Israel, officially the State of Israel ( /ˈɪzriːəl/ or /ˈɪzreɪəl/; Hebrew: מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, Medīnat Yisrā'el, IPA: [me̞diˈnät jisʁäˈʔe̞l] ( listen); Arabic: دَوْلَة إِسْرَائِيل, Dawlat Isrāʼīl, IPA: [dawlat ʔisraːˈʔiːl]), is a parliamentary republic in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank in the east, Egypt and the Gaza Strip on the southwest, and the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea to the south, and it contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. Israel is defined as a Jewish and Democratic State in its Basic Laws and is the world's only Jewish-majority state.
Following the adoption of a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly on 29 November 1947, recommending the adoption and implementation of the United Nations partition plan of Mandatory Palestine, on 14 May 1948 David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World 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", a state independent upon the termination of the British Mandate for Palestine, 15 May 1948. Neighboring Arab states invaded the next day in support of the Palestinian Arabs. Israel has since fought several wars with neighboring Arab states, in the course of which it has occupied the West Bank, Sinai Peninsula (between 1967 and 1982), Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. Portions of these territories, including East Jerusalem, have been annexed by Israel, but the border with the neighboring West Bank has not yet been permanently defined.[neutrality is disputed] Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, but efforts to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict have so far not resulted in peace.
Israel's financial centre is Tel Aviv, while Jerusalem is the country's most populous city and its capital (although not recognized internationally as such). The population of Israel, as defined by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, was estimated in 2012 to be 7,941,900 people, of whom 5,985,100 are Jewish. Arabs form the country's second-largest ethnic group with 1,638,500 people (including Druze and Bedouins). The great majority of Israeli Arabs are settled-Muslims, with smaller but significant numbers of semi-settled Negev Bedouins and Arab Christians. Other minorities include various ethnic and ethno-religious denominations such as Druze, Circassians, Black Hebrew Israelites, Samaritans, Maronites and others.
Israel is a representative democracy with a parliamentary system, proportional representation and universal suffrage. The Prime Minister serves as head of government and the Knesset serves as Israel's unicameral legislative body. Israel has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. It is a developed country, an OECD member, and its economy, based on the nominal gross domestic product, was the 41st-largest in the world in 2011. Israel has the highest standard of living in the .
Upon independence in 1948, the new Jewish state was formally named Medinat Yisrael, or the State of Israel, after other proposed historical and religious names including Eretz Israel ("the Land of Israel"), Zion, and Judea, were considered and rejected. 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.
The name Israel has historically been used, in common and religious usage, to refer to the biblical Kingdom of Israel or the entire Jewish nation. According to the Hebrew Bible the name "Israel" was given to the patriarch Jacob (Standard Yisraʾel, Isrāʾīl; Septuagint Greek: Ἰσραήλ Israēl; "struggle with God") after he successfully wrestled with the angel of the Lord. 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, led the Israelites back into Canaan the "Exodus". The earliest archaeological artifact to mention the word "Israel" is the Merneptah Stele of ancient Egypt (dated to the late 13th century BCE).
The area is also known as the Holy Land, being holy for all Abrahamic religions including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Bahá'í Faith. Prior to the Israeli Declaration of Independence of 1948, the whole region was known by various other names including Southern Syria, Syria Palestina, Kingdom of Jerusalem, Iudaea Province, Coele-Syria, Retjenu, Canaan and, particularly, Palestine.
The notion of the "Land of Israel", known in Hebrew as Eretz Yisrael (or Eretz Yisroel), 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. On the basis of scripture, the period of the three Patriarchs has been placed somewhere in the early 2nd millennium BCE, 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.
The northern Kingdom of Israel, as well as Philistine city states fell in 722 BCE, though the southern Kingdom of Judah and several Phoenician city states continued their existence as the region came under Assyrian rule. With the emergence of Babylonians, Judah was eventually conquered as well.
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 vassal Judean state of Rome. 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 and genocide. Jewish presence in the region significantly dwindled after the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE. Nevertheless, there was a continuous small Jewish presence and Galilee became its religious center. The Mishnah and part of the Talmud, central Jewish texts, were composed during the 2nd to 4th centuries CE in Tiberias and Jerusalem. 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.
