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State of Israel
מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל (Hebrew)
Medīnat Yisrā'el
دَوْلَةُ إِسْرَائِيلَ (Arabic)
Dawlat Isrā'īl
A white flag with horizontal blue bands close to the top and bottom, and a blue star of David in the middle
Flag Emblem
The Hope
Location of Israel
Location of Israel
(and largest city)
31°47′N 35°13′E / 31.783°N 35.217°E / 31.783; 35.217
Official language(s) Hebrew, Arabic[1]
Ethnic groups  75.5% Jewish
20.3% Arab
4.2% other[2]
Demonym Israeli
Government Parliamentary democracy[1]
 -  President Shimon Peres
 -  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
 -  Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin
 -  Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch
Independence from British Mandate for Palestine 
 -  Declaration May 14, 1948 
 -  Total 1 20,770 / 22,072 km2 (151st)
8,019 / 8,522 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) ~2%
 -  2010 estimate 7,645,600[2] (95th)
 -  2008 census 7,406,900[3] 
 -  Density 365.3/km2 (30th)
946.1/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $206.430 billion[4] (49th)
 -  Per capita $28,393[4] (29th)
GDP (nominal) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $194.825 billion[4] (40th)
 -  Per capita $26,796[4] (28th)
Gini (2008) 39.2[1] 
HDI (2007) 0.935[5] (very high) (27th)
Currency Shekel (‎) (ILS or NIS)
Time zone IST (UTC+2)
 -  Summer (DST) IDT (UTC+3)
Drives on the right
ISO 3166 code IL
Internet TLD .il
Calling code 972
1 Excluding / Including the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem; see below.
2 Includes all permanent residents in Israel proper, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. Also includes Israeli population in the West Bank. Excludes non-Israeli population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel (Hebrew: יִשְׂרָאֵל‎, Yisrā'el; Arabic: إِسْرَائِيلُ‎, Isrā'īl), officially the State of Israel (Hebrew: About this sound מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל , Medīnat Yisrā'el; Arabic: دَوْلَةُ إِسْرَائِيلَ‎, Dawlat Isrā'īl), is a parliamentary republic in the Middle East located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank in the east, the Gaza Strip and Egypt on the southwest, and contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area.[6][7] Israel is the world's only predominantly Jewish state,[8] with a population estimated in May 2010 to be 7,602,400  people,[9] of whom 6,051,000 are Jews.[9][10][11] Arab citizens of Israel form the country's second-largest ethnic group, which includes Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Samaritans. According to the May 2010 population estimate, including 300,000 non-citizen Arabs living in East Jerusalem, this minority numbers 1,551,400.[9]

The modern State of Israel traces its historical and religious roots to the Biblical Land of Israel, also known as Zion, a concept central to Judaism since ancient times.[12][13][14] Political Zionism took shape in the late-19th century under Theodor Herzl, and the Balfour Declaration of 1917 formalized British policy preferring the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people. Following World War I, the League of Nations granted Great Britain the Mandate for Palestine, which included responsibility for securing "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people".[15]

In November 1947, the United Nations voted in favor of the partition of Palestine, proposing the creation of a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a UN-administered Jerusalem.[16] Partition was accepted by Zionist leaders but rejected by Arab leaders, leading to civil war. Israel declared independence on 14 May 1948 and neighboring Arab states attacked the next day. Since then, Israel has fought a series of wars with neighboring Arab states,[17] and in consequence occupied territories, including the West Bank, Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, beyond those delineated in the 1949 Armistice Agreements. Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, but efforts by elements within both parties to diplomatically solve the problem have so far only met with limited success and some of Israel's international borders remain in dispute.

Israel is a developed country and a representative democracy with a parliamentary system and universal suffrage.[18][19] 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, was the 41st-largest in the world in 2008.[20] Israel ranks highest among Middle Eastern countries on the UN Human Development Index,[21] and it has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.[22] Jerusalem is the country's capital, although it is not recognized internationally as such.[a] Israel's main financial center is Tel Aviv, and its main industrial center is Haifa. In 2010, Israel joined the OECD.[23]



For the past three thousand years, the name "Israel", alluding to the patriarch Jacob (Standard Yisraʾel, Isrāʾīl; Septuagint Greek: Ἰσραήλ; "persevere with God"[24]) has meant, in common and religious usage, both the Land of Israel and the entire Jewish nation.[25] According to the Bible, Jacob is renamed Israel after successfully wrestling with an angel of God.[26]

The earliest archaeological artifact to mention "Israel" is the Merneptah Stele of ancient Egypt (dated to the late 13th century BCE), which refers to a people of that name located in Canaan.[27] The modern country was named Medinat Yisrael, or the State of Israel, after other proposed names, including Eretz Israel ("the Land of Israel"), Zion, and Judea, were rejected.[28] In the early weeks of independence, the government chose the term "Israeli" to denote a citizen of Israel, with the formal announcement made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Moshe Sharett.[29]



This article contains Hebrew text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Hebrew letters.
This article contains Arabic text, written from right to left in a cursive style with some letters joined. Without proper rendering support, you may see unjoined Arabic letters written left-to-right instead of right-to-left or other symbols instead of Arabic script.
Ruins on the flat top of a sand colored mountain, surrounded by desert. Other mountains are visible in the background.
Masada in the Judean Desert, a national symbol

The Land of Israel, known in Hebrew as Eretz Yisrael, has been sacred to the Jewish people since Biblical times. According to the Torah, God promised the Land of Israel to the three Patriarchs of the Jewish people.[30][31] Scholars place the period of the three Patriarchs somewhere in the early 2nd millennium BCE.[32] According to Biblical evidence the first Kingdom of Israel was established around the 11th century BCE. Subsequent Israelite kingdoms and states ruled intermittently over the next thousand years, and are known from various extra-biblical sources.[33][34][35][36]

