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For other uses, see Israel (disambiguation).
מדינת ישראל
(Medīnat Yisra'el)
دولة إسرائيل
(Dawlat Isrā'īl)
Flag of Israel Coat of Arms of Israel
(Flag) (Coat of Arms)
Motto: none
Anthem: Hatikvah
Location of Israel
Capital Jerusalem1
31°47′ N 35°13′ E
Largest city Jerusalem
Official languages Hebrew, Arabic
Government Parliamentary democracy
Moshe Katsav
Ariel Sharon
 - Declaration
From the League of Nations mandate administered by the United Kingdom
14 May 1948 (05 Iyar 5708)
 • Total
 • Water (%)
20,770 km² (150th)
 • August 2005 est.
 • 2003 census
 • Density
6,921,400 (97th)
333/km² (19th)
 • Total
 • Per capita
2005 estimate
$154,174 million (52nd)
$22,944 (30th)
Currency New Israeli sheqel (₪) (ILS)
Time zone
 • Summer (DST)
Internet TLD .il
Calling code +972

The State of Israel (Hebrew: , without niqqud: מדינת ישראל, transliteration: Medinat Yisra'el; Arabic: دَوْلَةْ إِسْرَائِيل, transliteration: Dawlat Israil) is a country in the Middle East on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a parliamentary democracy and the world's only Jewish state. The name "Israel" means "One Who Struggles with God," and is rooted in the Biblical passage Genesis 32:28 wherein Jacob is renamed Israel after struggling with an unnamed assailant.

The population of Israel is about eighty percent Jewish. Sixty six percent of Israeli Jews were born in Israel, with the rest having arrived as refugees or voluntary immigrants (see aliyah). About twenty percent of Israelis are Arabs, mostly Muslim, although some are Christian or Druze. It is official policy to preserve Israel as a Jewish state in both its ethnic character and a religious sense.

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

Israel has occupied the West Bank and the Golan Heights since the Six-Day War of 1967. It withdrew all troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip on September 12, 2005. The future status of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights remains to be determined.



Main article History of Israel.

Historical roots

Most believe that the area on which the State of Israel now stands was the birthplace of Judaism in the 10th century BCE or earlier, although some scholars dispute this.[1] [2]. The earliest mention of the name 'Israel' is in Ancient Egyptian accounts of conquered lands in Asia minor, dating back to about 1500BCE. For over 3,000 years, Jews have held the Land of Israel to be their homeland, both as a Holy Land and as a Promised Land. Non-Jews have also held similar claims. As a result, the Land of Israel holds a special place in Jewish religious obligations and Judaism's most important sites, including the remains of the First and Second Temple. Starting around 1200 B.C.E., a series of Jewish kingdoms and states existed intermittently in the region for over a millennium until the failure of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire resulted in widescale expulsion of Jews (see Destruction of Jerusalem).

Under Roman, Byzantine, and (briefly) Persian rule, Jewish presence in the province dwindled, but the Mishnah and Jerusalem Talmud, two of Judaism's most important religious texts, were composed in Palestine during this period. The Arabs conquered the land from the Eastern Roman Empire in 638 CE and the area was ruled by various Arab states before becoming part of the Ottoman Empire in 1517. Throughout the centuries the size of Jewish population in the land fluctuated with the population in the region of the present day Israel, numbering approximately 20-25,000 in 1881 of a total population of 470,000.

Zionism and Aliyah

Main articles: Zionism and Aliyah.

The first wave of Jewish emigration to Israel, or Aliyah (עלייה) started in the late 1800s as Jews fled persecution. The end of the 19th century saw the founding of Zionism, the national movement to create a Jewish political entity in Palestine, leading to the Second Aliyah during the first two decades of the 20th century with the influx of around 40,000 Jews. In 1917 the British Foreign Secretary Arthur J. Balfour issued the historic Balfour Declaration that "view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people". In 1920 Palestine became a League of Nations mandate administered by Britain (see British Mandate of Palestine).

Jewish immigration resumed in third and fourth waves after World War I. Later, the rise of Nazism in 1933 led to a fifth wave of Aliyah, and the Jews in the region increased from 11% of the population in 1922 to 30% by 1940. The subsequent Holocaust in Europe led to additional immigration from other parts of Europe. By the end of World War II, the number of Jews in Palestine was approximately 600,000.

In 1939 the British abandoned the idea of a Jewish national home, and abandoned partition and negotiations in favour of the unilaterally-imposed White Paper of 1939, which capped Jewish immigration.

Its other stated policy was to establish a system under which both Jews and Arabs were to share one government. As a result of impending world war, the plan was never fully implemented, but the White Paper policy was implemented well into the end of WW2, and enforced even when refugees who survived the Holocaust were fleeing from Nazi persecution. (See Struma article.)

