The State of Israel
Anthem: Hatikvah (The Hope; הַתִּקְוָה)
(limited international recognition)
|Official languages||Hebrew (national and official) |
|Ethnic groups |
from Mandatory Palestine
|14 May 1948|
|20,770–22,072 km2 (8,019–8,522 sq mi)[a] (153rd)|
• Water (%)
• 2013 estimate
• 2008 census
|359/km2 (929.8/sq mi) (35th)|
|GDP (PPP)||2012 estimate|
|$248.719 billion (49th)|
• Per capita
|GDP (nominal)||2012 estimate|
|$240.894 billion (43rd)|
• Per capita
medium · 66th
|HDI (2013)|| 0.900|
very high · 16th
|Currency||New shekel (₪) (ILS)|
|Time zone||UTC+2 (IST)|
• Summer (DST)
|Date format||dd/mm/yyyy (CE)|
|ISO 3166 code||IL|
The State of Israel is a country in southwestern Asia on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea. Israel became an independent country in 1948. Israel is the only Jewish country, and Jews all over the world think of Israel as their spiritual home. Israel's population was 8.1 million people in 2013 and 6.04 million are Jewish. Almost all the other citizens of Israel are Arab (1.6 million) and include Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Samaritans. Israel's largest city is Jerusalem. Israel's capital city is Jerusalem (limited recognition). Most countries keep embassies in Tel Aviv.
Israel is a small country, but it has mountains, deserts, shores, valleys and plains. The climate is hot and rainless in the summers with high humidity in the coastal plain and lower elevations, and cool and rainy in the winters, rarely going below freezing temperatures.
According to the Democratic Index, Israel is the only democratic republic in the Middle East. According to Freedom House, both Israel and Tunisia are the only full democracies in the Greater Middle East.
The country's history goes back thousands of years, to ancient times. Two world religions, Judaism and Christianity, began here. It is the place where the Jewish nation and religion first grew. Jews and Christians call it the Holy Land, because it is the place of many events described in the Bible, and because some commandments of Jewish law can be accomplished only on its soil.
From the time of the first Jewish patriarch Abraham four thousand years ago, the land now called Israel were populated by Canaanites and other Semitic peoples. Around 1400 BCE, another Semitic people, called the Hebrews, settled in Canaan under the leadership of Moses and Joshua. They were named the “Children of Israel” or “Israelites”: which were divided into 12 tribes. A few centuries later, the Hebrews made Saul, as their leader. The next king, David, began the Kingdom of Israel in about 1000 BCE and made the city of Jerusalem his capital. His son, Solomon, built the first Temple for the worship of their God. Solomon died in about 928 BCE. His kingdom broke into two countries. The northern country kept the name Israel. The southern country, called Judah, kept Jerusalem as its capital.
The Assyrians conquered the Kingdom of Israel in 732 BCE and the Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE and destroyed Solomon's Temple. Many Jews returned from Babylonia and built a country again and rebuilt the Temple. First the Persians, then the Greeks and then the Romans ruled the Land of Israel.
The Jews fought against the Romans but the Romans defeated them. In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Jewish Temple there. Again, in 135 CE, the Romans defeated the Jews and killed or took many of them to other places. The number of Jews living in Israel became much smaller. Many were forced to live in other countries. This spreading of Jewish communities outside of Israel is called the Diaspora.
The Romans began to call this region by the word that became Palestine in English. The Roman and then the Byzantine empires ruled until 635 CE, when Arabs conquered the region. Different Arab rulers, and for a while Crusaders, ruled the land. In 1516, the Ottoman Empire conquered the land and ruled the region until the 20th century.
Since the Diaspora, there have been many attempts to make a new homeland for the Jewish people. In the 1880s, this wish for a Jewish nation in Israel became a movement called Zionism. Jews from all over the world began to come to the area and settled in desert zones, then governed by the Turkish and later by the British Governments.
On 14 May 1948, British control over Palestine ended. The Jewish inhabitants (under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion) declared independence for the new Jewish state. Immediately following Israel's declaration of independence, the armies of several nearby countries – including Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq – attacked the new country. Since the 1980s, Israel's main military opponents have been Islamist groups, such as Hezbollah.
The Galilee is a fertile and mountainous region in the north. There is a flat plain called the Coastal Plain to the west, near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The Negev Desert is a barren area of flat plains, mountains, and craters in the south. There is a range of mountains in the center that runs from the north to south.
On the eastern side, there is a low area called a depression. The Hula Valley and the Sea of Galilee are in this low area in the north. The Jordan River runs from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. The land next to the Dead Sea is the lowest in the world. It is -426 meters below sea level.
The weather is normally hot and dry in the summer and mild to cool in the winter. Rain falls mostly in the winter (between the months of November and April). There is more rain in the north than in the south, and hardly any rain in the desert. Snow falls in higher elevations. Israel built a very big irrigation system to bring water from the north to the dry areas in the south so that crops can grow there also.
Jerusalem is the biggest city in Israel. Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheba and Rishon LeZion are also large cities. Israel says that its capital city is Jerusalem. Most countries do not recognize that. They treat Tel Aviv as the capital.
Israel is a parliamentary democracy. All Israeli citizens who are 18 years or older may vote. The Israeli parliament is called the Knesset. The Knesset has 120 members. Each member is elected for no more than four years at a time. The Knesset makes laws, helps decide national policy, and approves budgets and taxes.
