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|THE ISRAEL COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Israel within the continent of Asia
Map of Israel
Flag Description of Israel :The flag of Israel was officially adopted on October 28, 1948.
It displays one of the most recognized symbols in the world - the Star of David - long associated with the Jewish people. The blue and white colors represent the traditional Tallith, the Jewish prayer shawl. .
Official name Medinat Yisraʾel (Hebrew); Dawlat Isrāʾīl (Arabic) (State of Israel)
Form of government multiparty republic with one legislative house (Knesset )
Head of state President: Reuven Rivlin
Head of government Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu
Capital (proclaimed) Jerusalem; the city’s capital status has not received wide international recognition
Official languages Hebrew; Arabic
Official religion none
Monetary unit new Israeli sheqel (NIS)
Population (2013 est.) 7,686,0001COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 8,3572
Total area (sq km) 21,6432
- Urban: (2011) 91.6%
- Rural: (2011) 8.4%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2010) 79.7 years
- Female: (2010) 83.4 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2004) 98.5%
- Female: (2004) 95.9%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2012) 28,930
1Excludes Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
2Excludes the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Background of Israel
Israel, officially State of Israel, Hebrew Medinat Yisraʾel, Arabic Isrāʾīl, country in the Middle East, located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bounded to the north by Lebanon, to the northeast by Syria, to the east and southeast by Jordan, to the southwest by Egypt, and to the west by the Mediterranean Sea. Jerusalem is the seat of government and the proclaimed capital, although the latter status has not received wide international recognition.
Israel is a small country with a relatively diverse topography, consisting of a lengthy coastal plain, highlands in the north and central regions, and the Negev desert in the south. Running the length of the country from north to south along its eastern border is the northern terminus of the Great Rift Valley.
The State of Israel is the only Jewish nation in the modern period, and the region that now falls within its borders has a lengthy and rich history that dates from prebiblical times. The area was a part of the Roman Empire and, later, the Byzantine Empire before falling under the control of the fledgling Islamic caliphate in the 7th century ce. Although the object of dispute during the Crusades, the region, then generally known as Palestine, remained under the sway of successive Islamic dynasties until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, when it was placed under British mandate from the League of Nations.
Even before the mandate, the desire for a Jewish homeland prompted a small number of Jews to immigrate to Palestine, a migration that grew dramatically during the second quarter of the 20th century with the increased persecution of Jews worldwide and subsequent Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany. This vast influx of Jewish immigrants into the region, however, caused tension with the native Palestinian Arabs, and violence flared between the two groups leading up to the United Nations plan to partition Palestine into Jewish and Palestinian sectors and Israel’s ensuing declaration of statehood on May 14, 1948.
Israel fought a series of wars against neighbouring Arab states during the next 35 years, which have resulted in ongoing disputes over territory and the status of refugees. Despite continuing tensions, however, Israel concluded peace treaties with several neighbouring Arab states during the final quarter of the 20th century.
Geography of Israel
Despite its small size, about 290 miles (470 km) north-to-south and 85 miles (135 km) east-to-west at its widest point, Israel has four geographic regions—the Mediterranean coastal plain, the hill regions of northern and central Israel, the Great Rift Valley, and the Negev—and a wide range of unique physical features and microclimates.
The coastal plain is a narrow strip about 115 miles (185 km) long that widens to about 25 miles (40 km) in the south. A sandy shoreline with many beaches borders the Mediterranean coast. Inland to the east, fertile farmland is giving way to growing agricultural settlements and the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa and their suburbs.
In the north of the country, the mountains of Galilee constitute the highest part of Israel, reaching an elevation of 3,963 feet (1,208 metres) at Mount Meron (Arabic: Jebel Jarmaq). These mountains terminate to the east in an escarpment overlooking the Great Rift Valley. The mountains of Galilee are separated from the hills of the Israeli-occupied West Bank to the south by the fertile Plain of Esdraelon (Hebrew: ʿEmeq Yizreʿel), which, running approximately northwest to southeast, connects the coastal plain with the Great Rift Valley. The Mount Carmel range, which culminates in a peak 1,791 feet (546 metres) high, forms a spur reaching northwest from the highlands of the West Bank, cutting almost to the coast of Haifa.
The Great Rift Valley, a long fissure in the Earth’s crust, begins beyond the northern frontier of Israel and forms a series of valleys running generally south, the length of the country, to the Gulf of Aqaba. The Jordan River, which marks part of the frontier between Israel and Jordan, flows southward through the rift from Dan on Israel’s northern frontier, where it is 500 feet (152 metres) above sea level, first into the Ḥula Valley (Hebrew: ʿEmeq Ḥula), then into the freshwater Lake Tiberias, also known as the Sea of Galilee (Hebrew: Yam Kinneret), which lies 686 feet (209 metres) below sea level. The Jordan continues south along the eastern edge of the West Bank—now through the Jordan Valley (Hebrew: ʿEmeq HaYarden)—and finally into the highly saline Dead Sea, which, at 1,312 feet (400 metres) below sea level, is the lowest point of a natural landscape feature on the Earth’s surface. South of the Dead Sea, the Jordan continues through the rift, where it now forms the ʿArava Valley (Hebrew: “savannah”), an arid plain that extends to the Red Sea port of Elat.
The sparsely populated Negev comprises the southern half of Israel. Arrow-shaped, this flat, sandy desert region narrows toward the south, where it becomes increasingly arid and breaks into sandstone hills cut by wadis, canyons, and cliffs before finally coming to a point where the ʿArava reaches Elat.
The principal drainage system comprises Lake Tiberias and the Jordan River. Other rivers in Israel are the Yarqon, which empties into the Mediterranean near Tel Aviv; the Qishon, which runs through the western part of the Plain of Esdraelon to drain into the Mediterranean at Haifa; and a small section of the Yarmūk, a tributary of the Jordan that flows west along the Syria-Jordan border. Most of the country’s remaining streams are ephemeral and flow seasonally as wadis. The rivers are supplemented by a spring-fed underground water table that is tapped by wells. Israel has a chronic water shortage, and its hydraulic resources are fully utilized: about three-fourths for irrigation and the remainder for industrial and household water use.
The coastal plain is covered mainly by alluvial soils. Parts of the arid northern Negev, where soil development would not be expected, have windblown loess soils because of proximity to the coastal plain. The soils of Galilee change from calcareous rock in the coastal plain, to Cenomanian and Turonian limestone (deposited from about 99 to 89 million years ago) in Upper Galilee, and to Eocene formations (those dating from about 55 to 35 million years ago) in the lower part of the region. Rock salt and gypsum are abundant in the Great Rift Valley. The southern Negev is mainly sandstone rock with veins of granite.
Israel has a wide variety of climatic conditions, caused mainly by the country’s diverse topography. There are two distinct seasons: a cool, rainy winter (October–April) and a dry, hot summer (May–September). Along the coast, sea breezes have a moderating influence in summer, and the Mediterranean beaches are popular. Precipitation is light in the south, amounting to about 1 inch (25 mm) per year in the ʿArava Valley south of the Dead Sea, while in the north it is relatively heavy, up to 44 inches (1,120 mm) a year in the Upper Galilee region. In the large cities, along the coastal plain, annual rainfall averages about 20 inches (508 mm) per year. Precipitation occurs on about 60 days during the year, spread over the rainy season. Severe summer water shortages ensue in years when the rains come late or rainfall totals are less than normal.
Average annual temperatures vary throughout Israel based on elevation and location, with the coastal areas adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea having milder temperatures—ranging from about 84 °F (29 °C) in August to about 61 °F (16 °C) in January—and higher rates of humidity than areas inland, especially during the winter. Likewise, higher elevations, such as Upper Galilee, have cool nights, even in summer, and occasional snows in the winter. However, the coastal city of Elat, in the south, despite its proximity to the Red Sea, is closer to the climate of the Jordan and ʿArava valleys and the Negev, which are hotter and drier than the northern coast; there, daytime temperatures reach about 70 °F (21 °C) in January and may rise as high as 114 °F (46 °C) in August, when the average high is 104 °F (40 °C).
