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State of Israel

[Arabic] Dawlat Israel

[Hebrew] Medinat Yisrael

CAPITAL: Jerusalem (Yerushalayim, Al-Quds)

FLAG: The flag, which was adopted at the First Zionist Congress in 1897, consists of a blue six-pointed Shield of David (Magen David) centered between two blue horizontal stripes on a white field.

ANTHEM: Hatikvah (The Hope).

MONETARY UNIT: The new Israeli shekel (nis), a paper currency of 100 new agorot, replaced the shekel (is) at a rate of 1,000 to 1 in 1985; the shekel replaced the Israeli pound (il) in 1980 at the rate of 10 pounds per shekel. There are coins of 5, 10, and 50 agora, 1 and 5 shekels and notes of 10, 50, 100, and 200 shekels. nis1 = $0.22422 (or $1 = nis4.46) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, but some local units are used, notably the dunam (equivalent to 1,000 square meters, or about 0.25 acre).

HOLIDAYS: Israel officially uses both the Gregorian and the complex Jewish lunisolar calendars, but the latter determines the occurrence of national holidays: Rosh Hashanah (New Year), September or October; Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), September or October; Sukkot (Tabernacles), September or October; Simhat Torah (Rejoicing in the Law), September or October; Pesach (Passover), March or April; Independence Day, April or May; and Shavuot (Pentecost), May or June. All Jewish holidays, as well as the Jewish Sabbath (Friday/Saturday), begin just before sundown and end at nightfall 24 hours later. Muslim, Christian, and Druze holidays are observed by the respective minorities.

TIME: 2 pm = noon GMT.


Situated in southwestern Asia along the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, Israel claims an area of 20,770 sq km (8,019 sq mi), extending about 320 km (200 mi) ns and 110 km (70 mi) ew; at its narrowest, just north of Tel AvivYafo, it is 19 km (12 mi) across. This total includes the Golan Heights area (1,176 sq km/454 sq mi), captured from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967 and annexed on 14 December 1981; the annexation (technically described as the extension of Israeli "law, jurisdiction, and administration" to the region) was condemned by Syria and by unanimous resolution of the UN Security Council. The Labor Government in 1984 indicated that some (possibly all) of the Golan could be returned to Syria in a peace agreement. Other territories captured in 1967 and classified as administered territories were the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), 5,878 sq km (2,270 sq mi), and the Gaza Strip, 362 sq km (140 sq mi). (The Gaza Strip and Jericho area were transferred in 1994 to Palestinian administration, and six more West Bank cities were included in Palestinian control in 1997. All seven West Bank cities were reoccupied by Israel in 2002, but Jericho was returned to the Palestinians in 2005.) East Jerusalem, captured in 1967, was annexed shortly thereafter.

Israel is bordered on the n by Lebanon, on the e by Syria and Jordan, on the s by the Gulf of Aqaba (Gulf of Elat), on the sw by Egypt, and on the w by the Mediterranean Sea. Comparatively, the area occupied by Israel is slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey. The total land boundary length is 1,017 km (632 mi) and the coastline is 273 km (170 mi).

Israel's capital city, Jerusalem, is located near the center of the country (including the West Bank).


The country is divided into three major longitudinal strips: the coastal plain, which follows the Mediterranean shoreline in a southward widening band; the hill region, embracing the hills of Galilee in the north, Samaria and Judea in the center, and the Negev in the south; and the Jordan Valley. Except for the Bay of Acre, the sandy coastline is not indented for its entire length. The hill region, averaging 610 m (2,000 ft) in elevation, reaches its highest point at Mt. Meron (1,208 m/3,963 ft). South of the Judean hills, the Negev desert, marked by cliffs and craters and covering about half the total area of Israel proper, extends down to the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea. The Jordan River, forming the border between Israel (including the West Bank) and Jordan, links the only bodies of water in the country: the Sea of Galilee (Yam Kinneret) and the heavily saline Dead Sea (Yam ha-Melah), which, at 408 m (1,339 ft) below sea level, is the lowest point on the earth's surface.


Although climatic conditions are varied across the country, the climate is generally temperate. The coldest month is January; the hottest, August. In winter, snow occasionally falls in the hills, where January temperatures normally fluctuate between 410°c (4050°f), and August temperatures between 1829°c (6585°f). On the coastal plain, sea breezes temper the weather all year round, temperature variations ranging from 818°c (4765°f) in January and 2129°c (7085°f) in August. In the south, at Elat, January temperatures range between 1021°c (5070°f) and may reach 49°c (120°f) in August. The rainy season lasts from October until April, with rainfall averaging 118 cm (44 in) annually in the Upper Galilee and only 2 cm (0.8 in) at Elat, although dewfall gives the south another several inches of water every year.


The Bible (Deuteronomy 8:8) describes the country as "a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey." The original forests, evergreen and maquis, have largely been destroyed, but some 200 million new trees have been planted during this century, in a major reforestation program. Vegetation cover is thin except in the coastal plain, where conditions are favorable to the cultivation of citrus fruit, and in the Jordan Valley with its plantations of tropical fruit. Among surviving animals, jackals and hyenas remain fairly numerous. There are wild boars in the Lake Hula region. With the growth of vegetation and water supplies, bird life and deer have increased.

As of 2002, there were at least 116 species of mammals, 162 species of birds, and over 2,300 species of plants throughout the country.


Water pollution and adequate water supply are major environmental issues in Israel. Industrial and agricultural chemicals threaten the nation's already depleted water supply. Israel has only 1 cu km of renewable water resources with 54% used for farming activity and 7% used for industrial purposes. Air pollution from industrial sources, oil facilities, and vehicles is another significant environmental problem. In 1996, Israel's industrial carbon dioxide emissions totaled 52.3 million metric tons; in 2000, the total of carbon dioxide emissions was 63.1 million metric tons.

Reforestation efforts, especially since 1948, have helped to conserve the country's water resources and prevent soil erosion. Israel has reclaimed much of the Negev for agricultural purposes by means of large irrigation projects, thereby stopping the desertification process that had been depleting the land for nearly 2,000 years. Principal environmental responsibility is vested in the Environmental Protection Service of the Ministry of the Interior.

In 2000, about 6.1% of the total land area was forested. In 2003, about 15.8% of the total land area was protected. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 13 types of mammals, 18 species of birds, 4 types of reptiles, 12 species of fish, 5 types of mollusks, and 5 species of other invertebrates. Endangered species included the northern bald ibis, South Arabian leopard, Saudi Arabian dorcas gazelle, and three species of sea turtles. The Mediterranean monk seal, cheetah, Barbary sheep, and Persian fallow deer became extinct in the 1980s. The Israel painted frog and Syrian wild ass have also become extinct.


The population of Israel in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 7,105,000, which placed it at number 97 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 10% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 28% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 98 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 1.6%, a rate the government viewed as too low. The projected population for the year 2025 was 9,262,000. The population density was 337 per sq km (874 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 92% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005 and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 1.73%. The capital city, Jerusalem (Yerushalayim, Al-Quds), had a population of 686,000 in that year. Other large cities and their estimated populations are Tel Aviv-Yafo, 3,025,000; Haifa, 948,800; Rishon LeZiyyon, 217,400; Holon, 200,000; Beérshebá, 184,500; Petah Tiqwa, 176,200; Netanya, 163,700; and Yam, 145,300.


In 1948, 65% of Israel's Jewish population consisted of immigrants; many of these 463,000 immigrant Jews had fled from persecution in Russia and, especially during the Nazi period, Central and Eastern Europe. Israel's declaration of independence publicly opened the state "to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion," and the 1950 Law of Return granted every returning Jew the right to automatic citizenship. The Nationality Law specifies other waysincluding birth, residence, and naturalizationthat Israeli citizenship may be acquired. In the years 194892, Israel took in 2,242,500 Jewish immigrants; during 194851, the flow was at its heaviest, averaging 171,685 per year, about evenly divided between Eastern European Jews, who were war refugees, and Jews from ancient centers of the Arab world. In the years 195256, most immigrants came from French North Africa; in 195758 there was a renewed inflow from Eastern Europe. After a lull in 195960, the flow of immigrants was renewed, reaching substantial proportions by 1963, when 64,364 Jews arrived. Immigration fell to an annual average of 20,561 persons for 196568, rose to an average of 43,258 per year for 196974, then declined to an average of 24,965 for 197579. The number declined further to an average of 15,383 for 198089. As of March 1995, around 525,000 immigrants had arrived in Israel since 1990. Most of these immigrants came from the former Soviet Union; this was the largest wave of immigration since the independence of Israel. In 1991, 14,000 Ethiopian Jews immigrated due to the Operation Solomon airlift. The proportion of Jewish immigrants from Europe and North America (as opposed to those from Asia and Africa) varied during the 1960s, but it rose from 40.4% in 1968 to 97.3% in 1990. (For this purpose the Asiatic republics of the Soviet Union were counted as part of Europe). In 198485, some 10,000 Ethiopian Jews, victims of famine, were airlifted to Israel via Sudan. In 1992, the Jewish immigrant population was 39.4% of all Israeli Jews and 31.8% of all Israelis.

A certain amount of emigration has always taken place, but the pace increased after 1975. In a typical year after 1980, about 10,000 Israelis were added to the number who had been away continuously for more than four years. From 1967 to 1992, Israel established 142 settlements in the occupied territories; about 130,000 Jews were living there by 1995. The number of migrants living in Israel in 2000 was 2,256,000.

Considerable Arab migration has also taken place, including an apparent wave of Arab immigration into Palestine between World War I and World War II. During the 1948 war there was a massive flight of an estimated 800,000 Palestinians. As of 1997 there were 3.2 million Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon under the mandate of the Gaza-based United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Immigration to Israel dropped from 43,000 in 2001 to 33,000 in 2002 and 23,226 in 2003. According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics the number of immigrants arriving in Israel continues to drop, by 5% in 2005 compared to the first six months of 2004. In addition, according to Migration News, in 2005 the number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union fell by 18%, to 3,649 compared to 4,400 in 2004. In 2002 there were about 300,000 foreign migrants in Israel with an estimated 100,000 unauthorized foreigners. After a special unit of Immigration Police was created in 2003 an estimated 100,000 left by July 2004.

In 2004 there were 150,000300,000 internally displaced persons. In that same year there were 574 asylum seekers from Ethiopia and Nigeria in Israel, and 619 Israelis seeking asylum in Canada. In 2005, the net migration rate for Israel was zero migrants per 1,000 population. This is a significant drop from 18.7 per 1,000 in 1990.


About 80.1% of the total population is Jewish, with European and American-born Jews accounting for 32.1% and Israeli-born Jews for 20.8%. African-born Jews make up 14.6% and Asian-born 12.6%. About 19.9% of the population is non-Jewish, mostly Arab.

The traditional division of the Jews into Ashkenazim (Central and East Europeans) and Sephardim (Iberian Jews and their descendants) is still given formal recognition in the choice of two chief rabbis, one for each community. A more meaningful division, however, would be that between Occidentals and Orientals (now also called Sephardim). Oriental Jews, who are in the majority, generally believe themselves to be educationally, economically, and socially disadvantaged by comparison with the Occidentals.

The minority non-Jewish population is overwhelmingly Arabic-speaking, but Israel's minorities are divided into a number of religious groups and include several small non-Arab national groups, such as Armenians and Circassians. The government of Israel has declared its intention to strive for equality between the Arab and Jewish sectors of the population. Israel's Arab citizens do not share fully in rights granted to, and levies imposed on, Jewish citizens. The rights of citizenship do not extend to Arabs in the administered territories. The living standards of Arabs in Israel compare favorably with those of Arabs in non-oil-producing Arab countries, but they are considerably below those of the Jewish majority, especially the Ashkenazim. As a consequence of repeated wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors and the development of Palestinian Arab nationalism and terrorism, tensions between Jews and Arabs are a fact of Israeli daily life, especially in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


The official languages are Hebrew and Arabic, the former being dominant. Hebrew is the language of most of the Old Testament; modern Hebrew is the biblical language as modified by absorption of elements from all historical forms of Hebrew and by development over the years. Arabic is used by Arabs in parliamentary deliberations, in pleadings before the courts, and in dealings with governmental departments, and is the language of instruction in schools for Arab children. English is taught in all secondary schools and, along with Hebrew, is commonly used in foreign business correspondence and in advertising and labeling. Coins, postage stamps, and bank notes bear inscriptions in Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin characters.


The land that is now Israel (which the Romans called Judea and then Palestine) is the cradle of two of the world's great religions, Judaism and Christianity. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Jewish history begins with Abraham's journey from Mesopotamia to Canaan, to which the descendants of Abraham would later return after their deliverance by Moses from bondage in Egypt. Jerusalem is the historical site of the First Temple, built by Solomon in the 10th century bc and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 bc, and the Second Temple, built about 70 years later and sacked by the Romans in ad 70. Belief in the life, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (who, according to the Christian Scriptures, actually preached in the Second Temple) is the basis of the Christian religion. Spread by the immediate followers of Jesus and others, Christianity developed within three centuries from a messianic Jewish sect to the established religion of the Roman Empire. Jerusalem is also holy to Islam; the Dome of the Rock marks the site where, in Muslim tradition, Muhammad rose into heaven.

Present-day Israel is the only country where Judaism is the majority religion, which is professed by 80% of the population; over one-fourth of all the world's Jews live there. About 300,000 of these citizens, however, do not qualify as a Jew under government and/or Orthodox definitions. Most in the Jewish population describe themselves as secular or traditional Jews. About 4.5% are Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and about 13% are Orthodox. There are also a number of adherents who claim affiliation with Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism, but these are not officially recognized.

Of the 20% non-Jewish population, 80% are Muslims, 10% are Christians, and 10% are Druze. Most of the Muslims are Arabs. The Druzes, who split away from Islam in the 11th century, have the status of a separate religious community. The Baha'i world faith is centered in Haifa. The Christians are largely Greek Catholic or Greek Orthodox, but there are also Roman Catholics, Armenians, and Protestants.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed. The Ministry of Religious Affairs assists institutions of every affiliation and contributes to the preservation and repair of their holy shrines, which are protected by the government and made accessible to pilgrims. Supreme religious authority in the Jewish community is vested in the chief rabbinate, with Ashkenazim and Sephardim each having a chief rabbi.


In 2002, Israel's highway system totaled 17,237 km (10,721 mi) all of which were paved, and included 126 km (78 mi) of expressways. With the building in 1957 of a highway extension from Beérshebá to Elat, the Red Sea was linked to the Mediterranean. Trackage of the state-owned railway totaled 640 km (398 mi), all standard gauge, in 2004. Railways, buses, and taxis formerly constituted the principal means of passenger transportation; however, private car ownership nearly tripled during the 1970s. In 2003 there were 1,881,092 motor vehicles, including 1,522,112 private cars and 358,980 commercial vehicles.

As of 2005, Israel had 17 merchant vessels of 1,000 gross registered tonnage (GRT) or more, with a total capacity of 752,873 GRT. Haifa can berth large passenger liners and has a 10,000-ton floating dock, but Ashdod (south of Tel Aviv) has outstripped Haifa in cargo handled since the early 1980s. Elat (Eilat) is also a seaport with full freight services.

Israel had an estimated 51 airports in 2004. As of 2005, a total of 28 had paved runways, and there were also three heliports. Israel Inland Airlines (Arkia) provides domestic service. Israel Airlines (El Al) was founded shortly after Israel became a nation in 1948 and is almost entirely owned by the government. Ben-Gurion International Airport between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is the center of passenger and cargo operations; Israel is building a new Ben-Gurion International Airport Terminal. Another principal airport is J. Hozman at Eilat. In 2003 about 3.672 million passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.


Archaeologists have established that the world's earliest known city was Jericho, on the present-day West Bank, built about 7000 bc. The formative period of Israel began in approximately 1800 bc, when the Hebrews entered Canaan, and resumed in approximately 1200 bc, when the Israelite tribes returned to Canaan after a period of residence in Egypt. At various times, the people were led by patriarchs, judges, kings, prophets, and scribes, and the land was conquered by Assyrians, Babylonians (or Chaldeans), Persians, Greeks, and Romans. The ancient period neared its end in ad 70, when the Roman legions conquered Jerusalem after an unsuccessful revolt and destroyed the Temple, and it ended in ad 135, when the Roman Empire exiled most Jews after another unsuccessful revolt, led by Simon Bar-Kokhba, and renamed the region Syria Palaestina, which eventually became Palestine. During the next two millennia there were successive waves of foreign conquerorsByzantines, Persians, Arabs, Crusaders, Mongols, Turks, and Britons. Most Jews remained in dispersion, where many nourished messianic hopes for an eventual return to Zion; however, Jews in varying numbers continued to live in Palestine through the years. It is estimated that by 1900, only about 78,000 Jews were living in Palestine (less than 1% of the world Jewish population), compared with some 650,000 non-Jews, mostly Arabs.

Modern Zionism, the movement for the reestablishment of a Jewish nation, dates from the late 19th century, with small-scale settlements by Russian and Romanian Jews on lands purchased by funds from Western European and US donors. The movement received impetus from the founding of the World Zionist Organization in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897, under the leadership of Theodor Herzl. Zionist hopes for a Jewish national homeland in Palestine were greatly bolstered when the British government pledged its support for this goal in 1917, in the Balfour Declaration, which was subsequently incorporated into the mandate over Palestine (originally including Transjordan) awarded to the United Kingdom by the League of Nations in 1922. Under the mandate, the Jewish community grew from 85,000 to 650,000, largely through immigration, on lands purchased from Arab owners. Th is growth was attended by rising hostility from the Arab community, which felt its majority status threatened by the Jewish influx. In 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the British mandatory authorities issued a White Paper that decreed severe restrictions on Jewish immigration and a virtual freezing of land purchase and settlement. Armed Jewish resistance to this policy, as well as growing international backing for the establishment of a Jewish state as a haven for the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, finally persuaded the British government to relinquish the mandate.

On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted a plan for the partition of Palestine into two economically united but politically sovereign states, one Jewish and the other Arab, with Jerusalem as an international city. The Arabs of Palestine, aided by brethren across the frontiers, at once rose up in arms to thwart partition. The Jews accepted the plan; on 14 May 1948, the last day of the mandate, they proclaimed the formation of the State of Israel. The next day, the Arab League statesEgypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syrialaunched a concerted armed attack. There followed a mass flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs abroad. The war left Israel in possession of a much larger territory than that awarded the Jews under the UN partition plan; the planned Arab state failed to materialize, as Jordan annexed the West Bank. Meanwhile, the Palestinian refugees were resettled in camps on both banks of the Jordan River, in the Gaza Strip (then under Egyptian administration), in southern Lebanon, and in Syria.

