2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Countries; Middle Eastern Countries

מדינת ישראל
Medīnat Yisrā'el
دولة إسرائيل
Dawlat Isrā'īl

State of Israel
Flag of Israel Coat of arms of Israel
Flag Coat of arms
Anthem: Hatikvah  ("The Hope")
Location of Israel
Capital Jerusalem
31°47′N 35°13′E
Largest city Jerusalem
Official languages Hebrew, Arabic
Government Parliamentary democracy
 - President Moshe Katsav
 - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Independence from the United Kingdom 
 - Declaration 14 May 1948 (05 Iyar 5708) 
 - Total 22,1451 km² ( 151th)
8,5501 sq mi 
 - Water (%) ~2
 - May 2006 estimate 7,047,0012 ( 99th)
 - 1995 census 5,548,523
 - Density 324/km² ( 34th)
787/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $163.45 billion ( 53rd)
 - Per capita $23,416 ( 28th)
HDI  (2006) 0.927 (high) ( 23rd)
Currency New Israeli sheqel (₪) ( ILS)
Time zone IST ( UTC+2)
 - Summer ( DST) ( UTC+3)
Internet TLD .il
Calling code +972
1 Includes the Golan Heights (UN figure).
2 Includes Israeli population living in the West Bank.

Israel (Hebrew: מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל , Medinat Yisra'el; Arabic: دَوْلَةْ إِسْرَائِيل‎, Dawlat Isrā'īl), officially the State of Israel, is a country in Western Asia on the southeastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Lebanon in the north, Syria and Jordan in the east, and Egypt in the south-west and has a population of over seven million people.

Proclaimed independent in 1948, Israel is the world's only Jewish state, although its population includes citizens of many ethnic and religious backgrounds (see Israelis). According to the international data reported by Freedom House, the degree of political rights and civil liberties in Israel makes it the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, consisting of a multi-party system and separation of powers.

Israel has a vibrant cultural life and a technologically and industrially advanced economy. Israel was ranked 23rd out of 177 countries in the 2006 United Nations Human Development Index, the highest ranking in the Middle East and third highest in Asia.


The name "Israel" is rooted in the Hebrew Bible, Genesis 32:28, where Jacob is renamed Israel after successfully wrestling with an angel of God. The biblical nation fathered by Jacob was then called "The Children of Israel" or the " Israelites."

The modern country was named State of Israel, and its citizens are referred to as Israelis in English. Other rejected name proposals included Eretz Israel, Zion, Judea and New Judea. The use of the term Israeli to refer to a citizen of Israel was decided by the Government of Israel in the weeks immediately after independence and announced by Foreign Minister Moshe Shertok.


Historical roots

The first historical record of the word "Israel" comes from an Egyptian stele documenting military campaigns in Canaan. Although this stele which referred to a people (the determinative for 'country' was absent) is dated to approximately 1211 BCE, Jewish tradition holds that the Land of Israel has been a Jewish Holy Land and Promised land for three thousand years. The land of Israel holds a special place in Jewish religious obligations, encompassing Judaism's most important sites (such as the remains of the First and Second Temples of the Jewish King, Solomon). Connected with these two versions of the temple are religiously significant rites which stand as the origin for many aspects of modern Judaism. Starting around the eleventh century BCE, the first of a series of Jewish kingdoms and states established intermittent rule over the region that lasted more than a millennium.

The holy Menorah sacked from Jerusalem, as seen on the Arch of Titus. Traditionally, Jews are forbidden from walking under the arch as it is taken to express the sovereignty of Titus over the Jews.
The holy Menorah sacked from Jerusalem, as seen on the Arch of Titus. Traditionally, Jews are forbidden from walking under the arch as it is taken to express the sovereignty of Titus over the Jews.

Under Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and (briefly) Sassanian rule, Jewish presence in the region dwindled because of mass expulsions. In particular, the failure of the Bar Kokhba's revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE resulted in a large-scale expulsion of Jews. It was during this time that the Romans gave the name Syria Palaestina to the geographic area, in an attempt to erase Jewish ties to the land. Nevertheless, the Jewish presence in Palestine remained constant. The main Jewish population shifted from the Judea region to the Galilee. The Mishnah and Jerusalem Talmud, two of Judaism's most important religious texts, were composed in the region during this period. The Muslims conquered the land from the Byzantine Empire in 638 CE. The Hebrew niqqud was invented in Tiberias during this time. The area was ruled by the Omayyads, then by the Abbasids, Crusaders, the Kharezmians and Mongols, before becoming part of the empire of the Mamluks (1260-1516) and the Ottoman Empire in 1517.