In 635 CE, the region, including Jerusalem, was conquered by the Arabs and was to remain under Muslim control for the next 1300 years. Control of the region transferred between the Umayyads, Abbasids, and Crusaders throughout the next six centuries, before being conquered by the Mamluk Sultanate, in 1260. In 1516, the region was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, and 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. The territory was divided under the mandate system and the area which included modern day Israel named Mandatory Palestine.
Zionism and the British mandate
Since the Diaspora, some Jews have aspired to return to "Zion" and the "Land of Israel", though the amount of effort that should be spent towards such an aim was a matter of dispute. The hopes and yearnings of Jews living in exile were articulated in the Hebrew Bible, and are an important theme of the Jewish belief system. After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, some communities settled in Palestine. During the 16th century, Jewish communities struck roots in the Four Holy Cities—Jerusalem, Tiberias, Hebron, and Safed—and in 1697, Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid led a group of 1,500 Jews to Jerusalem. In the second half of the 18th century, Eastern European opponents of Hasidism, known as the Perushim, settled in Palestine.
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. Although the Zionist movement already existed in practice, Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl is credited with founding political Zionism, a movement which sought to establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, by elevating the Jewish Question to the international plane. 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.
The Second Aliyah (1904–14), began after the Kishinev pogrom; some 40,000 Jews settled in Palestine, although nearly half of them left at a later point in time. Both the first and second waves of migrants were mainly Orthodox Jews, although the Second Aliyah included socialist groups who established the kibbutz movement. During World War I, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent a letter that stated:
His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
The Jewish Legion, a group primarily of Zionist volunteers, assisted in the British conquest of Palestine in 1917. 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. In 1922, the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate over Palestine under terms similar to the Balfour Declaration. The population of the area at this time was predominantly Arab and Muslim, with Jews accounting for about 11% of the population.
The Third (1919–1923) and Fourth Aliyahs (1924–1929) brought an additional 100,000 Jews to Palestine. 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. By the end of World War II, the Jewish population of Palestine had increased to 33% of the total population.
Independence and first years
David Ben-Gurion proclaiming Israeli independence on 14 May 1948, below a portrait of Theodor Herzl in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, now Israel's Independence Hall
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. 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". In the Report of the Committee dated 3 September 1947 to the UN General Assembly, 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". 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). 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. On 1 December 1947, the Arab Higher Committee proclaimed a three-day strike, and Arab bands began attacking Jewish targets. The Jews were initially on the defensive as civil war broke out, but gradually moved onto the offensive. The Palestinian Arab economy collapsed and 250,000 Palestinian-Arabs fled or were expelled.
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". The only reference in the text of the Declaration to the borders of the new state is the use of the term, Eretz-Israel.
The following day, the armies of four Arab countries—Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq—entered what had been British Mandate Palestine, launching the 1948 Arab–Israeli War; Saudi Arabia sent a military contingent to operate under Egyptian command; Yemen declared war but did not take military action. In a cablegram of the same day from the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States to the UN Secretary-General, the Arab states gave a justification for this "intervention". After a year of fighting, a ceasefire was declared and temporary borders, known as the Green Line, were established. Jordan annexed what became known as the West Bank and 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.
Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations by majority vote on 11 May 1949. In the early years of the state, the Labor Zionist movement led by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion dominated Israeli politics. These years were marked by an influx of Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab lands, many of whom faced persecution and expulsion from their original countries. Consequently, the population of Israel rose from 800,000 to two million between 1948 and 1958. During this period, food, clothes and furniture had to be rationed in what became known as the Austerity Period. Between 1948–1970, approximately 1,151,029 Jewish refugees relocated to Israel. 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. 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.
In the 1950s, Israel was frequently attacked by Palestinian fedayeen, mainly from the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip, 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.
In the early 1960s, Israel captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and brought him to Israel for trial. The trial had a major impact on public awareness of the Holocaust. Eichmann remains the only person ever to be executed by an Israeli court.
Conflicts and peace treaties
Since 1964, Arab countries were trying to divert the headwaters of the Jordan river to deprive Israel of water resources, provoking tensions with Syria and Lebanon. Arab nationalists led by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser refused to recognize Israel, and called for its destruction. By 1966, Israeli-Arab relations had deteriorated to the point of actual battles taking place between Israeli and Arab forces. 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. 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. 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 Arab 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". In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Palestinian groups launched a wave of attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world, including a massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. The Israeli government responded with an assassination campaign against the organizers, 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 suffering significant losses. 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.
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.
