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Encyclopedia Judaica

2nd Edition (Ship in USA)
An essential source of information on Jewish life, culture, history, and religion.

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Israel (Hebrew: יִשְׂרָאֵל‎, Yisra'el), officially the State of Israel (Hebrew: מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל (help·info), Medinat Yisra'el; Arabic: دَوْلَةْ إِسْرَائِيل, Dawlat Isrā'īl), is a country in Southwest Asia located on the southeastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It has borders with Lebanon in the north, Syria and Jordan in the east, and Egypt on the southwest, and contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area.[5] The West Bank and Gaza Strip, which are partially administrated by the Palestinian National Authority, are also adjacent. With a population of about 7.2 million,[2] the majority of whom are Jews, Israel is the world's only Jewish state.[6] It is also home to Arab Muslims, Christians and Druze, as well as other religious and ethnic minority groups. Jerusalem is the nation's capital, seat of government, and largest city.[7]
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The modern state of Israel has its roots in the Land of Israel, a concept central to Judaism for over three thousand years. After World War I, the League of Nations approved the British Mandate for Palestine with the intent of creating a "national home for the Jewish people". In 1947, the United Nations approved the partition of the Mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The Arab League rejected the plan, but on May 14, 1948, Israel declared its independence. The new country's victory in the subsequent Arab-Israeli War expanded the borders of the Jewish state beyond those in the UN Partition Plan. Since then, Israel has been in conflict with many of the neighboring Arab countries, resulting in several major wars and decades of violence. Throughout the conflict, Israel's boundaries have been subject to dispute, although Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and efforts are being made to reach a permanent accord with the Palestinians.

Unlike most countries in the Middle East, Israel is a liberal democracy] and a developed country. In the region, Israel is the least corrupt, and the most progressive in terms of freedom of the press, economic competition, and human development.

Etymology

Over the past three thousand years, the name "Israel" has meant in common and religious usage both the Land of Israel and the entire Jewish nation. The name originated from a verse in the Bible (Genesis, 32:28) where Jacob is renamed Israel after successfully wrestling with an angel of God.[17] Commentators differ on the meaning of the name. Some say the name comes from the verb śarar ("to rule, be strong, have authority over"), thereby making the name mean "God rules" or "God judges".[18] Other possible meanings include "the prince of God" (from the King James Version) or "El fights/struggles".[19] Regardless of the precise meaning of the name, the biblical nation fathered by Jacob thus became the "Children of Israel" or the "Israelites".

The first historical mention of the word "Israel" comes from the Merneptah Stele of Ancient Egypt (dated the late 13th century BC), although experts have not been able to agree on whether the term was being used to refer to a people or a homeland.[20] The modern country was named Medinat Yisrael, or the State of Israel, after other proposed names, including Eretz Israel, Zion, and Judea, were rejected.[21] 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.[22]

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Israeli Time

History

Early roots

Further information: History of ancient Israel and Judah

The Land of Israel, known in Hebrew as Eretz Yisrael, has been sacred to the Jewish people since the time of the biblical patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Bible has placed this period in the early 2nd millennium BCE.[23] According to the Torah, the Land of Israel was promised to the Jews as their homeland,[24][25] and the sites holiest to Judaism are located there. Around the 11th century BCE, the first of a series of Jewish kingdoms and states established rule over the region; these Jewish kingdoms and states ruled intermittently for the following one thousand years.[26]

Between the time of the Jewish kingdoms and the 7th-century Muslim conquests, the Land of Israel fell under Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Sassanian, and Byzantine rule.[27] Jewish presence in the region dwindled after the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE and the resultant large-scale expulsion of Jews. Nevertheless, a continuous Jewish presence in Palestine was maintained, although the main Jewish population shifted from the Judea region to the Galilee;[28] the Talmud, one of Judaism's most important religious texts, was composed in Israel during this period.[29] The Land of Israel was captured from the Byzantine Empire around 636 CE during the initial Muslim conquests. Control of the region transferred between the Umayyads,[30] Abbasids,[31] and Crusaders over the next six centuries, before falling in the hands of the Mamluk Sultanate, in 1260. In 1516, the Land of Israel became a part of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the region until the 20th century.[32]

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Zionism and the British Mandate