Between the time of the First Kingdom of Israel and the Muslim conquests of the 7th century, the Land of Israel fell under Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Sassanian, and Byzantine rule.[12][37] Jewish presence in the region dwindled after the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE.[38] Nevertheless, Jewish presence in the Land of Israel remained continuous and the Galilee became its religious center.[39][40] The Mishnah and part of the Talmud, central Jewish texts, were composed during the 2nd to 4th centuries CE in Tiberias and Jerusalem.[41] Following years of persecution at the hands of Byzantine rulers, the Jews revolted in 610 CE, allying themselves with the Persian invaders. After capturing Jerusalem, the Persians and Jews killed thousands of Christians and destroyed many churches.[42] The Byzantine emperor Heraclius recaptured Jerusalem in 628–629 CE, and was responsible for the massacre and expulsion of the Jews.[43][44] During the initial Muslim conquests, in 635 CE, the Land of Israel, including Jerusalem, was captured from the Byzantine Empire.[45] Control of the region transferred between the Umayyads,[45] Abbasids,[45] and Crusaders throughout the next six centuries,[45] before falling in the hands of the Mamluk Sultanate, in 1260.[46] In 1516, the Land of Israel was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the region until the 20th century.[46]

An ancient synagogue (Kfar Bar'am), abandoned by the 13th century A.D.[47][48]

Zionism and the British Mandate

Many Jews living in the Diaspora have long aspired to return to Zion and the Land of Israel,[49] though the amount of human effort that should be spent towards such aim is a matter of dispute in Judaism.[50][51] That hope and yearning was articulated in the Bible,[52] and is an important theme of the Jewish belief system.[50] After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, some communities settled in Palestine.[53] During the 16th century, communities struck roots in the Four Holy CitiesJerusalem, Tiberias, Hebron, and Safed—and in 1697, Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid led a group of 1,500 Jews to Jerusalem.[54] In the second half of the 18th century, Eastern European opponents of Hasidism, known as the Perushim, settled in Palestine.[55][56][57]

A long-bearded man in his early forties leaning over a railing with a bridge in the background. Dressed in a black overcoat, he gazes blankly into the distance with his hands clasped.
Theodor Herzl, visionary of the Jewish State, in 1901

The first large wave of "modern" immigration, known as the First Aliyah, began in 1881, as Jews fled pogroms in Eastern Europe.[58] Although the Zionist movement already existed in theory, Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl is credited with founding political Zionism,[59] a movement which sought to establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, by elevating the Jewish Question to the international plane.[60] In 1896, Herzl published Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews), offering his vision of a future state; the following year he presided over the first World Zionist Congress.[61]

The Second Aliyah (1904–1914), began after the Kishinev pogrom; some 40,000 Jews settled in Palestine, but nearly half of them left.[58] Both the first and second waves of migrants were mainly Orthodox Jews,[62] but those in the Second Aliyah included socialist pioneers who established the kibbutz movement.[63] During World War I, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued what became known as the Balfour Declaration, which "view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people". At the request of Edwin Samuel Montagu and Lord Curzon, a line was also inserted stating "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country".[64]

The Jewish Legion, a group of battalions composed primarily of Zionist volunteers, assisted in the British conquest of Palestine. Arab opposition to the plan led to the 1920 Palestine riots and the formation of the Jewish organization known as the Haganah (meaning "The Defense" in Hebrew), from which the Irgun and Lehi paramilitary groups split off.[65] In 1922, the League of Nations granted the United Kingdom a mandate over Palestine under terms similar to the Balfour Declaration.[66] The population of the area at that time was predominantly Arab and Muslim, with Jews accounting for about 11% of the population.[67]

The Third (1919–1923) and Fourth Aliyahs (1924–1929) brought an additional 100,000 Jews to Palestine.[58] Finally, the rise of Nazism in the 1930s led to the Fifth Aliyah, with an influx of a quarter of a million Jews. This caused the Arab revolt of 1936–1939 and led the British to cap immigration with the White Paper of 1939. With countries around the world turning away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, a clandestine movement known as Aliyah Bet was organized to bring Jews to Palestine.[58] By the end of World War II, the Jewish population of Palestine had increased to 33% of the total population.[68]

Independence and first years

After 1945, Britain found itself in fierce conflict with the Jewish community, as the Haganah joined Irgun and Lehi in armed struggle against British rule.[69] At the same time, thousands of Jewish refugees from Europe sought shelter in Palestine and were turned away or rounded up and placed in detention camps by the British. In 1947, the British government withdrew from the Mandate of Palestine, stating it was unable to arrive at a solution acceptable to both Arabs and Jews.[70] The newly created United Nations approved the Partition Plan for Palestine (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181) on November 29, 1947, which sought to divide the country into two states—one Arab and one Jewish. Jerusalem was to be designated an international city—a corpus separatum—administered by the UN.[71]

The Jewish community accepted the plan,[72] but the Arab League and Arab Higher Committee rejected it.[73] On December 1, 1947, the Arab Higher Committee proclaimed a three-day strike, and Arab bands began attacking Jewish targets.[74] Jews were initially on the defensive as civil war broke out, but they gradually moved onto the offensive.[75] The Palestinian Arab economy collapsed and 250,000 Palestinian-Arabs fled or were expelled.[76]

A single man, adorned on both sides by a dozen sitting men, reads a document to a small audience assembled before him. Behind him are two elongated flags bearing the Star of David and portrait of a bearded man in his forties.
David Ben-Gurion proclaiming Israeli independence on May 14, 1948, below a portrait of Theodor Herzl

On May 14, 1948, the day before the expiration of the British Mandate, the Jewish Agency proclaimed independence, naming the country Israel.[77] The following day, the armies of four Arab countries—Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq—attacked Israel, launching the 1948 Arab–Israeli War;[78][79] Saudi Arabia sent a military contingent to operate under Egyptian command; Yemen declared war but did not take military action.[80] After a year of fighting, a ceasefire was declared and temporary borders, known as the Green Line, were established.[81] Jordan annexed what became known as the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. About 700,000 Palestinian refugees were expelled or fled the country during the conflict.