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. 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. In the two years that followed, Sadat and Begin signed the Camp David Accords (1978) and the Israel–Egypt Peace Treaty (1979). Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and agreed to enter negotiations over an autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
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. However, the PLO soon resumed its policy of attacks against Israel. In the next few years the PLO infiltrated back 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 actively encouraged Israelis to settle in the occupied West Bank, leading to increasing friction with the Palestinians in that area. 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. However, there has never been an Israeli government act which defined what it considers to be the extent of the territory of Israel and no act which specifically included East Jerusalem therein. 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.
Following a series of PLO attacks in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon once again to destroy the bases from which the PLO launched attacks and missiles into northern Israel. 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 massacres. 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. The First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule, 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, many of them stone-throwing youths. 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.
In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin became Prime Minister following an election in which his party called for compromise with Israel's neighbors. 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. The PLO also recognized Israel's right to exist and pledged an end to terrorism. In 1994, the Israel–Jordan Treaty of Peace was signed, making Jordan the second Arab country to normalize relations with Israel. Arab public support for the Accords was damaged by the continuation of Israeli settlements and checkpoints, and the deterioration of economic conditions. Israeli public support for the Accords waned as Israel was struck by Palestinian suicide attacks. Finally, while leaving a peace rally in November 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a far-right-wing Jew who opposed the Accords.
At the end of the 1990s, Israel, under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, withdrew from Hebron, and signed the Wye River Memorandum, giving greater control to the Palestinian National Authority. 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. After the collapse of the talks and a controversial visit by Likud leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, the Second Intifada began. 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, defeating the Intifada.
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. 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. 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. 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.
Geography and climate
Israel is at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, bounded by Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan to the east, and Egypt 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. However Israel is so narrow that the exclusive economic zone in the Mediterranean is double the land area of the country. The total area under Israeli law, when including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, is 22,072 square kilometers (8,522 sq mi), 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). 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 seventy percent of the nation's population. 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.
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. 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. The largest makhtesh in the world is Ramon Crater in the Negev, which measures 40 by 8 kilometers (25 by 5 mi). 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.
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. 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/128.7 °F) was recorded in 1942 at Tirat Zvi kibbutz in the northern Jordan river valley.
From May to September, rain in Israel is rare. With scarce water resources, Israel has developed various water-saving technologies, including drip irrigation. 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).
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. There are 380 Israeli nature reserves.
Israel operates under a parliamentary system as a democratic republic with universal suffrage. 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. Israel is governed by a 120-member parliament, known as the Knesset. Membership of the Knesset is based on proportional representation of political parties, 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. The president of Israel is head of state, with limited and largely ceremonial duties.
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. 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.
Israel's legal system combines three legal traditions: English common law, civil law, and Jewish law. 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. 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. 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. Israel is the only country in the region ranked "Free" by Freedom House based on the level of civil liberties and political rights; the "Palestinian Authority-Administered Territories" was ranked "Not Free." In 2012, Israel proper was ranked 92nd according to Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index – the highest ranking in the region.
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. Districts are further divided into fifteen sub-districts known as nafot (נפות; singular: nafa), which are themselves partitioned into fifty natural regions.
|North||Nazareth||Kinneret, Safed, Acre, Golan, Jezreel Valley||1,242,100|
|Center||Ramla||Rishon Lezion, Sharon (Netanya), Petah Tikva, Ramla, Rehovot||1,770,200|
|Tel Aviv||Tel Aviv||Bat Yam, Bnei Brak, Giv'atayim, Holon, Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv||1,227,000|
|Judea and Samaria||Modi'in Illit||West Bank||2,592,555 |
(350,143 Jewish settlers)
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). Israel's largest municipality, both in population and area, is Jerusalem with 773,800 residents in an area of 126 square kilometers (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. 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.
In 1967, as a result of the Six-Day War, Israel gained control of the West Bank (Judaea and Samaria), 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.
Following Israel's capture of these territories, settlements consisting of Israeli citizens were established 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 Gaza Strip and the West Bank are seen by the Palestinians and most of the international community as the site of a future Palestinian state. 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. 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.
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".
The West Bank was annexed by Jordan in 1948, 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 Arab Palestinians, including refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. 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. When completed, approximately 13% of the Barrier will be constructed on the Green Line or in Israel with 87% inside the West Bank.
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. Following June 2007, when Hamas assumed power in the Gaza Strip, 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. 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). 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.