Plant and animal life
Natural vegetation is highly varied, and more than 2,800 plant species have been identified. The original evergreen forests, the legendary “cedars of Lebanon,” have largely disappeared after many centuries of timber cutting for shipbuilding and to clear land for cultivation and goat herding; they have been replaced by second-growth oak and smaller evergreen conifers. The hills are mostly covered by maquis, and wildflowers bloom profusely in the rainy season. Only wild desert scrub grows in the Negev and on the sand dunes of the coastal plain. North of Beersheba, most of the country is under cultivation or is used for hill grazing. Where irrigation is available, citrus groves, orchards of subtropical fruit, and food crops flourish. Millions of trees have been planted through a government reforestation program.
Animal life is also diverse. Mammals include wildcats, wild boars, gazelles, ibex, jackals, hyenas, hares, coneys, badgers, and tiger weasels. Notable among the reptiles are geckos and lizards of the genus Agama and vipers such as the carpet, or saw-scaled, viper (Echis carinatus). More than 400 species of birds have been identified in the region, including the partridge, tropical cuckoo, bustard, sand grouse, and desert lark. There are many kinds of fish and insects, and locusts from the desert sometimes invade settled areas. Several regions have been set aside as nature reserves, notably parts of the ʿArava in the south and Mount Carmel, Mount Meron, and the remains of the Ḥula Lake and marshes in the north. The Mediterranean coast and the Jordan and ʿArava valleys are important routes for migratory birds.
Jewish immigration in the 20th century greatly altered the settlement pattern of the country. The first modern-day Jewish settlers established themselves on the coastal plain in the 1880s. Later they also moved into the valleys of the interior and into parts of the hill districts, as well as into the Negev. Small cities such as Haifa and Jerusalem grew in size, and the port of Jaffa (Yafo) sprouted a suburb, Tel Aviv, which grew into one of the largest cities in Israel. Jewish immigrants also settled those areas of the coastal plain, the Judaean foothills, and the Jordan and ʿArava valleys evacuated by Palestinians during the war of 1948, thereby becoming the majority in many areas previously inhabited by Arabs. Although the majority of the Bedouin of the Negev left the region when Israel incorporated the territory, the desert has continued to be largely the domain of the Arab nomads who remained or returned following the end of fighting.
The non-Jewish population is concentrated mainly in Jerusalem (about one-fifth of the residents of the city), and in the north, where Arabs constitute a substantial part of the population of Galilee.
Jerusalem, perched high among the Judaean hills, is one of the great cities of the world, with a long history, unique architecture, and rich archeological heritage. It is the capital of Israel, and its walled “Old City” is divided into four quarters—Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Armenian—symbolizing its spiritual significance to the region’s major religious and ethnic groups.
The rural population, defined as residents of settlements with less than 2,000 people, amounts to less than one-tenth of the nation’s total inhabitants. About one-tenth of the Jewish population is rural, of whom more than half are immigrants who arrived after 1948. The Jewish rural settlements are organized into kibbutzim (2 percent of the total population), which are collective groups voluntarily practicing joint production and consumption; moshavim (3 percent), which are cooperatives of small holders who practice joint sales and purchases, make common use of machinery, minimize hired labour, and lease national land; and agricultural communities or individually owned farms engaged in private production. The kibbutzim and moshavim pioneered settlement in underdeveloped areas, performed security functions in border areas, and contributed substantially to the nation’s ability to absorb new immigrants in the early years of the state.
Only a tiny fraction of the Arab population lives in rural areas. Those who do are divided between the Bedouin and residents of small agricultural villages. Many such communities are now defined as urban by the Israeli government because their populations exceed 2,000, despite the fact that some residents still engage in agriculture. Before 1948 Jewish and Arab agricultural settlements existed side by side but were largely independent of each other. Since then, however, thousands of Arabs from the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied territory of the West Bank have found employment in Israel in the citrus groves or in industry or as construction labourers. This ready labour pool, together with increased agricultural mechanization, has led to a drop in the number of Jewish agricultural workers. In Arab villages, fewer than half of the adult labourers, both men and women, are engaged in working the land.
There has been a growing tendency among farmers to practice intensive cultivation, to diversify crops, and to shift from small holdings to large farms. Most of the remaining Arab farmers work their own land, although some either lease land or work for Arab or Jewish landlords. Many Bedouin also have abandoned herding for work in towns and cities, establishing residence in permanent settlements that continue to maintain traditional tribal identity.
The great majority of the population, both Jewish and Arab, reside in urban areas. As the industrial and service sectors of the economy have grown, the two large conurbations of Tel Aviv–Yafo and Haifa, along the coastal plain, have come to house more than half of the country’s population. The government has made great efforts to prevent the population from becoming overconcentrated in these areas, overseeing in both the north and south the development of new towns occupied largely by the country’s most recent immigrants. These towns serve as centres of regional settlement and fulfill specialized economic functions, such as the manufacture of textiles, clothing, machinery, electronic equipment, and computer software. One such place, Beersheba, in the northern Negev, grew from a planned new town founded on a small older settlement in the 1950s into a city, the result of waves of Jewish immigrants from North Africa and the former Soviet Union.
The major urban centres inhabited by Arabs include cities and towns with both Arab and Jewish populations—such as Jerusalem, Haifa, ʿAkko, Lod, Ramla, and Yafo—and towns with predominantly Arab populations, including Nazareth in Galilee, where a mainly Jewish suburb is nearly equal in population to the Arab city. Many of the former differences in ways of life between Arabs and Jews are diminishing in towns with mixed populations, even though each group usually lives in different quarters.
Demography of Israel
- Religious and ethnic groups
Jews constitute about four-fifths of the total population of Israel. Almost all the rest are Palestinian Arabs, of whom most (roughly three-fourths) are Muslim; the remaining Arabs are Christians and Druze, who each make up only a small fraction of the total population. Arabs are the overwhelming majority in the Gaza Strip and the occupied territory of the West Bank. (For information on Palestinians residing outside Israel, see Palestine.)
The Jewish population is diverse. Jews from eastern and western Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, Central Asia, North America, and Latin America have been immigrating to this area since the late 19th century. Differing in ethnic origin and culture, they brought with them languages and customs from a variety of countries. The Jewish community today includes survivors of the Holocaust, offspring of those survivors, and émigrés escaping anti-Semitism. The revival of Hebrew as a common language and a strong Israeli national consciousness have facilitated the assimilation of newcomers to Israel but not completely eradicated native ethnicities. For example, religious Jews immigrating to Israel generally continue to pray in synagogues established by their respective communities.
Religious Jewry in Israel constitutes a significant and articulate section of the population. As such, it is often at odds with a strong secular sector that seeks to prevent religious bodies and authorities from dominating national life. The two main religious-ethnic groupings are those Jews from central and eastern Europe and their descendants who follow the Ashkenazic traditions and those Jews from the Mediterranean region and North Africa who follow the Sephardic. There are two chief rabbis in Israel, one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi. Tension is frequent between the two groups, largely because of their cultural differences and the social and political dominance of the Ashkenazim in Israeli society. Until recently, it was generally true that the Sephardim tended to be poorer, less educated, and less represented in higher political office than the Ashkenazim.
The Karaites are a Jewish sect that emerged in the early Middle Ages. Several thousand members live in Ramla, and more recently in Beersheba and Ashdod. Like other religious minorities, they have their own religious courts and communal organizations. Considered part of Jewish society, they have maintained their separate identity by resisting intermarriage and preserving their religious rites based on the Torah as the sole source of religious law.
Samaritans trace their roots to those Jews not dispersed when the Assyrians conquered Israel in the 8th century bce. About half of the few hundred surviving members of the Samaritan community live near Tel Aviv in the town of Ḥolon. The rest live on Mount Gerizim (Arabic: Jabal al-Ṭūr), near Nāblus in the West Bank. They preserve their separate religious and communal organizations and speak Arabic but pray in an archaic form of Hebrew. They participate in national life as part of the Jewish section of the population.
