Information about Israel

Location: Israel

Israel is a country in Western Asia located on 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, the Gaza Strip and Egypt on the southwest, and contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area.

Despite its small size, Israel is home to a variety of geographic features, from the Negev desert in the south to the mountain ranges of the Galilee, Carmel and 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.[143] 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.

Israel is the world's only predominantly Jewish state, with a population estimated in May of 2010 to be 7,602,400 people, of whom 6,051,000 are Jewish. Arab citizens of Israel form the country's second-largest ethnic group, which includes Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Samaritans. According to the May 2010 population estimate these people number 1,551,400, including nearly 300,000 non-Citizens living in East Jerusalem. The modern State of Israel has its historical and religious roots in the Biblical Land of Israel, also known as Zion, a concept central to Judaism since ancient times. Political Zionism took shape in the late-19th century and the Balfour Declaration of 1917 formalized British policy preferring the establishment of a Jewish state. Following World War I, the League of Nations granted Great Britain the Mandate for Palestine, which included responsibility for securing "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people".

In November 1947, the United Nations voted in favor of the partition of Palestine, proposing the creation of a Jewish state, an Arab state, and an UN-administered Jerusalem. Partition was accepted by Zionist leaders but rejected by Arab leaders, leading to civil war. Israel declared independence on 14 May 1948 and neighboring Arab states attacked the next day. Since then, Israel has fought a series of wars with neighboring Arab states, and in consequence occupied territories, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, beyond those delineated in the 1949 Armistice Agreements. Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, but efforts to resolve conflict with the Palestinians have so far only met with limited success and some of Israel's international borders remain in dispute.

Israel is a developed country and a representative democracy with a parliamentary system and universal suffrage. The Prime Minister serves as head of government and the Knesset serves as Israel's legislative body. The economy, based on the nominal gross domestic product, was the 41st-largest in the world in 2008. Israel ranks highest among Middle Eastern countries on the UN Human Development Index, and has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Jerusalem is the country's capital, although it is not recognized internationally as such, while Israel's main financial center is Tel Aviv. In 2010, Israel was accepted as a member of the OECD.

The Land of Israel, known in Hebrew as Eretz Yisrael, has been sacred to the Jewish people since Biblical times. According to the Torah, God promised the Land of Israel to the three Patriarchs of the Jewish people; scholars have placed this period in the early 2nd millennium BCE. Based on the Bible, around the 11th century BCE, the first of a series of Israelite kingdoms and states, the Kingdom of Israel, established rule over the region. Other Israelite kingdoms and states ruled intermittently for the following one thousand years, and are known from various extra-biblical sources.
Between the time of the Israelite kingdoms and the 7th-century Muslim conquests, the Land of Israel fell under Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Sassanian, and Byzantine rule. Jewish presence in the region dwindled after the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE. Nevertheless, a continuous Jewish presence in the Land of Israel remained, with the Jewish religious center moving to the Galilee.


The Mishnah and part of the Talmud, central Jewish texts, were composed during the 2nd to 4th centuries CE in Tiberias and Jerusalem. Following years of persecution at the hands of Byzantine rulers, the Jews revolted in 610 CE, allying themselves with the Persian invaders; capturing Jerusalem, the Persians and Jews killed many thousands of Christians and destroyed many churches. Recapturing Jerusalem in 628/9 CE, Byzantine Emperor Heraclius conducted a massacre and expulsion of the Jews. The Land of Israel was then captured from the Byzantine Empire around 635 CE during the initial Muslim conquests. Control of the region transferred between the Umayyads, Abbasids, and Crusaders over the next six centuries, before falling in the hands of the Mamluk Sultanate, in 1260. In 1516, the Land of Israel was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the region until the 20th century.

Jews living in the Diaspora have long aspired to return to Zion and the Land of Israel, though the amount of human effort that should be spent towards such aim is a matter of dispute in Judaism. That hope and yearning was articulated in the Bible, and is 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, 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 large wave of "modern" immigration, known as the First Aliyah, began in 1881, as Jews fled pogroms in Eastern Europe. Although the Zionist movement already existed in theory, 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 state; the following year he presided over the first World Zionist Congress.