Zionism and Immigration

State of Israel

Land of Israel · Districts · Cities
Transportation · Mediterranean
Dead Sea · Red Sea · Sea of Galilee
Jerusalem · Tel Aviv · Haifa


Jewish history · Timeline · Zionism · Aliyah
Herzl · Balfour · Mandate · 1947 UN Plan
Independence · Flag · Austerity · Refugees

Arab-Israeli conflict · Proposals

1948 War · 1949 Armistice · Suez War
Six-Day War · Attrition War
Yom Kippur War · Lebanon War
Israel-Lebanon conflict
Peace treaties with: Egypt, Jordan

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Timeline · Peace process · Peace camp
1st Intifada · Oslo · 2nd Intifada
Terrorism · Barrier · Disengagement


Science & technology · Companies
Tourism · Wine · Diamonds
Military industry

Demographics · Culture

Religion · Israeli Arabs · Kibbutz
Music · Archaeology · Universities
Hebrew · Literature · Sport · Israelis

Laws · Politics

Law of Return · Jerusalem Law
Parties · Elections · PM · President
Knesset · Supreme Court · Courts

Foreign affairs

Intl. Law · UN · US · Arab League

Security Forces

Israel Defense Forces
Intelligence Community · Security Council
Police · Border Police · Prison Service


Jews living in the Diaspora have sought to emigrate into Israel throughout the centuries. For example, in 1141 Yehuda Halevi issued a call to the Jews to emigrate to Eretz Israel and eventually died in Jerusalem. In 1267, Nahmanides settled in Jerusalem and since then a continual Jewish presence in Jerusalem has been maintained. Yosef Karo immigrated to the large Jewish community in Safed in 1535. Waves of immigration also occurred, for example in the years 1209-1211, the "aliyah of the Rabbis of France and England" to Acre became famous as in 1258 and 1266. In 1260, Yechiel of Paris emigrated to Acre along with his son and a large group of followers. Small waves of immigration occurred during the 18th century out of religious motives, famously Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and 300 of his followers, Judah he-Hasid and over 1000 disciples, and over five hundred disciples (and their families) of the Vilna Gaon known as Perushim. Waves of rabbinical students immigrated in 1808-1809, settling in Tiberias, Safed and then in Jerusalem.

In 1860, the old Jewish community in Jerusalem started building neighborhoods outside the walls of the Old City (the first one being Mishkenot Sha’ananim). In 1878, the first modern agricultural settlement was founded in the form of Petah Tikva.

The first big wave of modern immigration to Israel, or Aliyah (עלייה) started in 1881 as Jews fled growing persecution, or followed the Socialist Zionist ideas of Moses Hess and others of "redemption of the soil." Jews bought land from Ottoman and individual Arab landholders. After Jews established agricultural settlements, tensions erupted between the Jews and Arabs.

Theodor Herzl (1860–1904), an Austro-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 establishment of Zionism led to the Second Aliyah (1904–1914) with the influx of around forty thousand Jews. In 1917, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur J. Balfour issued the 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.

Jewish immigration resumed in third (1919–1923) and fourth (1924–1929) waves after World War I. A massacre of Jews by Arabs in 1929 killed 133 Jews, including 67 in Hebron.

The rise of Nazism in 1933 led to a fifth wave of Aliyah. The Jews in the region increased from 11% of the population in 1922 to 30% by 1940. 28% of the land was already bought and owned by Zionist organizations plus additional private land owned by Jews. The southern half of the country is the barren and mostly empty Negev desert. 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.

In 1939, the British introduced a White Paper of 1939, which limited Jewish immigration over the course of the war to 75,000 and restricted purchase of land by Jews, perhaps in response to the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. The White Paper was seen as a betrayal by the Jewish community and Zionists, who perceived it as being in conflict with the Balfour Declaration. The Arabs were not entirely satisfied either, as they wanted Jewish immigration halted completely. However, the White Paper guided British policy until the end of the term of their Mandate. As a result, many Jews fleeing to Palestine to avoid Nazi persecution and the Holocaust were intercepted and returned to Europe. Two specific examples of this policy involved the ships Struma and Exodus (carrying Holocaust survivors in 1947).

Attempts by Jews to circumvent the blockade and flee Europe became known as Aliya Beth.

Jewish Underground groups

As tensions grew between the Jewish and Arab populations, and with little apparent support from the British Mandate authorities, the Jewish community began to rely on itself for defense.

Monument in Ramat Gan commemorating the rebels hanged by the British.
Monument in Ramat Gan commemorating the rebels hanged by the British.

Many Arabs, opposed to the Balfour Declaration, the mandate, and the Jewish National Home, instigated riots and pogroms against Jews in Jerusalem, Hebron, Jaffa, and Haifa. As a result of the 1921 Arab attacks, the Haganah was formed to protect Jewish settlements. The Haganah was mostly defensive in nature, which among other things caused several members to split off and form the militant group Irgun (initially known as Hagana Bet) in 1931. The Irgun adhered to a much more active approach, which included attacks and initiation of armed actions against the British, such as attacking British military headquarters, the King David Hotel, which killed 91 people. Haganah, on the other hand, often preferred restraint. A further split occurred when Avraham Stern left the Irgun to form Lehi, (also known as the Stern Gang) which was much more extreme in its methods. Unlike the Irgun, they refused any co-operation with the British during World War II and even attempted to work with the Nazis to secure European Jewry's emigration to Palestine.

These groups had an enormous impact on events and procedures in the period preceding the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, such as Aliya Beth (the clandestine immigration from Europe), the forming of the Israel Defense Forces, and the withdrawal of the British, as well as to a great degree forming the foundation of the political parties which exist in Israel today.

Establishment of the State of Israel

Ben-Gurion pronounces the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv.
Ben-Gurion pronounces the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv.

In 1947, following increasing levels of violence from groups such as Irgun and Lehi, uncontrollable immigration from Europe and general war-weariness, the British government decided to withdraw from the Palestine Mandate. The UN General Assembly approved the 1947 UN Partition Plan dividing the territory into two states, with the Jewish area consisting of roughly 55% of the land, and the Arab area roughly 45%. Jerusalem was planned to be an international region administered by the UN to avoid conflict over its status.