Israel was accepted as a member of the United Nations by majority vote on May 11, 1949.[82]

In the early years of the state, the Labor Zionist movement led by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion dominated Israeli politics.[83][84] These years were marked by an influx of Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab lands, many of whom faced persecution in their original countries.[85] Consequently, the population of Israel rose from 800,000 to two million between 1948 and 1958.[86] Most arrived as refugees with no possessions and were housed in temporary camps known as ma'abarot; by 1952, over 200,000 immigrants were living in these tent cities.[87] The need to solve the crisis led Ben-Gurion to sign a reparations agreement with West Germany that triggered mass protests by Jews angered at the idea of Israel accepting financial compensation from Germany for the Holocaust.[88]

In the 1950s, Israel was frequently attacked by Palestinian fedayeen, mainly from the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip.[89] In 1956, Israel joined a secret alliance with Great Britain and France aimed at regaining control of the Suez Canal, which the Egyptians had nationalized (see the Suez Crisis). Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula but was pressured to withdraw by the United States and the Soviet Union in return for guarantees of Israeli shipping rights in the Red Sea and the Canal.[90][91]

In the early 1960s, Israel captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Final Solution, in Argentina and brought him to trial.[92] The trial had a major impact on public awareness of the Holocaust,[93] and Eichmann remains the only person ever to be executed by order of an Israeli court.[94]

Conflicts and peace treaties

Three middle-aged, suited men standing in the spotlight, seen from the side. The men are looking away from the camera, with serious expressions. In the background are several other people, out of focus.
Menachem Begin, Carter and Sadat at Camp David, at the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt

Arab nationalists led by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser refused to recognize Israel, calling for its destruction.[17][95] By 1966, Israeli-Arab relations had deteriorated to the point of actual battles taking place between official Israeli and Arab forces.[96] In 1967, Egypt expelled UN peacekeepers, stationed in the Sinai Peninsula since 1957, and announced a partial blockade of Israel's access to the Red Sea.[97] Israel saw these actions as a casus belli for a pre-emptive strike that launched the Six-Day War, in which Israel achieved a decisive victory and captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights.[98] Jerusalem's boundaries were enlarged, incorporating East Jerusalem, and the 1949 Green Line became the administrative boundary between Israel and the occupied territories.

The failure of the Arab states in the 1967 war led Arab non-state actors to have a more central role in the conflict. Most important among them is the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), established in 1964, which initially committed itself to "armed struggle as the only way to liberate the homeland".[99][100] In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Palestinian groups launched a wave of attacks[101][102] against Israeli targets around the world,[103] including a massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

IDF Paratroopers enter the Old City of Jerusalem, June 7, 1967

On October 6, 1973, as Jews were observing Yom Kippur, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a surprise attack against Israel. The war ended on October 26 with Israel successfully repelling Egyptian and Syrian forces but suffering great losses.[104] An internal inquiry exonerated the government of responsibility for failures before and during the war, but public anger forced Prime Minister Golda Meir to resign.[105]

The 1977 Knesset elections marked a major turning point in Israeli political history as Menachem Begin's Likud party took control from the Labor Party.[106] Later that year, Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat made a trip to Israel and spoke before the Knesset in what was the first recognition of Israel by an Arab head of state.[107] In the two years that followed, Sadat and Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords and the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty.[108] Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and agreed to enter negotiations over an autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.[109] Begin's government encouraged Israelis to settle in the West Bank, leading to friction with the Palestinians in that area.[110]

The Jerusalem Law, passed in 1980, was widely believed to have reaffirmed Israel's annexation of Jerusalem and reignited international controversy over the status of the city. However, there has never been an official act that has declared expanded East Jerusalem as having been annexed by the State of Israel.[111] The position of the majority of UN member states is reflected in numerous resolutions declaring that actions taken by Israel to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the whole of Jerusalem are illegal and have no validity.[112]

In 1982, Israel intervened in the Lebanese Civil War to destroy the bases from which the PLO launched attacks and missiles at northern Israel; that move developed into the First Lebanon War.[113] Israel withdrew from most of Lebanon in 1986, but maintained a borderland buffer zone until 2000. The First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule,[114] broke out in 1987 with waves of violence occurring in the occupied territories. Over the following six years, more than a thousand people were killed in the ensuing violence, much of which was internal Palestinian violence.[115] During the 1991 Gulf War, the PLO and many Palestinians supported Saddam Hussein and Iraqi missile attacks against Israel, though Israel did not participate in that war.[116][117]

A stolid balding man in a dark suit on the left shakes the hand of a smiling man in traditional Arab headdress on the right. A taller, younger man stands with open arms in the center behind them.
Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands at the signing of the Oslo Accords, with Bill Clinton behind them, 1993

In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin became Prime Minister following an election in which his party promoted compromise with Israel's neighbors.[118][119] The following year, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, on behalf of Israel and the PLO, signed the Oslo Accords, which gave the Palestinian National Authority the right to self-govern parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.[120] The PLO also recognized Israel's right to exist and pledged an end to terrorism.[121] In 1994, the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace was signed, making Jordan the second Arab country to normalize relations with Israel.[122] Arab public support for the Accords was damaged by the continuation of Israeli settlements[123] and checkpoints, and the deterioration of economic conditions.[124] Israeli public support for the Accords waned as Israel was struck by Palestinian suicide attacks.[125] Finally, while leaving a peace rally in November 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a far-right-wing Jew who opposed the Accords.[126]

At the end of the 1990s, Israel, under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, withdrew from Hebron,[127] and signed the Wye River Memorandum, giving greater control to the Palestinian National Authority.[128] Ehud Barak, elected Prime Minister in 1999, began the new millennium by withdrawing forces from Southern Lebanon and conducting negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and U.S. President Bill Clinton at the 2000 Camp David Summit. During the summit, Barak offered a plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but Yasser Arafat rejected it.[129] After the collapse of the talks and a controversial visit by Likud leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, the Second Intifada began. Sharon became prime minister in a 2001 special election. During his tenure, Sharon carried out his plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and also spearheaded the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier.[130]

In July 2006, a Hezbollah artillery assault on Israel's northern border communities and a cross-border abduction of two Israeli soldiers sparked the month-long Second Lebanon War.[131][132] Two years later, in May 2008, Israel confirmed it had been discussing a peace treaty with Syria for a year, with Turkey as a go-between.[133] However, at the end of the year, Israel entered another conflict as a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel collapsed. The Gaza War lasted three weeks and ended after Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire.[134][135] Hamas announced its own ceasefire, with its own conditions of complete withdrawal and opening of border crossings. Despite neither the rocket launchings nor Israeli retaliatory strikes having completely stopped, the fragile ceasefire remained in order.[136]

Geography and climate

JNF forest in the Jerusalem hills.