The Second Aliyah (1904–1914), began after the Kishinev pogrom; some 40,000 Jews settled in Palestine, but nearly half of them left. Both the first and second waves of migrants were mainly Orthodox Jews, but those in the Second Aliyah included socialist pioneers who established the kibbutz movement. During World War I, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued what became known as the Balfour Declaration, which "view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people". At the request of Edwin Samuel Montagu and Lord Curzon, a line was also inserted stating "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 of battalions composed primarily of Zionist volunteers, assisted in the British conquest of Palestine. Arab opposition to the plan led to the 1920 Palestine riots and the formation of the Jewish organization known as the Haganah (meaning "The Defense" in Hebrew), from which the Irgun and Lehi paramilitary groups split off. In 1922, the League of Nations granted the United Kingdom a mandate over Palestine under terms similar to the Balfour Declaration. The population of the area at that 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 in the 1930s led to the Fifth Aliyah, with an influx of a quarter of a million Jews. This caused the Arab revolt of 1936–1939 and led the British to cap immigration 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.

After 1945, Britain found itself in fierce conflict with the Jewish community, as the Haganah joined Irgun and Lehi in armed struggle against British rule. At the same time, thousands of Jewish refugees from Europe sought shelter in Palestine and were turned away or rounded up and placed in detention camps by the British. In 1947, the British government withdrew from the Mandate of Palestine, stating it was unable to arrive at a solution acceptable to both Arabs and Jews. The newly created United Nations approved the Partition Plan for Palestine (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181) on November 29, 1947, which sought to divide the country into two states—one Arab and one Jewish. Jerusalem was to be designated an international city—a corpus separatum—administered by the UN.

The Jewish community accepted the plan, but the Arab League and Arab Higher Committee rejected it. On December 1, 1947, the Arab Higher Committee proclaimed a three-day strike, and Arab bands began attacking Jewish targets. Jews were initially on the defensive as civil war broke out, but they gradually moved onto the offensive. The Palestinian Arab economy collapsed and 250,000 Palestinian-Arabs fled or were expelled.

On May 14, 1948, the day before the expiration of the British Mandate, the Jewish Agency proclaimed independence, naming the country Israel. The following day, the armies of four Arab countries—Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq—attacked Israel, 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. 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. Meanwhile, Israel was accepted as a member of the United Nations by majority vote on May 11, 1949. According to UN estimates, 711,000 Arabs, or about 80% of the initial Arab population of the area that became Israel, were expelled or fled the country during the conflict. The fate of these Palestinian refugees remains a major point of contention in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

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 in their original countries. Consequently, the population of Israel rose from 800,000 to two million between 1948 and 1958. Most 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 of Israel accepting financial compensation from Germany for the Holocaust.

In the 1950s, Israel was frequently attacked by Palestinian fedayeen, mainly from the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip. 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 captured the Sinai Peninsula but was pressured to withdraw by the United States and the Soviet Union 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, an architect of the Final Solution, in Argentina and brought him to trial. The trial had a major impact on public awareness of the Holocaust, and Eichmann remains the only person ever to be executed by order of an Israeli court
In 1967, as a result of the Six-Day War, Israel gained control of the West Bank, 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 has applied civilian law to the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, incorporating them into its territory and offering their inhabitants permanent residency status and the possibility to become full citizen if they asked it. In contrast, the West Bank has remained under military occupation, and it and the Gaza Strip 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 incorporation 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, determined 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. 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. The population is 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 from 1967 to 2005. In 2005, as part of Israel's unilateral disengagement plan, Israel removed all of its residents and forces from the territory. 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 EU, the PA and Egypt governed how border crossing would take place (it was monitored by European observers), until June 2006, following the abduction of the soldier Gilad Shalit, when the crossing agreement ceased to exist. As of 2010 the Rafah border crossing was controlled by Egypt. Internal control of Gaza is in the hands of Hamas.