Establishment of the State

See main articles: Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel and 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

In 1947, following increasing levels of violence by militant groups, alongside unsuccessful efforts to reconcile the Jewish and Arab populations, the British government decided to withdraw from the Palestine Mandate. Fulfillment of the 1947 UN Partition Plan would have divided the mandated territory into two states, Jewish and Arab, giving about half the land area to each state. Under this plan, Jerusalem was intended to be an international region under UN administration to avoid conflict over its status. Immediately following the adoption of the Partition Plan by the United Nations General Assembly, the Palestinian Arab leadership rejected the plan to create the as-yet-unnamed Jewish state and launched a guerilla war.

On May 14, 1948, before the expiring of the British Mandate of Palestine on midnight of the May 15, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed. The surrounding Arab states supported the Palestinian Arabs in rejecting both the Partition Plan and the establishment of Israel, and the armies of six Arab nations attacked the State of Israel. Over the next 15 months Israel captured an additional 26% of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan river and annexed it to the new state. Most of the Arab population fled or were expelled during the war. The continuing conflict between Israel and the Arab world resulted in a lasting displacement that persists to this day.

May 16, 1948 edition of Yishuv newspaper The Palestine Post, soon renamed into The Jerusalem Post. In the news: Egyptian Air Force bombs Tel-Aviv, Transjordan shells Jerusalem. 15 May was Shabbat.
May 16, 1948 edition of Yishuv newspaper The Palestine Post, soon renamed into The Jerusalem Post. In the news: Egyptian Air Force bombs Tel-Aviv, Transjordan shells Jerusalem. 15 May was Shabbat.
See main article: Arab-Israeli conflict and articles Palestinian refugee and Palestinian exodus for a discussion of this question.

Immigration of Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab lands doubled Israel's population within a year of independence. Over the following decade approximately 600,000 Mizrahi Jews, who fled or were expelled from surrounding Arab countries, migrated to Israel. Israel's Jewish population continued to grow at a very high rate for some years, and was fed by further waves of Jewish immigration following the collapse of the USSR.

Related articles

Ancient kingdom of Israel - Anti-Semitism - Arab-Israeli conflict - Balfour Declaration 1917 - Camp David 2000 Summit between Palestinians and Israel - Israeli Security Forces - Jewish refugees - Jewish State - Land of Israel - List of conflicts in the Middle East - 1922 Text: League of Nations Palestine Mandate - 1978 Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel - 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between Palestinians and Israel - Palestinian territories - State of Palestine


The refusal of Arab countries to recognize the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 has been a source of repeated wars and other conflicts with Arab nations such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The state of war between Egypt and Israel ended with the signing of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty on March 26, 1979. The state of war with Jordan officially ended with the signing of the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace on October 26, 1994. Sporadic negotiations with Lebanon and Syria have not as yet resulted in peace treaties. Israel is currently also embroiled in an ongoing conflict with Palestinians in the territories controlled since the Six Day War in 1967, despite the signing of the Oslo Accords on September 13, 1993, and the ongoing efforts of Israeli, Palestinian and global peacemakers.

Palestinians want Gaza and the West Bank to become part of a (preferably contiguous) future state. Israel currently plans on expanding existing large West Bank settlement blocs, and maintains the current impasse in the peace process —negotiations toward a permanent peace treaty featuring a two-state solution— cannot be restarted until the Palestinian government dismantles terrorist groups.

Articles related to the wars


Israel has not completed a written constitution. Its government is based on the laws of the Knesset, especially by "Basic Laws of Israel", which are special laws (currently there are 15 of them), by the Knesset legislature which will become the future official constitution. In mid-2003, the Knesset's Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee began drafting a full written Constitution to be proposed to the Knesset floor. This effort is still underway as of mid-2005.

The declaration of the State of Israel has a significance in this matter as well. Israel's legal system is a western legal system best classified as "mixed": it has a strong Anglo-American influence, but in some parts has borrowed heavily from civil law tradition. Despite the Anglo-American influence, the jury system was not adopted in Israel, and court cases are decided by professional judges.

Politics and law

Main articles: Politics of Israel and List of political parties in Israel.
The Knesset is the Israeli parliament, located in Jerusalem
The Knesset is the Israeli parliament, located in Jerusalem

Israel is a parliamentary democracy based on universal suffrage and proportional representation. Israel's legislative branch is a 120-member parliament known as the Knesset. Membership in the Knesset is allocated to parties based on their proportion of the vote. Elections to the Knesset are normally held every four years, but the Knesset can decide to dissolve itself ahead of time by a simple majority, known as a vote of no-confidence.

