The State of Israel (Hebrew: Template:Audio, transliteration: Medinat Yisra'el; Arabic: دَوْلَةْ إِسْرَائِيل, transliteration: Dawlat Isrā'īl) is a country in the Middle East on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a parliamentary democracy and the world's only Jewish state. The name "Israel" is rooted in the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, wherein Jacob is renamed Israel after wrestling with a mysterious adversary ("a man", and later "God" according to Genesis 32:24-30; or "the angel", according to Hosea 12:4).
Israel is bordered by Lebanon and Syria in the north, Jordan and the West Bank in the east, and Egypt and the Gaza Strip in the south-west, and has coastlines on the Mediterranean in the west and the Gulf of Eilat (also known as the Gulf of Aqaba) in the south.
Israel captured the West Bank from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967. It withdrew all troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip on September 12 2005. The future status of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights remains to be determined.
- Main article: History of Israel
The earliest known mention of the name 'Israel', probably refering to a group of people rather than to a place, is the Egyptian Merneptah Stele dated to about 1210 BCE. For over 3,000 years, Jews have held the Land of Israel to be their homeland, both as a Holy Land and as a Promised Land. The Land of Israel holds a special place in Jewish religious obligations, encompassing Judaism's most important sites including the remains of the First and Second Temple, as well as the rites concerning those temples. Starting around 1200 BCE, a series of Jewish kingdoms and states existed intermittently in the region for over a millennium until the failure of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire resulted in widescale expulsion of Jews (see Destruction of Jerusalem). Recent archeological evidence suggests that the Kingdoms of David and Solomon may have existed.
Under Babylonian, Roman, Byzantine, and (briefly) Sassanian rule, Jewish presence in the province dwindled due to mass expulsions, but the Mishnah and Jerusalem Talmud, two of Judaism's most important religious texts, were composed in the region during this period. The Arabs conquered the land from the Eastern Roman Empire in 638 CE. The area was ruled by various Arab states (interrupted by the rule of the Crusaders) before becoming part of the Ottoman Empire in 1517.
Throughout the centuries, the size of the Jewish population in the land fluctuated widely, with the population in the region of present day Israel numbering approximately 20-25,000 in 1881 of a total population of 470,000. An official British census in 1844, however, showed that in Jerusalem, Jews were more numerous than Muslims and Christians.
Zionism and Aliyah
Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), a Hungarian Jew, founded the Zionist movement. In 1896, he published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), in which he called for the establishment of a national Jewish state. The following year he helped convene the first World Zionist Congress. The first wave of Jewish immigration to Israel, or Aliyah (עלייה) started in the late 1800s as Jews fled persecution or followed Socialist Zionist ideas of Moses Hess and others of "redemption of the soil". Jews bought up land from Ottoman and individual Arab landholders. After the Jews established agricultural settlements, tensions erupted between the Jews and Arabs.
The end of the 19th century saw the founding of Zionism, the national movement to create a Jewish political entity in Palestine, leading to the Second Aliyah during the first two decades of the 20th century with the influx of around 40,000 Jews. In 1917 the British Foreign Secretary Arthur J. Balfour issued the historic Balfour Declaration that "view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people". In 1920 Palestine became a League of Nations mandate administered by Britain (see British Mandate of Palestine).
Jewish immigration resumed in third and fourth waves after World War I. Later, the rise of Nazism in 1933 led to a fifth wave of Aliyah, and the Jews in the region increased from 11% of the population in 1922 to 30% by 1940. The subsequent Holocaust in Europe led to additional immigration from other parts of Europe. By the end of World War II, the number of Jews in Palestine was approximately 600,000.
Its other stated policy was to establish a system under which both Jews and Arabs were to share one government. As a result of impending world war, the plan was never fully implemented, but the White Paper policy was implemented well into the end of WWII, and enforced even when refugees escaping the Holocaust were fleeing from Nazi persecution. (See Struma article.)
