The State of Israel (Medinat Yisrael in Hebrew, Daulat Israil in Arabic) is a country in the Middle East on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a parliamentary democracy and by national policy, a "Jewish State." The Israeli population is predominantly Jewish with a large non-Jewish minority, mostly comprised of Muslim and Christian Arabs. Israel borders (clockwise from north to south) the states of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. Israel shares the coastlines of the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Eilat / Aqaba, and the Dead Sea.
Main article History of Israel
Many Jews have long considered Israel to be their spiritual home — as a Holy Land and a Promised Land. It is also the place where Christianity was born, and contains many sites of great spiritual significance in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. A series of Jewish kingdoms and states existed intermittently in the region for over a millennium until the failure of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire ended up with widescale expulsion of Jews from their homeland (about 25% of the Jewish population, see Fall of Jerusalem, AD 70 and in "Propylšen der Weltgeschichte", ed. Golo Mann). After crushing Bar Kokhba's revolt in 135, Emperor Hadrian renamed Provincia Judaea as Provincia Syria Palaestina, a Greek name derived from Philistine (Hebrew פלשת Pəlťšeṯ).  (http://www.palestinefacts.org/pf_early_palestine_name_origin.php) See also Names of the Levant.
The Muslim Caliphate conquered the land from the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantines) in the seventh century and attracted Arab settlers. The local language, Aramaic, gradually disappeared. Throughout the centuries the size of Jewish population in the land fluctuated. Before the birth of modern Zionism, by the early 19th century, more than 10,000 Jews lived in the area that is today's Israel. (Dan Bahat, Twenty Centuries of Jewish Life in the Holy Land, 1976, pp. 61-63)
Following centuries of Diaspora, the nineteenth century saw the rise of Zionism, the Jewish Nationalist Movement. 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 an increase in the Jewish population from 11% of the population in 1922 to 30% by 1940.
In 1947, following increasing levels of violence, terrorism 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. Under this plan, Jerusalem was intended to be an international region to avoid conflict over its status. This plan, as well as an earlier 1937 partition proposed by the Peel Commission, was rejected by Arab leaders. Immediately following the adoption of the Partition Plan by the United Nations General Assembly, the Palestinian Arab leadership rejected the plan to create the as yet un-named Jewish State and launched a guerilla war.
On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed. Hoping to annihilate the new Jewish state, the armies of five Arab nations intervened in the ongoing war between Jewish and Arab militias in the former Mandate of 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. The West Bank (including East Jerusalem) was captured by Jordan, and annexed by it in 1950, but this annexation was recognized only by the United Kingdom and Pakistan. The Gaza Strip was captured by Egypt, and came under its control.
After the war, only 14-25% (depending on the 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 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.
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. Egypt ordered United Nations peacekeeping forces to leave the Sinai, and in their place, Egyptian tanks and troops were concentrated on the border with Israel. In accordance with international law, Israel considered the blockade of its port 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 to its defense treaty with Egypt), Syria, and the Iraqi air force. This was the Six-Day War (June 5 - 10, 1967), during which Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. In 1978 Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt under the Camp David Accords, and in 1981 Israel annexed East Jerusalem. The status of the West Bank and Gaza, populated mostly by Palestinians with some Israeli population, is also undecided and has been the focus of several unsuccessful peace conferences (see Geography below for more).
The status of the Golan Heights is currently the subject of a territorial dispute between Israel and Syria. The Heights, originally part of the British Mandate of Palestine and ceded to the French Mandate of Syria in the early 1920s, were officially annexed by Israel in 1981, although United Nations Security Council Resolution 497 deemed Israel's annexation "null and void and without international legal effect."
In the years since 1948, Israel and the United Nations have often suffered an adversarial relationship. Resolution 194 (passed in December 1948) (note: General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding), granting a 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.
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.
Politics and Law
Main article Politics of Israel
Israel is a parliamentary republic based on universal suffrage and proportional representation. Israel's legislative branch is a 120-member parliament known as the Knesset. Membership in the Knesset is allocated to parties based on their proportion of the vote. Elections to the Knesset are normally held every four years, but the Knesset can decide to dissolve itself ahead of time by a simple majority.
The President of Israel is head of state, serving as a largely 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
The Judiciary branch of Israel is made of a three-tier system of courts: at the lowest level are the Magistrate Courts. Above them, serving both as an appelate court and as a court of first instance are the District Courts. At the top of the judicial pyramid is the Supreme Court. Judges in Israel retire at the age of 70 and are appointed by a committee made up of representatives of the Knesset, Supreme Court justices and the Israeli Bar. The Israeli Supreme Court is regarded by many as Israel's guardian of civil rights.
Israel has not completed a written constitution. Its government is based on the laws of the Knesset, especially by "Basic Laws of Israel", which are special laws (currently there are 15 of them), by the Knesset legislature which will become the future official constitution. The declaration of the State of Israel has a significance in this matter as well. Israel's legal system is a western legal system best classified as "mixed": it has a strong Anglo-American influence, but in some parts has borrowed heavely from civil law tradition. Marital issues are governed by religious law.
Because of its Proportional representation electoral system, coalitions in the Knesset can often be unstable and are usually made up of at least two parties. Coalitions can be difficult to form and hard to keep together because of the large number of political parties, many of whom run on very specialized platforms, often advocating the tenets of particular interest groups such as religious sects.