Arabs constitute the largest single minority in Israel, and though most are Muslims of the Sunnite branch, Arab Christians form a significant minority, particularly in the Galilee region in northern Israel. Arabs, whether Christian, Muslim, or Druze, speak a dialect of Levantine Arabic and learn Modern Standard Arabic in school. An increasing number also avail themselves of higher education within Israel’s public schools and colleges, and many younger Arabs are now bilingual in Hebrew. Although most Israeli Arabs consider themselves Palestinians, all are full Israeli citizens with political and civil rights that are, with the exception of some limitations on military service, equal to those of Israeli Jews. Many Arabs participate actively in the Israeli political process, and several Arab political parties have members in the Israeli Knesset. Despite this inclusiveness, however, many Israeli Arabs still see themselves as living in an occupied state, and suspicions and antagonism persist.
The overwhelming majority of Israel’s Muslims are Arabs. Like all other religious communities, Muslims enjoy considerable autonomy in dealing with matters of personal status. They have separate religious courts for issues such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. The state oversees their religious institutions. Israel’s Bedouin, roughly one-tenth of the Arab population, are exclusively Muslim.
Most Christians in Israel are Arabs, and Christian communities in Israel, regardless of ethnicity, have a wide degree of autonomy in religious and communal affairs. The Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches are the largest denominations, and most of them are found in Jerusalem. Apart from the Greek Orthodox church, which has a patriarchate in Jerusalem, each church is dependent to a degree on a supreme hierarch abroad. These communities include Roman Catholics and Uniates (Melchites, Maronites, Chaldean Catholics, Syrian Catholics, and Armenian Catholics). Jerusalem also has a Russian Orthodox community. The Evangelical, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches are small and primarily Arabic-speaking.
The Druze, who live in villages in Galilee and around Mount Carmel, have traditionally formed a closed, tight-knit community and practice a secretive religion founded in 11th-century Fāṭimid Egypt. Though Israeli Druze maintain contact with coreligionists in Lebanon and Syria, members of each group adhere to the authority of the country of their residence. Israel has recognized the Druze as a separate Arab community since 1957, and Israeli Druze serve in the armed forces. Druze have traditionally been agriculturists, but younger members have found employment throughout the economy.
- OTHER GROUPS
The Bahāʾī faith, a universal religion founded in Iran in the mid-19th century, is the only religion other than Judaism to have its world centre in Israel. A teaching centre, archive building, shrine, and administrative headquarters are located on Mount Carmel in Haifa. There are a few hundred adherents in Israel, most of whom are employed at the centre in Haifa.
The Circassians, who are Sunnite Muslims, emigrated from the Caucasus in the 1870s. They number a few thousand and live in villages in Galilee, preserving their native language and traditions. Older Circassians speak Arabic as well as the Circassian language, but members of the younger generation speak Hebrew. The men serve in the Israeli armed forces.
- Demographic trends
The most significant demographic issue in Israel since its establishment has been Jewish immigration. In 1948 the Jewish population of Israel was about 670,000; this number increased to more than 1,000,000 the next year as a result of immigration. Between 1949 and 1997 about 2,350,000 Jewish immigrants entered the country; about 700,000 to 750,000 Jews left it, although some later returned. The total number of immigrants includes more than 320,000 Soviet Jews who came to Israel in 1989–91 and have continued to arrive at the rate of about 50,000 per year. Nearly 28,000 Ethiopian Jews immigrated in 1990–92, adding to an earlier migration of 11,000 in 1984–85. The largest proportion of Jews trace their roots to Europe (including the former Soviet Union) and North America, though some also hail from Africa (mostly North Africa), Asia, and the Middle East.
More than half of the Arab population fled their homes during the war of 1948, of whom only a small fraction were allowed to return after the end of hostilities. While the Jewish population has grown more from immigration than from natural increase since that time, the Arab population has grown mainly through high birth rates, which are markedly higher than among Israel’s Jews, and through the addition of about 66,000 residents of East Jerusalem, captured from Jordan in 1967 and later annexed by Israel. Overall, the population is youthful, with about one-fourth being 15 years old or younger. Life expectancy is among the highest in the world: some 80 years for women and 77 years for men.
Economy of Israel
The large influx of well-trained and Western-educated European and North American immigrants contributed greatly to a rapid rise in Israel’s gross national product (GNP) after 1948. Although most of them had to change occupations, a nucleus of highly skilled labour, in combination with the country’s rapid founding of universities and research institutes, facilitated economic expansion. The country obtained large amounts of capital, which included gifts from world Jewry, reparations from the Federal Republic of Germany for Nazi crimes, grants-in-aid from the U.S. government, and capital brought in by immigrants. Israel has supplemented these forms of revenue with loans, commercial credits, and foreign investment.
The goals of Israel’s economic policy are continued growth and the further integration of the country’s economy into world markets. Israel has made progress toward these goals under difficult conditions, such as a rapid population increase, a boycott by neighbouring Arab countries (except Egypt from 1979 and Jordan from 1994), heavy expenditure on defense, a scarcity of natural resources, high rates of inflation, and a small domestic market that limits the economic savings of mass production. Despite these obstacles, Israel has achieved a high standard of living for most of its residents, the growth of substantial industrial export and tourism sectors, and world-class excellence in advanced technologies and science-based industry. However, this economic progress has not been uniform. Israeli Arabs are generally at the lower rungs of the economic ladder, and there are substantial economic divisions among Israeli Jews, mainly between the Sephardim and Ashkenazim.
Large influxes of capital have passed through government channels and public organizations and enlarged that sector of the economy that engages in enterprises between the government and private concerns. Government policy dating from the late 1970s, however, has been directed toward privatization. The private, governmental, and, to a limited extent, cooperative sectors all coexist in an economy that supports both the broad objectives of state policy and individual enterprise.
Tax rates in Israel are among the highest in the world, with income, value-added, customs and excise, land, and luxury taxes being the main sources of revenue. The government has gradually raised the proportion of indirect taxes since the late 1950s. Tax reforms in 1985 included a new corporate tax levied on previously untaxed business sectors while slightly reducing direct taxes on individuals. Taxation approaches two-fifths of the value of GNP and is about one-fourth of average household income.
The General Federation of Labour in Israel (Histadrut) is the largest labour union and voluntary organization in the country. It once was also one of the largest employers in Israel and owner or joint owner of a wide range of industries, but by the mid-1990s it had sold most of its holdings to private investors. Since 1960 Arab workers have been admitted to the organization with full membership rights. The Manufacturers’ Association of Israel and the Farmers’ Union represent a large number of the country’s employers.
- MINERAL RESOURCES
Mineral resources include potash, bromine, and magnesium, the last two deriving from the waters of the Dead Sea. Copper ore is located in the ʿArava, phosphates and small amounts of gypsum in the Negev, and some marble in Galilee. Israel began limited petroleum exploitation in the 1950s, and small oil deposits have been found in the northern Negev and south of Tel Aviv. The country also has reserves of natural gas in the northern Negev northeast of Beersheba and offshore in the Mediterranean.
The power industry is nationalized, and electricity is generated principally from coal- and oil-burning thermal stations. The government has encouraged intensive rural electrification and has provided electricity for agriculture and industry at favourable rates.
The Israel Atomic Energy Commission was established in 1952 and has undertaken a comprehensive survey of the country’s natural resources and trained scientific and technical personnel. A small atomic reactor for nuclear research was constructed with American assistance south of Tel Aviv. A second reactor, built in the Negev with French help, is used for military weapons research.
- Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Early Israeli society was strongly committed to expanding and intensifying agriculture. As a result, a rural Jewish agrarian sector emerged that included two unique forms of farming communities, the kibbutz and the moshav. Although the rural sector makes up less than one-tenth of the total Jewish population, such a large rural populace represents something almost unknown in the Diaspora.
The amount of irrigated land has increased dramatically and, along with extensive farm mechanization, has been a major factor in raising the value of Israel’s agricultural production. These improvements have contributed to a great expansion in cultivating citrus and such industrial crops as peanuts (groundnuts), sugar beets, and cotton, as well as vegetables and flowers. Dairying has also increased considerably in importance. Israel produces the major portion of its food supply and must import the remainder.