Immediately following the adoption of the Partition Plan by the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947, David Ben-Gurion tentatively accepted the partition, while the Arab League rejected it. The Arab Higher Committee immediately ordered a violent three-day strike on Jewish civilians, attacking buildings, shops, and neighborhoods, and prompting counter-attacks organized by underground Jewish militias like the Lehi and Irgun. These attacks soon turned into widespread fighting between Arabs and Jews, this civil war being the first "phase" of the 1948 War of Independence.

The State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948, one day before the expiry of the Palestine Mandate.

Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations on May 11, 1949.

1948 War of Independence and migration

Following the State of Israel's establishment, the armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq joined the fighting and began the second phase of the 1948 Arab – Israeli War. From the north, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, were all but stopped relatively close to the borders. Jordanian forces, invading from the east, captured East Jerusalem and laid siege on the city's west. However, forces of the Haganah successfully stopped most invading forces, and Irgun forces halted Egyptian encroachment from the south. At the beginning of June, the UN declared a one-month ceasefire during which the Israel Defense Forces were officially formed. After numerous months of war, a ceasefire was declared in 1949 and temporary borders, known as the Green Line, were instituted. Israel had gained an additional 26% of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan River. Jordan, for its part, held the large mountainous areas of Judea and Samaria, which became known as the West Bank. Egypt took control of a small strip of land along the coast, which became known as the Gaza Strip.

During and after the war, then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion set about establishing order by dismantling the Palmach and underground organizations like the Irgun and Lehi. Those two groups were classified as terror organizations after the murder of Folke Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat.

Large numbers of the Arab population fled the newly-created Jewish State during the Palestinian exodus, which is referred to by many Palestinian groups and individuals as the Nakba (Arabic: النكبة), meaning "disaster" or "cataclysm". Some Israeli historians suggest that the Palestinians fled because of orders from Arab generals. Many Palestinians left under the belief that the Arab armies would prevail and they would return. Moreover, "Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel" were offered "full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions" in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel; many, however, refused.

Estimates of the final refugee count range from 400,000 to 900,000 with the official United Nations count at 711,000. The continuing conflict between Israel and the Arab world resulted in a lasting displacement that persists to this day.

Immigration of Holocaust survivors and Jewish refugees from Arab lands doubled Israel's population within a year of independence. Over the following years approximately 850,000 Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews fled or were expelled from surrounding Arab countries and Iran. Of these, about 600,000 settled in Israel; the remainder went to Europe and the Americas (see Jewish exodus from Arab lands).

1950s and 1960s

Nazi war criminal Eichmann in a bulletproof glass booth during the open trial in 1961.
Nazi war criminal Eichmann in a bulletproof glass booth during the open trial in 1961.

Between 1954 and 1955, under Moshe Sharett as prime minister, the Lavon Affair – a failed attempt to bomb targets in Egypt – caused political disgrace in Israel. Compounding this, in 1956, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, much to the chagrin of the United Kingdom and France. Following this and a series of Fedayeen attacks, Israel created a secret military alliance with those two European powers and declared war on Egypt. After the Suez Crisis, the three collaborators faced international condemnation, and Israel was forced to withdraw its forces from the Sinai Peninsula.

In 1955, Ben-Gurion once again became prime minister and served as such until his final resignation in 1963. After Ben-Gurion's resignation, Levi Eshkol was appointed to the post.

In 1961, the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who had been largely responsible for the Final Solution, the planned extermination of the Jews of Europe, was captured in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and brought to trial in Israel. Eichmann became the only person ever sentenced to death by the Israeli courts.

Western Wall after Six Day War.
Western Wall after Six Day War.

On the political field, tensions once again arose between Israel and her neighbors in May 1967. Syria, Jordan, and Egypt had been hinting at war , and Egypt expelled UN Peacekeeping Forces from the Gaza Strip. When Egypt closed the strategic Straits of Tiran to Israeli vessels, Israel deemed it a casus belli for pre-emptively attacking Egypt on June 5. In the ensuing Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, Israel defeated the armies of three large Arab states and decimated their air forces. Territorially, Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, and Golan Heights. The Green Line of 1949 became the armistice boundary between Israel and the Occupied Territories (called by Israel the Disputed Territories). The Sinai was later returned to Egypt following the signing of a peace treaty.

In 1967, Israeli aircraft attacked the USS Liberty, killing 34 American servicemen. American and Israeli investigations into the incident concluded that the attack was a tragic accident involving confusion over the identity of the Liberty.

In 1969, Golda Meir, Israel's first and, to date, only female prime minister was elected.


Between 1968 and 1972, a period known as the War of Attrition, numerous scuffles erupted along the border between Israel and Syria and Egypt. Furthermore, in the early 1970s, Palestinian groups embarked on an unprecedented wave of attacks against Israel and Jewish targets in other countries. The climax of this wave occurred at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, when, in the Munich massacre, Palestinian militants held hostage and killed members of the Israeli delegation. Israel responded with Operation Wrath of God, in which agents of Mossad assassinated most of those who were involved in the massacre.

Finally, on October 6, 1973, the day in 1973 of the Jewish Yom Kippur fast, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a surprise attack against Israel. However, despite early successes against an unprepared Israeli army, Egypt and Syria failed to accomplish their goal of regaining the territories lost in 1967. A number of years of relative calm ensued, which fostered the environment in which Israel and Egypt could make peace.