Israel is located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, bounded by Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan to the east, and Egypt to the southwest. The sovereign territory of Israel, excluding all territories captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, is approximately 20,770 square kilometers (8,019 sq mi) in area, of which two percent is water.[1] The total area under Israeli law, when including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, is 22,072 square kilometers (8,522 sq mi),[137] and the total area under Israeli control, including the military-controlled and partially Palestinian-governed territory of the West Bank, is 27,799 square kilometers (10,733 sq mi).[138]

The Sea of Galilee, seen from Tiberias, at dusk

Despite its small size, Israel is home to a variety of geographic features, from the Negev desert in the south to the mountain ranges of the Galilee, Carmel and toward the Golan in the north. The Israeli Coastal Plain on the shores of the Mediterranean is home to seventy percent of the nation's population. East of the central highlands lies the Jordan Rift Valley, which forms a small part of the 6,500-kilometer (4,039 mi) Great Rift Valley.

The Jordan River runs along the Jordan Rift Valley, from Mount Hermon through the Hulah Valley and the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the surface of the Earth.[139] Further south is the Arabah, ending with the Gulf of Eilat, part of the Red Sea. Unique to Israel and the Sinai Peninsula are makhteshim, or erosion cirques.[140] The largest makhtesh in the world is Ramon Crater in the Negev,[141] which measures 40 by 8 kilometers (25 by 5 mi).[142] A report on the environmental status of the Mediterranean basin states that Israel has the largest number of plant species per square meter of all the countries in the basin.[143]


The Dead Sea, the lowest point on land below sea level on earth

Temperatures in Israel vary widely, especially during the winter. The more mountainous regions can be windy, cold, and sometimes snowy; Jerusalem usually receives at least one snowfall each year.[144] Meanwhile, coastal cities, such as Tel Aviv and Haifa, have a typical Mediterranean climate with cool, rainy winters and long, hot summers. The area of Beersheba and the Northern Negev has a semi-arid climate with hot summers, and cool winter but with fewer rainy than the Mediterranean climate. The Southern Negev and the Arava areas have Desert climate with very hot and dry summers, and mild winters with few days of rain. The highest temperature in the continent of Asia (53.7 °C/128.7 °F) was recorded in 1942 at Tirat Zvi kibbutz in the northern Jordan river valley.[145]

From May to September, rain in Israel is rare.[146][147] With scarce water resources, Israel has developed various water-saving technologies, including drip irrigation.[148] Israelis also take advantage of the considerable sunlight available for solar energy, making Israel the leading nation in solar energy use per capita (practically every house uses solar panels for water heating).[149]

Government, politics and legal system

The Knesset building, home of the Israeli parliament.

Israel operates under a parliamentary system as a democratic republic with universal suffrage.[1] The President of Israel is the head of state, but his duties are limited and largely ceremonial.[150] 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.[150][151] Israel is governed by a 120-member parliament, known as the Knesset. Membership of the Knesset is based on proportional representation of political parties,[152] 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."[153] The Basic Laws of Israel function as an unwritten constitution. In 2003, the Knesset began to draft an official constitution based on these laws.[1][154]

Legal system

The Israeli Supreme Court, Givat Ram, Jerusalem.

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.[155][156] Although Israel supports the goals of the International Criminal Court, it has not ratified the Rome Statute, citing concerns about the ability of the court to remain free from political impartiality.[157]

In addition to the three-tier court system described above (also known as the "General Court system") Israel has also a system of specialized Labour Courts, similar to those found in Continental Europe. The Labour Courts have unique jurisdiction over labour matters (both on the individual and collective spheres) as well as social welfare matters (e.g. law suits related to pensions, social security benefits, healthcare, etc.). Each one of the five judicial districts has one Regional Labour Court which serves as a first instance court for those matters described above.

Most matters in Labour Courts are adjudicated by a three-panel consisting of one professional judge, and two lay representatives nominated to the court with the consent of the largest employees and employers unions (one representative termed as "Employees Representative" and the other as "Employers Representative"). Some matters (e.g. criminal cases related to labour law) are adjudicated by a professional judge only. The National Labour Court, situated in Jerusalem, serves as an appeal court as well as a first-instance court for matters with national importance (e.g. collective bargaining disputes, on a national level, between employees and employers unions).

Israel's legal system combines English common law, civil law, and Jewish law.[1] 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.[155] 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.[158] Administration of Israel's courts (both the "General" courts and the Labor Courts) is carried by the Administration of Courts, situated in Jerusalem. It is to be noted that both the General and Labor courts are paperless courts, i.e. storage of court files, as well as court decisions, are carried out electronically.

Israel's 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."[159][160] In 2010, Israel was also the only country in the Middle East to be ranked "free" by Freedom House's "Freedom of the Press report, ranking the highest in the region.[161] Groups such as Amnesty International[162] and Human Rights Watch[163] 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.[164]

Administrative districts

Districts of Israel: (1) Northern, (2) Haifa, (3) Center, (4) Tel Aviv, (5) Jerusalem, (6) Southern

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.[165]

Number District Main City Provinces Number of Residents
1 North Nazareth Kinneret, Safed, Acre, Golan, Jezreel Valley 1,242,100
2 Haifa Haifa Haifa, Hadera 880,000
3 Center Ramla Rishon Lezion, Sharon (Netanya), Petah Tikva, Ramla, Rehovot 1,770,200
4 Tel Aviv Tel Aviv Tel Aviv 1,227,000
5 Jerusalem Jerusalem Jerusalem 910,300
6 South Beersheba Ashkelon, Beersheba 1,053,600
B Judea and Samaria Modi'in Illit (Largest city) --- 304,569‏‏[166]

For statistical purposes, the country is divided into three metropolitan areas: Tel Aviv metropolitan area (population 3,206,400), Haifa metropolitan area (population 1,021,000), and Beer Sheva metropolitan area (population 559,700).[167] Israel's largest municipality, both in population and area,[168] is Jerusalem with 773,800 residents in an area of 126 square kilometers (49 sq mi) (in 2009).

Israeli government statistics on Jerusalem include the population and area of East Jerusalem, which is widely recognized as part of the Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation.[169] Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Rishon LeZion rank as Israel's next most populous cities, with populations of 393,900, 265,600, and 227,600 respectively.[168]

Occupied territories

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.

