Israel is a small country located along the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and the West Bank. It has an area of 20,770 sq km. This equates to an area roughly the size of New Jersey. Israel has a relatively temperate climate, but temperatures become increasingly hot and dry as you move in to the Negev desert regions in the southern part of the country. Israel is mostly plains along the coast with mountain down the center.
Only 14% of Israel’s land is arable. The main source of fresh, drinkable water is the Sea of Galilee. The combination of little arable land and limited supply of fresh water is beginning to take its toll on the accessibility to resources.
Israel’s current environmental concerns are desertification, air pollution from vehicles, and industry and water pollution caused by industrial waste, chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides.
HISTORY & GOVERNMENT
Israel is steeped in religious history dating back to when the Israelites first conquered the region in 1250 BCE and King Solomon reigned from 961 to 922 BCE. What followed was centuries of various empires competing for control until the rise of the Ottoman Empire in 1517 CE. In 1896, Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian journalist, published The Jewish State, a book that developed the framework for political Zionism. Herzl’s work led to the initial meeting of the Zionist Congress to establish a homeland in Palestine in response to high levels of anti-Antisemitism throughout Europe. By 1903, 25,000 Jews had immigrated to Palestine and lived alongside the 500,000 Arabs.
During World War I, the Ottomans joined the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria. The Allied Powers (France, Britain, Russia, and the United States) supported Arab uprisings against the Ottoman Empire that would ultimately lead to its weakening and complete dissolution. Throughout and following the war, a series of private agreements resulted in the division of the area into sovereign states with mandate rulers.
In 1915, the High Commissioner of Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, engaged in secret correspondence with Hussein Bin Ali, the Sharif of Hejaz and Mecca. Sharif is a title meaning noble and referring to descendants of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Hassan Ibn Ali. McMahon expressed Great Britain’s eventual recognition and support of an Arab state whose boundaries would be determined by Hussein. These exchanges, now known as the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence (or, alternately, as the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence) lasted from July 14, 1915 to January 30, 1916. In exchange for Arab support of the war efforts through revolts against the Ottomans, the British would recognize Arab independence. This commitment was not honored.
Meanwhile, also in 1915, British parliamentarian, Sir Mark Sykes, and a French diplomat, Francois Georges-Picot, looking toward a collapsed Ottoman Empire, divided the region into hypothetical spheres of influence under either British or French control. The Sykes-Picot agreement, drafted in secret unbeknownst to other world leaders, would give the northern part of the Middle East, consisting of Christian enclaves in Syria and Lebanon to France, while Great Britain would have authority over southern territory including Palestine and Iraq.
In 1917, however, British Foreign Minister Arthur James Balfour promised the Zionist Federation of Great Britain the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. The Balfour Declaration of a homeland for the Jewish diaspora in what was believed to be a preemptory concession to the United States’ President Woodrow Wilson who most certainly would have disagreed with the Sykes-Picot redesign of the Middle East.
Upon the conclusion of World War I, the people of greater Syria were unwilling to cede control to the French as outlined in the Sykes-Picot agreement. In April 1920, the Allied leaders of Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan swiftly convened at the San Remo conference to discuss the allocation of mandates for administration of the former Ottoman-ruled lands of the Middle East. Precise state borders would be determined at a later date. Ultimately, as a result of the San Remo conference, the Middle East lands of present day Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia were divided into different regions under control of France and the United Kingdom with some variations from the original Sykes-Picot Agreement. Some of the current borders in the Middle East stem from this arrangement between western powers.