In the past thirty years, the largest parties have been the conservative Likud Party and the Social-democrat Labour Party. However, they do not attract sufficient support to govern without the help of smaller parties such as Shas, a Mizrahi Haredi party which represents the Mizrahi Jews, has a network of religious schools, and supports social spending; Shinui, a secularist party that sees itself representing Israel's middle class and a foe of religious (particularly Haredi) parties, and works to reduce 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 Yachad (former Meretz), a social-democratic party which is 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 Arab-nationalist Balad party or the conservative-Islamic bloc United Arab List party Raam.
Parties of the left 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 Herut party. The beginning of right-wing dominance in Israeli politics began in 1977 with the ascendance of Likud's Menachem Begin as prime minister. With the exception of the Labour-Meretz coalitions between 1992-1996 and 1999-2001, the Likud continued to form most Israeli governments since 1977, sometimes in coalition with the Labour Party. In 2003, left-wing parties fared poorly in elections won by Likud government of prime minister Ariel Sharon.
The premiership of Ariel Sharon is one of the most controversial since Israel's founding, with hostility emanating from both Left and Right. In 1983, the Israeli Kahan Commission found Ariel Sharon indirectly responsible for the 1982 Phalangist-led Sabra and Shatila Massacre, leading to his dismissal as Defence Minister by Menachem Begin. Some of his military tactics, such as repeated assassinations of Palestinian leaders and incursions into 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
Main article Military of Israel
Israel's military consists of a unified Israel Defense Forces (IDF), known in Hebrew by the acronym "Tzahal". Historically there have been no separate Israeli military services. The Navy and air are subordinate to the army. There are other paramilitary government agencies which deal with different aspects of Israel's security (such as MAGAV and the Shin Bet). See further discussion: Israel Security Forces.
The IDF is considered the strongest military force in the Middle East, and relies heavily on technology, training, and esprit de corps. Most of Israel's military hardware is donated by the United States and 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. Because it is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israel rejects international inspections of its nuclear facilities 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, which never signed an armistice ending the war of 1948-1949. It is also technically in a state of war with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon. A cease fire agreement was signed with Syria in 1973. There is no such agreement with Lebanon. (Note: Those have usually only been wars in an indirect or technical sense for decades, as there has been little or no direct fighting between countries in many of those technical states of war recently.)
Main article: Geography of Israel
Israel, located in Southwest Asia, is a country whose exact territorial boundaries and borders are widely disputed. It is also considered to be one of the fifteen states that comprise the so-called Cradle of Humanity. The total area—excluding East Jerusalem and other territories taken over by Israel in the 1967 war—is 20,770 square km; the total area—including the aforementioned territories—is 22,145 square km.
The territories taken over by Israel since the 1967 war are not included in the Israel country profile, unless otherwise noted. In keeping with the framework established at the Madrid Conference in October 1991, bilateral negotiations are being conducted between Israeli and Palestinian representatives (from the Israeli-controlled West Bank and Gaza Strip) to achieve a permanent settlement. These talks generated the Oslo Accords in 1993, which established mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, and granted the new Palestinian Authority partial autonomy in areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Talks were also held between Israel and Syria. On April 25 1982, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula pursuant to the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. Outstanding territorial and other disputes with Jordan were resolved in the 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace.
Main article: Districts of Israel
6 districts (mehozot; singular, mehoz)
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.
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 ethnically Jewish. Among Jews, 26% have at least one Israeli-born parent, 37% are first-generation Israelis, 27% are immigrants from the West, and 11% are from developing countries in Asia and Africa, including Arab countries. (http://www.cbs.gov.il/shnaton53/st02_21x.pdf)
6% of Israeli Jews define themselves as haredim (ultra-orthodox religious); an additional 9% are "religious"; 34% consider themselves "traditionalists" (not strictly adhering to Jewish halacha) ; and 51% are "secular". Among the seculars, 53% believe in God. (http://www.geocities.com/demokratya/dat/shavit.htm)
As of 31 December, 2003, 224,200 Israeli citizens live in the West Bank in communities established before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and re-established after the Six-Day War, and in numerous settlements. All but a few of these were new settlements, established after the Israeli military occupation following the Six-Day War in 1967, and assisted in their development by government funding and military protection. This number does not include Israelis in East Jerusalem, which was captured by Jordan in 1948, and annexed by it from 1950 to 1967. About 7,500 Israelis live in settlements built in the Gaza Strip.  (http://www.cbs.gov.il/population/new_2003/tab_1.pdf).
Culture and religion
Main article: Culture of Israel
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 the city as "The Eternal Capital of Israel." However, many countries dissent this designation, and consider the status of Jerusalem as an unresolved issue, due to Israel's capture of the eastern half of Jerusalem (and subsequent reunification) from Jordan during the Six Day War. They believe that the final issue of the status of Jerusalem will be determined in future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; Therefore, those countries locate their embassies in other major cities like Tel Aviv, Ramat-Gan, Herzliya, etc., instead, to avoid political sensitivities.
Moreover, some of the dissenting countries do not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, due to what they perceive as illegal Israeli action in designating the city to be its capital in the first place (1950), as well as Israel's capture of the eastern half from Jordan, in 1967. These states instead recognize Tel Aviv, the temporary capital for a time in 1948, when Jerusalem was under Arab siege, as the continuous legitimate capital, and as a result keep their embassies there. Other entities maintain that Jerusalem must be internationalized as originally envisioned by the United Nations General Assembly. See the article on Jerusalem for more.
2 For a short period in the 1990s the prime minister was directly elected by the electorate. This change was not viewed a success and was abandoned.
Israel and Europe