Armistice agreements concluded in 1949 failed to provide the contemplated transition to peace, and sporadic Arab incursions along the borders were answered by Israeli reprisals. Tensions were exacerbated by Arab economic boycotts and by Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal on 26 July 1956. On 29 October 1956, Israel (with British and French support) invaded Egypt and soon gained control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Fighting ended on 4 November; Israel, under US pressure, withdrew from the occupied areas in March 1957 and recognized borders consistent with its military position at the end of the 1948 war. A UN Emergency Force (UNEF) patrolled the armistice line.

Violations by both sides of the armistice lines persisted, and in May 1967, Egypt, fearing an Israeli attack on Syria, moved armaments and troops into the Sinai, ordering withdrawal of UNEF personnel from the armistice line, and closed the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping. On 5 June, Israel attacked Egypt and its allies, Syria and Jordan. By 11 June, Israel had scored a decisive victory in the conflict, since termed the Six-Day War, and had taken control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank (including Jordanian-ruled East Jerusalem). The Security Council on 22 November unanimously adopted UK-sponsored Resolution 242, calling for establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied during the war, and acknowledgment of the "sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force." Israel indicated that return of the captured territories would have to be part of a general settlement guaranteeing peace; in 1967, the Israeli government began Jewish settlement in these areas; due in good part to the later encouragement of the Likud governments, by 1997 there were some 160,000 settlers in the occupied territories.

Serious shooting incidents between Egypt and Israel resumed in June 1969, following Egypt's declaration of a war of attrition against Israel. In response to a US peace initiative, a cease-fire took effect in August 1970, but tensions continued, and Palestinian Arab guerrillas mounted an international campaign of terrorism, highlighted in September 1972 by the kidnap and murder of Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich.

On 6 October 1973, during Yom Kippur, Egypt and Syria simultaneously attacked Israeli-held territory in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. The Arabs won initial victories, but by 24 October, when a UN cease-fire took effect, the Israelis had crossed the Suez Canal and were 101 km (63 mi) from Cairo and about 27 km (17 mi) from Damascus. Under the impetus of the "shuttle diplomacy" exercised by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, formal first-stage disengagement agreements were signed with Egypt on 18 January 1974 and with Syria on 31 May 1974. On 4 September 1975, a second-stage disengagement pact was signed in Geneva, under which Israel relinquished some territory in the Sinai (including two oil fields) in return for Egyptian declarations of peaceful intent, free passage of nonmilitary cargoes to and from Israel through the Suez Canal, and the stationing of US civilians to monitor an early warning system.

The 30-year cycle of Egyptian-Israeli hostilities was broken in November 1977, when Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat (as-Sadat) paid a visit to Jerusalem on 1921 November 1977, during which, in an address to parliament, he affi rmed Israel's right to exist as a nation, thereby laying the basis for a negotiated peace. In September 1978, at a summit conference mediated by US president, Jimmy Carter at Camp David, Maryland, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Sadat agreed on the general framework for a peace treaty which, after further negotiations, they signed in Washington, DC, on 26 March 1979. The treaty provided for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Sinai over a three-year period and for further negotiations concerning autonomy and future status of Arab residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories still under Israeli occupation. Israel withdrew from the Sinai oil fields within a year, and from the remainder of Sinai by 25 April 1982. However, the two countries failed to reach agreement on Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel continued to establish Jewish settlements in the West Bank despite Egyptian protests. Sadat was assassinated by Muslim fundamentalists on 6 October 1981.

Israel's relations remained tense with other Arab countries, which ostracized Egypt for signing the peace accord. In March 1978, Israel (which had long been supporting Lebanese Christian militias against the Palestine Liberation OrganizationPLOand its Muslim backers) sent troops into southern Lebanon to destroy PLO bases in retaliation for a Palestinian terrorist attack; Israel withdrew under US pressure. In April 1981, Israeli and Syrian forces directly confronted each other in Lebanon; Israeli jet aircraft shot down two Syrian helicopters in Lebanese territory, and Syria responded by deploying Soviet-made antiaircraft missiles in the Bekaa (Biqa') Valley, which Syria had been occupying since 1976. On 7 June 1981, Israeli warplanes struck at and disabled an Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction near Baghdād; the Israeli government claimed that the reactor could be employed to produce nuclear bombs for use against Israel.

Hostilities between Israel and the PLO and Syria reached a climax in early June 1982, when Israel launched a full-scale invasion of southern Lebanon, citing continued PLO shelling of the north and terrorist acts elsewhere. An estimated 90,000 troops rapidly destroyed PLO bases within a 40 km (25 mi) zone north of the Israeli border, captured the coastal towns of Tyre (Sur) and Sidon (Sayda), and then moved on to bomb and encircle Beirut by 14 June, trapping the main force of PLO fighters in the Lebanese capital and causing massive casualties and destruction. Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes destroyed Syria's Soviet-built missile batteries in the Bekaa Valleythe announced objective of the invasion. A negotiated cease-fire was arranged by US envoy Philip Habib on 25 June, and more than 14,000 Palestinian and Syrian fighters were allowed to evacuate Beirut in late August. A multinational peace-keeping force of British, French, Italian, and US military personnel was stationed in the Beirut area.

Within Israel, the Lebanese war was divisive, and there were protest rallies against the Begin government. The protests increased when, after Israeli troops moved into West Beirut in the wake of the assassination of Lebanese President Bashir Gemayel, Christian militiamen were allowed to "mop up" remaining resistance in the Palestinian camps. The ensuing massacres, for which an Israeli government investigating commission determined that some of Israel's civilian and military leaders were indirectly responsible, led to the resignation of Ariel Sharon as defense minister. Subsequent Israeli attempts to extricate its occupying forces from Lebanon by negotiating an agreement for the withdrawal of all foreign forces were rejected by Syria. In September, Israel pulled back its forces from the Shuf Mountains, east of Beirut, to south of the Litani River. In 1985, withdrawal from southern Lebanon took place in stages over six months, punctuated by terrorist acts of Shia Muslim militants against departing Israeli troops, resulting in retaliatory arrests and detention of hundreds of Lebanese. Negotiations over a Trans World Airlines (TWA) jetliner hijacked en route from Athens to Rome by Shia militants in June 1985 led to gradual release by Israel of its Shia prisoners. In 1986, troubles continued despite the occupation of a swath of southern Lebanon, which Israel continued to term a "security zone," as Shia militants and infiltrating Palestinian guerrillas continued to launch attacks. The war was a drain on the economy, already suffering from hyperinflation and huge foreign-exchange deficits. Prime Minister Begin resigned because of failing health in the autumn of 1983 and was replaced by Yitzhak Shamir, who, after inconclusive elections in 1984, was replaced on a rotational basis by Labor Party leader Shimon Peres. In 1986, a ground-breaking summit meeting took place when Prime Minister Peres traveled to Morocco for two days of secret talks with King Hassan II. In that year, Israel also improved relations with Egypt when Prime Minister Peres conferred with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in the first meeting of the two nations since 1981. Shamir replaced Peres as prime minister in October 1986. Elections were again held with equally inconclusive results in November 1988, leading to a coalition government of the Labor and Likud parties. Four years later, Labor edged Likud in elections and was able to form a government supported by left wing and religious parties. Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister with Shimon Peres as Foreign Minister; both were committed to reaching peace agreements with Arab antagonists.

In December 1987, unarmed Palestinians in Gaza began what became a multi-year series of stone-throwing riots against Israeli troops in the occupied territories. In this uprising (or intifada in Arabic), well over 1,000 Palestinians were killed andby Palestiniansseveral hundred Israelis and Palestinian collaborators. Israeli use of lethal force, curfews, deportations, destruction of houses, and ten thousand detentions failed to stop the demonstrations while producing criticism abroad and anxiety at home. Waves of Jewish immigrants from the collapsing Soviet Union further provoked Palestinians.

During the Gulf War of 1991, Israel was hit by Iraqi missile attacks, demonstrating for some the state's vulnerability and need to move toward peace with the Arabs. Prime Minister Shamir, who opposed the return of occupied territory, reluctantly accepted a United States and Russian invitation to direct peace talks in Madrid in October 1991. These and subsequent negotiations produced few results until, under a Labor government, Israeli and Palestinian representatives met secretly in Oslo to work out a peace agreement involving mutual recognition and transfer of authority in Gaza and Jericho to interim Palestinian rule with the final status of a Palestinian entity to be resolved in five years. The Oslo Accords were signed at the White House in Washington on 13 September 1993. Promises of international aid for the new Palestinian units poured in but the agreement was opposed by extremists on both sides and further set back by a massacre of 30 Muslims at prayer in the Hebron mosque on 25 February 1994 by a militant Israeli settler. Finally, delayed by several months, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from certain sectors and establishment of Palestinian self-rule took place on 18 May 1994. By 1997, six West Bank cities had been turned over to the Palestinian Authority. Israel balked at turning over control of Hebron even though it agreed to do so. A 1997 Hebron Protocol split the city between Palestinian rule in one part of it and Israeli rule in the remaining 20%, to guarantee the security of settlers living in Jewish enclaves. All seven of the major cities controlled by the Palestinian Authority were reoccupied by Israel in 2002.

In November 1995, the greatest setback to the peace process occurred when a militant Israeli assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in retaliation for slowing Jewish settlement in the occupied territories and for his generally dovish policy toward the PLO. The nation then entered into a tumultuous period as Shimon Peres, Rabin's co-prime minister, took control of the government. Peres was not as popular as Rabin had been and in response to civil protest he called for early elections, which were held in May 1996. For the first time in these elections, Israelis were given the opportunity to directly elect their prime minister, and Peres, Likud, and Benjamin Netanyahu fought a bitter campaign, focusing mainly on the status of the occupied territories and the threat of terrorism from radical Palestinians. The prime minister race was very close and some news reports early on suggested, based on exit polling, that Peres had won. By morning of the next day, however, Netanyahu had emerged as Israel's first directly elected prime minister and Likud emerged with a slight majority (in coalition with a range of right wing parties) in the Knesset. Netanyahu immediately took a tough stance on the occupied territories, increasing the construction of Jewish settlements and enraging the Palestinians and the international community.

As expected, progress in the Middle East peace process slowed under Netanyahu. Hostilities between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in the fall of 1996, following the opening of a tunnel in the Old City of Jerusalem, were the worst to occur since the days of the intifada. In 1997 and 1998 peace talks stalled over the terms of Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. A new agreement, the Wye Memorandum, was reached at an October 1998 meeting in the United States between Netanyahu, Yasser Arafat, and President Bill Clinton. It set up a timetable for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. However, Netanyahu faced stiff opposition to the plan at home, and by the end of 1998, his governing coalition had collapsed, and implementation of the Wye plan was suspended until a new government could be formed following national elections the following May.

Labor candidate Ehud Barak triumphed in the May 1999 elections and formed a coalition government in July. In September, Barak and Arafat signed an agreement reviving the Wye accord (the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum), and in December peace talks between Israel and Syriabroken off in 1996were resumed. In May 2000, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the nine-mile-wide security zone in southern Lebanon.

At the end of 1999 and into early 2000, three-way negotiations took place between Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States as mediator. In July 2000, President Clinton invited Barak and Arafat to Camp David, Maryland, for peace talks. The summit began on 11 July and ended on 25 July without an agreement being reached. President Clinton was determined to achieve a peace agreement before he left office, however, and he hosted talks with Israeli and Palestinian teams in Washington in December 2000. Negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian delegations were also held in Taba, Egypt, in late January 2001. By then President Clinton was out of office and incoming President George W. Bush took a position of nonengagement in the conflict.

On 28 September 2000, Likud leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem in what was seen as a provocative move, setting off large-scale Palestinian demonstrations, beginning the al-Aqsa intifada. By the end of 2000, Barak was presiding over an extremely violent situation. On 9 December 2000 Barak resigned, making a special prime ministerial election necessary, in which he stated he would seek a new mandate to pursue peace with the Palestinians. On 6 February 2001, Sharon was elected prime minister in a landslide victory over Barak. Barak announced he would resign his seat in the Knesset, step down as head of the Labor Party as soon as a new government was formed, and retire from politics.

The intifada intensified, with Israel assassinating Palestinian militants and conducting air strikes and incursions into Palestinian self-rule areas; Palestinian militants increased suicide bomb attacks in Israeli cities. In spring 2002 Israel launched its largest military offensive in 20 years, since the invasion of Lebanon. In December 2001 Israeli forces besieged Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah, and until being flown to Paris for an undisclosed illness on 29 October 2004, Arafat remained confined in his compound. Arafat died on 11 November 2004.

On 28 January 2003, Ariel Sharon's Likud Party won a strong victory in parliamentary elections, defeating the Labor Party and its chairman Amram Mitzna. The Shinui or "Change" Party, which campaigned on a platform of curtailing privileges and benefits the state offers to highly observant Orthodox Jews, also registered a clear win.

In 2002 Israel began erecting a security barrier around the West Bank, intended to separate Israelis and Palestinians. The barrier, part wall, part fence, is up to 30 ft (9 m) high in some areas. When completed it will stretch some 375 mi (603.5 km) through the West Bank to Jerusalem. In July 2004 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the security barrier violates international law and must be torn down. Israel said it would ignore the ruling, but it later made changes in the barrier route according to a ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court.

On 22 March 2004 Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was assassinated in a targeted Israeli airstrike as he was leaving a Gaza City mosque. In another targeted killing, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissiwho took over the Hamas leadership after Yassin's deathwas assassinated on 17 April 2004. These killings provoked widespread outrage among Palestinians. Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers in Gaza followed.

In January 2005 Prime Minister Sharon formed a unity government with Likud, Labor, and the United Torah Judaism parties to implement the planned withdrawal of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. On 8 February 2005, a summit conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, was held; attending were Sharon, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah II of Jordan. Abbas and Sharon declared an end to violence. Israel announced it would release some 900 Palestinian prisoners and withdraw from Palestinian cities in the West Bank. Jordan and Egypt agreed to return ambassadors to Israel. The intifada that began in 2000 was declared over. However, after a Palestinian suicide bombing, Israel froze the return of Palestinian cities to Palestinian control.

The evacuation of Israeli settlements from Gaza began on 15 August 2005 and continued until 24 August. Ultra-Orthodox Jews and ultra-nationalists sympathetic to the settlers' cause traveled to the settlements, held protests, and clashed with Israeli armed forces and police trying to remove them. The "disengagement plan" was marked by high emotions. That month, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a bid to challenge Sharon's leadership, threatening to split the Likud Party. Netanyahu accused Sharon of betraying the core values of Likud in withdrawing from occupied territory and of moving to the left. On 21 November, Sharon resigned as head of Likud and dissolved parliament. He formed a new center-right party, Kadima ("Forward"), to participate in elections on 28 March 2006. On 20 December 2005, Netanyahu was named Sharon's successor as head of Likud.

On 4 January 2006, Sharon suffered a massive stroke and cerebral hemorrhaging. He underwent brain surgery. He was declared "temporarily incapable of discharging his powers," and Ehud Olmert, the deputy prime minister, was named acting prime minister of Israel.

Palestinian legislative elections were held on 25 January 2006. The radical Islamic party Hamas won an overwhelming victory, taking 76 out of 132 seats in parliament, deposing the former governing Fatah party, which won only 43 seats. This ended more than 40 years of domination by Fatah, which along with the Palestinian Authority was looked upon by Palestinians as corrupt and ineffective. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and the European Union (EU). Israel declared it would not negotiate with a Palestinian administration led by Hamas, and refused to continue transferring about $50 million in monthly tax and customs receipts to the Palestinian Authority, collected on behalf of the Palestinians. The "Quartet"composed of the United States, Russia, the EU, and the UNwas looking for a way to continue financial support for the Palestinian Authority without providing direct assistance to a Hamas-led government. Palestinians receive approximately $1 billion of their $1.9 billion annual budget from overseas donors. Hamas indicated it would turn to the Arab world to supplant the monthly tax and customs revenue being withheld by Israel. A Hamas leader, Ismail Haniya, was named the new Palestinian prime minister in February 2006.


Israel is a democratic republic, with no written constitution. Legislative power is vested in the unicameral Knesset (parliament), whose 120 members are elected for four-year terms by universal secret vote of all citizens 18 years of age and over, under a system of proportional representation. New elections may be called ahead of schedule, and must be held when the government loses the confidence of a majority of parliament.

The head of state is the president, elected by the Knesset for a seven-year term. The president performs largely ceremonial duties and traditionally chooses the prime minister from the ruling political party. In 1996, however, a new law went into effect whereby the prime minister would be directly elected by the people. In May of that year, Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel's first directly elected prime minister. Three years later he was succeeded in that post by Ehud Barak. In March 2001, the Knesset voted to change the system of direct elections and restore the one-vote parliamentary system of government that operated until 1996. The law went into effect with the January 2003 elections, won by Likud. The cabinet, headed by the prime minister, is collectively responsible to the Knesset, whose confidence it must enjoy.


Israel's multiparty system reflects the diverse origins of the people and their long practice of party politics in Zionist organizations. The first five Knessets were controlled by coalitions led by the Mapai (Israel Workers Party), under Israel's first prime minister (194963), David Ben-Gurion, and then under Levi Eshkol (196369). The Mapai formed the nucleus of the present Israel Labor Party, a socialist party, which in coalition with other groups controlled Israel's governments under prime ministers Golda Meir (196974) and Yitzhak Rabin (197477 and 199295).

In September 1973, four right wing nationalist parties combined to form the Likud, which thus became the major opposition bloc in the Knesset. Unlike the Israel Labor Party, the core of support of which lies with the Ashkenazim and older Israelis generally, the Likud has drawn much of its strength from Oriental Jewry, as well as from among the young and the less well-educated. Besides the State List and the Free Center, the Likud consists of the Herut (Freedom) Movement, founded in 1948 to support territorial integrity within Israel's biblical boundaries and a greater economic role for private enterprise, and the Liberal Party, formed in 1961 to support private enterprise, a liberal welfare state, and electoral reform. The Likud originally advocated retention of all territories captured in the 1967 war, as a safeguard to national security. It won 39 seats in the 1973 elections and then became the largest party in the Knesset by winning 43 seats in the May 1977 elections, to 32 seats for the Israel Labor PartyUnited Workers (Mapam) alignment. Likud leader Menachem Begin became prime minister of a coalition government formed by Likud with the National Religious Party and the ultraorthodox Agudat Israel.