The main problem facing agriculture is the scarcity of water. Water is diverted through pipelines from the Jordan and Yarqon rivers and from Lake Tiberias to arid areas in the south. Because almost all the country’s current water resources have been fully exploited, further agricultural development involves increasing yields from land already irrigated, obtaining more water by cloud seeding, reducing the amount of evaporation, desalinizing seawater, and expanding desert farming in the Negev by drawing on brackish water found underground. Israel has perfected drip-irrigation methods that conserve water and optimize fertilizer use.
Only a limited quantity of fish is available off Israel’s Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts, and Israeli trawlers sail to the rich fishing grounds in the Indian Ocean and engage in deep-sea fishing in the Atlantic Ocean. Inland, fishpond production meets much of the domestic demand.
For more than 40 years local demand fueled Israeli industrial expansion, as the country’s population grew rapidly and the standard of living rose. More recently, world demand for Israeli advanced technologies, software, electronics, and other sophisticated equipment has stimulated industrial growth. Israel’s high status in new technologies is the result of its emphasis on higher education and research and development. The government also assists industrial growth by providing low-rate loans from its development budget. The main limitations experienced by industry are the scarcity of domestic raw materials and sources of energy and the restricted size of the local market.
- MINING AND QUARRYING
The country’s mining industry supplies local demands for fertilizers, detergents, and drugs and also produces some exports. A plant in Haifa produces potassium nitrate and phosphoric acid for both local consumption and export. Products of the oil refineries at Haifa include polyethylene and carbon black, which are used by the local tire and plastic industries. The electrochemical industry also produces food chemicals and a variety of other commodities. Oil pipelines run from the port of Elat to the Mediterranean. Israel has some producing oil wells but continues to import most of its petroleum.
Industrial growth has been especially rapid since 1990 in high-technology, science-based industries such as electronics, advanced computer and communications systems, software, and weapons, and these have come to command the largest share of overall manufacturing output. Other principal products include chemicals, plastics, metals, food, and medical and industrial equipment. Israel’s diamond-cutting and polishing industry, centred in Tel Aviv, is the largest in the world and is a significant source of foreign exchange. The great majority of industries are privately owned, one exception being the government-run Israel Aircraft Industries, Ltd., a defense and civil aerospace manufacturer. Factories producing military supplies and equipment have expanded considerably since the 1967 war—a circumstance that stimulated the development of the electronics industry.
Israel’s central bank, the Bank of Israel, issues currency and acts as the government’s sole fiscal and banking agent. Its major function is to regulate the money supply and short-term banking. The Israeli currency was devalued numerous times after 1948, and the new Israeli shekel (NIS) was introduced in September 1985 to replace the earlier Israeli shekel. The government and central bank introduced this measure as part of a successful economic stabilization policy that helped control a rate of inflation that had grown steadily between the 1950s and mid-1980s and had skyrocketed in the 1970s.
Israel has commercial (deposit) banks, cooperative credit institutions, mortgage and investment credit banks, and other financial institutions that are supervised by the central bank. The banking system shows a high degree of specialization. Commercial banks are privately owned and generally are restricted to short-term business. Medium- and long-term transactions, however, are handled by development banks jointly owned by private interests and the government, which cater to the investment needs of different sectors of the economy: agriculture, industry, housing, and shipping. The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange was established in 1953.
Tourism has increased significantly and has become an important source of foreign exchange, although its growth at times was affected by regional strife. Visitors are drawn to Israel’s numerous religious, archeological, and historic sites—such as the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock and biblical cities such as Nazareth, and Bethlehem in the West Bank—as well as to its geographic diversity, excellent weather for leisure activities, and links to the Jewish and Palestinian Arab diasporas. There are numerous resorts in the highlands and desert and along the coast, with most tourists coming from Europe and a growing number from North America.
Access to foreign markets has been vital for further economic expansion. Israel has free trade agreements with the European Union and the United States and is a member of the World Trade Organization. These agreements and Israel’s many industrial and scientific innovations have allowed the country to trade successfully despite its lack of access to regional markets in the Middle East. A central problem, however, has been the country’s large and persistent annual balance-of-trade deficit.
Imports consist mainly of raw materials (including rough diamonds), capital goods, and food. Exports more than doubled in value through the 1990s and became highly diversified, originating in all the major manufacturing sectors and in agriculture. High-technology products led the list of exports, and Israel sells fruit (including citrus), vegetables, and flowers throughout Europe during the off-season.
Israel has developed a modern, well-marked highway system, and road transport is more significant to the country’s commercial and passenger services than transport by rail. Bus companies provide efficient service within and between all cities and towns, supplemented by private taxis and sheruts—privately owned and operated shuttles—which run on urban and interurban routes. Sheruts also operate on Saturdays, when much of the regular rail and bus service is suspended in observance of the Sabbath.
Shipping is a vital factor both for the economy and in communications with other countries. As a result of the closing of the land frontiers following the Arab blockade of Israel, ocean and air shipping has played a major role in the transportation of supplies. Three modern deepwater ports—Haifa and Ashdod on the Mediterranean and Elat on the Red Sea—are maintained and developed by the Israel Ports and Railways Authority and are linked to the country by a combined road and rail system. Israel’s shipping access routes to both the Atlantic and Indian oceans have stimulated a continuous growth of its merchant fleet and airfreight facilities.
Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod is the country’s largest. Regular flights are maintained by several international airlines, with EL AL Israel Airlines Ltd., Israel’s national carrier, accounting for the largest share of the traffic. Scheduled domestic aviation and charter aviation abroad is operated by Arkia Israeli Airlines Ltd. Airports at Jerusalem, Tel Avv, Elat, Rosh Pinna, and Haifa serve the country’s domestic air traffic.
Administration and Social Conditions of Israel
Israel does not have a formal written constitution. Instead, its system of government is founded on a series of “basic laws” plus other legislation, executive orders, and parliamentary practice. The country is a democratic republic with a parliamentary system of government headed by a prime minister and involving numerous political parties representing a wide range of political positions.
Israel’s lawmaking body, the Knesset, or assembly, is a single-chamber legislature with 120 members who are elected every four years (or more frequently if a Knesset vote of nonconfidence in the government results in an early election). Members exercise important functions in standing committees. Hebrew and Arabic, the country’s two official languages, are used in all proceedings.
The country’s prime minister is the head of government and is entrusted with the task of forming the cabinet, which is the government’s main policy-making and executive body. Israel has a strong cabinet, and its members may be—but need not be—members of the Knesset.
The president, who is the head of state, was traditionally elected by the Knesset for a five-year term that could be renewed only once; beginning in 2000, however, presidents were elected for a single, seven-year term. The president has no veto powers and exercises mainly ceremonial functions but has the authority to appoint certain key national officials, including state comptroller, governor of the Bank of Israel, judges, and justices of the Supreme Court.
The state comptroller—an independent officer elected by the Knesset before being appointed by the president—is responsible only to the Knesset and is the auditor of the government’s financial transactions and is empowered to enquire into the efficiency of its activities. The comptroller also acts as a national ombudsman.
Israel’s civil service gradually has become a politically neutral and professional body; previously, it tended to be drawn from, and to support, the party in power. The government’s extensive responsibilities and functions have acted to enlarge the bureaucracy.
LOCAL AND REGIONAL GOVERNMENT
The country is divided into 6 districts—Central, Jerusalem, Haifa, Northern, Southern, and Tel Aviv—and into 15 subdistricts. Local government consists of municipalities, local councils (for smaller settlements), or regional rural councils. The bylaws of the councils, as well as their budgets, are subject to approval by the Ministry of the Interior. Local government elections are held every five years.
THE POLITICAL PROCESS
National and local elections in Israel are by universal, direct suffrage, with secret balloting. All resident Israeli citizens are enfranchised from age 18, regardless of religion or ethnicity, and candidates for election must be at least 21 years old. For national races, the system of election is by proportional representation, and each party receives the number of Knesset seats that is proportional to the number of votes it receives.
