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This article is about the modern state of Israel; for other uses see Israel (disambiguation)

The State of Israel is a state in Asia, in the Middle East, with a majority Jewish population, bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It is a geographically small country, with a population of just over six million (excluding the territories of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights).

The State of Israel's 1948 founding and continued existence has been a source of many conflicts with its neighbouring countries: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. Israel is also currently experiencing an on-going dispute with the Palestinians.

מדינת ישראל
Medinat Yisrael
Official languagesHebrew, Arabic
CapitalJerusalem (disputed)1
PresidentMoshe Katsav
Prime MinisterAriel Sharon
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 149th
21,900 km²
 - Total (2003)
 - Density
Ranked 99th
IndependenceMay 14, 1948
Currency1 New sheqel (NIS) = 100 Agorot
Time zoneUTC +2/+3
National anthemHatikvah
Internet TLD.IL
Calling Code972

Table of contents
1 History
2 Politics
3 Military
4 Geography
5 Economy
6 Demographics
7 Culture
8 Miscellaneous topics
9 Footnotes
10 Related articles
11 External links


Main article History of Israel

Israel is considered the spiritual home of many Jews. A Jewish state existed intermittently in the region for over a millennium until expulsion by the Roman authorities in the second century CE. The Romans renamed the land Palestine after the Jews' ancient enemies, who lived in the area centuries before - the Philistines. It was conquered from the Romans (Byzantines) by the Caliphate in the seventh century and became populated by Arabs.

Following centuries of diaspora, the nineteenth century saw the rise of Zionism, a desire to see the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine. Jews began moving to the Turkish and later British controlled region.

In 1947, the British government agreed to withdraw from their mandate of Palestine. The 1947 UN Partition Plan split the mandate into two states, giving about half the land to each state. The Jews, with about 30% of the population, got 55% of the land, including the coveted coastal strip. Arab authorities rejected the plan.

On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed in territory given for the Jewish state in the UN plan. The armies of five Arab nations intervened in the ongoing war between Jews and Arabs in Palestine (see: Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948, 1948 Arab-Israeli War). Israel captured an additional 26% of the mandate territory, and annexed it to the new state. After the war, only 14-25% (depending on estimate) of the Arab population remained in Israel, the rest became refugees. At the same time, many Jews were made refugees from the surrounding Arab nations. As with many states, Israel has minority ethnic groups that do not feel themselves properly part of the "Israeli nation," though they do hold Israeli citizenship. Prominent among these are the Israeli Arabs, many of whom consider themselves as belonging to a Palestinian nation. How to adjust the Israeli state to accommodate the sense of identity of this grouping without endangering the state's Jewish character, is an important issue in modern-day Israeli-Palestinian relations.

In 1967, the Six-Day War resulted in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula becoming occupied by Israel. The Golan Heights and East Jerusalem have since been annexed by Israel; the Sinai has been returned to Egypt; and the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is the subject of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (see Geography below for more).

See also: Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestine, Palestinian Exodus, Palestinian refugee and Jewish refugees.


Main article Politics of Israel

Israel is a constitutional, parliamentary republic. Israel's legislative branch is a 120-member parliament known as the Knesset. Elections to the Knesset are normally held every four years, but the Knesset can decide to dissolve itself ahead of time by a simple majority. The President of Israel is head of state, serving as a largely powerless figurehead. The President selects the leader of the majority party or ruling coalition in the Knesset as the Prime Minister, who serves as head of government.2

Another of the few powers granted to the president is the ability to appoint justices to the supreme court who serve for life. Their decisions have historically been subject to parliamentary supremacy and they can be removed from office by vote of the Knesset.

Israel has no official written constitution; its government functions are based on the laws of the Knesset, especially by the "Basic Laws", which are special laws the Knesset legislate, (currently there are 15 of them), which will become together the future official constitution. The declaration of the State of Israel has a significance in this matter as well.

Because of its parliamentary system, coalitions in the Knesset can often be unstable and are usually made up of at least two parties. Coalitions can be difficult to form and hard to keep together because of the large number of political parties, many of whom run on very specialized platforms, often advocating the tenets of particular Jewish sects.

In the past thirty years, the largest parties have been the conservative Likud Party and the third-way Labour Party. However, they do not attract sufficient support to avoid governing without the help of smaller parties such as Shas, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party which also tends to support high social spending; Shinui, a secularist conservative party and foe of Shas, which also works to undermine social spending; the National Union Party, a far-right party advocating transfer of Palestinian refugees to resettle in Arab countries; the Mafdal - the national religious party, affiliated with religious Zionists (kipot srugot); and Meretz, a social-democratic party which is sometimes supportive of the Palestinian cause. All governments have so far avoided forming a coalition with parties representative of the Palestinian minority, such as the Arab-Jewish communist Hadash party, the liberal-nationalist Tajamu' party or the conservative-Islamic bloc United Arab List party.

Parties of the left have dominated Israel's elections until 1974, when following the 1973 War the ruling Labour party began to lose popularity. On the right, the Likud party was formed by a union of the Liberals and the nationalistic conservative Herut party. 1977 marked the beginning of right-wing dominance in Israeli politics, with the ascendance of Likud's Menachem Begin as prime minister. The Likud continued to form most governments since then, sometimes with Labour as its main coalition partner, with the exception of the Labour-Meretz coalitions between 1992-1996 and 1999-2001. In 2003, the Likud-headed government of prime minister Ariel Sharon gave left-wing parties their worst showing in years.