In elections on 30 June 1981, Likud again won a plurality, by taking 37.1% of the popular vote and 48 seats in the Knesset, compared with the Labor coalition's 36.6% and 47 seats. Begin succeeded in forming a new government with the support of smaller parties. The elections of July 1984 again left both Labor (with 44 seats) and Likud (with 41) short of a Knesset majority; under a power-sharing agreement, each party held an equal number of cabinet positions in a unity government, and each party leader served as premier for 25 months. Labor's Shimon Peres became prime minister in 1984, handing over the office to Likud's Yitzhak Shamir in late 1986. Elections in 1988 produced a similar power-sharing arrangement. In 1989, rotation was ended as Likud and Labor joined in a coalition. After a vote of no confidence, Likud formed a coalition of religious and right wing parties which held power for two years until 1992. Elections in June gave Labor 44 seats (32 for Likud) and enabled it to form a coalition with Meretz (a grouping of three left wing parties) and Shas (a religious party) and the support of two Arab parties.

In 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an extremist Jew. Shimon Peres became prime minister and called for early elections, which were held in May 1996. The main issue of the election was Israel's response to terrorist attacks and the disposition of the occupied territories. Labor favored continued and increased negotiations with the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (PA), while Likud favored a tougher stance, increased settlement on occupied lands, and a rethinking of the Oslo accordsat the very least a slowing of the process of land-turnover. The elections were extremely close with the Likud-Geshe-Tsamet coalition winning a slim majority, or 62 seats. In a separate election, Benjamin Netanyahu was directly elected prime minister, the first such election in Israeli history after the passage of a 1996 law.

After Netanyahu's governing coalition collapsed at the end of 1998, new elections were called for May of 1999. In the election for a new prime minister, Ehud Barak, heading a Labor-led center-left coalition (One Israel), defeated Netanyahu 56% to 44%. In the legislative elections, Barak's One Israel/Israeli Labor Party coalition won a plurality of 26 seats, followed by 19 for the Likud. After Barak resigned in December 2000, Ariel Sharon won a special prime ministerial election in February 2001 with the largest vote margin ever in Israeli politics. He took 62.4% of the vote to Barak's 37.6%.

In March 2001, the Knesset voted to replace the system of direct election for the prime minister established in 1996 back to the parliamentary system. In parliamentary elections held in January 2003, Likud won 29.4% of the vote to Labor's 14.5%. The Shinui, or "Change" Party, came in third with 12.3% of the vote. Overall, the distribution of seats in the Knesset after the election was as follows: right wing parties held 45 seats (Likud 38, National Unity 7); center-left parties held 34 (Labor-Meimad 19, Shinui 15); left wing parties held 17 (Meretz 6, Hadash 3, Am Ehad 3, Balad 3, United Arab List 2); religious parties accounted for 22 seats (Shas 11, National Religious Party 6, United Torah Judaism 5); and the immigrant party Israel Ba-Aliya held 2.

Due to friction within his ruling coalition over the planned evacuation of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, Ariel Sharon in January 2005 formed a new unity government with Likud (40 seats in the Knesset), Labor (19 seats), and the United Torah Judaism (5 seats) parties. In November 2005, in response to friction within Likud, Sharon dissolved parliament and formed a new party, Kadima ("Forward"). Netanyahu took over the helm as leader of Likud. After Sharon suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke in January 2006, Ehud Olmert took over as leader of Kadima.


Israel is divided into six administrative districts: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Hefa, Northern (Tiberias), Central (Ramla), and Southern (Be'ér Sheva'). The occupied Golan Heights is a subdistrict of the Northern District. Each district is governed by a commissioner appointed by the central government. At the local level, government is by elected regional and local councils, which govern according to bylaws approved by the Ministry of the Interior. Local officials are elected for four-year terms. Until 1994, Israel governed all of the occupied territories through the Civil Administration, which is responsible to the Ministry of Defense. Palestinian towns have Israeli-appointed mayors. Israeli settlers were removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005; settlers in the West Bank are subject to Israeli law. In 1994 a Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was established; control over Gaza and some Palestinian towns on the West Bank were turned over to the PNA. The West Bank towns were reoccupied in 2002, but Jericho was handed back over to the Palestinians in March 2005.


The law of Israel contains some features of Ottoman law, English common law, and other foreign law, but it is shaped largely by the provisions of the Knesset. Judges are appointed by the president on recommendation of independent committees. There are 29 magistrates' courts, which deal with most cases in the first instance, petty property claims, and lesser criminal charges. Five district courts, serving mainly as courts of appeal, have jurisdiction over all other actions except marriage and divorce cases, which are adjudicated, along with other personal and religious matters, in the religious courts of the Jewish (rabbinical), Muslim (Shariah), Druze, and Christian communities. Aside from its function as the court of last appeal, the Supreme Court also hears cases in the first instance brought by citizens against arbitrary government actions. The number of Supreme Court justices is determined by a resolution of the Knesset. Usually, twelve justices serve on the Supreme Court. There is no jury system. Capital punishment applies only for crimes of wartime treason or for collaboration with the Nazis, and has been employed only once in Israel's modern history, in the case of Adolf Eichmann, who was executed in 1962. In the occupied territories, security cases are tried in military courts; verdicts may not be appealed, and the rules of habeas corpus do not apply. There are also labor relations and administrative courts.

There is no constitution, but a series of "basic laws" provide for fundamental rights. The judiciary is independent. The trials are fair and public. Legislation enacted in 1997 limits detention without charge to 24 hours. Defendants have the right to be presumed innocent and to writs of habeas corpus and other procedural safeguards.


The defense forces of Israel began with the voluntary defense forces (principally the Haganah) created by the Jewish community in Palestine during the British mandate. Today Jewish and Druze men between the ages of 18 and 26 are conscripted for 36 and 24 months, respectively. Drafted Jewish women are trained for noncombat duties. Christians and Muslims may serve on a voluntary basis, but Muslims are rarely allowed to bear arms. All men and unmarried women serve in the reserves until the ages of 54 and 24, respectively. Men receive annual combat training until age 45.

In 2005, the Israeli Army had 125,000 active duty soldiers and could mobilize as many as 500,000 more. Armament included 3,657 main battle tanks, 408 reconnaissance vehicles, over 10,419 armored personnel carriers, and 5,432 artillery pieces. The Navy had an estimated 5,500 active personnel that upon mobilization could reach 11,500. Major naval units included 3 tactical submarines, 3 corvettes, and 51 patrol/coastal vessels. The Air Force had 35,000 regulars and 24,500 reservists. There were 402 combat capable aircraft, including 199 fighters and more than 177 fighter ground attack aircraft, along with more than 95 attack helicopters. It is believed that Israel maintained a nuclear arsenal of up to 200 nuclear warheads. The reserve forces can be effectively mobilized in 4872 hours. In addition, there are an estimated 8,000 paramilitary border police and an estimated 50 Coast Guard personnel. In 2005, the Israeli defense budget totaled $7.87 billion. Foreign Military Assistance from the United States totaled $2.2 billion that same year.


Israel was admitted as the 59th United Nations member on 11 May 1949 and subsequently joined several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNCHR, IAEA, IFC, the World Bank, and WHO. It is also a member of the WTO. Israel holds observer status with the Council of Europe, the OAS, and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Zone. The country is a partner in the OSCE.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Arab governments sought through the "oil weapon" to isolate Israel diplomatically and economically, but Israel's 1979 peace treaty with Egypt helped ease some of the pressure. The United States is Israel's major political, economic, and military ally. A number of African countries reestablished diplomatic relations with Israel in the 1980s; these ties had been broken in 1973, following the Arab-Israeli war. After signing peace accords with the Palestinians in 1993 and 1994, Israel opened liaison and trade missions in certain Arab countries, including Qatar and Oman. Israel also signed a peace agreement with Jordan in 1994, and the two nations exchanged ambassadors in 1995.

Violence between Israel and the Palestinians resulting from the intifada that began in September 2000 increased tensions with the Arab world. In November 2002, 18 of the 22 members of the Arab League agreed to reactivate a half-century-old ban on trade with Israel. In August 2005, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon called for the evacuation of Israelis from the West Bank and Gaza Strip settlements, a move that was meant to improve security inside of the main Israel borders. Though the withdrawal was praised by many international groups and several other nations, many Israelis were opposed to the plan. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established in 1949 to provide assistance to the Palestinian Refugees of the ongoing ArabIsraeli conflicts. This mission, which was meant to be temporary, has been continually renewed, with the latest mandate extended to 30 June 2008. Ten nations serve on the advisory commission for UNRWA.

In environmental cooperation, Israel is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on Climate Change and Desertification.


Since independence, Israel's economy has been faced with serious problems. The government makes large outlays for social welfare purposes, but is obliged to divert a considerable portion of its income to defense. In addition, traditional Middle Eastern sources of supply (e.g., of oil and wheat) and nearby markets for goods and services have been closed off. Israel must export on a large scale to maintain its relatively high standard of living; hence, it remains dependent on a continuing flow of investment capital and of private and public assistance from abroad.

The economy is a mixture of private, state, and cooperative ownership and holdings of the labor movement. In the first 35 years of Israel's existence, the number of industrial enterprises more than doubled; over 700 agricultural settlements were established; and there were notable advances in housing, transportation, and exploitation of natural resources. From 1975 to 1980, GNP grew at an annual rate of 3.1% (at constant prices). Between 1980 and 1985, real GNP growth was 10%. In the period 199096, real GDP growth averaged 2.6%. It was below this average in the period after 1989 when the country had to absorb more than half a million new immigrants. Most of these immigrants were relatively well educated, however, adding to Israel's already considerable base of technologically aware workforce and population. Real growth in per capita income was 2% in 1990 and 1991, and increased to 3% in 1992, but then fell back to 0.9% in 1993.

The Oslo Peace Accords were signed on 13 September 1993 between Israel and the PLO, ending the first intifada (uprising) that had begun in 1987. The Peace Treaty with Jordan followed quickly, signed on 26 October 1994. The Oslo Accords granted the Palestinian Authority (PA) limited sovereignty over areas in the West Bank and Gaza within the context of a timetable of confidence-building expansions. From the inception of the Oslo process, the Israeli economy has wavered between hopeful spurts of growth and cooperation, as openings and investor confidence increase, and recession, as extremists on both sides have sought to shut the process down. The accords brought to a formal end the Arab Boycott of Israel (BOI), in place since 1951, with the shutdown of the Central Boycott Office (CBO) in Damascus. From 199295, Israeli exports to Asia grew by 86% and by 1999 accounted for 20% of Israel's total exports. In October 2000, however, following the eruption of the second intifada in September, the Arab League passed a resolution calling for the reinstatement of the BOI. Th is time, however, agreement was not unanimous among the 22 members, and international pressure was strong against it. In May 2002 in a meeting in Damascus, 19 Arab states drew up a list of firms to be blacklisted, but did not publish it. Tourism also benefited from the Peace Accords. Tourism grew to be Israel's second- or third-largest industry, reaching $4.3 billion in 2000. In October 2000, however, the month following the eruption of the renewed intifada, the number of tourists declined 43%. An estimated 50,000 workers in the tourist industry were laid off, helping push unemployment from 8.8% in 2000 to 9.3% in 2001 and an estimated 10.5% in 2002. In 2002, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism estimated that revenues from tourism had fallen by over half, to $2.1 billion. Foreign investment, once very hard to obtain, also grew substantially in years following the signing of the Oslo Accords.

The Oslo Accords were both a political agreement and an economic program that explicitly acknowledged that peace could not be attained or sustained without the establishment of mutually beneficial economic relationships. Two annexes to the Oslo Accords laid out protocols for joint economic cooperation and regional development, listing specific projects to be pursued, including a Gaza seaport, a Gaza airport, a Mediterranean-Dead Sea Canal (MDSC) project, (that would also provide water desalinization and farm irrigation), and a Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal (RSDSC) project (similarly aimed at providing desalinization and crop irrigation), as well general provisions for the establishment of border and local industrial estates to encourage economic cooperation and investment. International donors pledged more than $2.4 billion over the years 199499, much of which was to be used on the infrastructural projects identified in Oslo protocols. While the canal projects, which had been under consideration for many years, remained tied up in political and economic controversies, construction proceeded on the sea port and airport for Gaza, and the Kami Industrial Estate on the Gaza-Israeli border, funded primarily by aid from the United States and the European Union (EU). In the years immediately following the Peace Accords, 1994 to 1996, real per capita GDP growth in Israel was propelled to a relatively high sustained average of 4.1% despite the continued heavy influx of immigrants from ex-Soviet countries. In 1995, the political process moved a step forward with an interim agreement, Oslo II, providing for elections under the PA. However, in November of that year, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his work on the Oslo Accords, was assassinated by an Orthodox Jew.

The process became increasingly hobbled by rising violence and distrust on both sides, and required the constant vigilance of both its external supporters, primarily the United States and the EU, as well as its domestic supporters, to keep it from being derailed. In May 1996, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu defeated Israel's other Nobel Prize recipient for the Oslo Accords, Shimon Peres, by less than 1% under revised election laws that provided for the direct election of the prime minister. For the next three years, real GDP growth moderated to an annual average of 2.87% in part because of the conservative government's greater wariness about moves to greater economic openness and cooperation. Also important, however, was the government's determined adherence to tight monetary and fiscal policies aimed at subduing Israel's chronically high inflation rate and tax burden. In the early 1980s, after the second oil shock, Israeli inflation had soared to triple digits, reaching a peak of 373.8% in 1985, the year before world oil prices collapsed. In 1986, inflation fell abruptly to 48%, and then, from 1987 to 1996, yearly inflation ranged from 1020%. In 1997, Israel experienced its first single-digit level of inflation (9%) since 1970. Inflation rates continued to fall in 1998 and 1999, to 5.4% and 5.2%, respectively. Strict monetary policies were not reversed by the return of a Labor-led government in 1999, as inflation fell to a record low of 1.1% in 2000 despite a spurt of real GDP growth of 6.4%. In the recession that accompanied the emergence of the 2000 intifada, inflation remained low to moderate, at 1.1% for 2001 and an estimated 3.5% for 2002. The moderate real GDP growth 1997 to 1999 was not suffi cient to prevent per capita income from declining during this period because of continued immigration from Russia and other Eastern European countries. Although down from earlier peaks, Israel reported 64,164 immigrants in 1998 and 77,000 in 1999. Per capita GDP, at $17,720 in 1997, declined 2.5% to $17,068 in 1998, and a further 1.8% to $16,756 in 1999.

In 2000, increased investments, foreign and domestic, as well as decreased immigration, helped produce a 6.9% increase in per capita income, which reached a record $17,913. In the political unrest that ensued, however, per capita income fell back, first moderately, to $17,158 in 2001 and then sharply, to $15,895 in 2002. Israel's privatization program, begun in 1986, was given a strong impetus after the election of the Likud-led government in 1996, highlighted by the 1997 divestment of Bank Hapoalim, the country's largest bank. Privatization continued in 1998 and 1999 and the election of a Labor-led coalition in 1999 did not result in a reversal of the privatization initiatives.

Between 1986 and 2000 the total extent of privatization amounted to $7.7 billion, with 60% raised from 1998 to 2000. A total of 77 companies ceased to be state-owned during this period. In 1999, elections by a margin of over 12% replaced Netanyahu with Ehud Barak of the Labour Party, who reopened peace negotiations on virtually all fronts, seeking a final status agreement. Barak and Arafat signed the Sharm El-Sheikh Agreement on 5 September 1999 finalizing border adjustments in the peace accord with Jordan and setting the Oslo Accords' seventh anniversary, 13 September 2000, as the target for reaching a final status agreement.

For the first nine months of 2000, both Israel and the areas under PA control experienced strong growth spurts. Per capita income growth in Israel was in double digits and there was aggressive investment in new businesses, stimulated by Israel's unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000. Exports surged ahead 23% on top of increases of 11.6% in 1999 and 6.6% in 1998. In the same nine months, in the areas under PA control, GDP grew 7% and unemployment dropped to an estimated 10%, down from highs of 30% in the West Bank and almost 40% in Gaza in 1996. In July 2000, however, Palestinian negotiators broke off US-sponsored negotiations at Camp David over the status of Jerusalem, scuttling progress toward final agreement. On 28 September 2000, opposition leader Ariel Sharon, and some other Knesset members, paid a visit to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary, Arab name for the 35-acre complex that includes the remains of the Jewish temple), to symbolically assert their position that these holy places should remain under Israeli sovereignty. The day after Sharon's visit, on 29 September 2000, the second intifada erupted bringing with it an abrupt reversal of the economic progress that had marked the first part of the year. Urgently renewed US-sponsored status negotiations failed to produce an agreement and were in any case allowed to lapse by the incoming George W. Bush administration.

On 6 February 2001 Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister, and on 4 March, three days before he assumed office, the violence of the intifada was ratcheted up to a new level. The proliferation of suicide bomb attacks and Israel's retaliatory incursions into the Palestinian areas brought economic decline on both sides, particularly after the conflict was effectively globalized in the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Official statistics estimate that Israel's economy declined 0.6% in 2001 as foreign investment fell by 7% and exports fell 16.7% from $45 billion in 2000 to $37.65 billion in 2001.

In 2002, the economy continued to stagnate at an estimated real GDP growth rate of 0.7%, and a decline in per capita income of over 11% from the peak reached in 2000. However, if the Israeli economy stagnated under the impact of the renewed intifada and the closely related global slowdown following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the economy under PA control all but collapsed. A World Bank report on Palestine in 2002 estimated that unemployment had risen from 10% in 2000 to 26% by December 2001, and that the average income had fallen 40%, from $1,716 to $1,030, well below the $1,400 that had been reached five years before in 1996. Tourism, which is Israel's second- or third-leading industry, is the leading industry in PA areas, and it doubly suffered from the loss of security and the destruction of infrastructure in Israeli retaliatory incursions. Virtually all of the projects built under the protocols of the Oslo Accords, including the Gaza seaport, Gaza airport, and Kami Industrial Estate, were significantly damaged or destroyed in the fighting.