During World War II, the Irgun and Haganah fought aside the Allied Forces against the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, Japan). The militant groups gained considerable combat experience and support because of their involvement. After the defeat of Germany and the Axis, the Irgun and other Zionist organizations shifted their focus back onto the idea of Palestine as a Jewish homeland. The Irgun continued targeting British military positions culminating in the bombing of the King David Hotel, a 5-star hotel in Jerusalem, on June 22, 1946. The attack resulted in the deaths of 91 people as well as 46 injured at the hotel, which, at the time, was the central office of British authorities in Palestine. Great Britain grew weary of the ongoing animosity and violence; its resources were exhausted as a result of the devastation caused by World War II and thus, Britain decided to leave the region, handing over control to the United Nations. The removal of British forces allowed the Irgun and Haganah to force Palestinians out of certain areas of Palestine. By May 14, 1948, the last British soldiers had left and Israel declared itself an independent state.
Following the creation of the State of Israel, the surrounding Arab states attacked Israel. However, the Israeli forces had considerable combat experience from World War II and received arms and support from the United States. The Arab forces were pushed back and Israel remained an independent state. The defeat of the Arab armies and the massacre Deir Yassin, in which Irgun forces massacred 107 villagers including women and children, and terrified the Palestinians resulting in large populations of refugees fleeing into Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan.
In 1965, Israel struck an agreement with France and Britain to gain control of the crucial Suez Canal from Egypt. An Israeli invasion into Egypt would prompt France and Britain to intervene under the guise of maintaining peace thus allowing the west to regain control of the canal. However, as Israel, France, and Britain began this operation, both the United States and the Soviet Union pressured the three forces to withdraw. While Israeli forces proved successful against the Egyptian military, Israel succumbed to the pressure of the two superpowers and withdrew.
In 1967, the Six Day War began as Israel launched preemptive strikes against Egypt which was attempting to mobilize its own air force against Israel. Egypt, Syria, and Jordan launched attacks but all three were defeated resulting in Israel nearly doubling in size. The United Nations condemned both sides and pressured Israel to withdraw forces from the land it seized. Israel withdrew from certain areas but remained in control of East Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Yom Kippur 1973, the holiest day in Judaism. When a peace agreement was reached 1979, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula, a region previously conquered by Israel, to Egypt. Egypt and Israel had both recognized the need for a more comprehensive peace plan, which had begun in 1977.
In 1974, Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), made his first appearance at the United Nations where he famously proclaimed, “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” However, soon after the speech, the Likud, a right-wing political party who believed in extending Israel over all of the Palestinian territories, came into power. Their ideology and continued expansion of settlements resulted in a stunted peace process. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon in order to force the PLO out of the region. Israeli forces quickly reached Beirut and established a ceasefire to allow the PLO to leave. However, Israeli troops surrounded two major Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Shatila, in order to prevent anyone from leaving and to protect the Christian militant group, the Phalangists, while they massacred the Palestinian men, women, and children. This resulted in an estimated 3,000 civilian deaths and the resignation of Israel’s defense minister, Ariel Sharon, who would later be elected as the 11th Prime Minister of Israel in 2001.
Palestinians were boycotting, protesting, and causing civil disobedience throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories beginning in 1987. This spread throughout the West Bank and Gaza and is known as the First Intifada (uprising). The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) responded to these mostly nonviolent protests with brute force resulting in over 1,000 Palestinian civilian deaths over a five year period.
In the early 1990s, peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel began to grow. Initially, progress was stalled by Israel’s refusal to recognize the PLO. However, the election of the left-wing Labor party revitalized the process. The secret Oslo Accords made significant progress while public negotiations failed. The agreement resulted in the signing of the Declaration of Principles between Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and Yasser Arafat in front of an audience of 400 million people in 1993. By 1994, Israel agreed to withdraw military forces from the West Bank and Gaza (excluding areas of Israeli settlements). One year later, Oslo II was signed dividing the West Bank into 7 percent Palestinian control, 21 percent joint control, and the remainder controlled by Israel. This agreement angered extremists on both sides; radical Palestinians did not want to accept such a small proportion of the land while radical Israelis did not want to give up any “Jewish” land. This agreement resulted in the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish religious extremist on November 4, 1995.