See also: List of political parties in Israel.


Main article Military of Israel

Most Israelis over the age of 18 are drafted into the military shortly after completing high school. Service is for two or three years, and can vary widely, depending on the soldier and current political climate.

Israel is widely regarded as being an undeclared nuclear power -- it operates nuclear facilities and is generally believed to be in the possession of nuclear warheads, while it is not a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, no inspections from the outside take place, and the nation maintains a public policy of "nuclear ambiguity".

Israel is technically at war with Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, with previous declarations of war never being repealed by either side.


Main article: Geography of Israel


Israel is a country whose exact territorial boundaries and borders are widely disputed.

The territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 war are not included in the Israel country profile, unless otherwise noted. In keeping with the framework established at the Madrid Conference in October 1991, bilateral negotiations are being conducted between Israeli and Palestinian representatives (from the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip) and Israel and Syria, to achieve a permanent settlement. On April 25 1982, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula pursuant to the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. Outstanding territorial and other disputes with Jordan were resolved in the 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace.


Main article: Economy of Israel

Israel has a technologically advanced market economy with substantial government participation. It depends on imports of crude oil and gas, grains, raw materials, and military equipment. Despite limited natural resources, Israel has intensively developed its agricultural and industrial sectors over the past 20 years. Israel is largely self-sufficient in food production except for grains. Diamonds, high-technology equipment, and agricultural products (fruits and vegetables) are leading exports. Israel usually posts sizable current account deficits, which are covered by large transfer payments from abroad and by foreign loans. Roughly half of the government's external debt is owed to the U.S, which is its major source of economic and military aid. The influx of Jewish immigrants from the former USSR topped 750,000 during the period 1989-1999, bringing the population of Israel from the former Soviet Union to 1 million, one-sixth of the total population, and adding scientific and professional expertise of substantial value for the economy's future. The influx, coupled with the opening of new markets at the end of the Cold War, energized Israel's economy, which grew rapidly in the early 1990s. But growth began slowing in 1996 when the government imposed tighter fiscal and monetary policies and the immigration bonus petered out. Those policies brought inflation down to record low levels in 1999.


Main article: Demographics of Israel

As of 2001, 81% of Israel's population is of Jewish nationality. Among Jews, 26% have at least one Israeli-born parent, 37% are first-generation Israelis, 27% are immigrants from the West, and 30% are from developing countries in Asia and Africa, including Arab countries.[1]

6% of Israeli Jews define themselves as haredim (ultra-orthodox religious); an additional 9% are "religious"; 34% consider themselves "traditionalists" (not strictly adhering to Jewish halacha) ; and 51% are "secular". Among the seculars, 53% believe in God.[1]

Arabs make up 18% of Israel's population. Within this group is a minority of Palestinian Christians who make 9% of the Israeli Arab population.[1]

There are also a number of smaller minorities, including Druze (1.5%) and a tiny Armenian community.

As of 2001, 201,000 Israeli citizens live in settlements in the West Bank and 7,000 in the Gaza Strip. They are subject to Israeli law and lead lives similar to other Jewish Israelis.[1]


Main article: Culture of Israel

DateEnglish NameLocal NameRange of possible dates
in Gregorian calendar
Tishri 1New YearRosh Hashanahbetween Sept 6 & Oct 5
Tishri 10Day of AtonementYom Kippurbetween Sept 15 & Oct 14
Tishri 15Feast of Tabernacles (Booths)Sukkotbetween Sept 20 & Oct 19
Tishri 22Assembly of the Eighth DayShemini Atzeretbetween Sept 27 & Oct 26
Nissan 15PassoverPesachbetween March 27 & April 25
Nissan 21PassoverPesachbetween April 2 & May 1
Iyar 5Independence DayYom Ha-Atzmautbetween April 16 & May 15
Sivan 6PentecostShavuotbetween May 16 & June 14

Miscellaneous topics


See also: Land of Israel, Palestine, Ancient kingdom of Israel, Judaism, Holy Land


1 Jerusalem is Israel's officially designated capital, and the location of its presidential residence, government offices and the Knesset, the parliament. However, most countries dissent this designation, and consider the status of Jerusalem as an unresolved issue, due to Israel's capture of the Eastern half of Jerusalem (and subsequent "reunification") from Jordan during the Six Day War. They believe that the final issue of the status of Jerusalem will be determined in future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; Therefore, those countries locate their embassies in other major Israeli cities, like Tel-Aviv, Ramat-Gan, Herzliya etc..

Moreover, some of the dissenting countries do not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, due to what they perceive as illegal Israeli action in designating the city to be its capital in the first place (1950), as well as Israel's capture of the Eastern Jordan half from Jordan, in 1967. These states instead recognize Tel Aviv, the temporary capital for a time in 1948, when Jerusalem was under arab siege, as the continuous legitimate capital, and as a result keep their embassies there. See the article on Jerusalem for more.
2 For a short period in the 1990s the prime minister was directly elected by the electorate. This change was not viewed a success and was abandoned.

Related articles

External links

Government of Israel


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