In 2005, rising consumer confidence, tourism, and foreign investment in Israel, as well as a high demand for Israeli exports, contributed to GDP growth of 4.3%. Slower global economic growth was expected to be offset by strong domestic performance in 2006, and real GDP expansion therefore was forecast to ease only modestly in 200607. Due to improved fiscal management, over the long term the budget deficit was projected to decrease. Per capita GDP in 2005 was $22,200 in purchasing power parity terms (PPP). Agriculture accounted for 2.8% of GDP in 2003, with industry contributing 37.7% and services 59.5%. The unemployment rate in 2005 was 8.9%, and the inflation rate was 1.3%. Unemployment in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank stood at half the labor force, and more than 80% of the population lives below the poverty line. Per capita GDP in Gaza in 2003 was $600 and $1,100 in the West Bank (PPP). International aid in the amount of $2 billion to the West Bank and Gaza in 2004 prevented the complete collapse of the economy and allowed some reforms in the government's financial operations.

An agreement reached between Israel and the PA in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt, in February 2005 significantly reduced violence between the two sides. The election in January 2005 of Mahmoud Abbas as leader of the PA following the November 2004 death of Yasser Arafat, and the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip in August and September 2005 presented an opportunity for renewed peace. However, in January 2006 Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke and went into a coma, seriously shaking up the Israeli political establishment. Palestinian elections were held on 25 January 2006, with Hamas routing Abbas's Fatah faction, taking 76 of 132 seats in parliament to Fatah's 43. In response, Israel was predicted to take unilateral actions, speed up the construction of a separation barrier along the West Bank, and establish its future on its own, as talks with Hamas were out of the question.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Israel's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $139.2 billion. The per capita GDP was estimated at $22,200. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 4.3%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 1.3%. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange. It was estimated that in 2003 agriculture accounted for 3% of GDP, industry 37%, and services 60%. Foreign aid receipts amount to about $27 per capita.

The World Bank reports that in 2000 per capita household consumption (in constant 1995 US dollars) was $10,684. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the same period private consumption grew at an annual rate of 4%. Approximately 23% of household consumption was spent on food, 11% on fuel, 2% on health care, and 6% on education. The richest 10% of the population accounted for approximately 28.3% of household consumption and the poorest 10% approximately 2.4%.

The West Bank and Gaza Strip have experienced a general decline in economic growth and degradation of economic conditions since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000. In the West Bank, GDP (PPP) was estimated at $1.8 billion in 2003, and per capita GDP (PPP) amounted to $1,100. The GDP growth rate in 2004 in the West Bank was 6.2%. In 2003, GDP (PPP) in the Gaza Strip was estimated at $768 million and per capita GDP (PPP) amounted to $600. The GDP growth rate in 2003 in Gaza was 4.5%.

In 2002, in the West Bank and Gaza, agriculture accounted for 9% of GDP, industry for 28%, and services for 63%. The average inflation rate for the West Bank and Gaza in 2001 was 2.2%. Unemployment continues at half the labor force. In 2004, the West Bank and Gaza were the recipients of $2 billion in foreign aid, which prevented the collapse of the economy. With the election of a Hamas government in 2006, Israel froze its monthly transfer of some $50 million in tax and customs revenue to the Palestinian Authority. The United States and the European Union, which, along with Israel, consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization, indicated they would cut off foreign aid to Hamas, but continue to provide assistance to the Palestinian civilian population via nongovernmental organizations.


In 2005 Israel's estimated workforce was 2.42 million people. As of 2003, agriculture accounted for 1.8% of the nation's labor force, with industry accounting for 22.6%, the services sector 74.8%, and undefined occupations 0.7%. The unemployment rate in 2005 was an estimated 8.9%.

The majority of Israeli workers, including those in agriculture, are union members belonging to the General Federation of Labor (Histadrut, founded by Jewish farm workers in 1920), which has a membership of 650,000. Histadrut's collective bargaining agreements are also available to nonmembers. The right to strike is exercised; 15 days notice must be provided to the employer. Palestinians in the occupied territories are permitted to organize their own unions and have the right to strike.

Children under 15 are not permitted to work except for school holidays. Employment for those between the ages of 16 to 18 is restricted, and these laws are regularly enforced. The law provides for a maximum eight-hour day and 47-hour week, and establishes a compulsory weekly rest period of 36 hours. By collective agreement the private sector has a maximum workweek of 45 hours, and the public sector went to a 42-hour week. The minimum wage is adjusted periodically for cost of living increases. As of 2002, the minimum wage was about $760 per month and was supplemented by allowances to provide a family with a decent standard of living.


Between 1948 and 2003, the cultivated area was expanded from 165,000 to 428,000 hectares (from 408,000 to 1,057,000 acres). Principal crops and 2004 production totals (in tons) were wheat, 165,000; cotton, 20,000; peanuts, 24,600; sunflowers, 12,700; and potatoes, 571,000.

Owing to the uniquely favorable soil and climatic conditions, Israel's citrus fruit has qualities of flavor and appearance commanding high prices on the world market. Total citrus production in 2004 was 540,000 tons, with grapefruit accounting for 44%. Exports of citrus in 2004 generated $29.5 million. Other fruits, and their 2004 production amounts (in thousands of tons) included: apples, 125; bananas, 95; avocados, 65; table grapes, 95; peaches, 61; olives, 50; plums, 22; pears, 27; and mangoes, 30.

The main forms of agricultural settlement are the kibbutz, moshav, moshav shitufi, and moshava (pl. moshavot ). In the kibbutz all property is owned jointly by the settlement on land leased from the Jewish National Fund, and work assignments, services, and social activities are determined by elected officers. Although predominantly agricultural, many kibbutzim have taken on a variety of industries, including food processing and the production of building materials. Devoted entirely to agriculture, the moshavim (workers' smallholder cooperatives) market produce and own heavy equipment, but their land is divided into separate units and worked by the members individually. This form of settlement has had special appeal to new immigrants. The moshavim shitufiyim are 47 collective villages that are similar in economic organization to the kibbutzim but whose living arrangements are more like those of the moshav. The moshavot are rural colonies, based on private enterprise. They were the principal form of 19th century settlement, and many have grown into urban communities.

New immigrants settling on the land are given wide-ranging assistance. The Jewish Agency, the executive arm of the World Zionist Organization, absorbs many of the initial costs; agricultural credits are extended on a preferential basis, and equipment, seeds, livestock, and work animals are supplied at low cost.

Israeli agriculture emphasizes maximum utilization of irrigation and the use of modern techniques to increase yields. A national irrigation system distributed water to 194,000 hectares (479,000 acres) in 2003, down from 219,000 hectares (541,100 acres) in 1986 but still far exceeding the 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) served in 1948. Water is transported via pipeline from the Sea of Galilee to the northern Negev. More than 90% of Israel's subterranean water supply is being exploited. Agriculture accounts for over 60% of Israel's water consumption.


There is little natural pasturage in most areas and livestock is fed mainly on imported feeds and farm-grown forage. Domestic beef production only satisfies between 33% and 40% of demand. Livestock farmers are aided by subsidies. There are 2,500 sheep and goat farms raising 455,000 head, 42% by the Bedu population, 36% by the Jewish sector, and 22% by the Arab and Druze populations. In 2005 there were 30,000,000 chickens, 5,000,000 turkeys, 400,000 head of cattle, 195,000 pigs, 11,000 equines, and 5,300 camels. About 90,700 tons of eggs, 325,000 tons of poultry meat, and 82,000 tons of beef were produced in 2005. That year, milk and honey production were 1,240,000 and 3,200 tons, respectively.


Jewish settlers introduced the breeding of fish (mostly carp) into Palestine. The total marine catch was 6,350 tons in 2003. In addition to carp, important freshwater fish include catfish, barbel, and trout. The marine catch consists mainly of gray and red mullet, rainbow trout, grouper, sardines, and bogue. Total fish production in 2003 was 24,831 tons, with aquaculture from 2,000 fish ponds accounting for 84%, mostly carp and tilapia. Total production in 2003 was valued at $94.4 million, or 26% of total agricultural value.


Natural forests and woodlands cover about 132,000 hectares (326,000 acres), mostly in the north. About 180 million trees were planted between 1902 and 1986. Roundwood production in 2004 was 27,000 cu m (953,000 cu ft). Forestry production in 2004 included 181,000 cu m (6.4 million cu ft) of wood-based panels, and 275,000 cu m (9.7 million cu ft) of paper and paperboard.


Israel was the second-largest producer of bromine, ranked fifth in potash production, and eighth in phosphate rock output in 2004. Israel also produces flint clay, kaolin, silica sand gypsum, magnesia and sulfur, as well as metals such as steel, lead, and magnesium. Diamond cutting (from imported rough diamonds) was also performed. In 2003, the value of nonmetallic mineral products fell by 5.2%, and the value of production in the mining and quarrying industry fell by 3%.

Mineral production in 2004 included: beneficiated phosphate rock, 2.947 million metric tons, down from 3.208 million metric tons in 2003; potash, 2.060 million metric tons, up from 1.960 million metric tons in 2003; elemental bromine, 202,000 metric tons; caustic soda, 64,000 metric tons (estimated), up from 57,000 metric tons in 2003; and silica sand, 196,330 metric tons, down from 210,815 metric tons in 2003. Israel also produced in 2004, primarily for the construction sector, crude steel, refined secondary lead, magnesium metal, hydraulic cement, brick and Fuller's clays, gypsum, lime, magnesia, marble, phosphatic fertilizers, phosphoric acid, salt (mainly marine), sand, crushed stone, sulfur, sulfuric acid, and crude construction materials. Dead Sea Works in 2004 produced 2.06 million metric tons of potash. Although Israel did not mine diamonds in 2004, an estimated 770,000 carats of imported diamonds were cut, down from 771,000 carats in 2003.

The Negev Desert contained deposits of phosphate, copper (low grade), glass sand, ceramic clays, gypsum, and granite. Most of the phosphate deposits, located in the northeastern Negev, were, at best, medium grade, and were extracted by open-pit mining. The government was the principal owner of most mineral-related industries. Privately held industries included the diamond cutting and polishing industry, and cement and potassium nitrate manufacturing.


Israel's energy sector is largely nationalized and state-regulated, ostensibly for national security reasons. With extremely modest reserves of oil and natural gas, and no coal reserves, Israel must rely almost entirely upon imports to meet its fossil fuel needs.

Israel has produced oil in the Negev desert since 1955; exploration there continued. The country's proven oil reserves were placed at two million barrels as of 1 January 2005. In 2004, domestic consumption and imports of oil averaged an estimated 274,000 barrels per day. There was no domestic oil production that year.

As of 1 January 2005, Israel's proven reserves of natural gas totaled 1.4 trillion cu ft (40 billion cu m). Natural gas production and demand in 2003 was each estimated at 7 billion cu ft (200 million cu m).

Domestic refinery output in 2002 averaged 229,610 barrels per day. Demand for refined oil products in that year averaged 270,460 barrels per day.

Nearly all electricity is supplied by the Israel Electric Corp. (IEC), a government owned monopoly. Electricity is generated principally by thermal power stations. As of 31 December 2004, the IEC reported that installed electric power generating capacity totaled 10,083 MW, of which 79.1% of capacity was generated by coal, followed by fuel oil at 16.8%, and by gas oil at 4.1%. In 2003, total electric power output was estimated at 44.2 billion kWh, with demand that year estimated at 39.6 billion kWh.


More than half of the industrial establishments are in the Tel Aviv-Yafo area, but a great deal of heavy industry is concentrated around Haifa. Most plants are privately owned. State enterprises are mainly devoted to exploitation of natural resources in the Negev; some other enterprises are controlled by the Histadrut. Israel is research and development-oriented. Hundreds of foreign companies invested in Israel during the 1990s, the bulk in strategic high-technology projects in such fields as aviation, communications, computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM), medical electronics, fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, solar energy, and sophisticated irrigation. There was an 88% increase in exports in the 1990s.

Major expansion took place in textiles, machinery and transport equipment, metallurgy, mineral processing, electrical products, precision instruments, and chemicals in the 1990s. However, industry remains handicapped by reliance on imported raw materials, relatively high wage costs, low productivity, and inflation. Incentive schemes and productivity councils, representing workers and management, have been set up in an attempt to increase work output. Whereas in the past Israel's industry concentrated on consumer goods, by the 1980s it was stressing the manufacture of capital goods.

In the early- and mid-2000s, manufacturing activity successfully branched out into such industries as electronics, albeit at the expense of traditional industries such as textiles and footwear. Textile and clothing firms have gone through structural changes and have outsourced labor-intensive activities to neighboring countries such as Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey, where wages are substantially lower than in Israel. This allows Israeli manufacturers to concentrate on their relative advantage in product design and trade agreements with the United States and EU as part of a free-trade zone. Despite the economic recession period that began in 2000, these and other medium- and low-technology export-oriented firms faired relatively well, largely due to greater levels of efficiency. The electronics, communications, and other high-tech industries have gone through high and low cycles in the early- and mid-2000s. The expansion of Israel's high-tech industries and start-up companies soared in 2000, reflecting strong global demand and intense financial market interest in this field. Th is sector became a focal point of foreign investment. However, the collapse of the US financial markets, especially the NASDAQ, hurt Israel's technology sectors. Nevertheless, as a result of efficiency measures, lower labor costs, and a depreciation of the shekel, many high-tech sub-sectors, particularly electronic component production and exports, recorded growth after 2002.


Israel manufactures and exports an expanding array of high-technology goods, especially for military purposes. In 2002, Israel spent $6,547,743, or 5.11% of GDP on research and development (R&D) in science, engineering, agriculture, and medicine. In 2000 (the latest year for which the following data was available) business accounted for 69.9% of R&D spending, followed by the government at 24.7%, with foreign sources and higher education each accounting for 2.8%. National and local governments and industry shared equally in the funding. A privatization program, begun by the government, has resulted in the creation of many science and technology parks and high technology towns, like Migdal He'Emck. Israel has an advanced nuclear research program, and it is widely believed that Israel has the capacity to make nuclear weapons.

Among scientific research institutes are seven institutes administered by the Agricultural Research Organization; the Rog-offWellcome Medical Research Institute; institutes for petroleum research, geological mapping, and oceanographic and limnological research directed by the Earth Sciences Research Administration; institutes of ceramic and silicate, fiber, metals, plastics, wine, and rubber research directed by the Office of the Chief Scientist, Ministry of Industry and Trade; the Institutes of Applied Research at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; the Israel Institute for Biological Research; the Israel Institute for Psychobiology; the National Research Laboratory; and the Soreg and Negev nuclear research centers attached to the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. The country has eight universities and colleges offering courses in basic and applied sciences; among them are the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot and the TechnionIsrael Institute of Technology in Haifa. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 49% of all college and university students.

Immigration into Israel may be its best science and technology policy. Some consider this a "brain drain" in reverse and claim that it will help Israeli high technology competitiveness in the future. In 2002, high technology exports were valued at $5.414 billion and accounted for 20% of all manufactured exports.


Banks, commercial institutions, and the Histadrut labor federation have their headquarters in Tel AvivYafo, the business capital. Supermarkets and department stores are on the increase; installment sales are widespread. Packaged goods are becoming more common, but many sales are still made in bulk. Cooperative societies market the agricultural produce of their affiliated settlements and farms. Tnuva, the Histadrut agricultural marketing society, sells most of Israel's farm products. Advertising media include newspapers, periodicals, posters, billboards, television and radio broadcasts, and motion picture theaters.

Larger shopping centers and malls are becoming more popular in the country. There are about 200 malls nationwide and construction plans for many others. At least half of all food sales are through supermarket and retail chains, but small, open-air produce markets are still common. Foreign franchises have been well established since the mid-1980s, primarily in the fast-food and hardware industries.

Business hours vary widely, depending on the religion of the proprietor. Saturday closing is the custom for all Jewish shops, offices, banks, public institutions, and transport services. Office hours are generally Sunday to Thursday, 8 am to 5 pm. Retail hours run from 9 am to 7 pm Sunday through Thursday and 9 am to 2 pm on Fridays. Shops in malls usually stay open until 10 pm. On days preceding holidays, shops shut down about 2 pm, offices at 1 pm. Banks are open 8:30 am to 12:30 pm and 4 to 5:30 pm; they close at noon on Fridays and days before holidays and have no

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 31,782.7 34,210.9 -2,428.2
United States 12,089.1 5,331.7 6,757.4
Belgium 2,320.8 3,179.7 -858.9
Areas nes 1,523.7 3,863.6 -2,339.9
China, Hong Kong SAR 1,495.6 892.7 602.9
United Kingdom 1,224.5 2,283.2 -1,058.7
Germany 1,123.4 2,730.9 -1,607.5
Netherlands 1,085.1 1,196.3 -111.2
Italy-San Marino-Holy See 772.5 1,398.2 -625.7
India 717.9 888.8 -170.9
France-Monaco 687.8 1,182.5 -494.7
() data not available or not significant.

afternoon hours on Wednesdays. Many Islamic-owned establishments are closed all day Friday, while Christian ones are closed on Sunday.


Israel is a relatively small country with limited natural resources and an affl uent, bourgeois citizenry; as such, it is highly dependent on international trade, both to supply its industry with natural resources, and to purchase its value-added products. The vast majority (66%) of Israeli exports are manufactured goods and their primary destinations are the United States and the European Union, which together buy 65% of Israel's exports. Imports are primarily industrial resources (63%)other large sectors are capital goods (19%) and consumer products (11%).

Cut diamonds top the list of Israel's export commodities. In 2005, Israel's polished and rough diamond exports broke the $10 billion level for the first time, maintaining Israel's position as a major trading and manufacturing center for polished and rough diamonds. Net polished diamond exports were $6.7 billion, and rough diamond exports reached $3.5 billion. Net imports of rough diamonds totaled $5.3 billion, and Israel's imports of polished diamonds rose 9.3% in 2005 to reach $3.9 billion. The US is the major export market for Israel's polished diamonds, although its export share dropped from 67% in 2004 to 61% in 2005, with exports to Europe and Asia increasing.

The list of major exports in 2004 included: polished diamonds (gross) (31.4% of all exports); electronic communication, medical, and scientific equipment (17%); chemicals and chemical products (excluding refining) (16.9%); and machinery and equipment (4%). Israel's major imports in 2004 were: diamonds (gross) (22.7% of all imports); machinery and equipment (12.1%); fuel (11.1%); consumer nondurable goods (7%); and chemicals and chemical products (excluding refining) (6.7%).

