| State of Israel|
Map of Israel
|Official languages||Hebrew, Arabic|
- Prime Minister
| Parliamentary republic|
Edvard Akiva Abramovicz
- from British Mandate of Palestine
14 May 1948
- Water (%)
8,019 sq mi
- July 2007 est.
- Per capita
|Currency|| Shekel (|
|Time zone |
- Israeli Standard Time (IST)
Israeli Daylight Savings Time (IDT)
Israel is a developed state in Western Asia located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan in the east, and Egypt on the southwest, and contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. Also adjacent are the West Bank to the east and Gaza Strip to the southwest. Israel is the world's only predominantly Jewish state with a population of about 7.4 million people, of whom approximately 5.62 million are Jewish. The largest ethnic minority group is the segment denominated as Arab citizens of Israel, while minority religious groups include Muslims, Christians, Druze, Samaritans and others, most of which are found within the Arab segment.
The modern state of Israel has its historical and religious roots in the Biblical Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael), a concept central to Judaism since ancient times, and the heartland of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Following the birth of political Zionism in 1897 and the Balfour Declaration, the League of Nations granted the United Kingdom the British Mandate of Palestine after World War I, with responsibility for establishing "...such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion..." In November 1947 the United Nations decided on partition of Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a UN-administered Jerusalem. Partition was accepted by Zionist leaders but rejected by Arab leaders leading to the 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine. Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948 and neighboring Arab states attacked the next day. Since then, Israel has fought a series of wars with neighboring Arab states, and in consequence, Israel controls territories beyond those delineated in the 1949 Armistice Agreements. Some international borders remain in dispute, however Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, though efforts to resolve conflict with the Palestinians have so far only met with limited success.
Israel is a representative democracy with a parliamentary system and universal suffrage. The Prime Minister serves as head of government and the Knesset serves as Israel's legislative body. The economy, based on the nominal gross domestic product, is the 44th-largest in the world. Israel ranks highest among Middle Eastern countries on the UN human development index, freedom of the press, and economic competitiveness. Jerusalem is the country's capital, seat of government, and largest city, while Israel's main financial center is Tel Aviv.
Government and PoliticsEdit
Israel operates under a parliamentary system as a democratic republic with universal suffrage. The President of Israel is the head of state, but his duties are limited and largely ceremonial. A Parliament Member supported by a majority in parliament becomes the Prime Minister, usually the chairman of the largest party. The Prime Minister is the head of government and head of the Cabinet. Israel is governed by a 120-member parliament, known as the Knesset. Membership in the Knesset is based on proportional representation of political parties, with a 2% electoral threshold, which commonly results in coalition governments. Parliamentary elections are scheduled every four years, but unstable coalitions or a no-confidence vote by the Knesset often dissolves governments earlier. "The average life span of an Israeli government is 22 months. The peace process, the role of religion in the state, and political scandals have caused coalitions to break apart or produced early elections." The Basic Laws of Israel function as an unwritten constitution. In 2003, the Knesset began to draft an official constitution based on these laws.
Israel has a three-tier court system. At the lowest level are magistrate courts, situated in most cities across the country. Above them are district courts, serving both as appellate courts and courts of first instance; they are situated in five of Israel's six districts. The third and highest tier in Israel is the Supreme Court, seated in Jerusalem. It serves a dual role as the highest court of appeals and the High Court of Justice. In the latter role, the Supreme Court rules as a court of first instance, allowing individuals, both citizens and non-citizens, to petition against decisions of state authorities. Israel is not a member of the International Criminal Court as it fears the court would be biased against it due to political pressure. Israel's legal system combines English common law, civil law, and Jewish law. It is based on the principle of stare decisis (precedent) and is an adversarial system, where the parties in the suit bring evidence before the court. Court cases are decided by professional judges rather than juries. Marriage and divorce are under the jurisdiction of the religious courts: Jewish, Muslim, Druze, and Christian. A committee of Knesset members, Supreme Court justices, and Israeli Bar members carries out the election of judges.
Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty seeks to defend human rights and liberties in Israel. Israel is the only country in the region ranked "Free" by Freedom House based on the level of civil liberties and political rights; the "Israeli Occupied Territories/Palestinian Authority" was ranked "Not Free." Similarly, Reporters Without Borders rated Israel 50th out of 168 countries in terms of freedom of the press and highest among Southwest Asian countries. Nevertheless, groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have often disapproved of Israel's human rights record in regards to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel's civil liberties also allow for self-criticism, from groups such as B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization.