Map of Israel showing the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights

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.[170][171] The UN Security Council has declared the incorporation of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem to be "null and void" and continues to view the territories as occupied.[172][173] The International Court of Justice, principal judicial organ of the United Nations, determined in its 2004 advisory opinion on the legality of the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier that the lands captured by Israel in the Six-Day War, including East Jerusalem, are occupied territory.[174]

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 emphasises " the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war", and calls on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories in return for normalization of relations with Arab states, a principle known as "Land for peace".[175][176][177]

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.[178] 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.[179] When completed, approximately 13 % of the Barrier will be constructed on the Green Line or in Israel with 87 % inside the West Bank.[180][181]

The Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt from 1948 to 1967 and then by Israel after 1967. In 2005, as part of Israel's unilateral disengagement plan, Israel removed all of its residents and forces from the territory. Israel does not consider the Gaza Strip to be occupied territory and declared it a "foreign territory". That view has been rejected by numerous international humanitarian organizations and various bodies of the United Nations.[182][183][184][185][186] Following June 2007, when Hamas assumed power in the Gaza Strip,[187] Israel tightened its control of the Gaza crossings along its border, as well as by sea and air, and prevented persons from entering and exiting the area except for isolated cases it deemed humanitarian.[187] 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),[188] until June 2006, following the abduction of the soldier Gilad Shalit, when the crossing agreement ceased to exist.[187] As of 2010 the Rafah border crossing was controlled by Egypt.[189] Internal control of Gaza is in the hands of Hamas.

Foreign relations

Israel maintains diplomatic relations with 161 countries and has 94 diplomatic missions around the world.[190] 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.[191] Since 2003, ties with Morocco have been improved, and Israel's foreign minister has visited the country.[192]

As a result of the 2009 Gaza War, Mauritania, Qatar, Bolivia, and Venezuela suspended political and economical ties with Israel.[193][194] Under Israeli law, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Yemen are enemy countries[195] and Israeli citizens may not visit them without permission from the Ministry of the Interior.[196] 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.[197]
Shimon Peres, current President of Israel, greeted by U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House.
Foreign relations with United States, Germany, 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".[198] 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.[199]

India established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992 and has fostered a strong military, technological and cultural partnership with the country since then.[200] One study revealed that India was the most pro-Israel nation in the world.[201] India is the largest customer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest military partner of India after the Russian Federation.[202] India is also the second-largest Asian economic partner of Israel[203] and the two countries enjoy extensive space technology ties.[204][205]

Germany's strong ties with Israel include cooperation on scientific and educational endeavors and the two states remain strong economic and military partners.[206][207] Under the reparations agreement, as of 2007 Germany had paid 25 billion euros in reparations to the Israeli state and individual Israeli holocaust survivors.[208] 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 for Palestine.[209] Iran had diplomatic relations with Israel under the Pahlavi dynasty[210] but withdrew its recognition of Israel during the Iranian Revolution.[211]

Although Turkey and Israel did not establish full diplomatic relations until 1991,[212] 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 and Muslim states to temper its relationship with Israel.[213] Relations between Turkey and Israel took a downturn after the Gaza War and Israel's raid of the Gaza flotilla which killed 8 Turkish and 1 American IHH members.[214] IHH, which organized the flotilla, is a Turkish charity that some believe has ties to Hamas and Al-Qaeda.[193][215][216][217][218]

In Africa, Ethiopia is Israel's main and closest ally in the continent due to common political, religious and security interests.[219] Israel provides expertise to Ethiopia on irrigation projects and thousands of Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) live in Israel.


IDF soldiers of the religious 97th "Netzah Yehuda" Infantry Battalion.

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.[220] The IDF also draws upon the resources of the Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman), which works with the Mossad and Shabak.[221] The Israel Defense Forces have 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.[222][223]

The IDF Namer (Heavy IFV), introduced from 2008

The majority of Israelis are drafted into the military at the age of eighteen. Men serve three years and women serve two to three years.[224] 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.[225][226] 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.[227] As a result of its conscription program, the IDF maintains approximately 168,000 active troops and an additional 408,000 reservists.[228]

Israeli soldiers training alongside the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit on the USS Kearsarge

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; military aid to Israel is expected to increase by 6 billion over the next decade. US is expected to provide the country with $3.15 billion per year from 2013-2018.[229][230] The Israeli- and U.S.-designed Arrow missile is one of the world's only operational anti-ballistic missile systems.[231]

Since the Yom Kippur War, Israel has developed a network of reconnaissance satellites.[232] The success of the Ofeq program has made Israel one of seven countries capable of launching such satellites.[233] 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%[234] of its GDP on defense. Today, that figure has dropped to 7.3%.[1]

Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons.[235] Israel has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and maintains a policy of deliberate ambiguity toward its nuclear capabilities. Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity may have played an important role in subduing Israel's enemies.[236]

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.[237]

International deployments

After the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, Israel mobilized a team of 150 IDF doctors and rescue and relief teams, which were to set up a field hospital in Sri Lanka. After the Sri Lankan government rejected this offer, Israel instead flew in 82 tonnes of humanitarian aid along with a small number of IDF personnel. Israel also sent in rescue workers and medical personnel to other countries, along with relief workers and body identifiers from ZAKA and the Israel Police. Israel also donated USD $100,000 to each affected country.[238]

After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, a rescue team was dispatched to Haiti, which consisted of 40 doctors, 20 nurses and rescue workers, and two rescue planes loaded with medical equipment and a field hospital with X-rays, intensive care units, and operating rooms. The Israel Defense Forces set up a satellite communications room with phone and wireless internet access and video conference systems so that surgeons could consult medical experts in Israel.[239] A Magen David Adom delegation arrived on January 17 to establish field clinics in cooperation with local rescue services.[240] The Israeli rescue team remained in Haiti until January 28. Following a request from the United States and United Nations, Israel sent 100 police officers as peacekeepers to Haiti. A group of police forensics investigators to assist in the identification of victims was also sent, along with 220 Home Front Command search and rescue teams and Israeli Medical Corps personnel.