Establishment of the State and the War of Independence
In 1947, following increasing levels of violence by militant groups, alongside unsuccessful efforts to reconcile the Jewish and Arab populations, the British government decided to withdraw from the Palestine Mandate. Fulfillment of the 1947 UN Partition Plan would have divided the mandated territory into two states, Jewish and Arab, giving about half the land area to each state. Under this plan, Jerusalem was intended to be an international region under UN administration to avoid conflict over its status. Immediately following the adoption of the Partition Plan by the United Nations General Assembly, the Palestinian Arab leadership rejected the plan to create the as-yet-unnamed Jewish state and launched a guerilla war that included attacks on Jewish civilians. The Irgun retaliated with attacks on Arab civilians.
On May 14 1948, before the expiring of the British Mandate of Palestine on midnight of the May 15 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed. The surrounding Arab states supported the Palestinian Arabs in rejecting both the Partition Plan and the establishment of Israel, and the armies of six Arab nations attacked the State of Israel. Over the next 15 months Israel captured an additional 26% of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan river and annexed it to the new state. Most of the Arab population fled or were expelled during the war. The continuing conflict between Israel and the Arab world resulted in a lasting displacement that persists to this day. Template:See3
Immigration of Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab lands doubled Israel's population within a year of independence. Over the following decade approximately 600,000 Mizrahi Jews, who fled or were expelled from surrounding Arab countries, migrated to Israel (with another 300,000 or so settling in France and North America, leaving only a tiny remnant, mostly in Morocco and Tunisia). Israel's Jewish population continued to grow at a very high rate for some years, and was fed by further waves of Jewish immigration following the collapse of the USSR.
The refusal of Arab countries to recognize the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 has been a source of repeated wars and other conflicts with Arab nations such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The state of war between Egypt and Israel ended with the signing of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty on March 26, 1979. The state of war with Jordan officially ended with the signing of the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace on October 26 1994. Sporadic negotiations with Lebanon and Syria 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.
Palestinians want Gaza and the West Bank to become part of a (preferably contiguous) future state. Gaza has been forcibly evacuated of all Jewish settlers due to the withdrawal ordered by Ariel Sharon, however the future of the West Bank, comprising a large chunk of land in Israel, historical Judaea, is yet to be determined. Israel currently plans on expanding existing large West Bank settlement blocs, and maintains the current impasse in the peace process —negotiations toward a permanent peace treaty featuring a two-state solution— cannot be restarted until the Palestinian government dismantles terrorist groups.
- 1948 Arab-Israeli War "The Independence War" (see also: 1949 Armistice Agreements). Also called "War of Liberation" מלחמת העצמאות או מלחמת השחרור
- 1956 Suez War "Operation Kadesh" מבצע קדש או מלחמת סיני
- 1967 Six Day War מלחמת ששת הימים
- 1970 War of Attrition מלחמת ההתשה
- 1973 Yom Kippur War מלחמת יום כיפור
- 1982 Lebanon War "Operation Peace For Galilee" מבצע שלום הגליל
- 1987 First Intifada אינתיפדה
- 1990/1 Gulf War מלחמת המפרץ
- 2000 al-Aqsa Intifada אינתיפדת אל-אקצא The Israeli Defense Forces codenamed it "אירועי גיאות ושפל" ("Ebb and Tide events") but it is unofficially referred to as the Oslo War in some Israeli circles.
Politics and law
Israel is a parliamentary democracy based on universal suffrage and proportional representation. Israel's legislative branch is a 120-member parliament known as the Knesset. Membership in the Knesset is allocated to parties based on their proportion of the vote. Elections to the Knesset are normally held every four years, but the Knesset can decide to dissolve itself ahead of time by a simple majority, known as a vote of no-confidence.