Relations became strained in 1996 between Israel and Palestine as the Palestinian Islamic group Hamas began engaging in suicide bombings in Israel as a response to Israeli forces launching strikes in Lebanon. The election of Israeli, right-wing leader Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu as Prime Minister in 1996 further strained relations as he began building settlements in Palestinian territories and campaigned against the Oslo Accords. In 1999, Netanyahu lost reelection to Ehud Barak, leader of the Labor party. Frustration among the Palestinians and Israelis continued as renewed peace talks failed. Barak and Arafat could not come to agreement over Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. In 2000, the right-wing Likud party leader, Ariel Sharon, created further instability when “tightly guarded by an Israeli security cordon, [he] led a group of Israeli legislators onto the bitterly contested Temple Mount to assert Jewish claims there, setting off a stone-throwing clash that left several Palestinians and more than two dozen policemen injured.” The Temple Mount complex, known as Haram al Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, to Muslims, contains important shrines sacred to Islam, including Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The Temple Mount is also considered the holiest site in Judaism; these overlapping, contested claims have led to bitter disputes over the future of Jerusalem. This event combined with the stalled peace progress sparked the Second Intifada, a much more violent uprising than the first.
Barak stepped down as prime minister and Sharon took his place as the 11th Prime Minister of the State of Israel in 2001. Sharon favored the use of military force against the Palestinians, which became a popular decision as the Second Intifada grew steadily more violent over time. Israeli strikes in Palestinian towns and cities, and concomitant Palestinian rocket attacks aimed at Israel intensified. The Palestinians, at a clear disadvantage due to the disparity in military equipment, strength, and numbers, bore the brunt of the conflict with death tolls soaring as efforts by the United States to broker peace continued to fail. In 2002, intensified attacks by Palestinian forces resulted in Israel re-occupying the West Bank. Israel invaded several cities throughout the West Bank and began constructing a barrier wall in the West Bank thus isolating the Palestinians and restricting access to essential farmlands.
According to Aljazeera, “the full route of the barrier wall, as outlined in the blueprint approved by Israel’s Ministry of Defense, is 422 miles of zigzagging curves and loops, making it more than twice as long as the 199-mile-long Green Line. More than one-fifth of the planned barrier has not yet been constructed.” Palestinians are required to obtain a permit to access their land on the other side of the barrier. Israeli citizens do not face such requirements. The barrier has many entrances, or checkpoints, where travelling Palestinians are required to produce proper authorization for their vehicle, as well as themselves, to enter after careful inspection from Israeli security who issue fines for alleged infractions. Each checkpoint has specific hours of operation, only allowing entrance during a certain window of time. Such rigid restrictions prevent many from obtaining basic human resources and aid including food, education and health services.
In April, 2004, Israel, under Sharon, adopted the Disengagement Plan Implementation Law leading to the removal of settlers and troops from Gaza and the West Bank. As a result, in 2005 Israel begin the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza, and the dismantling of all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip; in addition, four small settlements in the northern West Bank were evacuated. However, construction of the barrier wall and new settlements has continued in the West Bank, despite international pressure to halt both activities. The International Court of Justice in The Hague pronounced the barrier illegal in July 2004 but this has not deterred Israel from further settlement expansion.
PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat died of a blood disorder in November 2004; he was replaced by Mahmoud Abbas, who is also the Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority and the 2nd President of the State of Palestine, as a member of the Fatah party. Abbas and Sharon reached a ceasefire and Israel continued their process of withdrawing from Palestine. Hezbollah, a Shia militant group in Lebanon, launched rocket attacks against Israel in 2006. This attack sparked a war lasting 33 days. By the end of the month long conflict, neither side had made substantial progress toward any resolution.
Ariel Sharon suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in 2006 after which he remained in a coma until his death in 2014. When he became indisposed and was unable to fulfill his duties as prime minister, Ehud Olmert assumed his responsibilities as acting prime minister. When Olmert’s party, Kadima, was victorious in the 2006 elections, his cabinet was approved and he officially became the 12th prime minister on May 4th, less than 5 months after Sharon fell ill. In the 2009 elections, Netanyahu’s Likud party came in 2nd and he resumed his position as prime minister after forming a coalition government. He was selected again in 2013. Early elections were held in March 2015, and it appeared that the more moderate Kadima party would take over; however, in a surprise victory, Netanyahu’s Likud party won again, and he continued as PM at the head of a coalition government.