Israel is considered one of the most advanced countries in Southwest Asia in economic and industrial development. In 2010, it joined the OECD.[23][241] The country is ranked 3rd in the region on the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index[242] as well as in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report.[243] It has the second-largest number of startup companies in the world (after the United States)[244] and the largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies outside North America.[245]

A small white jet aircraft, with two jet engines on its tail, on the tarmac
An IAI Galaxy G200 transcontinental business jet, designed and produced by Israel Aircraft Industries.[246]

In 2009, Israel had the 49th-highest gross domestic product and 29th-highest gross domestic product per capita (at purchasing power parity) at $206.4 billion and $28,393, respectively.[4] The New Israeli Shekel is one of 17 freely convertible currencies according to the CLS list.[247][248]

In 2010, Israel ranked 17th among of the world's most economically developed nations, according to IMD's World Competitiveness Yearbook. The Israeli economy was ranked first as the world's most durable economy in the face of crises, and was also ranked first in the rate of research and development center investments.[249]

The Bank of Israel was ranked first among central banks for its efficient functioning, up from the 8th place in 2009. Israel was also ranked as the worldwide leader in its supply of skilled manpower.[249]

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 $47.8 billion in 2006, include fossil fuels, raw materials, and military equipment.[1] Leading exports include fruits, vegetables, pharmaceuticals, software, chemicals, military technology, and diamonds; in 2006, Israeli exports reached $42.86 billion.[1]

Israel is a global leader in water conservation and geothermal energy,[250] and its development of cutting-edge technologies in software, communications and the life sciences have evoked comparisons with Silicon Valley.[251][252] Intel[253] and Microsoft[254] 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.[255] Since the 1970s, Israel has received economic and military aid from the United States, whose loans account for the bulk of Israel's external debt.[1]


Tourism, especially religious tourism, is an 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.[256] In 2008, over 3 million tourists visited Israel.[257]


A large hall, with tall round columns; dozens of people standing or walking, around an entrance in the left wall. The area around the entrance is partitioned for the most part from the rest of the hall.
Arrivals terminal at Ben Gurion International Airport

Israel has 18,096 kilometers (11,244 mi) of paved roads,[258] and 2.4 million motor vehicles.[259] The number of motor vehicles per 1,000 persons was 324, relatively low with respect to developed countries.[259] Israel has 5,715 buses on scheduled routes,[260] operated by several carriers, the largest of which is Egged, serving most of the country. Railways stretch across 949 kilometers (590 mi) and are operated solely by government-owned Israel Railways[261] (All figures are for 2008). Following major investments beginning in the early-to-mid 1990s, the number of train passengers per year has grown from 2.5 million in 1990, to 35 million in 2008; railways are also used to transport 6.8 million tons of cargo, per year.[261]

Israel is served by two international airports, Ben Gurion International Airport, the country's main hub for international air travel near Tel Aviv-Yafo, Ovda Airport in the south, as well as several small domestic airports.[262] Airports served 11.1 million passengers (entries and departures) in 2008, 11 million passing through Ben Gurion airport.[263][264]

On the Mediterranean coast, Haifa Port is the country's oldest and largest port, while Ashdod Port is one of the few deep water ports in the world built on the open sea.[262] In addition to these, the smaller Port of Eilat is situated on the Red Sea, and is used mainly for trading with Far East countries.[262]

Science, technology and education

Israel has the highest school life expectancy in Southwest Asia, and is tied with Japan for second-highest school life expectancy on the Asian continent (after South Korea).[265] Israel similarly has the highest literacy rate in Southwest Asia, according to the United Nations.[266] The State Education Law, passed in 1953, established five types of schools: state secular, state religious, ultra orthodox, communal settlement schools, and Arab schools. The public secular is the largest school group, and is attended by the majority of Jewish and non-Arab pupils in Israel. Most Arabs send their children to schools where Arabic is the language of instruction.[267]

Education is compulsory in Israel for children between the ages of three and eighteen.[268][269] Schooling is divided into three tiers – primary school (grades 1–6), middle school (grades 7–9), and high school (grades 10–12) – culminating with Bagrut matriculation exams. Proficiency in core subjects such as mathematics, Bible, Hebrew language, Hebrew and general literature, English, history, and civics is necessary to receive a Bagrut certificate.[270] In Arab, Christian and Druze schools, the exam on Biblical studies is replaced by an exam in Islam, Christianity or Druze heritage.[271] In 2003, over half of all Israeli twelfth graders earned a matriculation certificate.[272]

Israel's eight public universities are subsidized by the state.[270][273] The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel's oldest university, houses the Jewish National and University Library, the world's largest repository of books on Jewish subjects.[274] The Hebrew University is consistently ranked among world's 100 top universities[275][276] by the prestigious ARWU academic ranking. Other major universities in the country include the Technion, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel Aviv University (TAU), Bar-Ilan University, the University of Haifa, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Israel's seven research universities (excluding the Open University) are consistently ranked among top 500 in the world.[277] Israel ranks third in the world in the number of academic degrees per capita (20 percent of the population).[278][279] Israel has produced five Nobel Prize-winning scientists since 2002[280] and publishes among the most scientific papers per capita of any country in the world.[281][282]

A horizontal parabolic dish, with a triangular structure on its top. Around it is a flat sandy area, with desert in the background. It's a sunny day, with a few white clouds in the blue skies.
The world's largest solar parabolic dish at the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center.[283]

Israel leads world in stem cell research papers per capita since 2000[284] In addition, Israeli universities are among 100 top world universities in mathematics (TAU, Hebrew University and Technion), physics (TAU, Hebrew University and Weizmann Institute of Science), chemistry (TAU, Hebrew University and Technion), computer science (TAU, Hebrew University, Weizmann Institute of Science, BIU and Technion) and economics (TAU and Hebrew University).[285]

In 2009 Israel was ranked 2nd among 20 top countries in space sciences by Thomson Reuters agency.[286] Since 1988 Israel Aerospace Industries have indigenously designed and built at least 13 commercial, research and spy satellites.[287] Most were launched to orbit from Israeli air force base "Palmachim" by the Shavit space launch vehicle. Some of Israel's satellites are ranked among the world's most advanced space systems.[288] In 2003, Ilan Ramon became Israel's first astronaut, serving as payload specialist of STS-107, the fatal mission of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Israel has embraced solar energy, its engineers are on the cutting edge of solar energy technology[289] and its solar companies work on projects around the world.[290][291] Over 90% of Israeli homes use solar energy for hot water, the highest per capita in the world.[292][293] According to government figures, the country saves 8% of its electricity consumption per year because of its solar energy use in heating.[294] The high annual incident solar irradiance at its geographic latitude creates ideal conditions for what is an internationally renowned solar research and development industry in the Negev Desert.[289][290][291]


Comparison of the changes in percentages of the main religious group in Israel between the years 1949-2008

After reaching 7,406,900 inhabitants according to initial data from the 2008 census,[3] in 2010 Israel's population was an estimated 7.6 million,[9] of whom 6,051,000 are Jews.[9][10][295][296] As of 2008, Arab citizens of Israel comprise just under 20% of the country's total population.[297]

