Israel -- Geography --
Official Name: The State of Israel
Capital City: Jerusalem
Languages: Hebrew and Arabic (official), English
Official Currency: New Shequel
Religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, others
Land Area: 20,770 sq km
Landforms: The country has four main geographic regions: the coastal plain in the northwest, the highlands in the north and center, the Negev in the south, and the Great Rift Valley in the east.
Land Divisions: 6 districts, including Center, Haifa, Jerusalem, North, Southern, and Tel Aviv Districts
Israel -- History --
Present-day Israel is from 3000 BC populated by Kanaanites and is named Kanaan. In 1200 BC Kanaan is occupied by jewish tribes and around 1000 a jewish kingdom is established, soon split in the Kingdoms of Juda and Israel. The Babylonian Empire conquers Judah in 597-586 BC and deports the middle and upper classes of the jews to Babylonia, where they flourish. In 539 BC Babylonia is annexed by Persia, which hols the area until the time of Alexander the Great of Macedon, who conquers it in the early 330s BC. After his death in 323 BC, his empire is partitioned and the competing Ptolemaic and Seleucidian Empires occupy various portions of Palestine Only as late as 168 BC a new independent jewish state of Juda is formed. Juda becomes a vasal of the Roman Empire in 63 BC and in 44 the area becomes a Roman province as Palestine. In 70 the jews are banned from Palestine. Palestine is between 395 and 634 part of the East Roman Empire.
In 634 Palestine is conquered by the Caliphate. The Arab rule is interupted between 1099 and 1187, when European christians establish the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Since 1187 Palestine is ruled by the rulers of Egypt. The Ottoman Empire conquers Palestine in 1516. At the end of the nineteenth century efforts begin to establish a sovereign nation as a homeland for jews. These efforts are initiated by Theodore Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement, and are given added impetus by the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which asserted the British Government's support for the creation of a jewish homeland in Palestine.
After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, Palestine is seized by the United Kingdom in 1917/1918 and the area becomes a British League of Nation Mandate of Palestine in 1923. In the years following World War I, jewish immigration steadily increases, as did violence between the jewish and Arab communities. Mounting British efforts to restrict this immigration are countered by international support for Jewish national aspirations following the near-extermination of European jewry by the German Nazis during World War II. This support leads to the 1947 UN partition plan, which divides Palestine into separate jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem under UN administration.
According to this plan the State of Israel on parts of Palestine is proclaimed in 1949. This leads to the still existing Israel-Arab conflict. After an invasion by neigbouring Arab countries, which rejected the UN partition plan, Israel conquers more of Palestine than foreseen by the United Nations. Parts of Palestine are occupied by Trans-Jordan and Egypt. Many Palestinian Arabs flee the country. Israel becomes a parliamentary democracy in which originally the Israeli Workers' Party (MAPAI) dominates.
In 1967 Israel strikes targets in Egypt, Jordan and Syria in response to Egypts ordered withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from the Sinai and the buildup of Arab armies along Israel's borders. After 6 days, all parties agree to a cease-fire, under which Israel retains control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, the formerly Jordanian-controlled West Bank of the Jordan River and East Jerusalem. The Security Council adopts resolution 242, which callsfor the establishment of a just and lasting peace based on Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967 in return for the end of all states of belligerency, respect for the sovereignty of all states in the area and the right to live in peace within secure, recognized boundaries.
In 1977 the conservative Likud (Consolidation,) alliance wins the elections and for the first time a government without social-democrats can be formed. Negotiations lead in 1979 to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. In 1982 Israel invades Lebanon to fight the forces of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO withdraws its forces from Lebanon in 1982. Begin is succeeded in 1983 by his co-partisan Yitzhak Samir.
Israel and the PLO subsequently sign the Gaza-Jericho Agreement and the Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities in 1994, which began the process of transferring authority from Israel to the Palestinians. In the same year Israel and Jordan sign a historic peace treaty.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated in 1995 by a right-wing jewish radical, bringing the increasingly bitter national debate over the peace process to a climax. In 1999 Avoda wins the elections and Ehud Barak wins the premiership. Following further Israel-Palestinian talks, widespread violence breaks out in Israel and the Palestine territories in 2000. From that moment on there is a continuing crisis of confidence between the two sides. This leads in Israel to the election victory of Ariel Sharon and the Likud. The path to peace is halted and terrorism is growing.Sharon carried out his plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and also spearheaded the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier.In January 2006, after Ariel Sharon suffered a severe stroke which left him in a coma, the powers of office were transferred to Ehud Olmert.
In July 2006, a Hezbollah artillery assault on Israel's northern border communities and a cross border abduction of two Israeli soldiers sparked the Second Lebanon War. The clashes were brought to end a month later by a ceasefire (United Nations Resolution 1701) brokered by the United Nations Security Council.
On November 27, 2007, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to negotiate on all issues and strive for an agreement by the end of 2008. In April 2008, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad told a Qatari newspaper that Syria and Israel had been discussing a peace treaty for a year, with Turkey as a go-between.
Israel -- Economy --
Israel has a diversified, technologically advanced economy with substantial but decreasing government ownership and a strong high-tech sector. The major industrial sectors include high-technology electronic and biomedical equipment, metal products, processed foods, chemicals, and transport equipment. Israel possesses a substantial service sector and is one of the world's centers for diamond cutting and polishing. It also is a world leader in software development and, prior to the violence that began in September 2000, was a major tourist destination.