Voters do not vote for individual candidates in Knesset elections. Instead, they vote for a party. This party makes a list with all its candidates. The list may have only one candidate or as many as 120 candidates. In an election, the percentage of the vote that each list wins decides how many representatives, or seats, the party gets in the Knesset. For example, if a party list gets 33 percent of the vote, it gets 40 Knesset seats.
The Prime Minister is the head of Israel's government. He or she is usually the leader of the party that has the most seats in the Knesset. The prime minister must keep the support of a majority of Knesset members to stay in office. He or she appoints ministers to the cabinet. The Knesset approves appointments to the Cabinet. The ministers are responsible for subjects such as education, defense, and social welfare. The prime minister is the head of the cabinet and decides the topics of cabinet meetings and makes the final decisions.
Benjamin Netanyahu has been the Prime Minister since March 2009.
The President is the head of state. The Knesset elects the president for seven years. Most of the president's duties are ceremonial: The president signs laws and treaties approved by the Knesset, appoints judges, and members of some public organizations. He or she also accepts the documents from ambassadors and foreign diplomats bring when they are appointed.
Reuven Rivlin has been the President since July 2014.
The parties belong to three main groups. The biggest groups are the Zionist parties. These include the conservative liberals, such as HaLikud; social democrats, such as HaAvoda (Labor Party); and the religious Zionists. There are also smaller religious Orthodox Jewish parties, special-interest parties, and Israeli Arab parties.
A single party usually does not win enough seats in the Knesset by itself to have a majority, so one of the bigger parties asks for support from the other parties, including the religious parties, to form a coalition government. This gives these parties a lot of power although they are small.
The Likud supports free market policies and limited government involvement in the economy. Likud believes strongly in protecting Israel's security. It wants to give less away in the peace process for a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians and the Arab states.
The Labor Party supports government control of the economy, but also believes in a limited amount of free enterprise. The party says it will give more away for an agreement with the Palestinians and the Arab states.
At independence, Israel was a poor country with little agricultural or industrial production. But Israel's economy has grown tremendously since 1948. The nation now enjoys a relatively high standard of living, despite having few natural resources and a limited water supply.
Many immigrants came to Israel in the years immediately after independence. Many of these immigrants were skilled laborers and professionals who greatly aided the nation's economic development.
Many of Israel's service industry workers are employed by the government or by businesses owned by the government. Government workers provide many of the services that are needed by Israel's large immigrant population, such as housing, education, and job training.
Israeli factories produce such goods as chemical products, electronic equipment, fertilizer, paper, plastics, processed foods, scientific and optical instruments, textiles, and clothing. The cutting of imported diamonds is a major industry. Government-owned plants manufacture equipment used by Israel's large armed forces. Israel is the world's largest exporter of drones. Tel Aviv and Haifa are Israel's major manufacturing centers.
Agriculture formerly employed a much larger percentage of Israel's workforce. But much of the work once performed by people is now performed by machines. Important agricultural products include citrus and other fruits; eggs; grain; poultry; and vegetables.
The government develops, helps finance, and controls agricultural activity, including fishing and forestry. Israel produces most of the food it needs to feed its people, except for grain. Agricultural exports provide enough income to pay for any necessary food imports. Most Israeli farmers use modern agricultural methods. Water drawn from the Sea of Galilee irrigates large amounts of land in Israel.
The Dead Sea, the world's saltiest body of water, is Israel's leading source of minerals. Bromine, magnesium, potash and table salt are extracted from the sea. Potash, used mainly in fertilizers, is the most important mineral.
Israel has few energy sources. It has no coal deposits or hydroelectric power resources, and only small amounts of crude oil and natural gas. As a result, Israel depends on imported crude oil for gasoline and diesel for transportation, and coal producing electricity for its energy needs.
Solar energy – energy from the sun – is used widely to heat water for houses. Israel is developing other ways to use solar energy to power houses and factories.
In 2008, Israel began investing in building electric cars and the stations to charge them. There may also be large natural gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea that Israel could develop.
For 2006, Israeli exports grew by 11% to just over $29 billion; the hi-tech sector accounted for $14 billion, a 20% increase from the previous year.
Because it has few natural resources, Israel imports more goods than it exports. The country's main imports include chemicals, computer equipment, grain, iron and steel, military equipment, petroleum products, rough diamonds, and textiles.
Israel's main exports are chemical products, citrus fruits, clothing, electronic equipment, fertilizers, polished diamonds, military equipment, and processed foods. The nation's main trading partners include the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg); Germany; Italy; Switzerland; the United Kingdom; and the United States.
Israel has a well-developed transportation system. Most middle-class Israeli families either own a car or have one provided by their employer. Paved roads reach almost all parts of the country. Public transportation both in and between cities is provided primarily by bus.
Ben-Gurion Airport is Israel's main international airport. It is near Tel Aviv. There are smaller airports are located at Atarot, near Jerusalem, and at Eilat. El Al, Israel's international airline, flies regularly to the United States, Canada, Europe, and parts of Africa and Asia. Israel has three major deepwater ports: Haifa, Ashdod, and Eilat.
Israel's communication system is one of the best in the Middle East. Israel has about 30 daily newspapers, about half of which are in Hebrew. The rest are in Arabic, Russian, Yiddish, or one of several foreign languages. The Israel Broadcasting Authority, a public corporation set up by the government, runs the television and nonmilitary radio stations.
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