In 1974, Yitzhak Rabin, with Meir's resignation, became Israel's fifth prime minister. Then, in the 1977 Knesset elections, the Ma'arach, the ruling party since 1948, created a storm by leaving the government. The new Likud party, led by Menachem Begin, became the new ruling party.

Then, in November of that year, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, making a historic visit to the Jewish State, spoke before the Knesset: the first recognition of Israel by its Arab neighbors. Military reserves officers formed the Peace Now movement to encourage this effort. Following the visit, the two nations conducted negotiations which led to the signing of the Camp David Accords. In March 1979, Begin and Sadat signed the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty in Washington, DC. As laid out in the treaty, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and evacuated the settlements established there during the 1970s. It was also agreed to lend autonomy to Palestinians across the Green Line.


Ilan Ramon participated in Operation Opera and later became the first Israeli astronaut.
Ilan Ramon participated in Operation Opera and later became the first Israeli astronaut.

On July 7, 1981, the Israeli Air Force bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osiraq in an attempt to foil Iraqi efforts at producing an atomic bomb. This operation was known as Operation Opera.

In 1982, Israel launched an attack against Lebanon, which had been embroiled in the Lebanese Civil War since 1975. The official reason for the attack was to defend Israel's northernmost settlements from terrorist attacks, which had been occurring frequently. However, after establishing a forty-kilometer barrier zone, the IDF continued northward and even captured the capital, Beirut. Israeli forces expelled Palestinian Liberation Organization forces from the country, forcing the organization to relocate to Tunis. Unable to deal with the stress of the ongoing war, Prime Minister Begin resigned from his post in 1983 and was replaced by Yitzhak Shamir. Though Israel withdrew from most of Lebanon in 1986, a buffer zone was maintained until May 2000 when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon.

The rest of the 1980s were spent constantly shifting from the right, led by Yitzhak Shamir, to the left under Shimon Peres. Peres, for example, was prime minister from 1984, but handed the position over to Shamir in 1986 under an agreement reached following the creation of the unity coalition in the aftermath of the 1984 elections. The First Intifadah then broke out in 1987 and was accompanied by waves of violence in the Occupied Territories. Following the outbreak, Shamir once again was elected prime minister, in 1988.


During the Gulf War, Iraq hit Israel with thirty-nine Scud missiles, although Israel was not a member of the coalition and was not involved in the fighting. The missiles didn't kill Israeli citizens directly, but there were some deaths from wrong use of the gas masks provided, one Israeli died from a heart attack following a hit, and one Israeli died from a Patriot missile hit. During the war, Israel also provided gas masks for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The PLO, however, supported Saddam Hussein. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza marched and famously stood on their rooftops while Scud missiles were falling and cheered Saddam Hussein calling for him to bomb Israel with chemical weapons. Ultimately, Palestinians also used the gas masks against Israeli use of tear gas in the coming years.

The early 1990s were marked by the beginning of a massive immigration of Soviet Jews, who, according to the Law of Return, were entitled to become Israeli citizens upon arrival. About 380,000 arrived in 1990-91 alone. Although initially favouring the right, the new immigrants became the target of an aggressive election campaign by Labor, which blamed their employment and housing problems on the ruling Likud. As a result, in the 1992 elections the immigrants voted en masse for Labor, letting the left achieve a 61-59 majority in the 1992 Knesset elections.

Following the elections, Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister, forming a left-wing government coalition. During the election campaign his Labor party promised Israelis a significant improvement in personal security and achievement of a comprehensive peace with the Arabs "within six to nine months" after the elections. By the end of 1993 the government abandoned the framework of Madrid and signed the Oslo Accords with the PLO. In 1994, Jordan became the second of Israel's neighbours to make peace with it.

Yitzhak Rabin is buried in Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
Yitzhak Rabin is buried in Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

The initial wide public support for the Oslo Accords began to wane as Israel was struck by an unprecedented wave of attacks supported by the militant Hamas group, which opposed the accords. Public support slipped even further. On November 4, 1995, a Jewish nationalist militant named Yigal Amir assassinated Rabin.

Public dismay with the assassination created a backlash against Oslo opponents and significantly boosted the chances of Shimon Peres, Rabin's successor and Oslo architect, to win the upcoming 1996 elections. However, a new wave of suicide bombings combined with Arafat's statements extolling the Muslim nationalist militant Yahya Ayyash, made the public mood swing once again and in May 1996 Peres narrowly lost to his challenger from Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Although seen as a hard-liner opposing the Oslo Accords, Netanyahu withdrew from Hebron and signed the Wye River Memorandum giving wider control to the Palestinian National Authority. During Netanyahu's tenure, Israel experienced a lull in attacks against Israel's civilian population by Palestinian groups, but his government fell in 1999. Labor's Ehud Barak beat Netanyahu by a wide margin in the 1999 elections and succeeded him as prime minister.


Barak initiated unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. This process was intended to frustrate Hezbollah attacks on Israel by forcing them to cross Israel's border. Barak and Yassir Arafat once again conducted negotiations with President Clinton at the July 2000 Camp David summit. However, the talks failed. Barak offered to form a Palestinian State initially on 73% of the West Bank and 100% of the Gaza Strip. In ten to twenty-five years, the West Bank area would expand to 90% (94% excluding greater Jerusalem).