Israel has two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic.[1] Hebrew is the primary language of the state and is spoken by the majority of the population, and Arabic is spoken by the Arab minority. Many Israelis communicate reasonably well in English, as many television programs are broadcast in this language and English is taught from the early grades in elementary school. As a country of immigrants, many languages can be heard on the streets. Due to mass immigration from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia (some 120,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel),[298] Russian and Amharic are widely spoken.[299] Between 1990 and 1994, the Russian immigration increased Israel's population by twelve percent.[300] Out of more than one million Russian-speaking immigrants in Israel,[301] about 300,000 are considered gentile by the Orthodox rabbinate, because, under the Orthodox interpretation, only children to Jewish mothers are considered Jews.[302][303]

Over the last decade, large numbers of migrant workers from Romania, Thailand, China, Africa and South America have settled in Israel. Exact figures are unknown as many of them are living in the country illegally,[304] but estimates run in the region of 200,000.[305] Over 16,000 African asylum seekers have entered Israel in recent years.[306] The main language amongst deaf Israelis is Israeli Sign Language (ISL).[307]

Retention of Israel's population since 1948 is about even or greater, when compared to other countries with mass immigration.[308] Emigration from Israel (yerida) to other countries, primarily the United States and Canada, is described by demographers as modest,[309] but is often cited by Israeli government ministries as a major threat to Israel's future.[310][311]

As of 2009 over 300,000 Israeli citizens live in West Bank settlements[312] such as Ma'ale Adumim and Ariel, and communities that predated the establishment of the State but were re-established after the Six-Day War, in cities such as Hebron and Gush Etzion. 18,000 Israelis live in Golan Heights settlements.[313] In 2006, there were 250,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem.[314] The total number of Israeli settlers is over 500,000 (6.5% of the Israeli population). Approximately 7,800 Israelis lived in settlements in the Gaza Strip until they were evacuated by the government as part of its 2005 disengagement plan.[315]

Israel was established as a homeland for the Jewish people and is often referred to as a Jewish state. The country's Law of Return grants all Jews and those of Jewish lineage the right to Israeli citizenship.[316] Just over three quarters, or 75.5%, of the population are Jews from a diversity of Jewish backgrounds. Approximately 68% of Israeli Jews are Israeli-born, 22% are immigrants from Europe and the Americas, and 10% are immigrants from Asia and Africa (including the Arab World).[317][318] Jews who left or fled Arab and Muslim lands and their descendants constitute approximately 50% of Jewish Israelis.[319][320][321]


A large open area with hundreds of people, bounded by old stone walls. Beyond it are houses and a few trees, to the right is a mosque with large golden dome, and to the left – a minaret
The Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

The religious affiliation of Israeli Jews varies widely: 55% say they are "traditional," while 20% consider themselves "secular Jews," 17% define themselves as "Religious Zionists"; 8% define themselves as "Haredi Jews."[322] Only 5% of Israel's population in 1990,[323] the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim, are expected to represent more than one-fifth of Israel's Jewish population in 2028[324]

Making up 16% of the population, Muslims constitute Israel's largest religious minority. About 2% of the population are Christian and 1.5% are Druze.[325]

A light colored stone church with a triangular roof, with two towers flanking the entrance, in the background. In the foreground are low stone walls, a tree and some bushes
Church of Transfiguration, Mount Tabor

The Christian population includes both Arab Christians, Post-Soviet immigrants and the Foreign Labourers of multi-national origins and Messianic Jews.[326] Members of many other religious groups, including Buddhists and Hindus, maintain a presence in Israel, albeit in small numbers.[327]

The city of Jerusalem is of special importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians as it is the home of sites that are pivotal to their religious beliefs, such as the Israeli-controlled Old City that incorporates the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.[328] Other landmarks of religious importance are located in the West Bank, among them Joseph's tomb in Shechem, the birthplace of Jesus and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

The administrative center of the Bahá'í Faith and the Shrine of the Báb are located at the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa and the leader of the faith is buried in Acre. Apart from maintenance staff, there is no Bahá'í community in Israel, although it is a destination for pilgrimages. Bahá'í staff in Israel do not teach their faith to Israelis following strict policy.[329][330]


Israel's diverse culture stems from the diversity of the population: Jews from around the world have brought their cultural and religious traditions with them, creating a melting pot of Jewish customs and beliefs.[331] Israel is the only country in the world where life revolves around the Hebrew calendar. Work and school holidays are determined by the Jewish holidays, and the official day of rest is Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.[332] Israel's substantial Arab minority has also left its imprint on Israeli culture in such spheres as architecture,[333] music,[334] and cuisine.[335]


An outdoor book fair at dusk. Vendors are in booths along both sides of a walkway crowded with people.
Hebrew Book Week in Jerusalem

Israeli literature is primarily poetry and prose written in Hebrew, as part of the renaissance of Hebrew as a spoken language since the mid-19th century, although a small body of literature is published in other languages, such as English. By law, two copies of all printed matter published in Israel must be deposited in the Jewish National and University Library at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2001, the law was amended to include audio and video recordings, and other non-print media.[336] In 2006, 85 percent of the 8,000 books transferred to the library were in Hebrew.[337]

The Hebrew Book Week (He: שבוע הספר) is held each June and features book fairs, public readings, and appearances by Israeli authors around the country. During the week, Israel's top literary award, the Sapir Prize, is presented.

In 1966, Shmuel Yosef Agnon shared the Nobel Prize in Literature with German Jewish author Nelly Sachs.[338]

Music and dance

Israeli music contains musical influences from all over the world; Sephardic music, Hasidic melodies, Belly dancing music, Greek music, jazz, and pop rock are all part of the music scene.[339][340]

The nation's canonical folk songs, known as "Songs of the Land of Israel," deal with the experiences of the pioneers in building the Jewish homeland.[341]

Among Israel's world-renowned[342][343] orchestras is the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which has been in operation for over seventy years and today performs more than two hundred concerts each year.[344] Israel has also produced many musicians of note, some achieving international stardom. Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Ofra Haza are among the internationally acclaimed musicians born in Israel.