Israel's leading markets in 2003 were: the United States (42.2% of all exports); Belgium (6.1%); the United Kingdom (4.7%); Germany (4.4%); and the Netherlands (3.7%). Leading suppliers included: the United States (22.4% of all imports); Germany (8.9%); Belgium (8.4%); the United Kingdom (7.3%); and Switzerland (7.2%).


Israel's foreign trade has consistently shown an adverse balance, owing mainly to the rapid rise in population and the expansion of the industrialized economy, requiring heavy imports of machinery and raw materials. The imbalance on current accounts has been offset to a large extent by the inflow of funds from abroad. Deficits are often offset by massive US aid and American Jewish philanthropy. Even with these funds, however, Israel still runs significant trade deficits. Financing this deficit is easier on Israel than on many nations primarily because of its relationship with the United States.

After falling sharply in 200102, merchandise exports recovered in 2003 to $30.1 billion, and increased to $36.2 billion in 2004. Imports also increased in 2003, to $32.3 billion, before rising even more strongly to $38.6 billion. Overall, the trade deficit fell sharply in 2003 before stabilizing at $2.4 billion in 2004, which kept the current account in surplus at $504 million. In 2005, exports were estimated at $40.14 billion, and imports at $43.19 billion. The current account remained stable at $500 million.


The Bank of Israel, with headquarters in Jerusalem, began operations as the central state bank in December 1954. Total banking assets at year-end 2001 were nis435 billion. The bank issues currency, accepts deposits from banking institutions in Israel, extends temporary advances to the government, acts as the government's sole banking and fiscal agent, and manages the public debt. Among the largest commercial banks are the Bank Leumi, the Israel Discount Bank, and the Histadrut-controlled Bank Hapoalim. There were 24 licensed commercial banks in 1997; one investment bank; and nine mortgage banks. There are also numerous credit cooperatives and other financial institutions. Among the subsidiaries of commercial banks are mortgage banks (some of which were also directly established by the government). The largest of these specialized institutions, the Tefahot Israel Mortgage Bank, provides many loans to home builders.

Industrial development banks specialize in financing new manufacturing enterprises. The Industrial Bank of Israel, formed in 1957 by major commercial banks, the government, the Manufacturers' Association, and foreign investors, has received aid from the IBRD and has played a major role in the industrial development of the Negev area. The government-owned Bank of Agriculture is the largest lending institution in that sector. The Post Office Bank, similar to France's La Poste, is concerned mainly with clearing operations, savings, sale of savings certificates, and postal orders.

The structure of the banking industry is based on the central European model of "universal banking," whereby the banks operate as retail, wholesale, and investment banks, as well as being active in all main areas of capital market activity, brokerage, underwriting, and mutual and provident fund management. However,

Current Account 154.0
     Balance on goods -2,177.0
         Imports -32,333.0
         Exports 30,155.0
     Balance on services 312.0
     Balance on income -4,359.0
     Current transfers 6,377.0
Capital Account 458.0
Financial Account -2,527.0
     Direct investment abroad -1,773.0
     Direct investment in Israel 3,672.0
     Portfolio investment assets -3,078.0
     Portfolio investment liabilities 384.0
     Financial derivatives 339.0
     Other investment assets -1,634.0
     Other investment liabilities -438.0
Net Errors and Omissions 1,398.0
Reserves and Related Items 516.0
() data not available or not significant.

the banks are barred from insurance operations, other than as owners of insurance agents, and have only recently been allowed to enter the pension market.

The Bank of Israel's power to fix the liquidity ratio that banks must maintain against deposits has been an important instrument in governing both volume and types of loans. Legal interest rate ceilings formerly were 10% on loans to industry and agriculture and 11% for commercial loans, but in the early 1980s, rampant inflation caused the large commercial banks to raise the interest rate to 136%. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $9.0 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $114.2 billion. In the financial sector, the banks have benefited from a very slow program of financial deregulation and the absence of foreign competition; until 2000, the only foreign bank licensed to operate in Israel was the Polish PKO Bank, more of a historical curiosity than a serious commercial consideration. However, as deregulation progressed, the prospect of foreign ownership of Israeli banks, in part or whole, grew more real. In 2000, Citibank set up a full branch in Israel, the first major international bank to do so; HBSC followed soon afterward, and Bank of America has also set up a branch office there.

Growing activity on the Israeli securities market made it necessary to convert the rather loosely organized Tel Aviv Securities Clearing House into the formally constituted Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) in 1953. A further expansion took place in 1955, when debentures linked either to the US dollar or to the cost-of-living indexwith special tax privilegesmade their first appearance on the market. The market is largely devoted to loans of public and semipublic bodies, with provident funds and banks acquiring most of the securities placed. There is only one quotation daily for each security. As of 2004, there was a combined total of 571 companies listed on the TASE and the S&P EMDB Israel indices, which in that year had a market capitalization of $95.505 billion. In 2004, the Tel Aviv 100 index rose 19% from the previous year to 636.

By 1983 the price of bank shares was steadily becoming more detached from their true value. When it became obvious in 1983 that the government would have to devalue its currency, many people began to liquidate their holdings of shekel-denominated assets in favor of foreign currency. The assets most widely held and most easily liquidated were bank shares. The selling wave began in the summer of 1983 and peaked in October, forcing the government to intervene. The closing of the TASE, on 6 October 1983, became known as the "economic day of atonement" and represented the end of the speculators' paradise created and supported by leading Israeli banks.

By the mid-1990s, as Israel moved to liberalize its economy, the banking sector underwent significant reconstruction. In two sell-offs in 1997 and 1998, the government divested itself of a majority of Bank Hapoalim. It also sold sizeable shares of United Mizrahi Bank, Israeli Discount Bank, and Bank Leumi, in the hopes of shedding all remnants of ownership in these banks. In addition to bank privatization, the Israeli government moved to reduce capital markets regulations.

Occupied Territories

In 1994 the Palestinian Authority (PA) began to take over the management of an economy with a limited capacity to support its expanding population. The PA has acted within the constraints of the economic protocol to revive the financial sector. The reconstruction effort requires the creation of financial markets and institutions that perform the key functions of supplying liquidity, encouraging savings and investments, and facilitating the management of risk.

In expectation of a boom in the financial sector, a number of Jordanian and Palestinian banks opened, or reopened, branches in the West Bank and Gaza. The banks have mainly limited themselves to establishing checking accounts and accepting deposits, specifically noninterest bearing accounts. Despite their success in attracting deposits from Palestinians, the banks have maintained a limited role in lending. The reluctance to invest locally stems from doubts over the political environment and it is widely believed that banks are investing abroad, particularly in Central Bank of Jordan treasury bills. The Commercial Bank of Palestine, one of the first banks to open after the return of the Palestinian Authority, was capitalized at $14 million and raised its capital to $20 million by end-2003.

A key factor in the success of the banks will be the supervisory activities of the Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA), set up as a result of the Paris protocol. The PMA has most of the functions of a central bank. It is empowered to act as the PA's adviser and sole financial agent; to hold its foreign currency reserves; to regulate foreign-exchange dealers; and to supervise the banking sector, as the self-rule areas come under PA jurisdiction. However, in the absence of a Palestinian currency, the PMA's ability to be a lender of last resort is questionable.

The Arab Palestine Investment Bank (APIB) held its first annual general meeting in Ramallah on 15 September 1996 and its first board meeting in 'Ammān the next day. The bank, with paid-up capital of some $15 million, has four principal shareholders, Jordan's Arab Bank (55%), the International Finance Corp. (25%), the German Investment and Development Co. (15%), and the Palestinian private-sector Enterprise Investment Co. (5%). Total deposits of the Palestinian banking system expanded by over 125% during the year ended June 1996, reaching $2.06 trillion. However, it was estimated that over half the local deposits were invested abroad, while only $300 million were loaned internally to the Palestinians.

On 25 February 2004, Israel raided certain banks in the West Bank, seizing some $8.5 million from bank vaults. However, this move did not significantly affect public confidence in banks, as private sector deposits increased by almost 4% in the first three quarters of 2004. Bank credit to the private sector grew strongly by some 13% in the first three quarters of 2004, after being stagnant in 200103. This was partly due to greater demand for loans by creditworthy businesses and an increase in bankable projects, and partly due to the PMA's pressures on banks to increase their financial intermediation role, since only 29% of deposits are invested in the West Bank and Gaza.

Due to the election of a Hamas government in January 2006, and Israel's subsequent decision to cease transferring some $50 million in monthly tax and customs receipts to the PA (collected on behalf of the Palestinians), Palestinians realized they would have to take significant steps to court new investment and development funds to support the economy, improve infrastructure, reduce poverty, and secure the living standards of the people. In January 2006, the Palestinian Minister for the National Economy pledged to provide a number of political and financial guarantees to those wishing to invest in Palestine: first on the list was a plan to establish a $250 million Investment Security Fund as insurance against further political action. The fund was to be established by various entities, including OPEC, the World Bank, the Islamic Investment Bank, German Investment Bank, European Investment Bank, and the Palestinian Investment Fund.


The State Insurance Controller's Office may grant or withhold insurance licenses and determine the valuation of assets, the form of balance sheets, computations of reserves, and investment composition. Automobile liability insurance, workers' compensation, and aviation liability are compulsory. War-damage insurance is compulsory on buildings and also on some personal property.

The insurance sector is dominated by a few large firms, of which Migdal and Clal Insurance are the most prominent. However, the easy, cartel-like conditions that have characterized the sector for many years are beginning to crumble and new direct insurance companies are gaining market share. In 1997, the US-based AIG group entered the fray, via a direct insurance joint venture with an Israeli communications company, Aurec, which signaled the opening up of the industry to much greater competition from both domestic and foreign entities. In 2003, the value of direct premiums written totaled $6.892 billion, of which nonlife premiums accounted for $3.840 billion. Clal was Israel's top nonlife insurer in 2002, with gross written nonlife premiums of $479.3 million. Migdal, that same year was the country's leading life insurer, with gross written life premiums totaling $839.9 million.


Israel has the most advanced economy in the Middle East, although the country has been plagued with political and social woes for much of its independence. The onset of the intifada in September 2000 threatened to reverse much of the economic progress that had been made in the prior few decades. The violence has left several industries, especially the tourism sector, in critical states. Also, Israel's sizeable external debt, which was equivalent to about 38% of GDP in 2000, has put a damper on the economy's expansion.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Israel's central government took in revenues of approximately $43.8 billion and had expenditures of $58 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$14.2 billion. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 101% of GDP. Total external debt was $73.87 billion.

In 2002, government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 14.5%; defense, 20.2%; public order and safety, 3.5%; economic affairs, 4.7%; environmental protection, 0.2%; housing and community amenities, 1.3%; health, 12.8%; recreation, culture, and religion, 1.7%; education, 15.0%; and social protection, 25.6%.

In the West Bank and Gaza in 2004, revenues amounted to $964 million and expenditures amounted to $1.34 billion. The occupied territories held no external debt.


Israel's population is heavily taxed. The personal income tax is progressive, with a top rate of 50%. In addition, there are personal income taxes on gross income from employment, trade, business, dividends, and other sources, with limited deductions. However, special tax concessions are granted to residents in border settlements, new settlements, and the Negev. Taxes of salaried persons are deducted at the source; self-employed persons make advance payments in 10 installments, subject to assessment. Also levied are a value-added tax (VAT) of 25%, a purchase tax, various land taxes, and a national health insurance premium tax on a rising scale to 4.8%.

The main corporate income tax rate is 34%, although tax reliefs are available to "approved enterprises" and international trading companies. Municipalities and local and regional councils levy several taxes. There is an annual business tax on every enterprise, based on net worth, annual sales volume, number of employees, and other factors. General rates, a real estate tax (commonly based on the number of rooms and the location of the building), and water rates are paid by the tenants or occupants rather than the owners.


Israel has a single-column import tariff based on the Brussels nomenclature classification. Ad valorem rates predominate, although specific and compound rates are also used. Most basic food commodities, raw materials, and machinery for agricultural or industrial purposes are exempt from customs duties. The highest rates are applied to nonessential foodstuffs, luxury items, and manufactured goods that are of a type produced in Israel. There are also an 18% value-added tax (VAT), which is levied on virtually all commodities

Revenue and Grants 239,548 100.0%
     Tax revenue 147,479 61.6%
     Social contributions 38,233 16.0%
     Grants 20,340 8.5%
     Other revenue 33,496 14.0%
Expenditures 259,670 100.0%
     General public services 37,625 14.5%
     Defense 52,564 20.2%
     Public order and safety 9,000 3.5%
     Economic affairs 12,205 4.7%
     Environmental protection 621 0.2%
     Housing and community amenities 3,394 1.3%
     Health 33,327 12.8%
     Recreational, culture, and religion 4,458 1.7%
     Education 38,983 15.0%
     Social protection 66,396 25.6%
() data not available or not significant.

except fresh fruits and vegetables, and a purchase tax ranging from 590% on most consumer goods.

A free-trade agreement between Israel and the then-European Community (today, the European Union) took effect on 1 July 1975. Under this agreement, EC tariffs on Israel's industrial exports were immediately reduced by 60% and were subsequently eliminated. Preferential treatment has also been extended to Israel's agricultural exports. In return, Israel has granted concessions to the European Union on many categories of industrial and agricultural imports and agreed to gradually abolish its customs duties on imports from the European Union.

Israel also belongs to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and operates its trade regime according to WTO guidelines. Most significantly, the WTO calls for the elimination of nontariff barriers. Israel also signed a free trade agreement with the United States in 1985, which called for the elimination of all remaining duties on US-made products by 1 January 1995. However, Israel and the United States differ on the interpretation of the treaty and it has yet to be fully implemented.


Israel is open to foreign investment, and the government encourages and supports the inflow of capital. There are few restrictions on foreign investment, excepting parts of the defense industry, which are closed to outside investors on national security grounds.

Apart from reparations, capital imports mainly consist of long-term loans and grants designed for investment by the government or the Jewish Agency.

A 1951 law was designed to encourage foreign investment in those industries and services most urgently required to reduce Israel's dependence on imports and to increase its export potential. Applying mainly to investments in industry and agriculture, the law offers such inducements as relief from property taxes during the first five years, special allowances for depreciation, exemption from customs and purchase tax on essential materials, and reductions in income tax rates. In a further effort to attract foreign investment, the government approved the "Nissim Plan" in 1990. This plan gives the investor the option of state loan guarantees for up to two-thirds of a project or the bundle of benefits offered under the "Encouragement of Capital Investments Law." A 1985 USIsraeli Free Trade Area (FTA) agreement reduces tariffs and most nontariffs barriers for US firms. Israel also has an FTA agreement with the European Union (EU) under which tariffs on industrial products and certain agricultural products fell to zero on 1 January 1989. In 1995, Israel attracted $2.5 billion in foreign investment. Th is figure came on the heels of several years of economic growth and fiscal austerity.

New direct foreign investment amounted to $3.7 billion in 2003, about 3.4% of GDP. Portfolio investment stood at $2.4 billion. The estimated stock of foreign direct investment in Israel was $31.8 billion at the end of 2003, just under 29% of GDP. Net direct investment by Israelis abroad in 2003 amounted to approximately $1.8 billion.


Economic policy is dictated by goals of national security, full utilization of resources, integration of immigrants, and institution of a broad welfare program. The urgency of these goals imposes responsibilities on the government for planning, financing, and directly participating in productive activities. And, in fact, government infrastructure development since 1990 has played a large part in Israel's powerful economic performance in recent years. Major government projects include an expansion of the Ben-Gurion Airport, a subway for Tel-Aviv, a tunnel through Mt. Carmel, and a major new north-south highway.

In the years immediately following independence, the government influenced the setting in which private capital functions, through differential taxation, import and export licensing, subsidies, and high protective tariffs. The 1962 revaluation of the Israeli pound was accompanied by a new economic policy aimed at reduction of protective tariffs, continued support of development, planning and implementation of long-range development, and maximization of efficiency. Subsequently, the government has periodically decreed further monetary devaluations, new taxes, and other austerity measures designed to curb consumption and stimulate exports. By the mid-1990s, the Israeli government was actively engaged in an economic liberalization program that is a stark contrast from the largely state regulated economy of Israel's first few decades.

By the mid-2000s, security issues remained Israel's top political priority, which impact the economy. The government has made progress stabilizing the economy, widening fiscal reforms, and accelerating privatization and market deregulation.


Israel has a universal social insurance system that covers all residents aged 18 and over, including housewives. Benefits are extensive and include old age pensions, disability, medical care, and family allowances. Employee-based programs include maternity benefits, worker's compensation for injuries, and unemployment benefits. These programs are funded by contributions by employees, employers, and the government. Beginning in 2004, the age for retirement is being increased until it reaches 67 for both men and women. All residents are covered for medical care.

The Equality of Women Law provides equal rights for women in the military, workplace, health, education, housing, and social welfare. It also entitles women to protection from sexual harassment, exploitation, and violence. There were still many reports of spousal abuse in 2004, and some harassment in the military. Although the law mandates equal pay for equal work, a wage gap remains. Jewish women are subject to military draft, and can volunteer to serve in combat units. Jewish and Muslim women are subject to limitations in their respective faiths. Children's rights are protected and education is free and compulsory.

The use of limited physical force during interrogations has been legal, but a high court ruling banned a variety of specific abuses, including sleep deprivation and violent shaking. Administrative detention without trial remains legal, but it is rarely used. Prison conditions for Palestinians have improved but still do not meet all international standards. The government generally protects the human rights of its citizens.


The Ministry of Health supervises all health matters and functions directly in the field of medical care. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 9.5 % of GDP. The Arab Department of the Ministry of Health recruits public health personnel from among the Arab population and its mobile clinics extend medical aid to Bedouin tribes in the Negev. As of 2004, there were an estimated 391 physicians, 616 nurses, 68 pharmacists, and 18 midwives per 100,000 people. In addition, Israel had the third most dentists per capita at an estimated 120 per 100,000 population. The Ministry of Health also operates infant welfare clinics, nursing schools, and laboratories. The largest medical organization in the country, the Workers' Sick Fund (Kupat Holim, the health insurance association of Histadrut), administers hospitals, clinics, convalescent homes, and mother-and-child welfare stations.