After the collapse of the talks, Palestinians began a second uprising, known as the Al-Aqsa Intifadah, just after the leader of the opposition Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The failure of the talks and the outbreak of a new war caused many Israelis on both the right and the left to turn away from Barak, and also discredited the peace movement.

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Ariel Sharon became the new prime minister in March 2001 and consequently was re-elected, along with his Likud party in the Knesset elections of 2003. Sharon initiated a plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip. This disengagement was executed between August and September 2005.

Israel also is building a West Bank Barrier to defend the country from attacks by Palestinian armed groups. The barrier, which is planned to measure 681 kilometers, meanders past the Green Line and effectively annexes 9.5% of the West Bank. The barrier has been met with criticism from the international community and numerous protest demonstrations by the Israeli far-left.

After Ariel Sharon suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke, the powers of the office were passed to Ehud Olmert, who was designated the "Acting" Prime Minister. On April 14, 2006, Olmert was elected Prime Minister after his party, Kadima, Hebrew for "forward," won the most seats in the 2006 legislative elections.

On June 28, 2006, Hamas militants dug a tunnel under the border from the Gaza Strip and attacked an IDF post, capturing an Israeli soldier and killing two others. In response, Israel began Operation Summer Rains, which consisted of heavy bombardment of Hamas targets as well as bridges, roads, and the only power station in Gaza. Israel has also deployed troops into the territory. Israel’s critics have accused it of disproportionate use of force and collective punishment of innocent civilians and not giving diplomacy a chance. Israel argues that they have no other option to get their soldier back and put an end to the rocket attacks into Israel.

The 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict refers to the military conflict in Lebanon and northern Israel, primarily between Hezbollah and Israel, which started on 12 July 2006. The conflict began with a cross-border Hezbollah raid and shelling, which resulted in the capture of two and killing of three Israeli soldiers. Israel held the Lebanese government responsible for the attack, as it was carried out from Lebanese territory, and initiated an air and naval blockade, airstrikes across much of the country, and ground incursions into southern Lebanon. Hezbollah continuously launched rocket attacks into northern Israel and engaged the Israeli Army on the ground with hit-and-run guerrilla attacks. A ceasefire came into effect at 05:00 UTC, 14 August 2006, although violations of the ceasefire have occurred from both sides. The conflict killed over one thousand Lebanese civilians, 440 Hezbollah militants, and 119 Israeli soldiers, as well as forty-four Israeli civilians, and caused massive damage to the civilian infrastructure and cities of Lebanon and damaged thousands of buildings across northern Israel, many of which were completely destroyed.

Geography and climate

Map of Israel
Map of Israel
Relief map of Israel
Relief map of Israel

Israel is bordered by Lebanon in the north, Syria and Jordan in the east, and Egypt in the south-west. It has coastlines on the Mediterranean in the west and the Gulf of Eilat (also known as the Gulf of Aqaba) in the south.

During the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel captured the West Bank from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, Gaza Strip (which was under Egyptian occupation), and Sinai from Egypt. It withdrew all troops and settlers from Sinai by 1982 and from the Gaza Strip by September 12, 2005. The future status of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights remains to be determined.

The sovereign territory of Israel, excluding all territories captured by Israel in 1967, is 20,770 km² (8,019  mi²) in area (1% is water). The total area under Israeli law, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, is 22,145 km² or 8,550 mi²; with a little less than one per cent being water. The total area under Israeli control, including the military-controlled and Palestinian-governed territory of the West Bank, is 28,023 km² (10,820 mi²) (~1% water).

The climate of the coastal areas can be very different from that of the mountainous areas, particularly during the winter months. The high mountains in the north, like Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, can get cold, wet and often snowy and even Jerusalem experiences snow spells every couple of years. The coastal regions, where Tel Aviv and Haifa are located, have a typical Mediterranean climate with cool, rainy winters and hot, dry summers.

Beach of Tel Aviv at sundown.
Beach of Tel Aviv at sundown.

Metropolitan areas

As of 2006, The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics defines three metropolitan areas: Tel Aviv (population 3 million), Haifa (population 980,600) and Jerusalem (the capital; population 706,368).


Israel is a democratic republic with universal suffrage that operates under the parliamentary system. According to the international data reported by Freedom House, the degree of political rights and civil liberties in Israel makes it the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, consisting of a multi-party system and separation of powers. Conversely, the research group Minorities at Risk (MAR) characterizes Israel's system of governance to be an "ethnic democracy", and notes that "the nationalism inherent in Israel’s foundation as a 'Jewish state' is at odds with its political basis of democratic governance vis-à-vis the Arab minority."


The Knesset building, Israel's parliament.
The Knesset building, Israel's parliament.

Israel's unicameral 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, via a proportional representation voting system. 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. Twelve parties currently hold seats.


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.

Constitution and legal system

Israel has not completed a written constitution. Its government functions according to the laws of the Knesset, especially the " Basic Laws of Israel", of which there are presently fourteen. These are slated to become the foundation of a future official constitution. In mid-2003, the Knesset's Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee began drafting an official constitution. The effort is still underway as of early 2006.

Israel's legal system mixes influences from Anglo-American, Continental and Jewish law, as well as the declaration of the State of Israel.

As in Anglo-American law, 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 (for example, plaintiff and defendant) are the ones that bring the evidence before the court. The court does not conduct any independent investigation on the case.