Israel maintains diplomatic relations with 157 countries and has 100 diplomatic missions around the world. 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. Under Israeli law, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Yemen are enemy countries and Israeli citizens may not visit them without permission from the Ministry of the Interior.
The Soviet Union and the United States were the first two countries to recognize the State of Israel, having declared recognition roughly simultaneously. The United States may regard Israel as its primary ally in the , based on "common democratic values, religious affinities, and security interests". 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), more than any other country for that period until 2003. 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.
India established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992 and has fostered a strong military, technological and cultural partnership with the country since then. 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. India is the largest customer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest military partner of India after the Russian Federation. India is also the third-largest Asian economic partner of Israel and the two countries enjoy extensive space technology ties. India became the top source market for Israel from Asia in 2010 with 41,000 tourist arrivals in that year.
Germany's strong ties with Israel include cooperation on scientific and educational endeavors and the two states remain strong economic and military partners. Under the reparations agreement, as of 2007[update] Germany had paid 25 billion euros in reparations to the Israeli state and individual Israeli holocaust survivors. 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. Iran had diplomatic relations with Israel under the Pahlavi dynasty but withdrew its recognition of Israel during the Islamic Revolution.
Although Turkey and Israel did not establish full diplomatic relations until 1991, 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. Relations between Turkey and Israel took a downturn after the Gaza War and Israel's raid of the Gaza flotilla. IHH, which organized the flotilla, is a Turkish charity that some believe has ties to Hamas and Al-Qaeda.
Relation between Israel and Greece have improved since 1995 due to the decline of Israeli-Turkish relations. The two countries have a defence 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. Israel is the second largest importer of Greek products in the . 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.
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.
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. In 2005, Azerbaijan was Israel's fifth largest trading partner.
In Africa, Ethiopia is Israel's main and closest ally in the continent due to common political, religious and security interests. Israel provides expertise to Ethiopia on irrigation projects and thousands of Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) live in Israel.
Israel has the highest ratio of defense spending to GDP and as a percentage of the budget of all developed countries. 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. The IDF also draws upon the resources of the Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman), which works with the Mossad and Shabak. 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.
Most Israelis are drafted into the military at the age of 18. Men serve three years and women two to three years. 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. 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. As a result of its conscription program, the IDF maintains approximately 176,500 active troops and an additional 445,000 reservists.
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. The Arrow missile is one of the world's few operational anti-ballistic missile systems.
Since the Yom Kippur War, Israel has developed a network of reconnaissance satellites. The success of the Ofeq program has made Israel one of seven countries capable of launching such satellites. Since its establishment, Israel has spent a significant portion of its gross domestic product on defense. In 1984, for example, the country spent 24% of its GDP on defense. By 2006, that figure had dropped to 7.3%.
Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons as well as chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. Israel has not signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and maintains a policy of deliberate ambiguity toward its nuclear capabilities. 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 impermeable to chemical and biological substances.
The IDF has also been deployed on humanitarian missions, usually involving rescue workers and medical personnel, along with relief workers and body identifiers from ZAKA and the Israel Police. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, a rescue team was dispatched to Haiti, which consisted of 40 doctors, 20 nurses and rescue workers, and two rescue planes loaded with medical equipment and a field hospital with X-ray equipment, intensive care units, and operating rooms. Other recent recipients of aid include Japan (a medical team after the 2011 tsunami), Congo 2008, Sri Lanka 2005 (tsunami), India and El Salvador 2001 (earthquakes), Ethiopia 2000, Turkey 1998 (earthquake), Kosovo 1999 (refugees) and Rwanda 1994 (refugees).
Israel is consistently rated very low in the Global Peace Index, ranking 145th out of 153 nations for peacefulness in 2011.
Gulfstream G200 transcontinental business jet was designed and is currently produced for Gulfstream Aerospace by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI)
Israel is considered one of the most advanced countries in Southwest Asia in economic and industrial development. In 2010, it joined the OECD. The country is ranked 3rd in the region on the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index as well as in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report. It has the second-largest number of startup companies in the world (after the United States) and the largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies outside North America.
In 2010, Israel ranked 17th among of the world's most economically developed nations, according to IMD's World Competitiveness Yearbook. The Israeli economy was ranked first 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.
The Bank of Israel was ranked first among central banks for its efficient functioning, up from the 8th place in 2009. Israel was also ranked as the worldwide leader in its supply of skilled manpower. The Bank of Israel holds $78 billion of foreign-exchange reserves.