Jews living in the Diaspora have long aspired to return to Zion and the Land of Israel.[33] That hope and yearning was articulated in the Bible[34] and is a central theme in the Jewish prayer book. Beginning in the twelfth century, a small but steady stream of Jews began to leave Europe to settle in the Holy Land. After Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, some made their way to the Land of Israel.[35] During the 16th century, the pace stepped up, and large communities struck roots in Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias. In the second half of the 18th century, entire Hasidic communities from Poland, Galicia and Ukraine settled in the Holy Land with their rabbis.[36]

The first large wave of modern immigration, known as the First Aliyah (Hebrew: עלייה), began in 1881, as Jews fled pogroms in Eastern Europe.[37] While the Zionist movement already existed in theory, Theodor Herzl is credited with founding political Zionism,[38] a movement which sought to establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, by elevating the Jewish question to the international plane.[39] In 1896, Herzl published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), offering his vision of a future state; the following year he presided over the first World Zionist Congress.[40]

The Second Aliyah (1904–1914), began after the Kishinev Pogrom. Some 40,000 Jews settled in Palestine.[37] Both the first and second waves of migrants were mainly Orthodox Jews,[41] but those in the Second Aliyah included socialist pioneers who established the kibbutz movement.[42] 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."[43] The Jewish Legion, a group of battalions composed primarily of Zionist volunteers, assisted in the British conquest of Israel. Arab opposition to the plan led to the 1920 Palestine riots and the formation of the Jewish defense organization known as the Haganah, from which the Irgun and Lehi split off.[44] In 1922, the League of Nations granted Great Britain, a mandate over Palestine for the express purpose of "placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home".[45]

Jewish immigration continued with the Third Aliyah (1919–1923) and Fourth Aliyah (1924–1929), which together brought 100,000 Jews to Palestine.[37] In the wake of the Jaffa riots in the early days of the Mandate, the British restricted Jewish immigration and territory slated for the Jewish state was allocated to Transjordan.[46] The rise of Nazism in the 1930s led to the Fifth Aliyah, with an influx of a quarter of a million Jews. This influx resulted in 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.[37] By the end of World War II, Jews accounted for 33% of the population of Palestine, up from 11% in 1922.[47][48]


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Independence and first years

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.[49] The newly-created United Nations approved the UN Partition Plan (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181) on November 29, 1947, dividing 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 to avoid conflict over its status.[50] The Jewish community accepted the plan,[51] but the Arab League and Arab Higher Committee rejected it.[52]

Regardless, the State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948, one day before the expiry of the British Mandate of Palestine.[53] Not long after, five Arab countries – Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq – attacked Israel, launching the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.[53] After almost a year of fighting, a ceasefire was declared and temporary borders, known as the Green Line, were instituted. Jordan annexed what became known as the West Bank and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations on May 11, 1949.[54] During the course of the hostilities, 711,000 Arabs, according to UN estimates, fled from Israel.[55] Arab persecution of Jewish communities precipitated a similar Jewish exodus from Arab lands.[56] The fate of the Palestinian refugees today is a major point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[57][58]

In the early years of the state, the Labor Zionist movement led by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion dominated Israeli politics.[59][60] These years were marked by mass immigration of Holocaust survivors and Jews fleeing Arab lands;[56] the population rose from 800,000 to two million between 1948 and 1958.[61] Most arrived as refugees with no possessions and were housed in temporary camps known as ma'abarot. By 1952, over two hundred thousand immigrants were living in these tent cities. 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 "doing business" with Germany.[62]

During the 1950s, Israel was frequently attacked by Arab fedayeen, mainly from the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip.[63] In 1956, Israel joined a secret alliance with Great Britain and France aimed at recapturing the Suez Canal, which the Egyptians had nationalized (see the Suez Crisis). Despite capturing the Sinai Peninsula, Israel was forced to retreat due to pressure from the United States and the Soviet Union in return for guarantees of Israeli shipping rights in the Red Sea and the Canal.[64] At the start of the following decade, Israel captured Adolf Eichmann, an implementer of the Final Solution hiding in Argentina, and brought him to trial.[65] The trial had a major impact on public awareness of the Holocaust[66] and to date Eichmann remains the only person sentenced to death by Israeli courts.[67]

Conflicts and peace treaties

In 1967, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria massed troops close to Israeli borders, expelled UN peacekeepers and blocked Israel's access to the Red Sea. Israel saw these actions as a casus belli for a pre-emptive strike that launched the Six-Day War, during which it captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights.[68] The 1949 Green Line became the administrative boundary between Israel and the occupied territories. Jerusalem's boundaries were enlarged, incorporating East Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Law, passed in 1980, reaffirmed this measure and reignited international controversy over the status of Jerusalem.