As in Continental legal systems, the jury system was not adopted in Israel. Court cases are decided by professional judges. Additional Continental Law influences can be found in the fact that several major Israeli statutes (such as the Contract Law) are based on Civil Law principles. Israeli statute body is not comprised of Codes, but of individual statutes. However, a Civil Code draft has been completed recently, and is planned to become a bill.

Religious tribunals ( Jewish, Muslim, Druze and Christian) have exclusive jurisdiction on annulment of marriages.


Frontal view of The Supreme Court building.
Frontal view of The Supreme Court building.

Israel's Judiciary branch is made of a three-tier system of courts. At the lowest level are Magistrate Courts, situated in most cities. Above them are District Courts, serving both as appellate courts and as courts of first instance, situated in five cities: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Be'er Sheva and Nazareth.

At the top of the judicial pyramid is the Supreme Court of Israel seated in Jerusalem. The current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is Dorit Beinisch. The 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 (HCOJ). 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.

A committee composed of Knesset members, Supreme Court Justices, and Israeli Bar members carries out the election of judges. The Courts Law requires judges to retire at the age of seventy. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, with the approval of the Minister of Justice, appoints registrars to all courts.

Israel is not a member of the International Criminal Court as it fears it could lead to prosecution of Israeli settlers in the occupied territories.


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 agencies that deal with different aspects of Israel's security (such as Magav and Shin Bet). The IDF was based on paramilitary underground armies, chiefly Haganah.

The IDF is one of the best funded military forces in the Middle East and ranks among the most battle-trained armed forces in the world, having been involved in five major wars and numerous border conflicts. In terms of personnel, the IDF's main resource is the training quality of its soldiers and expert institutions, rather than sheer numbers of soldiers. It also relies heavily on high-tech weapons systems, some developed and manufactured in Israel for its specific needs, and others imported (largely from the United States).

Most Israelis (males and females) are drafted into the military at age 18. Also immigrants sometimes volunteer to join the IDF. An exception are Israeli Arabs, most of whom are not conscripted because of a possible conflict of interests, due to the possibility of war with neighboring Arab states. Other exceptions are those who cannot serve because of injury or disability, women who declare themselves married, or those who are religiously observant. Compulsory service is three years for men, and two years for women. Circassians and Bedouin also 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.

While Israeli Arabs are not conscripted, they are allowed to enlist voluntarily. This is the same policy as the Bedouin and many non-Jewish citizens of 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 forties.

Nuclear capability

There is much speculation regarding the nuclear capabilities of Israel. Since the middle of the twentieth century, the Negev Nuclear Research Centre has been operational and capable of producing weapons grade nuclear material. This site has never been under the watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency, so it is therefore widely believed that Israel has a significant stockpile of nuclear weapons. The IAEA has stated outright that it believes Israel "to be a state possessing nuclear weapons," but the Israeli government has never confirmed or denied this assertion. Although size of nuclear arsenal is debated, it is generally accepted that Israel possesses more than one hundred devices. Israel is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The supposed number of stationary nuclear weapons in 2002 is 200; Great Britain has 190.

Data on Israeli nuclear deployment capability is much more freely available than hard data on their nuclear program. Israel leads the Middle East in medium-range ballistic missile development. The Jericho series of ballistic missile was begun in the 1970s, with three major designs built to date; Jericho I, II, and III. The Jericho II series has been in service since the mid 1980s and has a confirmed range of 1500 km. The latest missile design, the Jericho III, has a conservative range estimate of 4500 km.

In addition to ballistic missile technology, Israel maintains a fleet of Dolphin class submarines, widely suspected of having nuclear launch capability.


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 (although some economists would say the deficit is a sign of Israel's advancing markets). Israel possesses extensive facilities for oil refining, diamond polishing, and semiconductor fabrication. According to international data reported by the World Bank, Israel has the best regulations for businesses and strongest protections of property rights in the Greater Middle East.

Roughly half of the government's external debt is owed to the United States, 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.

A main business district in Gush Dan where the diamond stock exchange is located.
A main business district in Gush Dan where the diamond stock exchange is located.

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 one million, one-sixth of the total population, many of them highly educated, 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.

Twenty-four percent of Israel's workforce holds university degrees, ranking Israel third in the industrialized world after the United States and Netherlands. Twelve percent hold advanced degrees.

The important diamond industry has been affected by changing industry conditions and shifts of certain industry activities to the Far East.

As Israel has liberalized its economy and reduced taxes and spending, the gap between the rich and poor has grown. As of 2005, 20.5% of Israeli families (and 34% of Israeli children) are living below the poverty line, though around 40% of those are lifted above the poverty line through transfer payments .

Israel's GDP per capita, as of 28 July 2005, was $20,551.20 per person (42nd in the world). Israel's overall productivity was $54,510.40, and the amount of patents granted was 74/1,000,000 people.

Population at end of September 2006: 7,082.0 thousand (7.1 million

Number of Israeli persons employed (2006, second quarter): 2,565.6 thousand (2.6 million).

As of August 2006 average monthly wages per employee were: 7,521 Shekels or 1,749 USD.

Private consumption expenditure per capita (2006, second quarter): 12,208 Shekels or 2,839 USD.

Percent of unemployed persons (2006, first quarter): 8.7%

Science and technology

Weizmann Institute of Science
Weizmann Institute of Science

Israeli contributions to science and technology have been significant. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, Israel has worked in science and engineering. Israeli scientists have contributed in the areas of genetics, computer sciences, electronics, optics, engineering and other high-tech industries. Israeli science is well known for its military technology, as well as its work in advancing fields such as agriculture, physics, and medicine .