Israel has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest nearly every year since 1973, winning the competition three times and hosting it twice.[345] Eilat has hosted its own international music festival, the Red Sea Jazz Festival, every summer since 1987.[346]

Modern dance in Israel is a flourishing field, and several Israeli choreographers such as Ohad Naharin, Rami Beer, Barak Marshall and many others, are considered to be among the most versatile and original international creators working today. Famous Israeli companies include the Batsheva Dance Company and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company.

Cinema and theatre

Nine Israeli films have been final nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards since the establishment of Israel. The 2009 movie Ajami was the third consecutive nomination of an Israeli film.[347]

Continuing the strong theatrical traditions of the Yiddish theater in Eastern Europe, Israel maintains a vibrant theatre scene. Founded in 1918, Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv is Israel's oldest repertory theater company and national theater.[348]


A gray semi-hemispherical structure with a protruding top, standing in the middle of a fountain, with several jets of water falling on the structure
Shrine of the Book, repository of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem is one of Israel's most important cultural institutions[349] and houses the Dead Sea scrolls,[350] along with an extensive collection of Judaica and European art.[349]

Israel's national Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, houses the world's largest archive of Holocaust-related information.[351]

Beth Hatefutsoth (the Diaspora Museum), on the campus of Tel Aviv University, is an interactive museum devoted to the history of Jewish communities around the world.[352]

Apart from the major museums in large cities, there are high-quality artspaces in many towns and kibbutzim. Mishkan Le'Omanut on Kibbutz Ein Harod Meuhad is the largest art museum in the north of the country.[353]


Sports and physical fitness have not always been paramount in Jewish culture. Athletic prowess, which was prized by the ancient Greeks, was looked down upon as an unwelcome intrusion of Hellenistic values. Maimonides, who was both a rabbi and a physician, emphasized the importance of regular exercise in preventing illness on the authority of Hippocrates and Galen.[354] This approach received a boost in the 19th century from the physical culture campaign of Max Nordau, and in the early 20th century when the Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Abraham Isaac Kook, declared that "the body serves the soul, and only a healthy body can ensure a healthy soul".[355]

A young man surfing on a windsurf board in the sea, with another surfer in the background
Windsurfer Gal Fridman, winner of Israel's first Olympic gold medal

The Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style event for Jewish athletes and Israeli athletes, was inaugurated in the 1930s, and has been held every four years since then. In 1964 Israel hosted and won the Asian Nations Cup; in 1970 the Israel national football team managed to qualify to the FIFA World Cup, which is still considered the biggest achievement of Israeli football.

Israel was excluded from the 1978 Asian Games due to Arab pressure on the organizers. The exclusion left Israel in limbo and it ceased competing in Asian competitions.[356] In 1994, UEFA agreed to admit Israel and all Israeli sporting organizations now compete in Europe.

An all-seated roofless stadium with a football pitch.
Ramat Gan Stadium, Israel's largest stadium

The most popular spectator sports in Israel are association football and basketball.[357] The Israeli Premier League is the country's premier soccer league, and Ligat HaAl is the premier basketball league.[358] Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem are the largest sports clubs. Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv have competed in the UEFA Champions League and Hapoel Tel Aviv reached the final quarter in the UEFA Cup. Maccabi Tel Aviv B.C. has won the European championship in basketball five times.[359] Israeli tennis champion Shahar Pe'er ranked 19th in the world after competing in Dubai.[360]

Beersheba has become a national chess center; thanks to Soviet immigration, it is home to the largest number of chess grandmasters of any city in the world.[361] The city hosted the World Team Chess Championship in 2005, and chess is taught in the city's kindergartens.[362] In 2008, the Israeli chess team won the silver medal at the Chess Olympiad.[363] Israeli grandmaster Boris Gelfand is the current Chess World Cup holder.[364]

To date, Israel has won seven Olympic medals since its first win in 1992, including a gold medal in windsurfing at the 2004 Summer Olympics.[365] Israel has won over 100 gold medals in the Paralympic Games and is ranked about 15th in the all-time medal count. The 1968 Summer Paralympics were hosted by Israel.[366]


Israeli cuisine comprises local dishes and dishes brought to the country by Jewish immigrants from around the world. Since the establishment of the State in 1948, and particularly since the late 1970s, an Israeli fusion cuisine has developed.

Israeli cuisine has adopted, and continues to adapt, elements of various styles of the Jewish cuisine, particularly the Mizrahi, Sephardic, and Ashkenazi styles of cooking, along with Moroccan Jewish, Iraqi Jewish, Ethiopian Jewish, Indian Jewish, Iranian Jewish and Yemeni Jewish influences. It incorporates many foods traditionally eaten in the Arab, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, as falafel, hummus, shakshouka, couscous, and za'atar have become essential dishes n Israel.

See also

References and notes

a.   ^ The Jerusalem Law states that "Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel" and the city serves as the seat of the government, home to the President's residence, government offices, supreme court, and parliament. United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 (Aug. 20, 1980; 14–0, U.S. abstaining) declared the Jerusalem Law "null and void" and called on member states to withdraw their diplomatic missions from Jerusalem. The United Nations and all member nations refuse to accept the Jerusalem Law (see Kellerman 1993, p. 140) and maintain their embassies in other cities such as Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, and Herzliya (see the CIA Factbook and Map of Israel). The U.S. Congress subsequently adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which said that the U.S. embassy should be relocated to Jerusalem and that it should be recognized as the capital of Israel. However, the US Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel concluded that the provisions of the act "invade exclusive presidential authorities in the field of foreign affairs and are unconstitutional". Since passage of the act, all Presidents serving in office have determined that moving forward with the relocation would be detrimental to U.S. national security concerns and opted to issue waivers suspending any action on this front. The Palestinian Authority sees East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The city's final status awaits future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (see "Negotiating Jerusalem", University of Maryland). See Positions on Jerusalem for more information.
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Israel", The World Factbook (Central Intelligence Agency), 19 June 2007,, retrieved 20 July 2007 
  2. ^ a b Population of Israel, Just before Rosh HaShana 5771
  3. ^ a b Press release – First data from the 2008 Population Census – Completed in July, 2009, Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), 30 September 2009,, retrieved 18 May 2010 
  4. ^ a b c d e Israel, International Monetary Fund,, retrieved 21 April 2010 
  5. ^ Human Development Report 2009. Human development index trends: Table G, The United Nations,, retrieved 10 October 2009 
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General reference

Coordinates: 31°N 35°E / 31°N 35°E / 31; 35

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