In the summer of 2014, three Israeli teenagers were murdered by Palestinians as retaliation after Israeli security forces killed two Palestinian teenagers. Following the death of the Israeli teenagers, a 16-year-old Palestinian named Mohammed Abu Khdeir was abducted and burned to death by Israeli extremists. Hamas militants responded with rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli territory which prompted Israel to begin Operation Protective Edge into Gaza (which included airstrikes, artillery, and a ground invasion). According to the New York Times, during this military operation, 3,834 Israeli strikes killed 1,881 Palestinians and 2,927 rockets from Gaza resulted in 67 Israeli deaths. A comprehensive timeline of the month long conflict can be found here. The conflict settled into an uneasy ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, in August 2014.
Violence sprung up again in October 2015. The new wave of violence was initially triggered by disputes over the Al-Aqsa mosque. Concerns about Israelis praying at the Temple Mount, as well as restrictions placed on Palestinians at the site, interrupted the relative calm between the two sides. The wave of violence is ongoing and has been characterized by “lone wolf” stabbings, and more recently by shootings and car-rammings, carried out by individual Palestinians who target Israelis without guidance or assistance from organized groups. Israel has responded in various ways throughout this period such as limiting travel of all Palestinians to and from Israel except for non-essential needs, destroying the family homes of attack perpetrators, and limiting access to certain sites and areas. The U.N. have called the Israeli response collective punishment and against international law. Israelis citizens feel their government is not being tough enough in its response. The clashes have left dozens of Israelis, hundreds of Palestinians, and multiple foreign citizens dead.
Israel is a parliamentary republic, with citizens voting for parties based on a proportional representation system. Israel’s parliament is made up of 120 members and is called the Knesset. The elected parties must form a coalition government in order to govern, unlike in the U.S. where congressional members are treated as individual political entities rather than governments being formed based off of proportion of seats held. The head of Israel’s government is the prime minister, who is elected by the Knesset; usually the prime minister is also the head of the leading party. Israel also has a president who functions as head of state, though presidential powers are quite limited and mainly ceremonial.
Israel’s judicial branch is separate from its executive and legislature. Because Israel has no written constitution, its court uses precedent, case law, and what are called Israel’s “Basic Laws”, laws that are treated similar to a constitution. Israel has various religious courts for civil suits, like Sharia courts and Jewish courts. Israel also maintains courts for maritime law, military law, and labor law. All of these courts’ final appeal goes to the Supreme Court.
The information above was gathered from BBC’s timeline of Palestine and Israel, among other sources referenced in footnotes.
On Sunday, June 13, the Knesset voted 60-59 in favor of enacting a new coalition, led by Naftali Bennet, who will serve as Prime Minister for 2 years, and Yair Lapid, who will take on the position in 2023. Natftali Bennet of the ultranationalist Yamina party previously served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff and defence minister. Prior to entering the political field, he worked in the tech industry. Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party organized this new coalition and previously served as leader of the opposition and finance minister. Prior to entering the political field, he worked as a TV anchor. This coalition consists of 8 parties: Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Yisrael Beiteinu, Labor, Yamina, New Hope, Meretz, and the United Arab List
History & Government Resources
Israel has an advanced free market economy. Its leading exports are cut diamonds, high-technology equipment, and pharmaceuticals, whilst its main imports are crude oil, grains, raw materials, and military equipment. Israel usually ends up with significant trade deficits; however, it is mostly counteracted by tourism and other service exports, as well as significant foreign investment inflows. Between 2004 and 2013, Israel’s growth averaged nearly 5% per year, although the figure has started to decrease over the last 3 years.