The infant mortality rate was 7.03 per 1,000 live births in 2005. The maternal death rate is the lowest in the Middle East and North Africa. As of 2002, Israel's birth and death rates were estimated respectively at 18.9 and 6.2 per 1,000 people. Life expectancy was 79.32 years in 2005. The fertility rate has decreased steadily over the years from 3.9 in 1960 to 2.8 children in 2000 for each woman during childbearing years. Immunization rates for children up to one year old were: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 92%; polio, 93%; and measles, 95%.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 3,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 100 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


Israel suffered from a severe housing shortage at its creation. Despite an extensive national building program and the initial allocation of some abandoned Arab dwellings to newcomers, in early 1958, nearly 100,000 immigrants were still housed in transit camps. By the mid-1960s, however, the extreme housing shortage had been overcome and newcomers were immediately moved into permanent residences. From 1960 to 1985, a total of 943,350 housing units were constructed. In 1986, 94% of all housing units had piped water, 58.2% had flush toilets, and 99% had electric lighting. The period 19902001, a surge of immigration from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia resulted in a dramatic increase in housing demand. The government responded with mortgage packages making it possible for new immigrants to afford housing.

As of the 1995 census, there were about 1,639,410 residential dwellings throughout the nation. The average building rate seems to be at over 30,000 new dwellings per year. About 38,000 new dwellings were added in 1996; 32,482 were added in 2004. In 2003, about 70% of all households lived in dwellings owned by a resident. Homelessness and overcrowding are serious problems in the West Bank and Gaza.


In Israel, Education is compulsory for 11 years and free for all children between 5 and 15 years of age. Primary education is for six years followed by three years of lower secondary and three more years of upper secondary education. A state education law of 1953 put an end to the separate elementary school systems affiliated with labor and religious groupings, and established a unified state-administered system, within which provision was made for state religious schools. Four types of schools exist: public religious (Jewish) and public secular schools (the largest group); schools of the orthodox Agudat Israel (which operated outside the public school system but were assisted with government funds); public schools for Arabs; and private schools, mainly operated by Catholic and Protestant organizations. The language of instruction in Jewish schools is Hebrew; in Arab schools it is Arabic. Arabic is taught as an optional language in Jewish schools, while Hebrew is taught in Arab schools from the fourth grade. The school year runs from October to June.

Most children between the ages of three and five are enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 99% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 89% of age-eligible students. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 15:1 in 2003.

Israel has eight main institutions of higher learning. The two most outstanding are the Hebrew University (founded in 1918) in Jerusalem and the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion, founded in 1912) in Haifa, both of which receive government subsidies of about 50% of their total budgets; the remaining funds are largely collected abroad. The Tel Aviv University was formed in 1956. Other institutions include the Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, opened in 1955 under religious auspices; the Weizmann Institute of Science at Rehovot, notable for its research into specific technical, industrial, and scientific problems; Haifa University; and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beérshebá. An Open University, promoting adult education largely through home study, was established and patterned on the British model. In 2003, about 57% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program; with 49% for men and 66% for women. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 96.9%, with 98.3% for men and 95.6% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 7.5% of GDP, or 13.7% of total government expenditures.

In the Palestinian school system, basic education covers 10 years of study followed by two years of secondary school or two years of vocational school. The final two years of general secondary school, students are placed in either arts or science courses depending on their performance in their basic education. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 91% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 84% of age-eligible students.

Universities and community colleges offer higher education programs for adults. Schools include Bethlehem University, Islamic University, and Palestine Polytechnic Institute. In 2003, about 35% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program.


Israel's largest library, founded in 1924, is the privately endowed Jewish National and University Library at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, with three million volumes. Important collections are housed in the Central Zionist Archives and the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, both also in Jerusalem. There are more than 950 other libraries, and the Ministry of Education and Culture has provided basic libraries to hundreds of rural settlements. The Ben Gurion University of the Negev (1966) holds 720,000 volumes. Tel Aviv University holds two million volumes, including a Holocaust Studies collection.

The country's most important museum is the Israel Museum, opened in 1965 in Jerusalem. Found in the museum are the Bezalel Art Museum, with its large collection of Jewish folk art; a Jewish antiquities exhibit; the Billy Rose Art Garden of modern sculpture; the Samuel Bronfman Biblical and Archaeological Museum; and the Shrine of the Book, containing the Dead Sea Scrolls and other valuable manuscripts. The Rockefeller Archaeological Museum (formerly the Palestine Museum), built in 1938, contains a rich collection of archaeological material illustrating the prehistory and early history of Palestine and Transjordan. There is also in Jerusalem the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, containing documents from Jewish communities and organizations around the globe. The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, founded in 1926, has more than 30,000 paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Among Israel's newer cultural institutions are the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel AvivYafo, founded in 1978; the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, founded in 1992; the Museum of Israeli Art in Ramat Gan, founded in 1987; and the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, founded in 1989.


The state owns and operates the major telephone communications services, although radio and television are increasingly privately owned. In 2003, there were an estimated 458 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 961 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

The state radio stations include the government's Israel Broadcasting Authority (Shidurei Israel ), the army's Defense Forces Waves (Galei Zahal ), and the Jewish Agency's Zion's Voice to the Diaspora (Kol Zion la-Gola ), aimed mostly at Jewish communities in Europe and the United States. The Second Television and Radio Authority is a public organization that operates 2 privately owned television channels and 14 privately owned radio stations. There are one satellite and three cable and television companies. In 2003, there were an estimated 526 radios and 330 television sets for every 1,000 people. Cable subscriptions are common. Also in 2003, there were 242.6 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 301 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 869 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

All Israeli newspapers are privately owned and managed. Most newspapers have 416 pages, but there are weekly supplements on subjects such as politics, economics, and the arts. In 2004, there were 12 daily newspapers, 90 weekly newspapers, and more than 250 periodical publications. The largest national daily Hebrew newspapers (with their average 2002 circulations) are Yediot Achronot (Latest News, 300,000), Ma'ariv Evening (Evening Prayer, 160,000), Hadashot (The News, 55,000), and Ha'aretz (The Land, 65,000), all published in Tel Aviv. Also out of Tel Aviv are two Russian papers, Nasha Strana (Our Country, 35,000) and Tribuna (Tribune ); the Polish Nowiny Kurier (12,000); the German Hadashot Israel ; the Hungarian Uj Kelet (20,000); and the Romanian Viata-Noastra (30,000). The English-language Jerusalem Post (30,000) is published in Jerusalem.

Although there is no political censorship within Israel, restrictions are placed on coverage of national security matters. Individuals, organizations, the press, and the electronic media freely debate public issues and often criticize public policy and government officials.


The World Zionist Organization (WZO) was founded by Theodor Herzl in 1897 for the purpose of creating "for the Jewish people a home in Palestine, secured by public law." The organization is composed of various international groupings represented in its supreme organ, the World Zionist Congress. The Jewish Agency, originally founded under the League of Nations mandate to promote Jewish interests in Palestine, comprises the executive arm of the WZO; since 1948, it has been responsible for the organization, training, and transportation to Israel of all Jews who wish to settle there. The United Israel Appeal (Keren Hayesod ) is the financial instrument of the Jewish Agency; it recruits donations from world Jewry. The Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet le'Israel ) is devoted to land acquisition, soil reclamation, and reforestation. Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, is also active in Israel; it sponsors the Hadassah Medical Organization, which provides hospital and medical training facilities.

The main labor organization is the General Federation of Labor (Histadrut ), a large economic complex whose interests include some of the largest factories in the country, an agricultural marketing society (Tnuva ), a cooperative wholesale association (Hamashbir Hamerkazi ), and a workers' bank. Trade and industry unions as fairly active, including such groups as the Manufacturers Association of Israel, Israel Association of Craft and Industry, and the Citrus Marketing Board of Israel. There are professional associations representing a wide variety of fields. The Israel Medical Organization promotes research and education on health issues and works to establish common policies and standards in healthcare. There are several other associations dedicated to research and education for specific fields of medicine and particular diseases and conditions, such as the Israel Heart Society and the Israel Cancer Association.

There are numerous cultural and religious societies and organizations. The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities promotes public interest in science and cooperates with foreign academies in research and dissemination of information. The Hebrew Writers Association in Israel represents Hebrew writers worldwide.

An important youth organization is Youth Aliyah, founded in 1934, which has helped to rehabilitate and educate children from all countries of the world. Other national youth organizations include the Israeli Boy and Girl Scouts Federation, National Working Youth Movement of Israel, Orthodox Youth Movement of Israel (Ezra ), Socialist Youth Movement of Israel, Sons of Akiva Youth Movement of Israel, Tel Aviv University Students' Association, Trumpeldor Covenant Youth Movement of Israel, United Kibbutz Youth Movement of Israel, Young Herut, Zionist Youth Movement, and chapters of the YMCA/YWCA. The Association for Arab Youth was founded in 2000 to be a bipartisan organization promoting pluralism and tolerance through educational and recreational youth activities. Sports associations are also active, including such pastimes as baseball, badminton, ice skating, cricket, and frisbee.

The Council of Women's Organizations in Israel is an umbrella organization promoting legal and social rights for women.

The Arab Association for Human Rights is in Nazareth and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel is in Jerusalem. The Democracy and Workers Rights Center represents those working to create a civil society within the Palestinian-administered territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Disaster relief and aid services in Israel are organized by the Red Shield of David (Magen David Adom), which cooperates with the International Red Cross. Other international organizations include Defence for Children International and Amnesty International.


Principal tourist attractions are the many holy and historic places, which include sites sacred to three religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. In particular, the Old City of Jerusalem contains the Western ("Wailing") Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; nearby are the Mount of Olives and Garden of Gethsemane. Another holy place is Bethlehem, the birthplace of both King David and Jesus. Also of great interest are the ruins of Jericho, the world's oldest city; the caves of Qumran, near the Dead Sea; and the rock fortress of Masada, on the edge of the Dead Sea Valley and the Judean Desert. Tourists are also drawn to Israel's rich variety of natural scenery, ranging from hills and greenery in the north to rugged deserts in the south, and including the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on Earth. The most popular team sports are football (soccer) and basketball; popular recreations include swimming, sailing, and fishing.

A valid passport, proof of suffi cient funds, and onward/return ticket are required for tourists; a three-month visa may be issued upon arrival. The Tourist Industry Development Corporation fosters tourism by granting loans for hotel expansion and improvement. A total of 1,063,381 tourists visited Israel in 2003, a 23% increase from 2002. There were 46,368 hotel rooms with 114,041 beds and an occupancy rate of 45%. The average length of stay was two nights.

In 2004, the US Department of State estimated the daily average of staying in Tel Aviv at $336. Estimated daily expenses in Jerusalem were $312 per day in 2002.


The State of Israel traces its ancestry to the settlement of the Hebrews in Canaan under Abraham (b.Babylonia, fl.18th cent. bc), the return of the Israelite tribes to Canaan under Moses (b.Egypt, fl.13th cent. bc) and Joshua (b.Egypt, fl.13th cent. bc), and the ancient kingdom of Israel, which was united by David (r.1000?960? bc) and became a major Near Eastern power under Solomon (r.960?922 bc). A prophetic tradition that includes such commanding figures as Isaiah (fl.8th cent. bc), Jeremiah (650?585? bc), and Ezekiel (fl.6th cent. bc) spans the period of conquest by Assyria and Babylonia; the scribe Ezra (b.Babylonia, fl.5th cent. bc) and the governor Nehemiah (b.Babylonia, fl.5th cent. bc) spurred the reconstruction of the Judean state under Persian hegemony. Judas (Judah) Maccabaeus ("the Hammerer"; fl.165160 bc) was the most prominent member of a family who instituted a period of political and religious independence from Greek rule. During the period of Roman rule, important roles in Jewish life and learning were played by the sages Hillel (b.Babylonia, fl.30 bcad 9), Johannan ben Zakkai (fl.1st cent.), Akiba ben Joseph (50?135?), and Judah ha-Nasi (135?220), the compiler of the Mishnah, a Jewish law code; by the military commander and historian Flavius Josephus (Joseph ben Mattathias, ad 37100?); and Simon Bar-Kokhba (bar Kosiba, d.135), leader of an unsuccessful revolt against Roman rule. Unquestionably, the most famous Jew born in Roman Judea was Jesus (Jeshua) of Nazareth (4? bcad 29?), the Christ, or Messiah ("anointed one"), of Christian belief. Peter (Simon, 67?) was the first leader of the Christian Church and, in Roman Catholic tradition, the first pope. Paul (Saul, b.Asia Minor, 67?) was principally responsible for spreading Christianity and making it a religion distinct from Judaism.

The emergence of Israel as a modern Jewish state is attributed in large part to Chaim Weizmann (b.Russia, 18741952), the leader of the Zionist movement for 25 years, as well as a distinguished chemist who discovered methods for synthesizing acetone and rubber. Theodor Herzl (b.Budapest, 18601904), the founder of political Zionism, is buried in Jerusalem. Achad Ha'am (Asher Hirsch Ginsberg; b. Russia, 18561927) was an influential Zionist and social critic. Vladimir Jabotinsky (18801940) was a dedicated advocate of Jewish self-defense, both in his native Russia and in Palestine. David Ben-Gurion (Gruen; b.Poland, 18861973), also a leading Zionist and an eloquent spokesman on labor and national affairs, served as Israel's first prime minister. Golda Meir (Meyerson; b.Russia, 18981978), like Ben-Gurion a former secretary-general of Histadrut, became well known as Israel's prime minister from 1970 to 1974. Other prominent contemporary figures include Pinhas Sapir (b.Poland, 190775), labor leader and minister of finance; Abba Eban (Aubrey Eban; b. South Africa, 19152002), former foreign affairs minister and representative to the UN; and Moshe Dayan (191581), military leader and cabinet minister. Menachem Begin (b.Russia, 191392), the former leader of guerrilla operations against the British, was prime minister from 1977 to 1983 and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978. He was succeeded by Yitzhak Shamir (b.Poland, 1915) in 1983, who gave way to Shimon Peres (b.Poland, 1923) in 1984. Shamir succeeded Peres in 1986. Yitzhak Rabin (19221995) was instrumental in the peace accords with the PLO signed in 1993 in Washington. Benjamin Netanyahu (b.1949) succeeded Peres, who had succeeded the assassinated Rabin. Ehud Barak (b.1942) followed Netanyahu as prime minister; Barak was succeeded by Ariel Sharon (b.1928). Sharon suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in January 2006; because he was incapacitated, his deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert (b.1945), took over the duties of prime minister.

Israel's foremost philosopher was Martin Buber (b.Vienna, 18781965), author of I and Th ou. Outstanding scholars include the literary historian Joseph Klausner (18741958); the Bible researcher Yehezkel (Ezekiel) Kaufmann (b.Ukraine, 18891963); the philologists Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (b.Lithuania, 18581922) and Naphtali Hertz Tur-Sinai (Torczyner; b. Poland, 18861973); the archaeologist Eliezer Sukenik (18891953); and the Kabbalah authority Gershom Gerhard Scholem (b.Germany, 18971982).

The foremost poets are Haim Nahman Bialik (b.Russia, 18731934), Saul Tchernichowsky (b.Russia, 18751943), Uri Zvi Greenberg (b.Galicia, 18961981), Avraham Shlonsky (b.Russia, 19001973), Nathan Alterman (b.Warsaw, 191070), Yehuda Amichai (b.Germany, 1924), and Natan Zach (b.Berlin, 1930); and the leading novelists are Shmuel Yosef Halevi Agnon (b.Galicia, 18881970), a Nobel Prize winner in 1966, and Hayim Hazaz (b.Russia, 18981973). Contemporary Israeli writers include Amos Oz (b.1939), Aharon Appelfeld (b.1932), and David Grossman (b.1954). Painters of note include Reuven Rubin (b.Romania, 18931975) and Mane Katz (b.Russia, 18941962). Paul Ben-Haim (Frankenburger; b. Munich, 18971984) and Ödön Partos (b.Budapest, 190777) are well-known composers. Famous musicians include Daniel Barenboim (b.Argentina, 1942), Itzhak Perlman (b.1945), and Pinchas Zukerman (b.1948).

Significant contributions in other fields have been made by mathematician Abraham Halevi Fraenkel (b.Munich, 18911965); botanist Hugo Boyko (b.Vienna, 18921970); zoologist Shimon (Fritz) Bodenheimer (b.Cologne, 18971959); parasitologist Saul Aaron Adler (b.Russia, 18951966); physicist Giulio Raccah (b.Florence, 190965); rheologist Markus Reiner (b.Czernowitz, 18861976); gynecologist Bernard Zondek (b.Germany, 18911966); and psychoanalyst Heinrich Winnik (b.Austria-Hungary, 190282).


Beginning at the end of the 1967 war until the 1990s, Israel administered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Golan Heights, captured from Syria during the same war, was annexed in 1981; the Sinai Peninsula, taken from Egypt, was restored to Egyptian sovereignty in 1983, in accordance with a 1979 peace treaty. In 1994 Israel returned small pockets of some of the land captured in the war, to be administered in a less than totally sovereign fashion, by the Palestinian Authority. The move was in accord with a peace agreement (the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements or DOP) signed in Washington, DC, on 13 September 1993 by representatives of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In January 1996, a Palestinian Legislative Council was elected to form the foundation for the interim self-government for the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In May 1994, a new agreement (the Israel-PLO 4 May 1994 Cairo Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area) transferred responsibility for the Gaza Strip and Jericho to the Palestinians. Over the next several years, agreements between Israel and the PLO transferred responsibility for West Bank territory from Israel to Palestinian control. According to the terms of the DOP, Israel was to continue to provide security for the territories transferred to Palestinian control during the period of transition. In 1999, negotiations to set the terms for permanent status for the West Bank and Gaza began, but a number of factorscontinuing expansion of Israeli settlements in territory transferred to Palestinian control, outbreaks of violence and terrorism beginning in 2000 and continuing for the next two years, instability in the Palestinian Authority, and severe reaction on the part of the Israeli militarycombined to undermine further progress. The estimated population of the West Bank in 2002 was 2,163,667, not including an estimated 187,000 Israeli settlers; the estimated population of the Gaza Strip that year was 1,225,911, not including an estimated 5,000 Israeli settlers.