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. Other major imports to Israel, totaling $47.8 billion in 2006, include fossil fuels, raw materials, and military equipment. Leading exports include electronics, software, computerized systems, communications technology, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, fruits, chemicals, military technology, and cut diamonds; in 2006, Israeli exports reached $42.86 billion, and by 2010 they had reached $80.5 billion a year.
Israel is a leading country in the development of solar energy. Israel is a global leader in water conservation and geothermal energy, and its development of cutting-edge technologies in software, communications and the life sciences have evoked comparisons with Silicon Valley. 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. Intel and Microsoft built their first overseas research and development centers in Israel, and other high-tech multi-national corporations, such as IBM, Cisco Systems, and Motorola, have opened facilities in the country. In July 2007, U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway bought an Israeli company Iscar, its first non-U.S. acquisition, for $4 billion. 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 as of 2011[update] stood at a surplus of US$58.7 billion.
Days of working time in Israel are Sunday through Thursday (for 5 a days 'week'), or Friday (for 6 a days 'week'). 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 .
Tourism, especially religious tourism, is an important industry in Israel, with the country's temperate climate, beaches, archaeological and historical 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. In 2008, over 3 million tourists visited Israel. Israel has the highest number of museums per capita in the world.
Israel has 18,096 kilometers (11,244 mi) of paved roads, and 2.4 million motor vehicles. The number of motor vehicles per 1,000 persons was 324, relatively low with respect to developed countries. Israel has 5,715 buses on scheduled routes, 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 Railways (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.
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. Ben Gurion, Israel's largest airport, handled over 12.1 million passengers in 2010.
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. 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.
Science and technology
Israel's eight public universities are subsidized by the state. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel's oldest university, houses the Jewish National and University Library, the world's largest repository of books on Jewish subjects. The Hebrew University is consistently ranked among world's 100 top universities by the prestigious ARWU academic ranking. Other major universities in the country include the Technion, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel Aviv University (TAU), Bar-Ilan University, the University of Haifa, The Open University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Israel's seven research universities (excluding the Open University) are consistently ranked among top 500 in the world. Israel has produced six Nobel Prize-winning scientists since 2002 and publishes among the most scientific papers per capita of any country in the world.
Israel has embraced solar energy; its engineers are on the cutting edge of solar energy technology and its solar companies work on projects around the world. Over 90% of Israeli homes use solar energy for hot water, the highest per capita in the world. According to government figures, the country saves 8% of its electricity consumption per year because of its solar energy use in heating. 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.
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 modernisation, 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. By the end of 2013, 85 percent of the country's water consumption will be from reverse osmosis. As a result of innovations in reverse osmosis technology, Israel is set to become a net exporter of water in the coming years.
Israel has led the world in stem-cell research papers per capita since 2000. 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).
Israel has a modern electric car infrastructure involving a countrywide network of recharging stations to facilitate the charging and exchange of car batteries. It is thought that this will lower Israel's oil dependency and lower the fuel costs of hundreds of Israel's motorists that use cars powered only by electric batteries. The Israeli model is being studied by several countries and being implemented in Denmark and Australia.
In 2009 Israel was ranked 2nd among 20 top countries in space sciences by Thomson Reuters agency. Since 1988 Israel Aerospace Industries have indigenously designed and built at least 13 commercial, research and spy satellites. Most were launched to orbit from Israeli air force base "Palmachim" by the Shavit space launch vehicle. Some of Israel's satellites are ranked among the world's most advanced space systems. In 2003, Ilan Ramon became Israel's first astronaut, serving as payload specialist of STS-107, the fatal mission of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
Comparison of the changes in percentages of the main religious group in Israel between the years 1949–2008
In 2012, Israel's population was an estimated 7,941,900 people, of whom 5,985,100 are Jews. Arab citizens of Israel comprise 20.6% of the country's total population.
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, but estimates run in the region of 203,000. As of June 2012[update], approximately 60,000 African migrants have entered Israel.
Retention of Israel's population since 1948 is about even or greater, when compared to other countries with mass immigration. Emigration from Israel (yerida) to other countries, primarily the United States and Canada, is described by demographers as modest, but is often cited by Israeli government ministries as a major threat to Israel's future.