A significant challenge to the Israeli economy is its high income inequality and poverty rates. The inequality rates are among the highest of OECD countries, and there is a broad perception among the public that a small number of “tycoons” have a cartel-like grip over the major parts of the economy. Government officials have called for reforms to boost the housing supply and to increase competition in the banking sector to address these public grievances. Despite calls for reforms, the restricted housing supply continues to impact the well-being of younger Israelis seeking to purchase homes.
The CIA World Factbook estimates that the population as of July 2017 is 8,299,706. This figure includes the populations of the Golan Heights of Golan Sub-District and also East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel after 1967. Approximately 22,000 Israeli settlers live in the Golan Heights (2016) while approximately 201,000 Israeli settlers live in East Jerusalem (2014). The population is 75% Jewish. Most of these are Israel-born, but significant numbers were born in Europe, the United States, and Africa. Many Israeli Jews are of Middle Eastern and North African descent. The remaining 25% of the population of Israel is of Arab descent. The Arab population is primarily concentrated in the East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The three largest cities are Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem, which is where nearly three fourths of the population lives.
Israel receives huge amounts of immigrants, mainly due to its open citizenship laws. Israel’s citizenship laws are quite unique, giving citizenship to any Jew or person with a Jewish grandparent. This is specified in Israel’s Law of Return, passed in 1950. In addition to its inclusive citizenship requirements, Israel has been quite proactive in encouraging people to make Aliyah, a Hebrew term meaning “to ascend” which refers to the immigration of Jews in exile to Israel. After its formation, the country embarked on ambitious campaigns to bring members of the Jewish Diaspora home to Israel; over 49,000 Yemeni Jews, 120,000 Iraqi Jews, 30,000 Iranian Jews, and 15,000 Ethiopian Jews have been airlifted to Israel. This comes in addition to various other avenues for immigration to Israel, utilized mostly by Russian Jews, French Jews, and Ethiopians. What exactly constitutes a Jew has become a complex issue with the introduction of this law, as after the first wave of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, many Ethiopians asked to immigrate to Israel because of a historical claim to Judaism that was interrupted by a forceful conversion to Christianity. One objective of these policies is to increase the Jewish population relative to the area’s Arab population.
While Israel is quite accommodating in its immigration policy, many immigrants, particularly those from Africa, have struggled to integrate into Israeli society. There are a multitude of obstacles to integration, from language barriers to racism. According to a 2012 study, only 13% of Ethiopian high school students felt fully Israeli. Ethiopians and other African immigrants often face widespread discrimination and segregation in immigrant communities, perpetuating isolation and cycles of inter-generational poverty similar to these seen in inner-city immigrant communities in the U.S. The frustration of Ethiopians culminated in a violent protest in Haifa in 2015, after an Ethiopian IDF soldier was beaten badly by Israeli border police.
Today the highest number of immigrants to Israel comes from France. Mainly driven by increasing terror attacks, economic downturn, and rising Antisemitism, the number of French making Aliyah has increased tremendously from 2014 to 2016. Israel is eager to receive French immigrants because of their high levels of education. These immigrants are also unlikely to face the same type of discrimination that their African counterparts do, mainly due to similarities in European and Israeli cultures.
Population of Israel
98% of the population is literate. It is expected that each Israeli child will attend school for 15 years. There are both state-run and religious (Christian, Jewish, Islamic) schools. School is free up until age 15. There are a small number of integrated, bilingual schools in which peaceful coexistence is a core value. Upon graduation from high school, students must take the Israeli Matriculation Exam in order to proceed to higher education. They must pass tests in the areas of Hebrew, English, math, scriptures, state studies, history and literature. In addition, students must also pass the Psychometric Entrance Test, similar to the American SAT or ACT.
There is universal, mandatory military service in the Israel Defense Forces; however, there are religious, physical, and psychological exemptions and alternatives for those unable or unwilling to serve in the military. Israeli Arabs are not conscripted. Students must receive special permission to stay in school through a deferment process.