The State of Israel is divided into six main administrative districts, known as mehozot (מחוזות; singular: mahoz) – Center, Haifa, Jerusalem, North, Southern, and Tel Aviv Districts. Districts are further divided into fifteen sub-districts known as nafot (נפות; singular: nafa), which are themselves partitioned into fifty natural regions. For statistical purposes, the country is divided into three metropolitan areas: Tel Aviv and Gush Dan (population 3,150,000), Haifa (population 996,000), and Beersheba (population 531,600). Israel's largest city, both in population and area, is Jerusalem with 732,100 residents in an area of 126 square kilometers (49 sq mi). Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Rishon LeZion rank as Israel's next most populous cities, with populations of 384,600, 267,000, and 222,300 respectively.
In 1967, as a result of the Six-Day War, Israel gained control of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza strip and the Golan Heights. Israel also took control of the Sinai Peninsula, but returned it to Egypt as part of the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. Following Israel's capture of these territories, settlements consisting of Israeli citizens were established within each of them. Israel has applied civilian law to the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, incorporating them into its territory and offering their inhabitants permanent residency status and the possibility to become full citizen if they asked it. In contrast, the West Bank has remained under military occupation, and it and the Gaza Strip are seen by the Palestinians and most of the international community as the site of a future Palestinian state. The UN Security Council has declared the incorporations of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem to be "null and void" and continues to view the territories as occupied. The status of East Jerusalem in any future peace settlement has at times been a difficult hurdle in negotiations between Israeli governments and representatives of the Palestinians. Most negotiations relating to the territories have been on the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which calls on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories in return for normalization of relations with Arab states, a principle known as "Land for peace". Map of the Golan Heights
The West Bank was annexed by Jordan in 1948, following the Arab rejection of the UN decision to create two states in Palestine. Only Britain recognized this annexation and Jordan has since ceded its claim to the territory to the PLO. The West Bank was occupied by Israel in 1967. The population are mainly Arab Palestinians, including refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. From their occupation in 1967 until 1993, the Palestinians living in these territories were under Israeli military administration. Since the Israel-PLO letters of recognition, most of the Palestinian population and cities have been under the internal jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, and only partial Israeli military control, although Israel has on several occasions redeployed its troops and reinstated full military administration during periods of unrest. In response to increasing attacks as part of the Second Intifada, the Israeli government started to construct the Israeli West Bank barrier, which is partially built within the West Bank.
The Gaza strip was occupied by Egypt from 1948 to 1967 and then by Israel from 1967 to 2005. In 2005, as part of Israel's unilateral disengagement plan, Israel removed all of its residents and forces from the territory. However, Israel still controls Gaza's airspace and sea access and has on occasion sent troops into the area. Gaza has a border with Egypt and an agreement between Israel, the EU, the PA and Egypt governed how border crossing would take place (it was monitored by European observers), However the election of a Hamas government has led to problems in implementing it resulting in the border crossing being closed much of the time. Inner control of Gaza is in the hands of the Hamas government.
Israel maintains diplomatic relations with 161 countries and has 94 diplomatic missions around the world. Only three members of the Arab League have normalized relations with Israel; Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties in 1979 and 1994, respectively, and Mauritania opted for full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1999. Two other members of the Arab League, Morocco and Tunisia, which had some diplomatic relations with Israel, severed them at the start of the Second Intifada in 2000. Since 2003, ties with Morocco have been improved, and Israel's foreign minister has visited the country. As a result of the 2009 Gaza War, Mauritania, Qatar, Bolivia, and Venezuela suspended political and economical ties with Israel. Under Israeli law, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Yemen are enemy countries and Israeli citizens may not visit them without permission from the Ministry of the Interior. Since 1995, Israel has been a member of the Mediterranean Dialogue, which fosters cooperation between seven countries in the Mediterranean Basin and the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Foreign relations with United States, Turkey, Germany, the United Kingdom and India are among Israel's strongest. The United States was the first country to recognize the State of Israel, followed by the Soviet Union. The United States may regard Israel as its primary ally in the Middle East, based on "common democratic values, religious affinities, and security interests". Their bilateral relations are multidimensional and the United States is the principal proponent of the Arab-Israeli peace process. U.S. and Israeli views differ on some issues, such as the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, and settlements. Although Turkey and Israel did not establish full diplomatic relations until 1991, Turkey has cooperated with the State since its recognition of Israel in 1949. Turkey's ties to the other Muslim-majority nations in the region have at times resulted in pressure from Arab states to temper its relationship with Israel. Relations between Turkey and Israel took a downturn, however, after the former's condemnation of Israel after the 2009 Gaza War. Germany's strong ties with Israel include cooperation on scientific and educational endeavours and the two states remain strong economic and military partners. India established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992 and has fostered a strong military and cultural partnership with the country since then. The UK has kept full diplomatic relations with Israel since its formation having had two visits from heads of state in 2007. Relations between the two countries were also made stronger by former Prime Minister Tony Blair's efforts for a two state resolution. The UK is seen as having a "natural" relationship with Israel on account of the British Mandate of Palestine. Iran had diplomatic relations with Israel under the Pahlavi dynasty but withdrew its recognition of Israel during the Iranian Revolution.