Israel’s party system has traditionally been complex and volatile: splinter groups are commonly formed, and party alliances often change. Cabinets are therefore invariably coalitions, often of broad political composition, since no single party has ever been able to obtain an absolute majority in the Knesset. Electoral reform in 1992 brought about two significant changes: direct election of the prime minister—formerly the de facto head of government by dint of being leader of the governing coalition—and primary elections to choose lists of party candidates. The primary system enhanced participatory democracy within the parties, while the prime ministerial ballot increased the power of smaller parties, further splintering the composition of the Knesset and making governing coalitions more difficult to maintain. As a consequence, Knesset representation among the two traditional major parties, Labour and Likud, diminished. In 2001 direct elections for the premiership were repealed, and Israel returned to its earlier practice, in which the governing coalition’s leader sits as prime minister. Despite the change, the two main parties continued to face challenges from minor parties and from new ones such as Kadima, which quickly rose to prominence after being formed in 2005.
Political parties are both secular and religious, with the Jewish secular parties being Zionist and ranging in orientation from left-wing socialist to capitalist, and the religious parties tending to have ethnic appeal (Sephardi or Ashkenazi). There are also several Arab parties.
Israeli citizens take an active interest in public affairs above and beyond membership in political parties. The pattern of Israel’s social and economic organization favours participation in trade unions, employers’ organizations, and interest groups concerned with state and public affairs.
ISRAELI-OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES
After the 1967 war, Arab territories occupied by Israeli forces were placed under military administration. These included the territory on the west bank of the Jordan River (the West Bank) that had been annexed by Jordan in 1950, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula region of Egypt, and the Golan Heights region of Syria. In addition, East Jerusalem (also formerly part of Jordan) was occupied by Israeli forces, and Israel took over administration of the city as a single municipality; in 1967 Israel incorporated East Jerusalem and adjoining villages and later formally annexed them—actions that have continued to be disputed abroad and hotly contested by Palestinians and neighbouring Arab nations. In 1978 the Israeli military occupied a strip of Lebanese territory adjoining Israel’s northern border, from which it withdrew in 2000. Israel passed legislation effectively annexing the Golan Heights in April 1981, but completed a withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula in April 1982 after negotiating a peace treaty with Egypt. Likewise, in May 1994, Israel began turning over control of much of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank—including jurisdiction over most of the people in those areas—to the Palestinians in accordance with the provisions set forth in the Cairo Agreement on the Gaza Strip and Jericho signed by the two parties earlier that month. These exchanges of territory were part of a series of agreements (generally referred to as the Oslo Accords) that were initiated by the September 1993 Declaration of Principles on Palestinian Self-Rule. The intent of these agreements was to settle outstanding grievances between the two sides over issues relating to Israeli security and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory (see below The Declaration of Principles and Cairo Agreement).
The Israelis and the newly formed Palestinian Authority (PA) arranged further exchanges of territory as part of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, signed in September 1995, and the Wye River Memorandum of October 1998. The transfers, executed in stages, actually occurred more slowly than originally agreed, with a number of stages delayed or postponed. In 2002 Israel also began construction on a barrier described as a security measure against suicide attacks; despite a 2003 United Nations General Assembly vote and a nonbinding International Court of Justice ruling condemning the barrier under international law, construction continued. However, as a result of U.S. negotiations, the barrier, which initially included particularly controversial deviations from the “green line” (the boundary between Israel and the West Bank, as designated by the 1949 cease-fire), was redirected to follow the green line more closely; beginning in 2004, Israel’s Supreme Court also ruled on a number of occasions to change the route of the barrier, responding to appeals from individual Palestinian villages near its course.
In late 2003 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed a new, unilateral approach, based on the notion that Israel had no partner in peace, entailing a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. The disengagement plan initially faced significant opposition from within Sharon’s own Likud party but was eventually approved by the Knesset in 2004 amid continued campaigns and resignations opposing it. Nevertheless, in August 2005, as planned, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and dismantled four settlements in the West Bank and turned those areas over to the PA.
Municipal, religious, and military courts exercise a jurisdiction almost identical to that exercised by such courts during the period of the Palestine Mandate. Regional labour courts were established in 1969, and matters of marriage and divorce are dealt with by the religious courts of the various recognized communities. Capital punishment has been maintained only for genocide and crimes committed during the Nazi period.
The president appoints judges of the magistrates’, district, and supreme courts, and judges hold office until mandatory retirement. The Israeli judiciary is highly independent from political influence.
Israeli law is based on a variety of sources, including Ottoman and British legislation and precedent, religious court opinion, and Israeli parliamentary enactments. The country has convened special investigative panels on unusual occasions—as in the aftermath of the war of 1973 and following the massacre of Palestinians by Christian militiamen in Israeli-controlled sectors of Lebanon in 1982—to issue reports and allocate responsibility among political and military leaders.
The police in Israel are a branch of the Ministry of Public Security and report to a national headquarters commanded by an inspector general. The same ministry administers the nation’s prison system, which is linked to a system to rehabilitate prisoners following their release. The Border Guard is a military arm of the national police and is responsible for maintaining internal security and combating terrorism. A Civil Guard, formed in 1974 by the government to prevent terrorism, consists of volunteers performing neighbourhood-watch and patrol duties.
- The armed forces
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is generally regarded by military experts as one of the finest armed forces in the world. IDF doctrine has been shaped since Israel’s founding by the country’s need to stave off attack from the numerically superior and geographically advantaged forces of its hostile Arab neighbours. This doctrine encompasses the IDF’s belief that Israel cannot afford to lose a single war, a goal that it feels can be attained only through a defensive strategy that includes a peerless intelligence community and early warning systems and a well-trained, rapidly mobilized reserve component combined with a strategic capability that consists of a small, highly trained, active-duty force that is able to take the war to the enemy, quickly attain military objectives, and rapidly reduce hostile forces.
An integrated organization encompassing sea, air, and land forces, the IDF consists of a small corps of career officers, active-duty conscripts, and reservists. Military service is compulsory for Jews and Druze, both men and women, and for Circassian men. Muslim and Christian Arabs may volunteer, although because of security concerns, the air force and intelligence corps remain largely closed to minorities. The period of active-duty conscription is three years for men and two for women; this is followed by a decades-long period of compulsory reserve duty (to age 50 for women and age 55 for men). Reservists perform roughly 20 to 50 days of military service and training per year, but in times of national emergency reserve duty can be extended indefinitely.
Since the IDF depends on the reserve service of the population to meet manpower requirements, it continues to be mainly a popular militia rather than a professional army. Consequently, civilian-military relations are based firmly on the subordination of the army to civilian control. The chief of staff of the IDF, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, is appointed by the government based on the recommendation of the minister of defense, who selects the appointee from ranking IDF officers. Training is a crucial element of Israeli military success, and the IDF administers an extensive network of military schools and colleges for the training of its enlisted personnel and officers. In addition, a special force, the Nahal, combines military and agricultural training and is also responsible for establishing new defense settlements along Israel’s borders. Youth battalions conduct premilitary training for young people both in and out of school. The Israeli government also assigns the IDF to provide educational services for recent immigrants whenever the need arises.
Schooling is obligatory and free for children between the ages of 5 and 15 and free, but not compulsory, for those 16 and 17. Young people between the ages of 14 and 18, however, who have not completed secondary schooling are obliged to attend special classes. Parents may choose to send children to state secular schools, state religious schools, or private religious schools. For Arab students, there is a system of schools in which Arabic is the primary language of instruction. The school syllabus is supplemented by radio and television educational programming in both Hebrew and Arabic. The educational system gives special attention to agricultural and technical training. Adult education for immigrants assists in their cultural integration.
In addition to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1925), the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa (1924), and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Reḥovot (1934), several institutions of higher learning have been founded since 1948, including the universities of Tel Aviv and Haifa, Bar-Ilan University (religious, located near Tel Aviv), and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba. The Open University of Israel (formerly Everyman’s University) in Tel Aviv opened in 1974, and teachers’ training colleges include two for Arabs. The language of instruction at Israeli universities is Hebrew, while the teaching system represents a mixture of European and American methods. In the 1990s a number of regional community colleges were established, and several foreign universities began offering specialized professional degrees in fields such as law, business, and education. Academic freedom in the universities is protected by Israeli law.
