in Israel, 27% are immigrants from Europe and the Americas, and 10% are immigrants from Asia and Africa (including the Arab countries).
6% of Israeli Jews define themselves as haredim (ultra-orthodox religious); an additional 9% are "religious"; 34% consider themselves "traditionalists" (not strictly adhering to Jewish halacha) ; and 51% are "secular". Among the seculars, 53% believe in God.
Of the Arab Israelis 82% are Muslim and 9% are Christian.
As of 31 December, 2003, 224,200 Israeli citizens live in the West Bank in communities established before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and re-established after the Six-Day War, and in numerous towns and settlements. All but a few of these were new settlements, established after Israel took control following the Six-Day War in 1967, and assisted in their development by government funding and military protection. This number does not include Israelis in "East Jerusalem", which was captured by Jordan in 1948, and annexed by it from 1950 to 1967. About 7,500 Israelis live in communities built in the Gaza Strip. .
Culture and religion
Main article: Culture of Israel
Holidays and events
||Range of possible dates
in Gregorian calendar for the present age
||between Sept 6 & Oct 5
||Day of Atonement
||between Sept 15 & Oct 14
||Feast of Tabernacles (Booths)
||between Sept 20 & Oct 19
||Assembly of the Eighth Day
||between Sept 27 & Oct 26
||Feast of Rededication (First Day)
||between Nov 27 & Dec 27
|Adar 14 (Adar 15 in some places)
||Memorial Feast for the Triumph of Esther
||between February 25 & March 26
||Passover (First Day)
||between March 27 & April 25
||Passover (Seventh and Final Day)
||between April 2 & May 1
||Holocaust Remembrance Day
||between April 8 & May 7
||between April 16 & May 15
||between May 16 & June 14
1 Jerusalem is Israel's officially designated capital, and the location of its presidential residence, government offices and the Knesset, Israel's Parliament. Israelis often describe the city as "The Eternal Capital of Israel." However, many countries dissent this designation, and consider the status of Jerusalem as an unresolved issue, due to Israel's capture of the eastern half of Jerusalem (and subsequent reunification) from Jordan during the Six Day War. They believe that the final issue of the status of Jerusalem will be determined in future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; Therefore, those countries locate their embassies in other major cities like Tel Aviv, Ramat-Gan, Herzliya, etc., instead, to avoid political sensitivities.
Moreover, some of the dissenting countries do not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, due to what they perceive as illegal Israeli action in designating the city to be its capital in the first place (1950), as well as Israel's capture of the eastern half from Jordan, in 1967. These states instead recognize Tel Aviv, the temporary capital for a time in 1948, when Jerusalem was under Arab siege, as the continuous legitimate capital, and as a result keep their embassies there. Other entities maintain that Jerusalem must be internationalized as originally envisioned by the United Nations General Assembly. See the article on Jerusalem for more.
2 For a short period in the 1990s the prime minister was directly elected by the electorate. This change was not viewed a success and was abandoned.
Israel and Europe
Last updated: 10-11-2005 21:41:24