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State of Israel

Major Cities:
Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa

Other Cities:
Acre, Beersheba, Bethlehem, Elat, Hadera, Holon, Nablus, Nazareth, Netanya


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated April 1993. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


The modern State of ISRAEL was created in 1948 after more than a half-century of Zionist efforts to provide a homeland for dispersed Jews. The official design for this new nation was formed in 1917 with the Balfour Declaration, which avowed the British Government's support of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Other countries, including the United States, upheld the declaration and, after World War I, the United Kingdom assumed the Palestine Mandate.

Nazi persecution of Jews during the 1930s and 1940s increased the incentive for immigration to Palestine, and international support grew for the establishment of a Jewish nation. In November 1947, the United Nations adopted a plan to divide the area into Arab and Jewish states but, as the end of the mandate approached, discord between the two segments of the population of Palestine degenerated into civil war.

The State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948. The years since then have been marked with tension, border disputes, and open warfareinterspersed with cease-fire agreements and internationally sponsored peace talks. Anxieties remain about immediate possibilities for a negotiated solution.


Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is Israel's second largest city (after Jerusalem), with a population of 349,000 in a metropolitan area of well over one million. Located approximately midway on Israel's Mediterranean coast, the city is bounded on the north by the small Yarkon River and on the south by the ancient city of Yafo (Jaffa). Between Tel Aviv and the city of Haifa to the north, numerous small communities give the appearance of a megalopolis interspersed with farms and sand dunes.

Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 as a Jewish suburb of the Arab town of Yafo. The city grew rapidly, and quickly became the financial and commercial center of Israel. Banks, insurance companies, and business firms have their main offices in Tel Aviv/Yafo. Manufacturing firms, a new university, research activities, and the international airport give the feeling of living in a bustling metropolis. The pace of the city is Mediterranean with its hectic traffic, sidewalk cafés, and crowded, noisy streets; but the newness and lack of greenery and open space set it apart from most Mediterranean locations.

Tel Aviv began as a garden suburb and, without apparent thought or planning, it expanded. As a result, streets are narrow and buildings are crowded together. Among these are some modern glass and concrete office towers, including the tallest building in the Middle East. In the newer parts of the city, improved construction and planning can be seen. Renovations have been made on the main beach-front, and a mosaic promenade installed. People stroll here on weekend evenings, or sit at the cafés.

The Jewish Sabbath, Shabbat, begins late Friday afternoon and ends after sundown on Saturday. All banks and business firms are closed during that time, as is public transportation. Some restaurants remain open. Radio and television stations operate on Saturdays and on Jewish holidays, with the exception of Yom Kippur, when all commercial (and vehicular) traffic ceases. Sunday is a regular working day for Israelis.

The American Embassy is in Tel Aviv. Although Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, the United States and most countries which maintain diplomatic relations with Israel accept only West Jerusalem in a de facto sense as the working capital. They regard the international status of Jerusalem as still undecided, pending final peace treaties between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Therefore, most countries maintain their embassies and legations in Tel Aviv, although they transact much of their business with Israeli Government offices in Jerusalem.

Schools for Foreigners

Walworth Barbour American International School in Israel (WBAIS), a U.S. Government-sponsored institution, provides instruction from kindergarten through high school. Enrollment represents the international community; only a small minority are Israeli, many of these recent immigrants are from South Africa, the U.S., and other English-speaking countries.

Hebrew instruction is mandatory in third grade, after which it is optional. Instruction in French can begin in the seventh grade. During the four years of high school, emphasis is placed on college preparation; French and Hebrew are also offered. Science laboratories are well equipped and the teaching staff, chiefly U.S. immigrants, is strong in all departments. Supplementary language instruction and other subjects are available if there is adequate demand. The library, directed by a professional librarian, is adequate, and constantly adds new books and audio/visual materials.

Extracurricular activities at WBAIS include gymnastics, basketball, soccer, softball, and field hockey. There are a modern playing field, an excellent gym/auditorium, outdoor basketball courts, and an art center.

The school is directed by a board consisting of U.S. Government officials, Israelis, and other American and foreign members.

Several other educational facilities are available to foreign residents of Tel Aviv, including British and French schools. The British school, Tabeetha, sponsored by the Church of Scotland, prepares students for entrance to British universities. The school can offer the equivalent of a U.S. high school curriculum, but the grades available each year vary. French, German, and Hebrew are taught, and classes are conducted in preparation for the British A-level examinations in both the sciences and humanities, depending on demand.

In Israeli society, all children attend compulsory preschool, starting at five years of age. Private preschools, or gans, may accept children as young as 18 months. The gans are adequate to excellent, and are staffed by well-trained teachers. They operate six mornings a week within a flexible attendance schedule.

Special Opportunities

Tel Aviv offers special education facilities for handicapped children and those with learning disabilities. Walworth Barbour School has provided special teachers and instruction for several students, including blind and moderately learning-disabled children. English-speaking physical and speech therapists are listed with the medical advisor at the American Embassy. Severely handicapped children, however, may have difficulty finding schooling.

Most university courses in Israel are in Hebrew, but the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, and Bar-Ilan University offer some courses in English.

The French and German embassies regularly sponsor both intensive daytime and weekly evening language classes. Teachers are available for many Eastern and Western European languages.

Many opportunities are available for those who wish to learn Hebrew. In addition to embassy language programs, there is a six-month course in Hebrew for the diplomatic community, sponsored by the Tel Aviv municipality. Those with more time or greater dedication can use the ulpanim, language-instruction centers run privately or by the Israeli Government; classes average four hours a day, five or six days a week; day sessions last up to six months. Evening courses are also available. The ulpanim and the Tel Aviv municipality course teach not only the spoken language, but also reading and writing.


Swimming is possible here about eight months of the year and even year round for the hardy. Tel Aviv and nearby coastal suburban areas have beaches, but these are generally crowded and sometimes have tar. Some very attractive beaches are about an hour's drive north or south of the city. Bathing is prohibited at unguarded beaches because of a dangerous undertow, but this does not hinder popular seaside picnics from April to November.

The large, public saltwater pool in Tel Aviv and several freshwater pools in nearby Ramat Gan are usually crowded. Hotels in Tel Aviv and Herzliyya, as well as the Kfar Shmaryahu Community Club, have large pools. The Tel Aviv Country Club, five minutes north of the city, has excellent sports facilities, a double, Olympic-size freshwater pool (heated in winter), 11 tennis courts, and a large gym.

Skin diving, fishing, snorkeling, water-skiing, and scuba diving are also popular in Israel. Diving classes, with instruction in English, are given in Tel Aviv and at Red Sea resorts.

Small boats can be rented for the day in Haifa and on the Sea of Galilee at Tiberias. Skin divers can explore interesting underwater ruins off the coast of Caesarea. The Gulf of Aqaba, off Elat, has an incredible variety of tropical fish and coral reefs; an excursion by glass-bottom boat to see these is enjoyable. Elat also offers excellent skin diving, water-skiing, scuba diving, and snorkeling.

Israel has a golf course, located at Caesarea, 45 minutes north of Herzliyya. Near Tel Aviv, there are riding stables; a ranch north of Tiberias in the hills of Galilee offers trail riding. One ranch in the hills of Galilee runs guided horseback tours with camping and Western-style dining. Horse shows are frequent.

Hunters find a variety of game, including partridge and wild boar, but duck and geese are scarce. It is illegal to shoot gazelle. Hunters are permitted to shoot up to 10 game birds a day during the September-February hunting season. Guns of any caliber can be licensed in Israel, but hunting with guns of "military caliber" (larger than .22) is prohibited. Twelve-gauge shotguns and .22-caliber rifles are recommended, since ammunition for these sizes is more available in Israel. Ammunition costs more than in the U.S.

The most popular recreational activity here is touring. Israel is rich in history and archaeology. An advantage of a small country is that excursions can be made to almost any location in one or two days. Tour buses throughout Israel take in ruins, Crusader castles, old Roman and Phoenician cities, and biblical sites, as well as modern towns.

Occasionally, arrangements have been made for volunteers to join archaeological digs. Some search for old coins and artifacts on weekends. An archaeology class in English, including excursions, is offered at Tel Aviv University.

For hiking enthusiasts, a four-day, cross-country march to Jerusalem is held each spring, yielding stories enough to last the rest of the year. Hiking in the mountains of Galilee is excellent; it is especially beautiful in spring, when the view from every mountaintop compensates for the climb. One of the most popular outings is to Mount Tabor, where a monastery at the summit serves meals and runs a guest house (by reservation). One can either drive up the mountain by winding roads or climb straight up; the climb takes about an hour.

Without detracting from the splendor of Jerusalem or the lovely setting of Haifa, the beauty of Israel lies not only in its cities, but in the land. From rich northern greenery to rugged southern deserts, the land is for exploring, strolling, picnicking, and mere enjoyment. For added pleasure, in harmony with the natural beauty are sites with histories dating from the Crusades and biblical times. Some spots connect with Israel's modern history and striking development. Among the places recommended are:

About an hour north of Tel Aviv, on a main highway, is Caesarea. This ancient, partially excavated city was founded by King Herod and was the Roman capital in Palestine. A long aqueduct from Roman times parallels the beach. The Roman theater hosts visiting artists during the summer music festival. Between these two remnants of ancient times is a Crusader city. The wall and moat are almost intact; inside the wall, much original pavement and several buildings have been preserved.

About one-and-a-half hours from Tel Aviv, is Megiddo. Archaeologists have uncovered 20 superimposed cities here. The lowest stratum dates back to the fourth millennium B.C.; the most recent one from the fourth century B.C. Megiddo was an ancient fortress and played a role in defending the country against Thutmose III. Later, it was one of Solomon's "cities for chariots." The Hill of Megiddo in Hebrew is Har Megeddon the biblical Armageddon.

Tiberias, some two-and-a-half hours from Tel Aviv, is a winter resort on the Sea of Galilee. The drive to Tiberias through the hills of Galilee is probably one of the most beautiful in the world. The whole area around Tiberias is famous from the New Testament; Capernaum, Jesus' city, is nearby, as is the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount.

Acre ('Akko) is about two hours from Tel Aviv. It is an Arab town and, like Nazareth, is a reminder that Israel is indeed part of the Middle East. On the Lebanese border, a half-hour north, are the grottoes of Rosh Hanikra. The road heading east along the border is particularly beautiful.

The Galilee is within three hours of Tel Aviv. The area has some of the best scenery year round, and has such interesting sights as the Crusader castle at Montfort, the ancient synagogue at Bar'am, the nature preserve at Tel Dan, and numerous kibbutzim which, until 1967, were frequently under Syrian artillery fire. To the east, within the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, are the Banyas Waterfalls, the crater at Birkat Ram, and Mt. Hermon, where skiing is possible several months of the year.

The Dead Sea is the lowest spot on earth. On its southern shore is the infamous Sdom (the biblical Sodom), which is now the site of Israel's Dead Sea Works where salt and chemicals are extracted from the sea. A few miles north of Sdom is the well-preserved and-excavated mountain fortress of Masada, where Jewish defenders held off the Roman siege in the first century A.D. The climb to the top is a must for the hardy, but a cable car is also available. Farther north is the oasis of Ein Gedilush greenery amid the desert. A waterfall at Ein Gedi creates a pool which is excellent for swimming.

The Negev. Beersheba, 66 miles from Tel Aviv, is the gateway to the Negev. The city has historical interest as the home of Abraham. To the south are the ruins of Shivta and Avdat. At Avdat, a Byzantine church and Roman acropolis were superimposed on an ancient Nabatean foundation.

In touring and traveling, visitors should not drive through strictly religious towns or sections of cities on Friday night or Saturday, nor drive anywhere on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.


In addition to its major theaters, orchestras, and museums, Israel has several repertory theaters as well as amateur and professional groups. Plays are performed in Hebrew, but many are familiar works translated from other languages, and some programs provide an English synopsis. Theater in English is sometimes possible to find from time to time. Internationally known entertainers in all fields appear frequently. Some plays are performed with simultaneous translation in English, available through earphones.

Tel Aviv has several movie theaters, including a drive-in. Recent American and European films are shown in the original language, with subtitles in Hebrew and English or French. To avoid waiting in line to buy tickets, one can buy them in advance from a booking agency located near the U.S. Embassy.

Yafo (Jaffa), directly south of Tel Aviv, abounds in nightclubs, cafés, and other evening diversions. The renovated artists' quarter glows by night; most little shops and galleries in the Old City remain open late into the evening.

The celebrations for Purim, the Feast of Esther, each spring include folk dancing and popular street entertainment, costume parties, and a beaux arts ball in the artists' colony of Ein Hod (near Haifa). A week-long Passover music festival is held at Kibbutz Ein Gev on the Sea of Galilee, and a festival of Christian liturgical music is given at Abu Gosh (near Jerusalem) in May. Each summer, the Israel Festival of Music and Drama brings outstanding groups and individual artists from many countries, especially from the U.S.

The Israelis are friendly and hospitable. They often entertain late in the evening by American standards, and enjoy having guests in for drinks (most Israelis prefer juice or soft drinks to alcohol), conversation, and coffee. There are many opportunities for resident foreigners to attend seders, bar mitzvahs, and weddings.

Most Israelis are not particularly observant of religious customs, but they may have special sensitivities nonetheless. Consideration should be taken in entertaining them, such as providing alternatives to pork and shellfish, and refraining from issuing invitations on Jewish holidays. If Israelis decline food or drink at any time, it is not an insult, but merely a matter of conscience. It is entirely acceptable to inquire in advance whether one's guests, either Jewish or Muslim, observe dietary restrictions.


Jerusalem, Israel's capital and largest city, is situated in the Judean Hills about 40 miles from the Mediterranean, at an altitude of 2,710 feet. The physical setting is dazzling. On a clear day it is possible to look to the east and see the Dead Sea (1,300 feet below sea level), the Jordan Valley, and the Mountains of Moab.

Jerusalem's population is about 622,000 (including East Jerusalem, annexed in 1967). It includes a variety of cultural, ethnic, and religious backgroundsPalestinian Arabs, Israelis, Armenians, Druze, Samaritans, and Bedouins. The languages are as varied as the population. Hebrew and Arabic serve as the official languages, and English is the most commonly spoken foreign tongue. Most street signs are printed in these three languages.

Present-day Jerusalem is divided into three areas: The Walled City (with its Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian quarter) and West (Israeli) and East (Arab) Jerusalem.

The Walled City, a relatively small area covering less than a square mile, is the religious, emotional, and touristic heart of Jerusalem. Contained within the enclosure are the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, David's Tower, Via Dolorosa, Dome of the Rock, Al Aqsa Mosque, and other religious, historic, and archaeological sites.

The narrow streets and bazaars of the Walled City are often thronged with pilgrims, tourists, and residents going about their daily business. Immediately to the east, across the Kidron Valley, is the Mount of Olives, the lower reaches of which contain the Garden of Gethsemane.

West Jerusalem is that part of the city controlled by the Israeli Government prior to June 1967, and has a population that is almost entirely Jewish Israeli. It is a mixture of older stone houses, vast modern housing developments, government ministries, and educational and cultural institutions. Most shops, theaters, restaurants, and commercial institutions are located here.

Jerusalem was proclaimed the nation's capital in a 1950 resolution, but is not considered as such by the United Nations. The American Foreign Service maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv and, in addition, has one of its two independent consular posts in Jerusalemthe only other is in Hong Kong. The U.S. consular district in Jerusalem also includes the West Bank of the Jordan River. Most of the Arab population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is Muslim, but substantial concentrations of Christians live in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Ramallah and environs.

Jerusalem has vast emotional and symbolic significance for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is a short walk from the Dome of the Rock (the third holiest site in Islam) to the Western Wall (the western wall of the Second Temple platformonce known as the Wailing Wall), and to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the site of Christ's tomb). Religion is an important element in city life, and religious holidays of the three major faiths are felt and observed as in no other city on earth. The Palestinian population is about 93 percent Muslim (mostly Sunni) and approximately seven percent Christian (of various sects, but mainly Greek Orthodox). Judaism, in varying degrees of orthodoxy, is practiced by the Jewish population.

Jerusalem contains many of the most important Jewish, Muslim, and Christian shrines in the world. The Walled City is a showplace of outstanding examples of Islamic, Byzantine, Crusader, and Ottoman architecture. A wealth of museums exists, ranging from the general interest Israel Museum (which includes an extensive archaeological display, sculpture garden, and children's wing) to special interest collections (archaeological, Islamic, and Palestinian) and Yad Vashem, a museum commemorating Holocaust victims. Windows painted by Marc Chagall, depicting the 12 tribes of Israel, are displayed at Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The Rockefeller Museum offers a lecture series, and the Israel Museum hosts programs, films, and classes for children and adults.

Archaeological sites, excavated and unexcavated, are abundant throughout the area. The Albright School of Oriental Research, the British School of Archaeology, and the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew University are but a few of the many centers located in Jerusalem.

Theological centers and schools, such as the Tantur Ecumenical Institute and the American Institute for Holy Land Studies, defy enumeration. École Biblique (famous for the Jerusalem Bible) has specialists in a number of fields, including archaeology and the Bible. Most of these institutions offer formal and informal courses and lecture series on a variety of topics.

The main campuses of Hebrew University, Hebrew Union College, and the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts are located in Jerusalem. Most courses are taught in Hebrew. On the West Bank, Bethlehem and Bir Zeit Universities offer many courses in English; Najah University in Nablus and the Hebron University offer courses in Arabic.


About a million tourists visit Israel annually, and most find their way to Jerusalem. There are scores of hotels, hospices, hostels, shops, travel agencies, and restaurants catering primarily to the tourist trade.

The climate is mild, with a long summer (May to October) of warm days and cool nights and a chilly, often rainy winter (November to March). Summer temperatures seldom rise above 85°F. Humidity is low and mildew is rare. In winter, temperatures average 55°F, with occasional drops to freezing. Sometimes Jerusalem gets a ham'seen, or sandstorm. These occur infrequently and are not as strong as in other parts of the Middle East.

The drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem through the Judean hills is beautiful, with several interesting places to stop along the way. The countryside changes with every season: barren in winter, bright with green fields and blossoming flowers in spring, and parched in summer. In the city itself is the Israel Museum with its collection of Dead Sea Scrolls, the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden, and fascinating exhibits within the main buildings. The Israeli Government buildings, Hadassah Hospital, the Kennedy Memorial, Mt. Herzl, and the scale model of the old city are all worthwhile. Mt. Zion, with King David's tomb and the room of the Last Supper, are outside the confines of The Walled City.