- Health and welfare
The Ministry of Health maintains its own public and preventive health services, including hospitals and clinics, and it supervises the institutions of nongovernmental organizations. A national health insurance program assures hospitalization coverage and basic medical care for all. Several health maintenance organizations are open to all Israelis, the largest of which, Kupat Holim—with its own physicians, clinics, and hospital—is run by the Histadrut labour union and is recognized worldwide as an exemplary health care organization. Israel ranks among the most successful countries in the world in terms of the proportion of its GNP spent on health care and its rates of life expectancy and infant mortality. There are many private, voluntary organizations dealing with first aid, children’s health, and care for the aged and handicapped.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs supervises the service bureaus that deal with family, youth, and community welfare, as well as with rehabilitation of the handicapped. Most of these bureaus operate within local or regional government. Membership in the country’s social-insurance plan is compulsory. The program provides welfare, child care and family allowances, income maintenance, disability insurance, old-age pensions, and long-term care for the elderly.
Culture Life of Israel
The cultural milieu'
Dead Sea Scrolls [Credit: © Buddy Mays/Travel Stock]There has been little cultural interchange between the Jewish and Arab sections of Israel’s population, although Jews arriving in Israel from communities throughout the world, including the Arab-Muslim Middle East, have brought with them both their own cultural inheritance and elements absorbed from the majority cultures in which they dwelt over the centuries. The intermingling of the Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Middle Eastern traditions has been of profound importance in forging modern Israel; however, the arrival of immigrants from Russia and other former Soviet republics has slowed the trend, common among immigrants from central Europe and America, toward creating a cultural synthesis embracing East, West, and native Israeli society. The revival of the Hebrew language, not spoken since biblical times, has also been of great importance in the development of Israel’s modern culture. This diverse cultural heritage and shared language, along with a common Jewish tradition, both religious and historical, form the foundation of cultural life in Israel.
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has earned a worldwide reputation for classical music, and Israeli artists such as violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman and pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim have had prominent international careers. Folk dancing and popular singing enjoy widespread interest and combine foreign elements with original creative manifestations. The Sephardic, Ashkenazic, and Arab Palestinian communities have all preserved parts of their ethnic music and dance traditions. In 2000 the Education Ministry began including Israeli-Arab writers in the literature curriculum of state secular schools. Painting and sculpture are still largely influenced by European schools, but local styles have begun to emerge, and several “primitive” artists whose works depict biblical and local themes have become popular. In literature, poetry, and drama, a concentration on themes of the Diaspora is giving way to an interest in national themes, including the Holocaust. Among Israel’s most distinguished writers is Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888–1970), who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966.
Thanks to an advanced and pervasive communication infrastructure, including cable, satellite, and Internet access, Israeli popular culture is well informed and tuned to the latest international trends and performers. New Israeli pop singers and groups performing in Hebrew emerge frequently. The sound is global and is influenced by folk, rock, and all the latest pop styles, but the lyrics are uniquely Israeli, reflecting the concerns of the nation’s youth. At the same time lively and locally produced talk shows in Hebrew are prime-time favourites. In addition to cable and satellite access, Arab neighbourhoods and towns bristle with TV antennas permitting reception from neighbouring Arab countries and making Arabic pop music widely available.
A wide variety of sports are pursued in Israel, from organized team sports such as football (soccer) and basketball—two perennial favourites—to popular outdoor pastimes such as mountain biking, windsurfing, and scuba diving.
Jewish pioneers formed the Palestine Olympic Committee in 1933, but the first Israeli team did not participate in the games until the 1952 Summer Games at Helsinki, Finland. However, Israel’s Olympic team is perhaps best remembered for the tragic kidnapping and murder of 11 of its members by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, West Germany.
Israel is the home of the Maccabiah Games, an international gathering of Jewish athletes competing in a wide variety of athletic contests and sports that range from traditional Olympic-style events such as track and field and swimming to team and individual pursuits such as squash, bridge, table tennis, and baseball. Established in 1932 by the World Maccabi Union, a Jewish sports foundation, the games are held every four years and draw thousands of competitors. Beyond being an important athletic competition, the Maccabiah Games are a major cultural event in the world Jewish community.
Israel has a rich and varied range of cultural institutions, including major libraries, an art institute and artists’ colonies, art museums, institutes for archeology and folk life, theatres, concert halls and performing arts centres, and movie houses. A thriving film industry has emerged. In 1953 the Israeli government established the Academy of the Hebrew Language as the supreme authority on all questions related to the language and its usages, and it founded the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 1959. The Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem is preeminent among the nation’s several hundred libraries. Habima, Israel’s national theatre, was founded in Moscow in 1917 and moved to Palestine in 1931. There are a number of other theatres in the country, some of them in the kibbutzim. Foremost among the many art galleries and museums is the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which also houses part of the archaeological collection of the government’s Department of Antiquities. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 was a powerful stimulus to biblical and historical research in the country.
Press and broadcasting
Tel Aviv is the centre of newspaper publishing in Israel. In the past newspapers were often associated with a political party, but most have now passed to private ownership. Most newspapers are written in Hebrew, but a considerable number are also published in Yiddish, English, German, Arabic, Russian, Polish, French, Bulgarian, and Romanian. There are hundreds of other periodicals, of which more than half are in Hebrew.
The Israel Broadcasting Authority, whose members are appointed by the president, controls and licenses the broadcasting industry. Commercial radio and broadcasting has been allowed since 1986. There are two public radio networks—one providing classical programming and the other more popular music—and an armed forces station; in addition several private radio stations have been established since 1986. Programs are broadcast mainly in Hebrew, Arabic, and English but also in a wide variety of other languages, including Yiddish, Russian, Ladino (a Spanish dialect of the Sephardic Jews), and Moghrabi (Moroccan Judeo-Arabic).
Television programming, introduced in 1966, is in Hebrew and Arabic. There are two television networks, one of which is government-owned and the other privately funded, and an educational television service. Cable and direct-dish television provide a wide range of international programming via satellite, and Internet access is widely available.
History of Israel
Beginnings of the Israeli State
The state of Israel is the culmination of nearly a century of activity in Zionism. Following World War I, Great Britain received (1922) Palestine as a mandate from the League of Nations. The struggle by Jews for a Jewish state in Palestine had begun in the late 19th cent. and had become quite active by the 1930s and 40s, when Jewish immigration greatly increased as a result of the events in Europe. Jewish-Arab violence in the area led to the establishment of guerrilla forces on both sides, and there were Jewish terror attacks on the British.
The militant opposition of the Arabs to the division of Palestine to create a Jewish state (and the inability of the British to solve the problem eventually led to the establishment (1947) of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, which devised a plan to divide Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a small internationally administered zone including Jerusalem. The General Assembly adopted the recommendations on Nov. 29, 1947. The Jews accepted the plan; the Arabs rejected it. As the British began to withdraw early in 1948, Arabs and Jews prepared for war.
On May 14, 1948, when the British high commissioner for Palestine departed, the state of Israel was proclaimed at Tel Aviv. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq invaded Israel, as most Palestinian Arabs were driven from Jewish territory. By the time armistice agreements were reached (Jan., 1949), Israel had increased its holdings by about one-half. Jordan annexed the Arab-held area adjoining its territory, and Egypt occupied the coastal Gaza Strip in the southwest.
- The New Nation
A government was formed at Tel Aviv, with Chaim Weizmann as president and David Ben-Gurion as prime minister. The capital was moved (Dec., 1949) to Jerusalem to strengthen Israel's claim to that city. Following the Lausanne Conference of 1949, Israel allowed the return of 150,000 Arab refugees, mostly to reunite families. One major aim of the government was to gather in all Jews who wished to immigrate to Israel. This led to the 1950 Law of the Return, which provided for free and automatic citizenship for all immigrant Jews. Border incidents with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan continued.
Trouble in the Gaza area reached new heights in the mid-1950s despite UN intervention, and in 1956, Egyptian President Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. On Oct. 29, 1956, Israel made a preemptive attack on Egyptian territory and within a few days had conquered the Gaza Strip and the Sinai peninsula, while Britain and France invaded the area of the Suez Canal. Israel eventually yielded to strong pressure from the United States, the USSR, and the United Nations and removed its troops from Sinai in Nov., 1956, and from Gaza by Mar., 1957, as UN forces were sent to the Sinai and Gaza to keep peace between Egypt and Israel. Through this war, Israel succeeded in keeping open its shipping lanes via Elat and the Gulf of Aqaba to the Red Sea.