In the early 1970s, Palestinian groups launched a wave of attacks against Israeli targets around the world, including a massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Israel responded with Operation Wrath of God, in which those responsible for the Munich massacre were tracked down and assassinated.[69] On October 6, 1973, Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, 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.[70] An internal inquiry exonerated the government of responsibility for the war, but public anger forced Prime Minister Golda Meir to resign.

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.[71] Later that year, Egyptian President Anwar Al 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.[72] In the two years that followed, Sadat and Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords and the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty.[73] Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and agreed to enter negotiations over an autonomy for Palestinians across the Green Line, a plan which was never implemented.

In 1982, Israel intervened in the Lebanese Civil War to destroy the bases from which the Palestine Liberation Organization launched attacks and missiles at northern Israel. That move developed into the First Lebanon War.[74] 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,[75] 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.[76] During the 1991 Gulf War, the PLO and many Palestinians supported Saddam Hussein and Iraqi missile attacks against Israel.[77][78]

In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin became Prime Minister following an election in which his party promoted compromise with Israel's neighbors.[79][80] 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, in return for recognition of Israel's right to exist and an end to terrorism.[81] In 1994, the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace was signed, making Jordan the second Arab country to normalize relations with Israel.[82] Public support for the Accords waned as Israel was struck by a wave of attacks from Palestinians. The November 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a right-wing Jew, as he left a peace rally, shocked the country. At the end of the 1990s, Israel, under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, withdrew from Hebron[83] and signed the Wye River Memorandum, giving greater control to the Palestinian National Authority.[84]

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 July 2000 Camp David Summit. During the summit, Barak offered a plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but Yasser Arafat rejected it.[85] After the collapse of the talks, Palestinians began the al-Aqsa Intifada.

Ariel Sharon soon after became the new 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.[86] In January 2006, after Ariel Sharon suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke which left him in a coma, the powers of office were transferred to Ehud Olmert. The kidnappings of Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah and the shelling of settlements on Israel's northern border led to a five-week war, known in Israel as the Second Lebanon War. The conflict was brought to end by a ceasefire brokered by the United Nations. After the war, Israel's Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, resigned.[87]

Geography and climate

Israel is located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, bounded by Lebanon to the north, Syria and 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, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, is 22,072 square kilometers (8,522 sq mi).[88] The total area under Israeli control, including the military-controlled and Palestinian-governed territory of the West Bank, is 27,799 square kilometers (10,733 sq mi).[89]

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 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 (4,040-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.[90] Unique to Israel and the Sinai Peninsula are makhteshim, or erosion cirques.[91][92] The largest makhtesh in the world is Ramon Crater in the Negev,[93] which measures 40 kilometers by 8 kilometers (25 mi by 5 mi).[94]

Temperatures in Israel vary widely, especially during the winter. The more mountainous regions can be windy, cold, and sometimes snowy; Mount Hermon's peak is covered with snow most of the year and Jerusalem usually receives at least one snowfall each year.[95] Meanwhile, coastal cities, such as Tel Aviv and Haifa, have a typical Mediterranean climate with cool, rainy winters and long, hot summers. From May to September, rain in Israel is rare.[96][97]

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Government and politics

Israel operates under a parliamentary system as a democratic country with universal suffrage.[1] The President of Israel is the head of state, but his duties are largely ceremonial.[98] 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.[98][99] Israel is governed by a 120-member parliament, known as the Knesset. Membership in the Knesset is based on proportional representation of political parties.[100] Parliamentary elections are held every four years, but the Knesset can dissolve the government at any time by a no-confidence vote. 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][101]

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.[102][103] Israel is not a member of the International Criminal Court as it fears the court would be biased against it due to political pressure.[104] 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.[102] 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.[105] The Israeli Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty seeks to defend human rights and liberties. Israel is the only country in the region ranked "Free" by Freedom House based on the level of civil and political rights; the "Israeli Occupied Territories/Palestinian Authority" was ranked "Not Free."[106] Similarly, Reporters Without Borders rated Israel 50th out of 168 countries in terms of freedom of the press and highest among Middle Eastern countries.[107] Nevertheless, groups such as Amnesty International[108] and Human Rights Watch[109] 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.[110]

