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Israel
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Israel

For other uses, see Israel (disambiguation).

The State of Israel is a country in the Middle East on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a parliamentary democracy with a predominantly Jewish population (and a large Arab minority). Israel borders (clockwise from north to south) the states of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. Additionally, Israel is adjacent to Israeli-controlled territories on the Jordan River's West Bank and the Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean coast. It shares the coastlines of the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Eilat / Aqaba, the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee.

State of Israel
Hebrew: מדינת ישראל (Medinat Yisra'el)
Arabic: دولة اسرائيل (Daulat Isra'il)
Flag of Israel (Full size)
Official languages Hebrew, Arabic
Capital Jerusalem, (disputed1)
Largest City Jerusalem
President Moshe Katsav
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Area
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 149th
aprox. 20,000 km²
~2%
Population
 - Total (2003)
 - Density
Ranked 99th
6,700,000
~300/km²
Independence May 14, 1948
Iyar 5, 5708
Currency 1 New sheqel (NIS)
= 100 Agorot
Time zone UTC +2/+3
National anthem Hatikvah
Internet TLD .IL
Calling Code 972

Table of contents
1 History
2 Politics
3 Military
4 Geography
5 Economy
6 Demographics
7 Culture and religion
8 Miscellaneous topics
9 Footnotes
10 External links

History

Main article History of Israel

Many Jews consider Israel to be their spiritual home (see Holy Land). A series of Jewish kingdoms and states existed intermittently in the region for over a millennium until the widescale expulsion of Jews from their homeland by the Roman authorities. (see Fall of Jerusalem, 70 CE). After crushing the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135, Emperor Hadrian renamed the land from Judea to Palestine after the Jews' ancient enemies, who lived along the coast in the area of the Gaza Strip centuries before - the Philistines. It was conquered from the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantines) by the Muslim Caliphate in the seventh century and attracted Arab settlers. 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, a desire to see the creation of a Jewish State 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 the late 1800's large numbers of Jews began moving to the Turkish and later British-controlled region: the British mandate of Palestine, resulting in their rise from 11% of the population in 1922 to 30% by 1940.

In 1947, following increasing levels of violence and 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. This plan, as well as an earlier 1937 partition proposed by the Peel Commission, was rejected by Arab leaders.

On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed. The armies of five Arab nations intervened in the ongoing war between Jews and Arabs in Palestine (see: Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948, 1948 Arab-Israeli War). Israel captured an additional 26% of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan river and annexed it to the new state. After the war, only 14-25% (depending on estimate) of the Arab population remained in Israel, the rest having fled prior to and during the war. When Israel refused their reentry, they became refugees; see Palestinian Exodus for a discussion of the circumstances. Over the following decade, many Jews came to Israel as refugees from the surrounding Arab nations, as well as Iran and Europe, doubling Israel's population within one year of independence. Israel's Jewish population continued to grow at a very high rate for some years, fed by waves of Jewish immigration from around the world, most notably recently following the collapse of the USSR. As with many states, Israel has minority ethnic groups that do not feel themselves properly part of the "Israeli nation," though they do hold Israeli citizenship. Prominent among these are the Israeli Arabs, many of whom consider themselves as belonging to a Palestinian nation. How to adjust the Israeli state to accommodate the sense of identity of this grouping without endangering the state's Jewish character is an important issue in modern-day Israeli-Palestinian relations.

On May 23rd, 1967, Egypt 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. Israel considered this an act of war, 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 with the Hashemite Kingdom's signed defence treaty with Egypt), Syria, and the Iraqi air force. This was the Six-Day War (June 5 - 10, 1967), which resulted in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula becoming controlled by Israel. Arabs consider it be an occupation. Jews consider it to be a liberation. Previously, the West Bank was an annex of Jordan, but was never recognized as such by the international community. The Golan Heights and East Jerusalem have since been annexed by Israel; the formerly occupied Sinai has since been returned to Egypt under the 1978 Camp David Accords. The status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is the subject of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (see Geography below for more).

In the years since 1948, Israel and the United Nations have often suffered an adversarial relationship. Resolution 194 (passed in December 1948) (note: General Assembly resolutions are only suggested and not legally binding), granting the conditional right of return to Palestinian refugees; Resolution 242 (November 1967), calls for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" (Six-Day war); and Resolution 446 (March 1979), declaring settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip 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 condemn Israel.

See also:

Wars

The establishment of the State of Israel in
1948 and its continued existence has been a source of repeated wars and other conflicts with Arab countries, 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.

See also:

Politics

Main article
Politics of Israel

Israel is a constitutional, parliamentary republic. Israel's legislative branch is a 120-member parliament known as the Knesset. 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 powerless 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

Another of the few powers granted to the president is the ability to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who serve for life. Their decisions have historically been subject to parliamentary supremacy and they can be removed from office by vote of the Knesset.

Israel has no official written constitution; its government functions are based on the laws of the Knesset, especially by the "Basic Laws of Israel", which are special laws the Knesset legislature, (currently there are 15 of them), which will become together the future official constitution. The declaration of the State of Israel has a significance in this matter as well.

Because of its parliamentary 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 Jewish sects.