The President of Israel is head of state, serving as a largely ceremonial figurehead. The President selects the leader of the majority party or ruling coalition in the Knesset as the Prime Minister, who serves as head of government.2

Judiciary and Legal System

The Judiciary branch of Israel is made of a three-tier system of courts: at the lowest level are the Magistrate Courts, situated in most cities. Above them, serving both as an appellate court and as a court of first instance are the District Courts (six of them, situated in the six judicial districts of Jerusalem, South, Tel Aviv, Centre, Haifa and Nazareth). At the top of the judicial pyramid is the Supreme Court seated in Jerusalem. The current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is Aharon Barak. Religious tribunals (Jewish, Sharia'a, Druze and Christian) have exclusive jurisdiction on annulment of marriages. The Israeli Supreme Court serves a dual role as the highest court of appeals and as the body for a separate institution known as the High Court of Justice. The HCOJ has the unique responsibility of addressing petitions presented to the Court by individual citizens. The respondents to these petitions are usually Governmental agencies (including the Israel Defense Forces). The result of such petitions, which are decided by the HCOJ, may be an instruction by the HCOJ to the relevant Governmental agency to act in a manner prescribed by the HCOJ.

Judges are elected by a committee made of Members of the Knesset (Parliament), Supreme Courts Judges and Members of the Israeli Bar. According to the Courts Law, judges retire at the age of 70. Registrars to all courts are appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, with the approval of the Minister of Justice.

Israel's legal system is part of the Western legal systems. It is a mixed system, influenced by Anglo-American, Continental and Jewish law principles. As for the Anglo-American influence, the Israeli legal system is based on the principle of stare-decisis (precedent). It is an adversarial system, not an inquisitorial one, in the sense that the parties (e.g. plaintiff and defendant) are the ones that bring the evidence before the court. The court does not conduct any independent investigation on the case. There is no jury in Israeli courts, and cases are decided upon by professional judges. As for Civil Law influences, several major Israeli statutes (such as the Contract Law) are based on Civil Law principles. Israeli statute body is not comprised of Codes, but rather of individual statutes. However, a Civil Code draft has been completed recently, and is planned to become a bill.


Main article: Israel Defense Forces.

Israel's military consists of a unified Israel Defense Forces (IDF), known in Hebrew by the acronym Tzahal (צה"ל). Historically, there have been no separate Israeli military services. The Navy and Air Force are subordinate to the Army. There are other paramilitary government agencies which deal with different aspects of Israel's security (such as MAGAV and the Shin Bet). See further discussion: Israel Security Forces.

The IDF is considered one of the strongest military forces in the Middle East and ranks among the most battle-trained armed forces in the world, having had to defend the country in five major wars. The IDF's main resource is the training quality of its soldiers, but it also relies heavily on high-tech weapons systems (both developed and manufactured in Israel for its specific needs, and also largely imported from the United States), and expert manpower, rather than possession of overwhelming manpower. Most Israelis, males and females, are drafted into the military at the age of 18. Exceptions are Israeli Arabs, confirmed pacifists, and women who declare themselves religiously observant. Compulsory service is three years for men, and 20 months for women. Circassians and Bedouin actively enlist in the IDF. Since 1956, Druze men have been conscripted in the same way as Jewish men, at the request of the Druze community. Men studying full-time in religious institutions can get a deferment from conscription; most Haredi Jews extend these deferments until they are too old to be conscripted, a practice that has fueled much controversy in Israel. Following compulsory service, Israeli men become part of the IDF reserve forces, and are usually required to serve several weeks every year as reservists, until their 40's.


Map of Israel
Map of Israel
Main article: Geography of Israel.

The total area of the sovereign territory of Israel —excluding all territories captured by Israel in 1967 — is 20,770 (20,330 land) square km; the total area under Israeli law —including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights — is 22,145 (21,671 land) square km; the total area under Israeli control — including the military-controlled and Palestinian-governed territory of the West Bank — is 28,023 (27,549 land) square km.

Administrative districts

See article: Districts of Israel.

Metropolitan areas

As of 2004, The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics defines three metropolitan areas: Tel Aviv (population 2,933,300), Haifa (population 980,600) and Be'er Sheva (population 511,700) [3]. Jerusalem may also be considered a metropolitan area, though its limits are hard to define since it spans communities in Israel proper and the West Bank, both Israeli and Palestinian, and even the boundaries of Jerusalem city itself are disputed. As of 2005, the official population of Jerusalem city is 706,368.



Main article: Economy of Israel.