Four Israelis have won science Nobel Prizes. Biologists Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover of the Technion shared the Chemistry prize in 2004. Israeli-American psychologist Daniel Kahneman had previously won the 2002 prize in Economics. In 2005, Robert Aumann from The Hebrew University also won the prize in Economics.

High technology industries have taken a pre-eminent role in the economy, particularly in the last decade. Israel's limited natural resources and strong emphasis on education have also played key roles in directing industry towards high technology fields. As a result of the country’s success in developing cutting edge technologies in software, communications and the life sciences, Israel is frequently referred to as a second Silicon Valley.

Israel (as of 2004) receives more venture capital investment than any country of Europe, and has the largest VC/GDP rate in the world, seven times that of the United States . Israel has the largest number of startup companies in the world after the United States . Outside the U.S. and Canada, Israel has the largest number of NASDAQ listed companies. Israel also has the highest percentage in the world of home computers per Capita .

Israel produces more scientific papers per capita than any other nation: 109 per 10,000 people. It also boasts one of the highest per capita rates of patents filed.

Israel is ranked third in Research and development spending; eighth in technological readiness (companies spending on R&D, the creativity of its scientific community, personal computer and internet penetration rates); eleventh in innovation; sixteenth in high technology exports; and seventeenth in technological achievement in Nation Master's list of countries in the world by economy standards.

Sand Mountains in the Negev.
Sand Mountains in the Negev.
Landscape in the Golan Heights.
Landscape in the Golan Heights.

Another leading industry is tourism, which benefits from the plethora of important historical sites for Judaism and Christianity and from Israel's warm climate and access to water resources. Tourism in Israel includes a rich variety of historical and religious sites in the Holy Land, as well as modern beach resorts, archaeological tourism, heritage tourism and ecotourism.



Israeli Bedouin soldiers chat with Arab civilians in Galilee, 1978.
Israeli Bedouin soldiers chat with Arab civilians in Galilee, 1978.

According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, as of May 2006, of Israel's 7 million people, 77% were Jews, 18.5% Arabs, and 4.3% "others". 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. Hebrew is the major and primary language of the state and is spoken by the majority of the population. Arabic is spoken by the Arab minority and by some members of the Mizrahi Jewish community. English is studied in school and is spoken by the majority of the population as a second language. Other languages spoken in Israel include Russian, Yiddish, Ladino, Romanian, Polish, French, Italian, Dutch, German, Amharic and Persian. American and European popular television shows are commonly presented. Newspapers can be found in all languages listed above as well as others.

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 forcible removal by the government in the summer of 2005 as part of Israel's unilateral disengagement plan.

Culture of Israel

The culture of Israel is inseparable from long history of Judaism and Jewish history which preceded it.

Tel Aviv, Haifa, Herzliya, and Jerusalem have excellent art museums, and many towns and kibbutzim have smaller high-quality museums. The Israel Museum in Jerusalem houses the Dead Sea Scrolls along with an extensive collection of Jewish religious and folk art. The Museum of the Diaspora is located on the campus of Tel Aviv University.

Israel has artist colonies in Safed, Jaffa, and Ein Hod.

Of the three major repertory companies, the most famous, Habima Theatre, was founded in 1917.

Israel remains the most advanced and tolerant country in the Middle East in terms of gay rights.


Israel is the most educated country in the Greater Middle East and Western Asia, and is tied with South Korea as the most educated in the entire Asian continent. It is also ranked quite highly in relation to the rest of the world (#22).

Israel boasts the highest literacy rate in the Middle East.

Out of all countries in the Middle East and Western Asia, tiny Israel has by far the largest amount of Yale University alumni, one of the most prestigious and competitive schools in the world.

Of the top ten universities in the Middle East, seven out of ten are in Israel, including all top four. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is the only university in the Middle East that holds the honour of being ranked in the Webometrics premier top 200 of the world. It is markedly uncommon for this honour to be earned by schools outside of North America and Europe. Israel is the only country in the Middle East (and one of only two in Asia, the other being Japan) that is home to a university listed in SJTU's Top 100 Academic Ranking of World Universities (Hebrew University, #60).

The education system in Israel, up to secondary education level, consists of three tiers: the primary education (grades 1-6), followed by a middle school (grades 7-9), then high school (grades 10-12). Compulsory education is from grades 1 to 9.

The secondary education mostly consists of preparation for the Israeli matriculation exams (bagrut). The exams consist of a multitude of subjects, some of them mandatory (Hebrew language, English language, mathematics, Bible studies, civics and literature), and some optional (e.g. Chemistry, Music, French).

In 2003, 56.4% of Israeli grade 12 students received a matriculation certificate: 57.4% in the Hebrew sector and 50.7% in the Arab sector.

Any Israeli with a full matriculation certificate can proceed to higher education, as in any country. Institutions generally require a certain grade average, as well as a good grade in the psychometric exam (similar to the American SAT). All universities, and some colleges, are subsidized by the state, and students pay only a small part of the actual cost as tuition.