In the past thirty years, the largest parties have been the conservative Likud Party and the Socialist Labour Party. However, they do not attract sufficient support to be able to govern without the help of smaller parties such as Shas, a Haredi party which also tends to support high social spending; Shinui, a secularist party that sees itself representing Israel's middle class and foe of Shas, which also works to undermine social spending; the National Union Party, a far-right party advocating "transfer of Palestinian refugees to resettle in Arab countries; the Mafdal - the national religious party, affiliated with religious Zionists (kipot srugot); and Meretz, a social-democratic party which is sometimes supportive of the Palestinian cause. All governments have so far avoided forming a coalition with parties representative of the Palestinian minority, such as the Arab-Jewish communist Hadash party, the liberal-nationalist Tajamu' party or the conservative-Islamic bloc United Arab List party.

Parties of the left have dominated Israel's elections until 1974, when following the 1973 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 nationalistic conservative Herut party. 1977 marked the beginning of right-wing dominance in Israeli politics, with the ascendance of Likud's Menachem Begin as prime minister. The Likud continued to form most governments since then, sometimes with Labour as its main coalition partner, with the exception of the Labour-Meretz coalitions between 1992-1996 and 1999-2001. In 2003, the Likud-headed government of prime minister Ariel Sharon gave left-wing parties their worst showing in years.

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 him partly 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 incursions in Palestinian territories, have come under fire from the Israeli 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 of a state of Palestine and his call for the evacuation of all settlements in the Gaza Strip and some in the West Bank is opposed by settler 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.

See also: List of political parties in Israel

Military

Main article Military of Israel

Israel's military consists of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which includes ground, naval, and air components. Historically there have been no separate Israeli military services.

The IDF is considered one of the strongest military forces in the Middle East, and relies largely on technology, training, and esprit de corps. A portion of the technology is Western (especially American) weapon systems, which are frequently enhanced by Israel's own military industries.

Most Israelis, males and females, are drafted into the military at the age of 18, with the notable exceptions of Arabs, most Haredi Jews, pacifists, and women who declare themselves religiously observant. Compulsory service is three years for men, and two years for women.

Following the 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 the possession of nuclear warheads. As it is not a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, no inspections from the outside take place, and the nation maintains a public policy of "nuclear ambiguity". For further information, see: Israel and weapons of mass destruction.

Israel is technically at war with Iraq, with a previous declaration of war never being repealed by either side. It is also technically in a state of war with Syria and Lebanon, as only a cease fire agreement was signed with Syria. There is no such agreement with Lebanon.

Geography

Main article: Geography of Israel


Map 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-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip) and Israel and Syria, to achieve a permanent settlement. 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.

Economy

Main article: Economy of Israel

Israel has a technologically advanced market economy with substantial government participation. It depends on imports of crude oil and gas, grains, 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. Diamonds, high-technology and military equipment, and agricultural products (fruits and vegetables) are leading exports. Israel usually posts sizable current account deficits, which are covered by large transfer payments from abroad and by foreign loans. Roughly half of the government's external debt is owed to the U.S, which is its major source of economic and military aid. 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.

Demographics

Main article: Demographics of Israel

As of 2001, 81% of Israel's population (excluding the non-Jewish population of the West Bank and Gaza) is Jewish. Among Jews, 26% have at least one Israeli-born parent, 37% are first-generation Israelis, 27% are immigrants from the West, and 30% are from developing countries in Asia and Africa, including Arab countries.[1]

6% of Israeli Jews define themselves as haredim (right wing 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.[1]

Arabs make up 18% of Israel's population. Within this group is a minority of Palestinian Christians who make up 9% of the Israeli Arab population.[1]

There are also a number of smaller minorities, including Druze (1.5%) and a tiny Armenian community.

As of 31 December 2003, 223,400 Israeli citizens live in the West Bank in communities established before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, re-established after the Six-Day War and numerous settlements. All but a few of these were new settlements, established after Israel took control of the land during the Six-Day War in 1967, and are assisted in development by government funding and military assistance. This number does not include Israelis in Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian control between 1948 and 1967. 7,500 Israelis live in the Gaza Strip. They are subject to Israeli law and lead lives similar to other Jewish Israelis.[1]

See also: Immigration to Israel

Culture and religion

Main article: Culture of Israel

Holidays
Date English Name Local Name Range of possible dates
in Gregorian calendar
Tishri 1 New Year Rosh Hashanah between Sept 6 & Oct 5
Tishri 10 Day of Atonement Yom Kippur between Sept 15 & Oct 14
Tishri 15 Feast of Tabernacles (Booths) Sukkot between Sept 20 & Oct 19
Tishri 22 Assembly of the Eighth Day Shemini Atzeret between Sept 27 & Oct 26
Nissan 15 Passover Pesach between March 27 & April 25
Nissan 21 Passover Pesach between April 2 & May 1
Iyar 5 Independence Day Yom Ha-Atzmaut between April 16 & May 15
Sivan 6 Pentecost Shavuot between May 16 & June 14

Miscellaneous topics

Footnotes

1 Jerusalem is Israel's officially designated capital, and the location of its presidential residence, government offices and the Knesset, the parliament. Israelis often describe this 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 Jordan 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.

External links

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[ Edit {}] Countries in Southwest Asia
Afghanistan | Armenia | Azerbaijan | Bahrain | Cyprus | Egypt¹ | Gaza Strip | Georgia | Iran | Iraq | Israel | Jordan | Kuwait | Lebanon | Oman | Qatar | Saudi Arabia | Syria | Turkey² | United Arab Emirates | West Bank | Yemen