Administrative districts
The State of Israel is divided into six main administrative districts, known as mehozot (מחוזות; singular: mahoz) – Center District, Haifa District, Jerusalem District, Northern District, Southern District, and Tel Aviv District. Districts are further divided into fifteen sub-districts known as nafot (נפות; singular: nafa), which are themselves partitioned into fifty natural regions.[111] For statistical purposes, the country is divided into three metropolitan areas: Tel Aviv and Gush Dan (population 3,150,000), Haifa (population 996,000), and Beersheba (population 531,600).[112] However, Israel's largest city, both in population and area,[113] is Jerusalem with 732,100 residents in an area of 126 square kilometers (49 sq mi). Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Rishon LeZion rank as Israel's next most populous cities, with populations of 384,600, 267,000, and 222,300 respectively.[114]

Isareli Flag - Israel - Promised Land - The Magen David (shield of David, or as it is more commonly known, the Star of David) is the symbol most commonly associated with Judaism today, but it is actually a relatively new Jewish symbol. It is supposed to represent the shape of King David's shield (or perhaps the emblem on it), but there is really no support for that claim in any early rabbinic literature. In fact, the symbol is so rare in early Jewish literature and artwork that art dealers suspect forgery if they find the symbol in early works.The Israeli Flag: The flag of Israel was adopted on October 28, 1948, five months after the country's establishment. It depicts a blue Star of David on a white background, between two horizontal blue stripes. The blue color is mandated only as "dark sky-blue",[1] and varies from flag to flag, ranging from a hue of pure blue, sometimes shaded almost as dark as navy blue, to hues about 75% toward pure cyan and shades as light as very light blue.[2] The flag was designed for the Zionist Movement in 1891. The basic design recalls the Tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl, which is white with blue stripes. The hexagram in the centre is the Magen David ("shield of David"). It became a Jewish symbol starting in late medieval Prague, and was adopted by the First Zionist Congress in 1897.

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Occupied territories

The Israeli-occupied territories – the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights – are the areas Israel captured from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria during the Six-Day War. The term was also used to describe the Sinai Peninsula, which was returned to Egypt as part of the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. Following Israel's capture of these territories, settlements consisting of Israeli citizens were established within each of them. Israel has applied civilian law to the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, incorporating them into its territory and offering their inhabitants Israeli citizenship. In contrast, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have remained under military occupation, and are widely seen – by Israel, the Palestinians, and the international community alike – as the site of a future Palestinian state. Most negotiations relating to the territories have been on the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which calls on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories in return for peaceful actions from Arab states (see Land for peace).[115][116][117]

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip both have populations consisting primarily of Arab Palestinians, including historic residents of the territories and refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.[118] From their occupation in 1967 until 1993, the Palestinians living in these territories were under Israeli military administration. Since the Israel-Palestine 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,[119] which opponents note is partially built within the West Bank.[120] In 2005, Israel removed all of its residents and forces in the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the West Bank as part of its unilateral disengagement plan.

Foreign relations
 

Israel maintains diplomatic relations with 161 countries and has 94 diplomatic missions around the world.[121] 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.[122] Since 2003, however, ties with Morocco have been on the upswing, and Israel's foreign minister has visited the country.[123] Under Israeli law, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Yemen are enemy countries[124] and Israeli citizens may not visit them without permission from the Ministry of the Interior.[125] 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.[126]

The United States, Turkey, Germany, and India are among Israel's closest allies. The United States was the first country to recognize the State of Israel, followed by the Soviet Union. It may regard Israel as its primary ally in the Middle East, based on shared political and religious values.[127] Although Turkey and Israel did not establish full diplomatic relations until 1991,[128] Turkey has cooperated with the State since its recognition of Israel in 1949. However, Turkey's ties to the other Muslim-majority nations in the region have at times resulted in pressure from Arab states to temper its relationship with Israel.[129] Germany's strong ties with Israel may stem from a desire to make amends for the Holocaust. The two countries have cooperated on scientific and educational endeavors and remain strong economic partners.[130] India established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992 and has fostered a strong military and cultural partnership with the country since then.[131] Iran had diplomatic relations with Israel under the Pahlavi dynasty[132] but withdrew its recognition of Israel during the Iranian Revolution.[133]

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