Israel is considered one of the most advanced countries in Southwest Asia in economic and industrial development. The country is ranked 3rd in the region on the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index as well as in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report. It has the second-largest number of startup companies in the world (after the United States) and the largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies outside North America. In 2007, Israel had the 44th-highest gross domestic product and 22nd-highest gross domestic product per capita (at purchasing power parity) at US$232.7 billion and US$33, 299, respectively. In 2007, Israel was invited to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development,which promotes cooperation between countries that adhere to democratic principles and operate free market economies.
Despite limited natural resources, intensive development of the agricultural and industrial sectors over the past decades has made Israel largely self-sufficient in food production, apart from grains and beef. Other major imports to Israel, totaling US$47.8 billion in 2006, include fossil fuels, raw materials, and military equipment. Leading exports include fruits, vegetables, pharmaceuticals, software, chemicals, military technology, and diamonds; in 2006, Israeli exports reached US$42.86 billion. Israel is a global leader in water conservation and geothermal energy, and its development of cutting-edge technologies in software, communications and the life sciences have evoked comparisons with Silicon Valley. Intel and Microsoft built their first overseas research and development centers in Israel, and other high-tech multi-national corporations, such as IBM, Cisco Systems, and Motorola, have opened facilities in the country. In July 2007, U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway bought an Israeli company Iscar, its first non-U.S. acquisition, for $4 billion. Since the 1970s, Israel has received economic aid from the United States, whose loans account for the bulk of Israel's external debt. In 2007, the United States approved another $30 billion in aid to Israel over the next ten years.
Tourism, especially religious tourism, is another important industry in Israel, with the country's temperate climate, beaches, archaeological and historical sites, and unique geography also drawing tourists. Israel's security problems have taken their toll on the industry, but the number of incoming tourists is on the rebound. In 2008, over 3 million tourists visited Israel.
see main article Israel Defence Forces
The Israel Defense Forces consists of the Israeli Army, Israeli Air Force and Israeli Navy. It was founded during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War by consolidating paramilitary organizations – chiefly the Haganah – that preceded the establishment of the state. The IDF also draws upon the resources of the Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman), which works with the Mossad and Shabak. The Israel Defense Forces has been involved in several major wars and border conflicts in its short history, making it one of the most battle-trained armed forces in the world.
The majority of Israelis are drafted into the military at the age of eighteen. Men serve three years and women serve two years. Following compulsory service, Israeli men join the reserve forces and do several weeks of reserve duty every year until their forties. Most women are exempt from reserve duty. Arab citizens of Israel (except the Druze) and those engaged in full-time religious studies are exempt from military service, although the exemption of yeshiva students has been a source of contention in Israeli society for many years. An alternative for those who receive exemptions on various grounds is Sherut Leumi, or national service, which involves a program of service in hospitals, schools and other social welfare frameworks. As a result of its conscription program, the IDF maintains approximately 168,000 active troops and an additional 408,000 reservists.
The nation's military relies heavily on high-tech weapons systems designed and manufactured in Israel as well as some foreign imports. The United States is a particularly notable foreign contributor; they are expected to provide the country with $30 billion in military aid between 2008 and 2017. The Israeli- and U.S.-designed Arrow missile is one of the world's only operational anti-ballistic missile systems. Since the Yom Kippur War, Israel has developed a network of reconnaissance satellites. The success of the Ofeq program has made Israel one of seven countries capable of launching such satellites. The country has also developed its own main battle tank, the Merkava. Since its establishment, Israel has spent a significant portion of its gross domestic product on defense. In 1984, for example, the country spent 24% of its GDP on defense. Today, that figure has dropped to 7.3%.
Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons. However, Israel has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and maintains a policy of deliberate ambiguity toward its nuclear capabilities.
After the Gulf War in 1991, when Israel was attacked by Iraqi Scud missiles, a law was passed requiring all apartments and homes in Israel to have a mamad, a reinforced security room impermeable to chemical and biological substances.