Israel has eight universities, one of them open, and several dozen colleges


Gal Fridman won Israel's first gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Gal Fridman won Israel's first gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Sports in Israel, as in other countries, are an important part of the national culture. The Israeli sporting culture is much like that of European countries. Israeli athletics go back as far as before the establishment of the state of Israel. While football (soccer) and basketball are considered the most popular sports in Israel, the nation has reached many achievements in other sports, such as handball and athletics, and Israelis are also involved in hockey, rugby, wide variety of other athletic activities and even chess.

To date Israel has won six Olympic medals.


Israeli literature is mostly written in Hebrew and the history of Israeli literature is mostly the product of the revival of the Hebrew language as a spoken language in modern times.

Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the Hebrew language was increasingly used for speaking as well as writing modern forms of prose, poetry and drama. Every year thousands of new books are published in Hebrew and most of them are original to the Hebrew language.

Shmuel Yosef Agnon won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1966.


Infected Mushroom
Infected Mushroom

Israeli music is diverse and combines elements of both western and eastern music. It tends toward eclecticism and contains a wide variety of influences from the Diaspora and makes use of modern cultural importation as well. Hassidic songs, Asian and Arab pop, especially Yemenite singers, hip hop and heavy metal are all part of musical scene.

Israel's canonical folk songs often deal with Zionist hopes and dreams and glorify the life of idealistic Jewish youth who intend on building a home and defending their homeland. These are usually known as שירי ארץ ישראל ("Songs of the land of Israel").

Israel is well known for its famous classical orchestras and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra under the management of Zubin Mehta has a worldwide reputation. Dudu Fisher, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman are some of the more renowned classical musicians from Israel.

Music styles popular in Israel include pop, rock, heavy metal, hip hop and rap, trance (especially Goa trance and psychedelic trance), Oriental Mizrahi music and ethnic music of various sorts.

Israel has won the Eurovision Song Contest three times.


According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, at the end of 2005, 76% of Israelis were Jews by religion (Judaism), 19.7% were Arabs (including Muslims, Christians and Druze) and the remaining 4.3% "others" (including mostly family members of FSU immigrants and some ' ethnic Jews' which were not classified by religion, as well as non-Arab Christians).

Roughly 12% of Israeli Jews defined as haredim (ultra-orthodox religious); an additional 9% are "religious"; 35% consider themselves "traditionalists" (not strictly adhering to Jewish Halakha); and 43% are "secular" (termed "hiloni"). Among the seculars, 53% believe in God. However, 78% of all Israelis participate in a Passoverseder.

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.

Among Arab Israelis, 82.6% were Muslim, 8.8% were Christian and 8.4% were Druze.

There is a small community of mostly Indian-born Ahmadi Muslims in the country. Up to fourteen diverse Buddhist groups are presently active in Israel, catering to Israeli Jubus as well as a tiny number of Vietnamese Buddhists who came to Israel as refugees from the crisis in their homeland and were granted citizenship.

The Baha'i world centre, which includes the Universal House of Justice, in Haifa attracts pilgrimage from all over the world. Apart from a few hundred staff, Baha'is do not live in Israel.

Human rights

The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel proclaimed that the state "...will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations." However, like many democracies, Israel often struggles with issues of minority rights, especially when it comes to the often contentious issues surrounding the treatment of Israel's large Arab minority, which constitutes 15% of Israel's population. In 2005 Israel's interior minister Ophir Pines-Paz termed the country's policy toward its Arab citizens "institutional discrimination."

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Sephardi Jews "have long charged that they suffered social and economic discrimination at the hands of the state's Ashkenazi establishment."

Various countries, international bodies, non-governmental organizations and individuals have evaluated and often criticized Israel's human rights record, often in relation to the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are highly critical of Israel's policies. In turn, these groups were accused of anti-Israel bias: in the AI, in the HRW. According to the 2005 US Department of State report on Israel, "The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas..." In 2006, the Freedom House rated political rights in Israel as "1" (1 representing the most free and 7 the least free rating), civil liberties as "2" and gave it the freedom rating of "Free." Other areas, controlled by Israel through military occupation but not considered with the country's main territory were rated as "6," "5," and "Not Free." Most of the countries in the Middle East were classified as "Not Free." Btselem, the Israeli human rights organization, has stated that Israel has created in the West Bank a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality.

Within Israel, policies of its government are often subjected to criticism from the left and right by its press (the only country ranked "Free" (28 on the scale 1-100) in the region in 2005 by Freedom House) as well as by a vast variety of political, human rights and watchdog groups such as Association for Civil Rights in Israel, B'Tselem, Machsom Watch, Women in Black, Women for Israel's Tomorrow, among others. According to the Reporters Without Borders, "The Israeli media were once again in 2005 the only ones in the region that had genuine freedom to speak out." RWB ranked Israel 47th out of 167 countries in freedom of the press (just behind the United States at 44th), the highest of any country in the Middle East.

Foreign relations

High priorities in the foreign policy of Israel include seeking an end to hostilities with Arab forces and gaining wide acceptance as a sovereign state with an important international role.

The State of Israel joined the United Nations on May 11, 1949 (see Israel and the United Nations). Today, Israel has diplomatic relations with 161 states.

Israel is a member of many international agencies and organizations and a member of the Mediterranean Dialogue with NATO.

Neighbouring countries

Mediterranean Sea Flag of Lebanon Lebanon Flag of Syria Syria
North Flag of Jordan Jordan
West   Flag of Israel Israel    East
Flag of Egypt Egypt Red Sea Red Sea  Image:Template CanadianCityGeoLocation East.png  Flag of Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia

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