There are many universities and colleges that Israelis may attend. Some are more technical schools and some schools have a specialty (engineering, art, etc.) They are spread throughout the country in major metropolitan centers of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and beyond.
Israel is a Jewish state. 75% of the population is Jewish. Of that percentage, only about 5% consider themselves to be ultra-conservatives. There are several branches of Judaism that are all represented in Israel. It is the only country where Judaism is the majority religion. It is predicted that ¼ of the world’s Jewish population lives in Israel. Most of the remaining population is Sunni Muslim. There are also small groups of Christians, Greek Orthodox, and Druze. On an interesting note the Baha’i faith considers its religious center to be Haifa, Israel, but so few Baha’is live in Israel that it is not listed as a religion in Israel.
Israeli art is often synonymous with Jewish art. This style of art has evolved from manuscripts and textiles to include paintings and sculptures. Artists create works that are influenced by their history and their socio-religious experiences. Some of the art is also influenced by the other cultures that have lived in the area as well as artists’ countries of origin. Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has founded several art schools and encourages artistic pursuits.
Street art is growing in prominence in Israel. These works can be massive, taking up entire sides of buildings. They are popping up primarily in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. These works are political in nature but the government of Israel has not tried to restrict or eliminate street art.
Literature & Film
Israeli literature is a recent, but rich phenomenon, springing up after the second wave of immigration to Israel. Most of the immigrants writing Israeli literature in the early 20th century were from Eastern Europe and thus most of the work was written in either Yiddish or Hebrew, and later in Arabic when Sephardic (Iberian Peninsula) and Mizrahi (Middle East) Jews began to immigrate to the country.
This first period of Israeli literature was quite similar to European literature at the time, due to the fact that its authors were very recent immigrants from Europe. One important writer of this period was Shmuel Yusuf Agnon. Agnon was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and immigrated to Israel when he was 36 years old. His work deals with the conflict between traditional Jewish life and the modern world, as well as European village life. He was quite famous in Israel pre and post-independence and eventually won a Nobel Prize in literature when he was 78.
The second period of Israeli literature was dominated by sabras, or male Israelis born in Israel. This period focused on Palestine, life in the Kibbutz (a Jewish collective community), and the process of Aliyah. A famous writer from this period was Uri Zi Greenberg. Greenberg was born in Austria-Hungary in 1896 and moved to Israel in 1939 in order to escape WWII. He was a poet and journalist, actively involved in the Israeli struggle for independence. His poetry focused on the pain of the modern era, and explored the notion of destiny for all of the Jewish people.
The third period of Israeli literature was placed right after Israel’s independence and attempted to establish a Jewish-Israeli identity and the values that came with it. A famous writer from this period was S. Yizhar. Yizhar was born in what is present-day Israel in 1916. His works feature stream of consciousness narratives, a type of narrative that is more fragmented and unstructured in an attempt to mimic human thought. This personal style of writing was heavily influenced by his own experiences and frequently drew on his encyclopedic knowledge of Israel’s natural landscape. One of his more famous books, Khirbet Khizeh, depicts the actions of Israeli soldiers when they expelled Arabs from their homes in 1948. This book was made a mandatory part of high school literature and later into an Israeli television show.
Movie theaters are common and there is a burgeoning film industry in Israel. In recent years, Israeli films have garnered international attention at festivals and independent theaters, gaining numerous awards. There is a film archive at Hebrew University that houses movies produced by Israelis as well as ones that deal with Israeli history and people. The dramatic arts are also growing in popularity, though theater is more of an Israeli tradition than a Jewish one.