Israel has a technologically advanced market economy with substantial government participation. It depends on imports of fossil fuels (crude oil, natural gas, and coal), grains, beef, raw materials, and military equipment. Despite limited natural resources, Israel has intensively developed its agricultural and industrial sectors over the past 20 years. Israel is largely self-sufficient in food production except for grains and beef. Diamonds, high-technology, military equipment, software, pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals, and agricultural products (fruits, vegetables, and flowers) are leading exports. Israel usually posts sizable current account deficits, which are covered by large transfer payments from abroad and by foreign loans. Israel possesses extensive facilities for oil refining, diamond polishing, and semiconductor fabrication. Israel's economy is nearly as large as the economies of all of its immediate neighbors added together.

Roughly half of the government's external debt is owed to the U.S., which is its major source of economic and military aid. A relatively large fraction of Israel's external debt is held by individual investors, via the Israel Bonds program. The combination of American loan guarantees and direct sales to individual investors, allow the state to borrow at competitive and sometimes below-market rates.

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.

Gross Domestic Product in current US$
Country GDP (2000)
Egypt, Arab Rep. 99,427,565,568
Jordan 8,465,953,792
Lebanon 16,488,225,792
Palestinian Territories 4,636,608,000
Syrian Arab Republic 18,042,793,984
Total 147,061,147,136
Israel 114,816,909,312

source: World Development Indicators database, World Bank.


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Main article: Demographics of Israel.

At the end of 2003, of Israel's 6.7 million people, 80.8% were "Jews and others" and 19.2% were Arabs. Among Jews, 63% were born in Israel, 27% are immigrants from Europe and the Americas, and 10% are immigrants from Asia and Africa (including the Arab countries) [4].

Hebrew is the major and primary official language of Israel; the other official language Arabic is spoken by the Arab minority. Other languages spoken in Israel include English, Russian, Yiddish and Romanian.

As of 2004, 224,200 Israeli citizens live in the area termed The West Bank in numerous settlements, (including towns such as Ma'ale Adummim and Ariel, and a handful of communities that were present long before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and were re-established after the Six-Day War such as Hebron and Gush Etzion). Around 180,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem [5], which came under Israeli law following its capture from Jordan during the Six-Day War. About 8,500 Israelis lived in settlements built in the Gaza Strip, prior to their evacuation by the government in the summer of 2005 as part of Israel's unilateral disengagement plan.

Religion in Israel

Main article: Religion in Israel.

Both ethnically and religiously Israel is an explicitly Jewish state. As of 2003, 76.7% of Israelis list Judaism as their religion, and it is official policy to preserve this aspect of the country's character. Israel, however, is not a theocracy and other religions are respected. Muslims make up 15.8% of Israelis, 2.1% are Christian, 1.6% are Druze and the remaining 3.7% (including Russian immigrants and some Jews) were not classified by religion.[6]

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.[7]

Of the Arab Israelis 82.3% are Muslim, 9% are Christian and 8.5% are Druze.[8]

Culture and religion

The first stamps, designed before the new state adopted its name, featured ancient Jewish coins and the text "Hebrew mail" in Hebrew and Arabic languages
The first stamps, designed before the new state adopted its name, featured ancient Jewish coins and the text "Hebrew mail" in Hebrew and Arabic languages
Main article: Culture of Israel

Miscellaneous topics


1 Jerusalem is Israel's officially designated capital, and the location of its presidential residence, government offices and the Knesset, Israel's Parliament. In 1980, the Israeli Knesset confirmed Jerusalem's status as the nation's "eternal and indivisible capital", by passing the Basic Law: Jerusalem — Capital of Israel. However, many countries dissent from 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 cities like Tel-Aviv, Ramat-Gan, Herzliya, etc., instead, to avoid political sensitivities.

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 half from Jordan, in 1967. These states instead recognize Tel-Aviv, the temporary capital for a time in 1948, when Jerusalem was under Arab control, as the continuous legitimate capital, and as a result keep their embassies there. Other entities maintain that Jerusalem must be internationalized as originally envisioned by the United Nations General Assembly. 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.

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Please see main article History of Israel

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Foreign relations and the current conflicts

For links on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, see Arab-Israeli Conflict: External Links



Historical Recordings

  • Authentic historical Recordings - UN Partition Vote of 1947, Arab Rejection, "First" Hatikva, Ben-Gurion - On Independence, Arab Countdown to Six Day War, Moshe Dayan - Six Day War, Gen. Ariel Sharon - "Move forward!", Nasser's Infamous Phonecall, Gen. Yitzhak Rabin - Six Day War, Abba Eban's "Stalingrad" Speech
  • A cry from the bunkers - Dramatic and authentic recordings by IDF soldier Avi Yaffe from inside the IDF position, under attack at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war.
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