Israel's strong commitment to economic development and its talented work force led to economic growth rates during the nation's first two decades that frequently exceeded 10% annually. The years after the 1973 Yom Kippur War were a lost decade economically, as growth stalled and inflation reached triple-digit levels. The successful economic stabilization plan implemented in 1985 and the subsequent introduction of market-oriented structural reforms reinvigorated the economy and paved the way for rapid growth in the 1990s.
A wave of Jewish immigration beginning in 1989, predominantly from the countries of the former U.S.S.R., brought nearly a million new citizens to Israel. These new immigrants, many of them highly educated, now constitute some 13% of Israel's 6.7 million inhabitants. The skills brought by the new immigrants and their added demand as consumers gave the Israeli economy a strong upward push and in the 1990ís, they played a key role in the ongoing development of Israel's high-tech sector.
Israeli companies, particularly in the high-tech area, have in the past enjoyed considerable success raising money on Wall Street and other world financial markets; Israel ranks second to Canada among foreign countries in the number of its companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges. Israelís tech market is very developed, and in spite of the pause in the industryís growth, the high-tech sector is likely to be the major driver of the Israeli economy. Almost half of Israelís exports are high tech. Most leading players, including Intel, IBM, and Cisco have a presence in Israel.
Exports of goods and services in Israel grew by 7% in 2005. Service and agricultural exports each increased by more than 10% in 2005, whereas exports increased by 5.6% and imports rose to 4.4%. Tourism revenues increased by 22.7% as a result of the dramatic increase following the intifadaís subsidence.
In the Israeli business sector, business GDP grew by 6.6% in 2005. According to CBS statistics, the transportation, storage, and communications industries grew by 9.2%, following growth of 6.6% in 2004. The GDP of the wholesale, retail, restaurant, and hotel sector increased by 8.1%, up from 6.1% in 2004. The GDP of the finance and business services sector in 2005 increased by 6.4%, up from the previous yearís 6.1% growth rate.
The United States is Israel's largest trading partner. U.S. exports to Israel rose 6.1% in 2005 to $9.7 billion, making Israel the 19th largest export market for goods. Israel also has trade and cooperation agreements with the European Union, Canada, Mexico, and other countries.
Israel -- Culture --
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. 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. Israel's substantial Arab minority has also left its imprint on Israeli culture in such spheres as architecture, music, and cuisine.
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 Arabic and 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. In 2006, 85 percent of the 8,000 books transferred to the library were in Hebrew. The Hebrew Book Week 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.
Israeli music contains musical influences from all over the world; Yemenite music, Hasidic melodies, Arabic music, Greek music, jazz, and pop rock are all part of the music scene. 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. Among Israel's world-renowned 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. 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. Eilat has hosted its own international music festival, the Red Sea Jazz Festival, every summer since 1987.
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, however, who was both a rabbi and a physician, emphasized the importance of physical activity and keeping the body in shape. The most popular spectator sports in Israel today are association football and basketball.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.
Israeli culinary culture is diverse and unique. The wide variety of dishes and delicacies enjoyed within the country are a result of Israelís diverse
population. Particularly popular in Israel are Mediterranean foods influenced by neighboring Arab countries and citizens of Middle Eastern origin. Falafel, pita bread stuffed with chopped salad and deep fried balls of ground hickpeas, is considered to be the national food of Israel. Falafel stands are found throughout every city in Israel.
Israel -- Political system, law and government --
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Ehud Olmert (Kadima)
Foreign Minister--Tzipi Livni (Kadima)
Political parties: Labor, Likud, and various other secular and religious parties, including some wholly or predominantly supported by Israel's Arab citizens.
Israel is a parliamentary democracy. Its governmental system is based on several basic laws enacted by its unicameral parliament, the Knesset. The president (chief of state) is elected by the Knesset for a 5-year term.
The prime minister (head of government) exercises executive power and has in the past been selected by the president as the party leader most able to form a government. Between May 1996 and March 2001, Israelis voted for the prime minister directly. (The legislation which required the direct election of the prime minister was rescinded by the Knesset in March 2001.) The members of the cabinet must be collectively approved by the Knesset.
The Knesset's 120 members are elected by secret ballot to 4-year terms, although the prime minister may decide to call for new elections before the end of the 4-year term. Voting is for party lists rather than for individual candidates, and the total number of seats assigned each party reflects that party's percentage of the vote. Successful Knesset candidates are drawn from the lists in order of party-assigned rank. Under the present electoral system, all members of the Knesset are elected at large.
The independent judicial system includes secular and religious courts. The courts' right of judicial review of the Knesset's legislation is limited. Judicial interpretation is restricted to problems of execution of laws and validity of subsidiary legislation. The highest court in Israel is the Supreme Court, whose judges are approved by the President.
The Israeli court system is composed of a general court system and a number of specialized courts.The general court system is comprised of three instances: magistrates' courts, district courts, and the Supreme Court. In addition to its role as the highest court of appeal, the Supreme Court sitting as a high court of justice has the authority to adjudicate administrative matters that are not subject to the jurisdiction of district courts sitting as courts for administrative matters. Special courts, such as the labor courts, military justice courts and religious courts have special jurisdiction.Magistratesí courts have original jurisdiction in criminal matters over most offenses carrying a maximum punishment of seven years.District courts have residual jurisdiction over all criminal and civil matters which do not fall within the jurisdiction of the magistratesí courts.