The President of Israel is head of state, serving as a largely ceremonial figurehead. The President selects the leader of the majority party or ruling coalition in the Knesset as the Prime Minister, who serves as head of government.2
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. In mid-2003, the Knesset's Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee began drafting a full written Constitution to be proposed to the Knesset floor. This effort is still underway as of late 2005.
The declaration of the State of Israel has a significance in this matter as well. Israel's legal system is a western legal system best classified as "mixed": it has a strong Anglo-American influence, but in some parts has borrowed heavily from civil law tradition. Despite the Anglo-American influence, the jury system was not adopted in Israel, and court cases are decided by professional judges.
Judiciary and Legal System
The Judiciary branch of Israel is made of a three-tier system of courts: at the lowest level are the Magistrate Courts, situated in most cities. Above them, serving both as an appellate court and as a court of first instance are the District Courts (six of them, situated in the six judicial districts of Jerusalem, South, Tel Aviv, Centre, Haifa and Nazareth). At the top of the judicial pyramid is the Supreme Court seated in Jerusalem. The current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is Aharon Barak. Religious tribunals (Jewish, Sharia'a, Druze and Christian) have exclusive jurisdiction on annulment of marriages. The Israeli Supreme Court serves a dual role as the highest court of appeals and as the body for a separate institution known as the High Court of Justice. The HCOJ has the unique responsibility of addressing petitions presented to the Court by individual citizens. The respondents to these petitions are usually Governmental agencies (including the Israel Defense Forces). The result of such petitions, which are decided by the HCOJ, may be an instruction by the HCOJ to the relevant Governmental agency to act in a manner prescribed by the HCOJ.
Judges are elected by a committee made of Members of the Knesset (Parliament), Supreme Courts Judges and Members of the Israeli Bar. According to the Courts Law, judges retire at the age of 70. Registrars to all courts are appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, with the approval of the Minister of Justice.
Israel's legal system is part of the Western legal systems. It is a mixed system, influenced by Anglo-American, Continental and Jewish law principles. As for the Anglo-American influence, the Israeli legal system is based on the principle of stare-decisis (precedent). It is an adversarial system, not an inquisitorial one, in the sense that the parties (e.g. plaintiff and defendant) are the ones that bring the evidence before the court. The court does not conduct any independent investigation on the case. There is no jury in Israeli courts, and cases are decided upon by professional judges. As for Civil Law influences, several major Israeli statutes (such as the Contract Law) are based on Civil Law principles. Israeli statute body is not comprised of Codes, but rather of individual statutes. However, a Civil Code draft has been completed recently, and is planned to become a bill.
- Main article: Israel Defense Forces
Israel's military consists of a unified Israel Defense Forces (IDF), known in Hebrew by the acronym Tzahal (צה"ל). Historically, there have been no separate Israeli military services. The Navy and Air Force are subordinate to the Army. There are other paramilitary government agencies which deal with different aspects of Israel's security (such as MAGAV and the Shin Bet). See further discussion: Israel Security Forces.
The IDF is considered one of the strongest military forces in the Middle East and ranks among the most battle-trained armed forces in the world, having had to defend the country in five major wars. The IDF's main resource is the training quality of its soldiers, but it also relies heavily on high-tech weapons systems (both developed and manufactured in Israel for its specific needs, and also largely imported from the United States), and expert manpower, rather than possession of overwhelming manpower. Most Israelis, males and females, are drafted into the military at the age of 18. Exceptions are Israeli Arabs, confirmed pacifists, those who cannot serve due to injury or disability, and women who declare themselves religiously observant. Compulsory service is three years for men, and 20 months for women. Circassians and Bedouin actively enlist in the IDF. Since 1956, Druze men have been conscripted in the same way as Jewish men, at the request of the Druze community. Men studying full-time in religious institutions can get a deferment from conscription; most Haredi Jews extend these deferments until they are too old to be conscripted, a practice that has fueled much controversy in Israel. Following compulsory service, Israeli men become part of the IDF reserve forces, and are usually required to serve several weeks every year as reservists, until their 40's.