In 1962, Israel became the scene of the celebrated trial of Adolf Eichmann. In 1963, Ben-Gurion resigned as prime minister and was succeeded in that office by Levi Eshkol. Eshkol had to cope with increased guerrilla incursions into Israel from Syria and the shelling of Israeli villages by the Syrian army from the Golan Heights.
- Renewed Hostilities
In May, 1967, Nasser mobilized the Egyptian army in Sinai. The UN then acceded to his demand to withdraw from the Israeli-Egyptian border, where it had been stationed since 1956. Egypt next blockaded the Israeli port of Elat (on the Gulf of Aqaba) by closing the Strait of Tiran.
On June 5, 1967, Israel struck against Egypt and Syria; Jordan subsequently attacked Israel. In six days, Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the Sinai peninsula of Egypt, the Golan Heights of Syria, and the West Bank and Arab sector of E Jerusalem (both under Jordanian rule), thereby giving the conflict the name of the Six-Day War. Israel unified the Arab and Israeli sectors of Jerusalem, and Arab guerrillas stepped up their incursions, operating largely from Jordan. After Eshkol's death in 1969, Golda Meir became prime minister. There followed an inconclusive period when there was neither peace nor war in the area.
On Oct. 6, 1973, on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, Egypt and Syria attacked Israeli positions in the Sinai and the Golan Heights. Other Arab states sent contingents of soldiers to aid in the attack on Israel. Egypt succeeded in sending troops in force across the Suez Canal to the east bank before being halted by Israeli troops. Toward the end of the fighting, the Israelis managed to send their own troops across the Suez Canal to the west bank, encircling Egypt's Third Army on the east bank and clearing a path to Cairo. They also drove the Syrians even further back toward Damascus. A cease-fire called for by the UN Security Council on Oct. 22 and 23 went into effect shortly thereafter.
- Attempts at Peace
In Dec., 1973, the first Arab-Israeli peace conference opened in Geneva, Switzerland, under UN auspices. An agreement to disengage Israeli and Egyptian forces was reached in Jan., 1974, largely through the "shuttle diplomacy" mediation of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Israeli troops withdrew several miles into the Sinai, a UN buffer zone was established, and Egyptian forces reoccupied the east bank of the Suez Canal and a small, adjoining strip of land in the Sinai. A similar agreement between Israel and Syria was achieved in May, 1974, again through the efforts of Kissinger. Under its terms, Israeli forces evacuated the Syrian lands captured in the 1973 war (while continuing to hold most of the territory conquered in 1967, such as the Golan Heights) and a UN buffer zone was created.
Golda Meir resigned and was succeeded (1974) by Yitzhak Rabin, who formed a coalition government. In 1977, the Likud party under the leadership of Menachem Begin defeated the Labor party for the first time in Israeli elections. As prime minister, Begin strongly supported the development of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories and opposed Palestinian sovereignty.
Egypt began peace initiatives with Israel in late 1977, when Egyptian President Sadat visited Jerusalem. A year later, with the help of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, terms of peace between Egypt and Israel were negotiated at Camp David, Md. (see Camp David accords). A formal treaty, signed on Mar. 26, 1979, in Washington, D.C., granted full recognition of Israel by Egypt, opened trade relations between the two countries, returned the Sinai to Egyptian control (completed in 1982), and limited Egyptian military buildup in the Sinai.
- The 1980s to the Present
Israeli troops briefly invaded (1979) Lebanon in an unsuccessful attempt to eliminate Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) bases and forces used in raids on N Israel. On June 6, 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in a second attempt. Israeli troops advanced to Beirut and surrounded the western part of the city, which housed PLO headquarters, and a siege ensued. Israeli troops began a gradual move out of Lebanon (completed in 1985) after PLO forces withdrew from Beirut. A 6-mi (10-km) deep security zone within S Lebanon was established to protect N Israeli settlements.
Begin had been returned to office in 1981, but he resigned in 1983 and was replaced by Likud's Yitzhak Shamir. Undecisive majorities in the 1984 elections led to a sharing of the prime ministership by Shamir and Shimon Peres of the Labor party. Shamir, who regained sole prime ministership after the 1988 elections, strongly upheld the policy of increased Jewish settlement in the occupied territories. Large numbers of emigrants from Ethiopia and, primarily, the Soviet Union increased Israel's population by nearly 10% in three years (1989–92), leading to increased unemployment and a lack of housing.
In Dec., 1987, a popular Arab uprising (Intifada) began against Israeli rule in the occupied territories. During the Persian Gulf War in early 1991, Israel suffered Iraqi missile attacks, as Iraq unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the allied coalition and widen the war. Peace talks between Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation began in Aug., 1991.
Rabin reentered the political scene in 1992, becoming prime minister after the defeat of the Likud party and the establishment of a Labor-led coalition. He pursued Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, in which significant progress was made. In 1993, Israel and the PLO signed an accord providing for joint recognition and for limited Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and Jericho. In 1995, Israel and the PLO agreed on a transition to Palestinian self-rule in most of the West Bank, although acts of terrorism continued to darken Israeli-Palestinian relations. In 1994 a treaty with Jordan ended the 46-year-old state of war between the two nations.
In Nov., 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli extremist who opposed the West Bank peace accord with the PLO; Peres, who was foreign minister, became prime minister. In early 1996, Israel was hit by a series of suicide bombs, and Shiite Muslims launched rocket attacks into Israel from Lebanon. Retaliating, Israel blockaded the port of Beirut and launched a series of attacks on targets in S Lebanon.
The 1996 elections, in which the prime minister was elected directly for the first time, resulted in a narrow victory for Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed Labor's land-for-peace deals. In an attempt to allay fears about Israel's future policies, Netanyahu pledged to continue the peace process. After setbacks and delays, most of Hebron was handed over to Palestinian control in Jan., 1997, and, under an accord signed in 1998, Israel agreed to withdraw from additional West Bank territory, while the Palestinian Authority pledged to take stronger measures to fight terrorism. Further negotiations over territory, however, were essentially stalled.
In the May, 1999, elections, Labor returned to power under Ehud Barak, a former army chief of staff. He formed a broad-based coalition government, promising to ease tensions between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, as well as to move the peace process forward. In September, Barak and Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, signed an agreement to finalize their borders and determine the status of Jerusalem within a year; Israel also began implementation of a plan to hand over additional West Bank territory, which was completed in Mar., 2000.
Barak's coalition was weakened in May, 2000, when three right-of-center parties pulled out of the government. In the same month, Israeli forces withdrew from the buffer zone that had long been maintained in S Lebanon. In July, negotiations in the United States between Israel and the Palestinians ended without success, and Israeli-Palestinian relations turned extremely acrimonious when a September visit by Ariel Sharon to the Haram esh-Sherif (the Temple Mount to Jews) in Jerusalem sparked riots that escalated into a new, ongoing cycle of violence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel itself. Barak resigned in Dec., 2000, in an attempt to reestablish a electoral mandate, but he was trounced in the Feb., 2001, election by Ariel Sharon, who formed a national unity government.
Despite Israeli military incursions into Palestinian territory and attacks on Palestinian authorities and forces, Palestinian attacks on Israelis in Israel and the occupied territories did not end, and in 2002 Sharon's government ordered the reoccupation of West Bank towns in a new attempt to stop those attacks. In Oct., 2002, Labor members of the government accused Sharon of favoring Israeli settlers in the occupied territories over the poor, and withdrew their support. Left with a minority government, Sharon called for parliamentary elections in early 2003, and in January Likud won a substantial victory at the polls. The following month Sharon formed a four-party, mainly right-wing coalition government.