As of 2009[update], over 300,000 Israeli citizens live in West Bank settlements 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. 18,000 Israelis live in Golan Heights settlements. In 2011, there were 250,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem. 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.
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. 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. Approximately 68% of Israeli Jews are Israeli-born, 22% are immigrants from Europe and the Americas, and 10% are immigrants from Asia and Africa (including the Arab World). Jews who left or fled Arab and Muslim countries and their descendants, known as Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews, constitute approximately 50% of Jewish Israelis. Jews from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and their Israeli-born descendants, or Ashkenazi Jews, form most of the rest of the Jewish population.
Israel has two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic. 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 120,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel), Russian and Amharic are widely spoken. Between 1990 and 1994, the Russian immigration increased Israel's population by twelve percent. More than one million Russian-speaking immigrants arrived in Israel from the former Soviet Union states between 1990 and 2004. French is spoken by around 700,000 Israelis, mostly originating from France and North Africa (see Maghrebi Jews).
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, venerated by Christians as the site of the Crucifixion of Jesus.
International Bahá'í Archives building at Bahá'í World Centre, overlooking the Shrine of the Báb and the Port of Haifa.
Israel and the Palestinian territories comprise the major part of the Holy Land, a region of significant importances 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". While the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim, represented only 5% of Israel's population in 1990, they are expected to represent more than one-fifth of Israel's Jewish population by 2028.
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. The Christian population primarily comprises Arab 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. Members of many other religious groups, including Buddhists and Hindus, maintain a presence in Israel, albeit in small numbers. 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.
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.
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 Shechem, 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.
Israel has a school life expectancy of 15.5 years and a literacy rate of 97.1% according to the United Nations. 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.
Education is compulsory in Israel for children between the ages of three and eighteen. 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. In Arab, Christian and Druze schools, the exam on Biblical studies is replaced by an exam on Muslim, Christian or Druze heritage. In 2003, over half of all Israeli twelfth graders earned a matriculation certificate. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University are ranked among the world's top 100 universities by Times Higher Education magazine. Israel ranks third in the world in the number of academic degrees per capita (20 percent of the population).
Israel's diverse culture stems from the diversity of the population: Jews from around the world have brought their cultural and religious traditions with them, creating a melting pot of Jewish customs and beliefs. 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. Israel's substantial Arab minority has also left its imprint on Israeli culture in such spheres as architecture, music, and cuisine.
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 Jewish National and University Library at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2001, the law was amended to include audio and video recordings, and other non-print media. In 2006, 85 percent of the 8,000 books transferred to the library were in Hebrew.
The Hebrew Book Week (He: שבוע הספר) 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. Leading Israeli poets have been Yehuda Amichai, Nathan Alterman and Rachel Bluwstein. Internationally famous contemporary Israeli novelists include Amos Oz and David Grossman.
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." Darwish was born and raised in northern Israel, but lived his adult life abroad after joining the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Music and dance
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.
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. The Hora (הורה) 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-renowned 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. 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. Eilat has hosted its own international music festival, the Red Sea Jazz Festival, every summer since 1987.
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.
Continuing the strong theatrical traditions of the Yiddish theater 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.
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.
The Israel Museum in Jerusalem is one of Israel's most important cultural institutions and houses the Dead Sea scrolls, along with an extensive collection of Judaica and European art. Israel's national Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, is the world central archive of Holocaust-related information. 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.
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.
Several museums are devoted to Islamic culture, including the Rockefeller Museum, which specializes in archaeological remains from the Ottoman and other periods of history, and the L. A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art, also in Jerusalem.
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.
Israel was excluded from the 1978 Asian Games due to Arab pressure on the organizers. The exclusion left Israel in limbo and it ceased competing in Asian competitions. 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. The Israeli Premier League is the country's premier football league, and the Israeli Basketball Super League is the premier basketball league. 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 five times. Israeli tennis champion Shahar Pe'er ranked 11th in the world on 31 January 2011.
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. 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. 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. The Israeli chess team won the silver medal at the 2008 Chess Olympiad and the bronze, coming in third among 148 teams, at the 2010 Olympiad. Israeli grandmaster Boris Gelfand won the Chess World Cup in 2009  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. 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.
Israeli cuisine includes local dishes as well as dishes brought to the country by Jewish immigrants from around the world. Since the establishment of the State in 1948, and particularly since the late 1970s, an Israeli fusion cuisine has developed.
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.
|a.||^ 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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