- Main article: Geography of Israel
The total area of the sovereign territory of Israel —excluding all territories captured by Israel in 1967 — is 20,770 (20,330 land) square km; the total area under Israeli law —including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights — is 22,145 (21,671 land) square km; the total area under Israeli control — including the military-controlled and Palestinian-governed territory of the West Bank — is 28,023 (27,549 land) square km. Template:See2
As of 2004, The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics defines three metropolitan areas: Tel Aviv (population 2,933,300), Haifa (population 980,600) and Be'er Sheva a.k.a. Be'ersheba (population 511,700) . Jerusalem may also be considered a metropolitan area, though its limits are hard to define since it spans communities in Israel proper and the West Bank, both Israeli and Palestinian, and even the boundaries of Jerusalem city itself are disputed. As of 2005, the official population of Jerusalem city is 706,368.
- Main article: Economy of Israel
Israel has a technologically advanced market economy with substantial government participation. It depends on imports of fossil fuels (crude oil, natural gas, and coal), grains, beef, raw materials, and military equipment. Despite limited natural resources, Israel has intensively developed its agricultural and industrial sectors over the past 20 years. Israel is largely self-sufficient in food production except for grains and beef. Diamonds, high-technology, military equipment, software, pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals, and agricultural products (fruits, vegetables, and flowers) are leading exports. Israel usually posts sizable current account deficits, which are covered by large transfer payments from abroad and by foreign loans. Israel possesses extensive facilities for oil refining, diamond polishing, and semiconductor fabrication.
Roughly half of the government's external debt is owed to the U.S., which is its major source of economic and military aid. A relatively large fraction of Israel's external debt is held by individual investors, via the Israel Bonds program. The combination of American loan guarantees and direct sales to individual investors, allow the state to borrow at competitive and sometimes below-market rates.
The influx of Jewish immigrants from the former USSR topped 750,000 during the period 1989-1999, bringing the population of Israel from the former Soviet Union to 1 million, one-sixth of the total population, and adding scientific and professional expertise of substantial value for the economy's future. The influx, coupled with the opening of new markets at the end of the Cold War, energized Israel's economy, which grew rapidly in the early 1990s. But growth began slowing in 1996 when the government imposed tighter fiscal and monetary policies and the immigration bonus petered out. Those policies brought inflation down to record low levels in 1999.
- Main article: Demographics of Israel
Among Jews, 68% were Sabras (Israeli-born), mostly second or third generation Israelis, and the rest are olim — 22% from Europe and the Americas, and 10% from Asia and Africa, including the Arab countries.
Israel has two official languages; Hebrew and Arabic (See also: Languages of Israel). Hebrew is the major and primary language of the state and is spoken by the majority of the population. Arabic is spoken by the large Arab minority and by some members of the Mizrahi and Teimani Jewish communities. English is studied in school and is widely understood. Other languages spoken in Israel include Russian, Yiddish, Ladino, Romanian and French. American and European popular television shows are commonly presented. Newspapers can be found in all languages listed above as well as others, such as Farsi.
As of 2004, 224,200 Israeli citizens lived in the West Bank in numerous Israeli settlements, (including towns such as Ma'ale Adummim and Ariel, and a handful of communities that were present long before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and were re-established after the Six-Day War such as Hebron and Gush Etzion). Around 180,000 Israelis lived in East Jerusalem , which came under Israeli law following its capture from Jordan during the Six-Day War. About 8,500 Israelis lived in settlements built in the Gaza Strip, prior to their evacuation by the government in the summer of 2005 as part of Israel's unilateral disengagement plan.
On December 25, 2005, Israel's Council for Children's Welfare released its annual report, revealing that every third child in the country lives under the poverty line. After reviewing the report, Israel's President, Moshe Katsav stated in a press conference: "we have failed defending children."