In May, 2003, Sharon's government accepted the internationally supported "road map for peace" with some limitations; the plan envisioned the establishment of a Palestinian state in three years. Talks resumed with Palestinian authorities, who also negotiated a three-month cease-fire with Palestinian militants, and Israel made some conciliatory moves in Gaza and the West Bank. Suicide bombings and Israeli revenge attacks resumed, however, in August, and in October Israel attacked Syria for the first time in 20 years, bombing what it termed a terrorist training camp in retaliation for suicide bombings.
Israel's ongoing construction of a 400-mi (640-km) fence and wall security barrier in the West Bank, potentially enclosing some 15% of that territory, brought widespread international condemnation in late 2003, and a July, 2004, advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice (requested by Palestinians and the UN General Assembly) termed its construction illegal under international law because it was being constructed on Palestinian lands. Meanwhile, an Israeli court ruling (June) ordered the wall to be rerouted in certain areas because of the hardship it would cause Palestinians.
In March the killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin heightened tensions in the occupied territories, especially the Gaza Strip. Sharon's plan to withdraw from the latter, while supported by most Israelis, was rejected in a nonbinding vote (May, 2004) by Likud party members. The plan then resulted in defections from his coalition, but Sharon vowed to complete the withdrawal, which was being undertaken for security reasons, by the end of 2005. In Oct., 2004, he secured parliamentary approval for the plan. The plan also called for abandoning a few settlements in the West Bank while expanding others there. Sharon formed a new coalition that included the Labor party, which supported the Gaza withdrawal, in Jan., 2005. He subsequently agreed to a truce with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, and in Mar., 2005, Israeli forces began withdrawing from Jericho and other West Bank towns. The planned Gaza withdrawal sparked protests by settlers and their allies beginning in June, but in August the evacuation of the settlements proceeded relatively straightforwardly. Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza the following month.
In Nov., 2005, Shimon Peres lost his Labor party leadership post to Amir Peretz, a trade union leader. Peretz pulled Labor from the government, prompting new elections, and Sharon withdrew from Likud to form the centrist Kadima [Forward] party, in an attempt to force a realignment of Israeli politics and retain the prime ministership. In Jan., 2006, however, Sharon suffered an incapacitating stroke and was hospitalized. Ehud Olmert, the deputy prime minister, became acting prime minister and leader of the new party.
The Kadima party won a plurality in the Mar., 2006, elections, with Labor placing second. In April, Sharon was declared permanently incapacitated; Olmert became prime minister, and in May formed a new coalition government. Escalating rocket attacks from Gaza and the capture by Hamas guerrillas of an Israeli soldier led to an Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip in June, 2006, as well as other actions against Hamas and the Palestinians. Israel continue to mount attacks into Gaza in the succeeding months.
In July, Lebanese Hezbollah forces captured two Israeli soldiers, and Israel launched air attacks against targets throughout Lebanon and sent troops as far as 18.5 mi (30 km) into S Lebanon; Hezbollah responded mainly with rocket attacks against N Israel, including Haifa and Tiberias, but also offered resistance on the ground against Israeli forces. A UN-mediated cease-fire took effect in mid-August, and by early October Israel had essentially withdrawn from Lebanon. The invasion's aim of disarming Hezbollah and winning the release of the captured Israeli soldiers was in the main unattained, and Hezbollah's sustained resistance to Israeli forces enhanced the group's prestige in the Arab world. Amnesty International accused both sides of war crimes in the fighting, mainly because of their attacks on civilians.
As a result of the fighting in Gaza and Lebanon and the rise of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, Olmert suspended his planned unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, and brought (Oct,. 2006) a far-right party into his government to strengthen the coalition in the Knesset. Also in October, Israeli police accused Israeli President Moshe Katsav of sexual assault and other crimes, prompting an investigation and leading to calls for Katsav to resign (which he refused to do). The Israeli group Peace Now asserted in November that, according to government documents, nearly 40% (and perhaps more) of the land on which Israel's West Bank settlements were built was privately owned Palestinian land, in violation of Israeli law. More current information given by the government to the group in Mar., 2007, indicated that private land made up more than 30% of the settlements but did not indicate how much was Palestinian-owned (the vast bulk of the private land in the first set of documents was Palestinian).
In Jan., 2007, the head of the Israeli armed forces resigned, taking responsibility for the unsuccessful anti-Hezbollah campaign of 2006; his resignation led the opposition to call for the prime minister and defense minister to resign as well. (An independent report, released in Apr., 2007, was critical of the prime minister's and defense minister's handling of the invasion.) Late in Jan., 2007, Katsav secured a suspension of his duties as president after Israel's attorney general said he was considering charging Katsav with rape and other crimes; a plea deal in June allowed him to plead guilty to lesser charges and avoid prison but forced him to resign. (In Apr., 2008, however, Katsav withdrew from the plea bargain and decided to contest any charges; he was convicted of rape in Dec., 2010.) and Shimon Peres was elected president earlier the same month.
The takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas forces (also in June, 2007) led to increased talks with the Palestinian Authority and other moves designed to strengthen President Abbas, as well as Israeli restrictions on cross-border trade into the Gaza Strip. In September, Israeli jets attacked a military site in N Syria that some reports suggested was part of nuclear program. Under U.S.-sponsorship, an international Mideast peace conference was held in Annapolis, Md., in Nov., 2007, in an attempt to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. In early 2008, in response to Hamas rocket attacks, Israel tightened its blockade of goods into the Gaza Strip, but that move and Israeli retaliatory attacks failed to stop the rocket attacks. In June, 2008, however, Egypt brokered a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza's Palestinian factions that included an easing of border restrictions, and the cease-fire largely held until November.
Also in June, Olmert, facing the loss of Labor party support because of an investigation into his alleged receipt of bribes, agreed to face a vote for the leadership of Kadima in Sept., 2008, in order to preserve the governing coalition; he later decided not to run for party leader. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was elected Kadima party leader, but she was unable to form a new governing coalition.
In Nov., 2008, significant fighting between Palestinian and Israeli forces began in Gaza, with rocket attacks against neighboring portions of Israel and Israeli retaliatory strikes against the Gaza Strip. In Jan., 2009, Israeli forces invaded the territory in what Israel said was an attempt to stop rocket attacks against Israel (during the fighting one rocket attack reached Ashdod, 20 mi (32 km) from Gaza). The extent of the destruction and number of non-Hamas deaths resulting from the fighting led to criticism of Israel, and both Israel and Hamas were accused by human rights groups of committing war crimes.
Parliamentary elections in Feb., 2009, resulted in a narrow plurality for Kadima and significant gains for Likud and other right-wing parties. Likud leader and former prime minister Netanyahu forged a largely right-wing coalition (the Labor party also joined the government), and became prime minister in April.
Israel's continuing approval of new construction in the West Bank led to U.S. criticism in Nov., 2009, that Israel was frustrating peace negotiations. The government subsequently suspended new construction for 10 months, but the exclusion of East Jerusalem from the moratorium and the continuing construction of buildings already begun was denounced by the Palestinians. When the moratorium ended in Sept., 2010, there had been little progress if any in negotiations, and a year later the Palestinian Authority unsuccessfully sought recognition from, and full membership in, the United Nations. Israel was widely condemned internationally for a deadly raid in May, 2010, on a Turkish-organized convoy that was seeking to challenge Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. The raid, which occurred in international waters, significantly strained Israel's already increasingly difficult relations with Turkey.
In May, 2012, after Netanyahu proposed early elections for Sept., 2012, Kadima joined the governing coalition, but it withdrew two months later in objection to a proposed replacement for an unconstitutional law that permitted students in religious studies to defer military service. In October the Knesset was dissolved and early elections called for Jan., 2013. In Nov., 2012, Israeli air strikes against the Gaza Strip, including one that killed the Hamas military chief, sparked the most intense cross-border attacks with Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip since early 2009. After the Palestinian Authority received de facto recognition as an independent state from the UN General Assembly in Dec., 2012, the Israeli government authorized the development of thousands of new settler homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
In the 2013 elections the Likud alliance won a plurality but lost a quarter of the seats it had held. A center-right coalition government was formed in March, with Netanyahu again as prime minister; it was the first Israeli government in nearly three decades that did not include an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party. In mid-2013, U.S.-brokered peace talks resumed.
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