Israeli music is a mixture of different types of religious Jewish music and regional music traditions reflective of the diverse background of Israelis. Historically, Hebrew songs have been used to reinforce identity and belonging. While creating a diverse musical base in Israel, musicians have also made contributions to the international genres of classical, jazz and pop. Vocals are performed in a multitude of languages – Hebrew, French, English, Amharic, Russian, Arabic and Judeo-Arabic, and others, again reflecting the lingering influence of the population’s countries of origin. There are several famous orchestras in Israel; the most prominent are the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Israel Chamber Orchestra. The Jerusalem Symphonic Orchestra plays only for radio broadcast and attracts many listeners. Israeli musicians commonly use war and peace themes in their work as a result of the security situation around them. A-Wa, a trio of sisters of Yemeni heritage, has gained international attention for their traditional Yemeni Jewish folk singing. Ofra Haza was an Israeli artist whose appeal extended into the greater Middle East and who is now referred to as the “Madonna of the East”. Renowned violinist and conductor, Itzak Perlman, was born in Mandate Palestine in 1945.
Sites and Places of Interest
Israel and the adjoining Palestinian government-administered territories are host to innumerable holy sites revered by Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Both Jews and Arabs visit these holy places; and the area also attracts large numbers of international pilgrims and tourists. Several museums have been created to house the artifacts originating from these sites. Museums are sponsored by the government, Jewish organizations and other private organizations based in the United States and Europe that want to protect Islamic and Jewish artifacts.
Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock is one of the oldest mosques and it is located in the Temple Mount. The rock at the center of the mosque is supposedly the place where Muhammad ascended into heaven.
This mosque is the 3rd holiest place for Muslims after Mecca and Medina. The translation of the name means “farthest mosque”. It is also located at Temple Mount.
Western Wall (Wailing Wall)
This wall is the last remaining piece of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. It is one of the most sacred sites in Judaism; many Jews pray there everyday.
Hebron is the largest city in West Bank. It is the 2nd holiest site in Judaism and is important in Islamic tradition as well since it is thought to be the home of Abraham and his family. This site provides information on the history, religious significance and modern life in Hebron.
Museums in Israel
This website from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides a list and brief descriptions of several museums in Israel.
Archeology in Israel
This website from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides information on archeological sites and activity in Israel.
The Israel Museum
This is the official website of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Included is information on exhibitions, galleries, and programs.
Did you know John D. Rockefeller contributed 2 million dollars to help preserve archaeological treasures? The museum opened its doors in 1937.
Virtual Tour of Jerusalem
This website offers virtual tours/panoramic images of the city of Jerusalem and some of its important religious sites.
Sports are a popular pastime in Israel. Despite its diminutive size, Israel has sent several delegations to the Olympics. Israel has won seven Olympic medals: five bronze, one silver and one gold, mainly for judo and sailing.
Israel has its own Olympics, the Maccabiah Games, held once every four years. Jewish athletes from all over the world come to compete. The first Maccabiah was held in 1932. It is the third-largest sporting event in the world, with 9,000 athletes competing on behalf of 78 countries. The next competition will be held in July 2017.
Soccer is Israel’s most popular sport, followed by basketball. Israel’s highest FIFA ranking ever was 15th, in November 2008, but it has appeared in the World Cup Soccer finals only once, in 1970. In basketball, Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv dominate the domestic league and are among the top teams in Europe. Maccabi Tel Aviv has won the European championship six times and Hapoel once.*
Sports, like music and other diversions, has acted as a unifying force in which Jews and Arabs have overcome differences in pursuit of a common interest. Sports have also been an integral component of co-existence programs for Arab and Jewish children in Israel.
*Information in this paragraph found at 10 Facts About Israeli Sports
LATEST NEWS & COMMENTARY ON ISRAEL
Middle East Policy Council
The New York Times
News about Israel, including commentary and archival articles published in The New York Times.
ISRAEL NEWS OUTLETS
Touted as “the leading news source for English speaking Jewry since 1932”, English version.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
This site provides good information and selected news articles about Israel.
This website provides information on the Israeli culture. Topics include history, urbanism, food, economy, social structure, gender roles, government, marriage, arts, medicine, and religion.
Video Tour of Jerusalem
Produced by National Geographic
*Population figures come from the CIA World Fact Book. The July 2017 estimate includes the populations of the Golan Heights of Golan Sub-District and also East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel after 1967.