Religion in Israel
- Main article: Religion in Israel
According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, at the end of 2004, 76.2% of Israelis were Jews by religion. Muslims made up 16.1% of Israelis, 2.1% were Christian, 1.6% were Druze and the remaining 3.9% (including Russian immigrants and some Jews) were not classified by religion. Israel, however, is not a theocracy and religions other than Judaism are supported.
Roughly 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" (termed "hiloni"). Among the seculars, 53% believe in God.
Israelis tend not to align themselves with a movement of Judaism (such as Reform Judaism or Conservative Judaism) but instead tend to define their religious affiliation by degree of their religious practice.
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, Israel's Parliament. In 1980, the Israeli Knesset confirmed Jerusalem's status as the nation's "eternal and indivisible capital", by passing the Basic Law: Jerusalem — Capital of Israel. However, many countries dissent from 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 control, 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.
- List of Israelis
- Cities in Israel
- Communications in Israel
- Transportation in Israel
- Military of Israel
- Foreign relations of Israel
- Israeli-occupied territories
- Israel and the United Nations
- Ha-Mossad le-Modiin ule-Tafkidim Meyuhadim (aka Mossad)
- Violence against Israelis
- List of universities in Israel
- Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange
Annotated List of Israeli Media Sources
- The Printed Media: Israel's Newspapers Summary from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- List of Israeli newspapers
- Azure  English edition of the quarterly journal offering essays and criticism on Israeli and Jewish public policy, culture and philosophy
- Globes  English-language website of Israel's business and technology daily
- Ha'Aretz  Online English edition of the relatively highbrow Hebrew-language newspaper, Haaretz has a liberal editorial stance similar to that of The Guardian.
- IsraelInsider  - Independent, right wing outlet. Target audience is American Jewry.
- Jerusalem Newswire  Independent, right-wing Christian-run news outlet
- The Jerusalem Post  Israel's oldest English-language newspaper, considered to have a right-of-center editorial slant
- Jerusalem Report  Left-of-center English weekly newspaper
- YNetNews  English-language website of Israel's largest newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth
- Globes  business and technology daily
- Ha'Aretz  Relatively highbrow Israeli newspaper with a liberal editorial stance similar to that of The Guardian
- Hamodia Daily newspaper serving Israel's Haredi community. English editions are also published in the U.S. and the U.K. and serve local Jewish Orthodox communities in those countries. Hamodia is not available online.
- Hazofe  daily newspaper with a religious Zionist point of view
- Maariv  Second largest Israeli newspaper, centrist.
Template:Col-2 Hebrew-language periodicals (continued):
- Makor Rishon  Conservative weekly newspaper
- Tchelet  Hebrew edition of Azure, a quarterly journal covering Israeli public policy
- Yated Ne'eman Daily newspaper serving the Haredi community
- Yedioth Ahronoth  Israel's largest newspaper, centrist
- Al-Ittihad Arabic-language daily newspaper
Israeli broadcast media:
- Israel Broadcasting Authority, TV News in Hebrew, some English.
- Radio Israel
- Arutz Sheva news site representing the settler community, right-wing religious (English)
- Kol Israel - Voice of Israel Also produced by the IBA. In Hebrew, French, English, Spanish, Ladino, Russian, Persian, Yiddish, etc.
- IsraCast - Independent, multimedia broadcast and distribution network that focuses on Israeli foreign affairs and defense issues (English)
Notable Internet sources:
- DailyAlert  daily digest of Israeli and world media reports on Israel and the Middle East prepared by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs for the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations
- Indymedia Israel , primarily left-wing and anti-zionist, mostly in Hebrew
Relevant non-Israeli media:
- Electronic Intifada , website offering news and commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a Palestinian perspective
- Template:Google Video Search
- Jewish Telegraphic Agency , New York-based news agency covering worldwide Jewish news, centrist (English)
- Tel Aviv travel guide with information about sightseeing and activities in and around Tel Aviv