Plane connections from Ben Gurion Airport (about an hour's drive from Jerusalem at Lod, near Tel Aviv) are available to principal European cities, Cyprus, and the U.S. Travel by ship is also possible from Israel to Cyprus and to various other Mediterranean ports.

Sight-seeing, picnicking, and amateur archaeology are by far the most popular pastimes in and around Jerusalem, where short, half-day trips can be planned. Many organized tours are available for a modest fee; these tours go to almost every part of the country, and guides are usually competent.

Numerous places of archaeological and religious interest are within a few hours' drive of Jerusalem. Bethlehem is a 15-minute ride from the city. Nablus, home of the Samaritans and the site of the Roman city, Sebastia, is an hour's drive. Jericho, one of the world's oldest inhabited cities and a winter resort for Jerusalem's Arabs, is located near the Dead Sea, less than an hour away.

The religious sites at Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee are less than three hours from Jerusalem by bus or car. The ancient port of Caesarea, with extensive ruins, a bathing beach within its Old City, and an excellent golf course, is two hours away; Elat (or Eilat), five hours by car or bus or 40 minutes by plane, is a popular Red Sea resort, particularly in the fall or spring when the weather is not so warm.

Both Israel and the West Bank abound in historical sites ranging from the biblical to the Crusader period. Jericho, Masada, Lachish, Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, Sebastia, Caesarea, Ashkelon, Hebron, and Acre ('Akko) are a few of the many places of significance for those interested in the area's history. Most can be seen in a day; reasonable and adequate hotel facilities can be found for longer trips.

Traditional Palestinian handicraft activity (embroidery, olive wood carving, mother-of-pearl, and gold work) are centered around the Jerusalem and Bethlehem areas.

Except for soccer, which is quite popular, organized team sports are not common in Jerusalem. The YMCA and YWCA (and YMJA and JMWA) do, however, offer excellent facilities for swimming, tennis, squash, volleyball, basketball, and gymnastics. Membership fees are modest. These organizations have summer day camps for children seven to 14 years of age with swimming, gym, outdoor games, handi-crafts, and outings.

Several attractive, clean swimming pools are in and around Jerusalem. Hotel pools offer seasonal or daily memberships. Ocean bathing at Mediterranean resorts (about an hour or two from the city) is popular. Resorts on the Dead Sea are open all year.

Horseback riding is available in Jerusalem. Hunting for birds and wild boar is permitted in Galilee and Golan, but not on the West Bank. Snorkeling and scuba diving are available at Elat, where the coral reefs and fish are magnificent.


Jerusalem's first-class concert hall features performances by internationally renowned artists and by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. There are also several art galleries, theaters, and dance studios in the city.

Movies are a popular form of evening entertainment. The city's movie theaters are somewhat spartan, but feature many American and English films. There is also a Cinematheque, and the Israel Museum and the Jerusalem Theatre run art films.

Israel's Philharmonic Orchestra plays regularly in the Jerusalem Concert Hall during winter and spring, and features many world-famous conductors and renowned guest artists throughout the season. The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and excellent chamber music groups also perform.

Although the city is not generally considered a gourmet's paradise, several hotels and restaurants are satisfactory. Some of the larger hotels offer unique atmosphere and good cuisine; a few have piano bars, or dancing on designated evenings.

Photography is popular in Israel. Local processing of black-and-white film is satisfactory, but color film should be developed in the U.S. Photographers should be wary of taking pictures of Orthodox Jews or traditionally dressed Arabs, especially if they are at worship.

A number of holidays in both Israel and the West Bank offer interesting festivities. In the Arab sector of Jerusalem, the pilgrimages and ceremonies of the Eastern and Western churches during the Christmas and Easter seasons are impressive, and the Samaritan Passover at Nablus is an unusual event. In Israel, Purim (or Carnival) is celebrated by young and old in costume. Passover is commemorated by seder, or ritual family dinner.

A substantial American community lives in Jerusalem and on the West Bank. It includes American Jews immigrating to Israel, U.S. citizens of Palestinian-Arab ancestry who have come here to retire, and Americans who are in Jerusalem temporarily on work-related assignments or for religious or cultural reasons. Because of the variety in backgrounds and interests, this community is loosely knit.


Haifa is in northwest Israel, about one-and-a-half hours from Tel Aviv. The nation's principal port, with a current population of 264,000, it spreads inland from the Bay of Haifa up the western slope of Mount Carmel. The view of the city and the bay from above is unforgettable.

Most of Israel's heavy industry is concentrated in Haifasteel mills, an oil refinery, chemical plants, and cement and glass works. It is also the site of a naval base. Haifa was called Sycaminum in ancient times, but its most interesting history dates from just after World War II, when it was the center of illegal Jewish immigration into Palestine.

Among the places of interest here are the Museum of Antiquities, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Ethnological and Folklore Museum. The Technion, a technical institute and Israel's premier engineering school was established in 1924 and Haifa University was founded in 1963. The world headquarters of the Baha'i faith are located above Haifa, within extensive gardens.


ACRE (in Hebrew, 'Akko) lies on the Mediterranean, nine miles northeast of Haifa. This seaport's economy is comprised of light industry, steel rolling mills, and fishing. The last stronghold of the Crusaders, Acre was the capital of the Latin Kingdom from 1191 to 1291. The Hospitaller Quarter here contains one of the world's oldest buildings, the Crypt of St. John, dating to at least the mid-13th century. Today called Crusader City, the subterranean structures were unearthed in the 1950s and 1960s. The Bedouin sheikh, Daher el-Omar, built a virtually impregnable fortress over its remains, and restored Acre's walls, some of which still stand. Napoleon was forced to abandon his eastern campaign when he met with stiff resistance in the city after piercing its walls in 1799. The old prison of the British Mandate era now houses a Museum of Heroism; the Municipal Museum has ancient archaeology and folklore collections. On the edge of town is the burial ground of the prophet of the Baha'i faith, Baha'u'llah (1817-1892), who spent the last years of his life in exile here. Acre has been described as dilapidated, with an unsanitary appearance. Its population is approximately 46,000.

BEERSHEBA (in Hebrew, Be'er Sheva'; in Arabic, Bir es Saba), "the City of Abraham," is the capital of the Southern Region, situated 45 miles southwest of Jerusalem. With approximately 160,000 residents, it is a busy, modern industrial and educational center, and the largest city in the Negev, a desert region. Chemicals and glass are its main products. Ben Gurion University opened here in 1965, and has been the site of important negotiations with Egypt. Israel targeted the area for settlement in the late 1940s; today Beersheba has a futuristic look. History and tradition are preserved in Tel Sheva, or biblical Beersheba, where tourists visit excavations and the Museum of the Desert. The Hebrew patriarch Abraham is said to have pitched his tent on the tel (a mound formation marking an ancient city), eight miles outside of town. Abraham's Well is a tourist stop, as is the Bedouin camel market, held Thursday mornings.

BETHLEHEM , the birthplace of Jesus Christ, is located a little over 6 miles south of Jerusalem. Once a stopping place on an ancient caravan route, the town hosted a variety of cultures, such as Canaanite, Byzantine, Arab, Islamic, Persian, Turkish, and later, British. The artistic and religious traditions of these various groups can be seen in the varied architectural styles around town.

The Church of the Nativity, located in Manger Square at town center and believed by many to be built on the actual site of Jesus' birth, is the one of world's oldest operating churches. Other sites of note include the Milk Grotto Chapel, a shrine to the Virgin Mary, and Rachel's Tomb, one of Judaism's most sacred shrines. Visitors can also walk through the Shepherds' Field in Beit-Sahour, believed to be the site of the angel's announcement to the shepherds of the birth of Jesus. Solomon's Pools, which have provided Bethlehem and Jerusalem with water throughout the past 2000 years, are nearby as are several desert monasteries begun by early Christians.

Today, Bethlehem is primarily a farm market town which is also well-known for industries in olive wood carvings and mother-of-pearl jewelry.

Several bus tours are offered through the city, many originating for Jerusalem, which is only about 40 minutes away. Both guided and self-guided walking tours are very popular in town. The population of Bethlehem is about 137,286 (1997 est.).

ELAT (Eilat), 212 miles from Tel Aviv, is the southernmost point in Israel and its only port on the Red Sea. The harbor is bordered on both sides by mountains: the Sinai range on one side and the Jordanian mountains of Edom on the other. The city, with a population of more than 43,000, is a major tourist attraction and winter resort with swimming, boating, water-skiing, fishing, skin diving, and a world-famous aquarium and underwater observatory. Just south of Elat in the occupied Sinai desert, is a Scandinavian-type fjord and the beautiful Coral Island. Farther along the coast of the peninsula, down to Sharm-el-Sheikh, are fine beaches with tropical fish and coral, for swimming and outstanding snorkeling and skin diving.

HADERA , located 26 miles south of Haifa, is a principal service center for nearby villages, and a processing hub for local agricultural products. Jewish settlement groups founded the community in 1890. Malaria killed many of the settlers, but a few survived to drain the marshlands. These were breeding grounds for the mosquitoes and source of the Arabic name, Hadra, meaning "the green one." The ancient Turkish khan, or rest house, near the central synagogue, has an exhibit of pioneer-era history. The current population is 76,000.

HOLON , in central Israel, has been a city since 1941. It is part of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, and in recent years has grown considerably; it now has a population of 163,000. Holon is noted particularly for its silverware, and for the textile factories which contribute to its expanding economy.

NABLUS (also spelled Nābulus; in Hebrew, Schechem) is the largest city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with an estimated population over 80,000. Situated 30 miles north of Jerusalem, this is the religious center of the Samaritans, as well as the focal point of Arab nationalism in the region. Nearby, on the eastern slope of Mount Gerizim, is Jacob's Well, where Jesus met the woman of Samaria. In the same area, German archaeologists discovered remains of the biblical Sichem on Tel Balata. Other prominent sites include the mosques of Jāmi'al-Kabir and Jāmi' an Nasr.

NAZARETH (in Hebrew, Nazerat; in Arabic, An-Nāsira), is roughly 45 minutes from Tiberias, not far from the Sea of Galilee. It is the largest Arab and Christian town in the country and, with dozens of New Testament related places, the most visited city by Christians. However, the town's history was far from romantic.

The town was first settled during the period 600-900 BC, but was too small to be included in the list of settlements of the tribe of Zebulon (Joshua 19:10-16), which mentions twelve towns and six villages. The name is also missing from the 63 towns in Galilee mentioned in the Talmud. Archeological excavations show that Nazareth was merely a small agricultural village settled by a few dozen families. Today, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims come each year to this town of only about 56,000 residents.

The Basilica of the Annunciation is one of the grandest and most popular sites in Nazareth. It contains the Grotto of the Virgin, believed by the Roman Catholics to mark the site of the Virgin Mary's maiden home and, possibly, where the angel announced to her that she was to be the mother of Jesus. Nearby is the Church of St. Joseph, which is believed to be the site of the Joseph's carpentry workshop and the home of the Holy Family. The Church of St. Gabriel is built above a spring that connects to St. Mary's Well, just across the street. In the Greek Orthodox tradition, this is the site of the annunciation. Mensa Christi (Jesus' Table) is believed to have been where Jesus' celebrated his last supper with his disciples. Also of note is the Synagogue Church, which is not actually a synagogue but is believed to be the site where Jesus preached as a young man.

Several Muslim sites are within the city as well. The El Abyad Mosque was the first to be built in the city (1812). The tomb of Abdullah et-Fahoum, the governor of Ottoman Nazareth and builder of the mosque, is located in the courtyard. The Maqam Shihab El-Din is a shrine to the nephew of Saladin. The Maqam Nabi Sa'in marks the highest point of Nazareth, where both Moslems and Christians used to come to make religious vows and oaths.

Walking tours, either guided or self-guided, offer a chance to enjoy some of the natural beauty of the city and its surrounding area as well as its historic sites.

The suburban Jewish municipality of Nazerat 'Illit (Upper Nazareth) was built in 1957 on hills overlooking Nazareth. It has a panoramic view of the city below and houses the Northern Region's administrative buildings. Residents are employed in auto assembly, food-processing, and textile plants. East of Nazareth on the Tiberias road is Cana, where Christians believe Jesus performed his first miracle. First-time visitors to the Nazareth area often leave dismayed by the crowds, noise, traffic, and commercialism.

NETANYA (also spelled Natanya), with a population of approximately 170,000, is a fast-growing resort and industrial center. Known as "the Pearl of the Sharon," it lies on the Mediterranean, 19 miles north of Tel Aviv. Netanya was founded in 1929 by citrus growers and named after Nathan Straus (1848-1931), the American philanthropist and one-time owner of Macy's department store. The city became urbanized in the 1930s, when European diamond-cutters fled persecution. Now this is the diamond-cutting capital of Israel, housing many workshops and showrooms. An industrial district here has textile mills and factories. Tourism also plays a large role in the local economy; the city's seven miles of bathing beaches, lined with a landscaped promenade, are a source of great civic pride. A "Meet the Israeli at His Home" program offers visitors a chance to get to know residents in their homes over a cup of coffee. Regular bus service and sheruts (taxi shuttle service) provide transportation to other parts of the country.


Geography and Climate

Israel is a narrow strip of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, wedged between the sea and the Jordan Valley. About the size of New Jersey, the country is 280 miles long and varies from 10 to 41 miles wide, with a total area of 8,000 square miles.

Since June 1967, Israel has administered the West Bank of the Jordan River, the Golan Heights, and Gaza. The highest point within the pre-1967 boundaries is Mt. Hermon, 3,963 feet; the lowest point is also the lowest point on earththe Dead Sea, 1,300 feet below sea level.

The climate varies considerably. The coastal plain has wet, moderately cold winters with temperatures of 38°F to 55°F; a beautiful spring; a long, hot summer (80°F to 95°F); and a cool, rainless fall. Humidity in Tel Aviv is high, adding discomfort to the hot summers. Jerusalem, which is inland and approximately 2,500 feet above sea level, is drier. Thus, while Jerusalem is just as hot as Tel Aviv, it tends to be more comfortable. The inland hills are cooler than the plains and may have snow in winter. The southern section, the Negev, is a hot, barren desert. The only rain in Israel falls during winter and spring, usually in heavy downpours and thunderstorms. After the rainy season, drought becomes serious. As much winter rain as possible is held for irrigation; water from springs and rivers is also diverted for this purpose.

Sandstorms, the sharav, or ham'seen, are quite common during spring and summer. This hot, parching wind from the inland desert carries with it fine sand. The sun becomes brassy, and the temperature may climb as high as 100°F in Tel Aviv, and higher in the Negev. July and August are generally the most uncomfortable months. Pleasant, warm weather usually extends into early November. Insects are abundant; scorpions are found in the Tiberias area, and there are poisonous snakes in the Negev. None presents a major problem.


Israel's population, excluding the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, is about 2.1 million. 80.1 percent are Jews, 14.6 percent Muslim, and 2.1 percent Christian. Jews are 20.8 percent native born; 32.1 percent are from Europe, America, and Oceania; 14.6 percent from Africa; and 12.6 percent from Asia. The literacy rate is 95 percent.

Since 1989 there has been a huge influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Israel faces the problem of providing the newcomers with housing, jobs and education.

Most of the Arab population lives in the Galilee and in villages along the border between Israel and the occupied territories. Nazareth is the largest primarily Arab town within pre-1967 borders. An additional one million Arabs reside in the cities and villages of the territories. Bedouins still live in the Negev near Beersheba and in other southern areas.

In some Arab and Druze villages of the north and among the Bedouin in the south, many old, traditional Palestinian ways survive, little changed either by the British Mandate or by the State of Israel.

The people who live in Israel come from many parts of the world. Although the majority learn Hebrew and are quickly absorbed into the life of the country, their diverse origins are apparent. The most striking evidence is the variety of languages spoken: English, German, French, Yiddish, Rumanian, Bulgarian, Russian, Polish, Spanish, and Latino. Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of the country, but many Israelis speak excellent English.

The government welcomes Jews from all over the world. Immigrants are taught Hebrew in ulpanim, intensive courses operated by the government. The ulpanim are only one arm of a phenomenally successful revival of the Hebrew language; it is also taught in schools and during compulsory military service. Virtually everyone speaks Hebrew but, for some 50 percent of the population, it is the second or third language.


Israel is a parliamentary democracy with supreme authority vested in the Knesset, a unicameral legislature of 120 members. Knesset elections are held every four years, or more frequently in the event of a cabinet crisis, which leads to a Knesset vote for new elections. For electoral purposes, the country is treated as a single national constituency. Each party provides a slate of 120 candidates, and Knesset seats are apportioned according to each party's percentage of the total vote, starting at the top of the lists.

The president of Israel, currently Moshe Katzav, is chosen for a five-year term by the Knesset ; his duties are largely ceremonial and nonpartisan. The Prime Minister, Arial Sharon, is elected by the people.

The Cabinet is responsible to the Knesset. Ministers are usually members of the Knesset, although nonmembers may be appointed. As no political party has commanded a majority in the elections, all cabinets have been coalitions.

Civil and religious courts serve the three major Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities. Religious courts have exclusive jurisdiction concerning marriage and divorce, which they decide according to their own religious laws.

Since the Israeli Government considers Jerusalem the country's capital, most Israeli Government ministries are located in that city. The Knesset (parliament) is also in Jerusalem, as are the official residences of the president and prime minister.

Jerusalem's Role

Before the June 1967 hostilities, the eastern sector of Jerusalem and all of the West Bank of the Jordan River were governed by the Kingdom of Jordan. When Israeli Defense Forces overran this territory in 1967, the West Bank was placed under military government and is still considered "occupied territory." The Arab sector of Jerusalem was, however, incorporated into the State of Israel and is now considered by Israel to be an integral part of the state. Arab Jerusalemites retain their Jordanian citizenship and passports, but are considered by Israel to be "residents" of Israel. The administration of the enlarged city is entrusted to the Jerusalem municipality.

While the U.S. has had consular representation in Jerusalem for over 100 years, the post's present status in the city is based on the 1947 U.N. "Partition of Palestine" resolution. This resolution divided Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Jerusalem, because of its unique religious and historical significance, was not included in either state. The city was set aside as a corpus separatum, an international area under the aegis of the United Nations.

The "Partition of Palestine" resolution was never implemented. Immediately after the termination in 1948 of the British Mandate in Palestine, war broke out between Arabs and Israelis. At the conclusion of the hostilities, Jerusalem was divided, with Arab forces in control of The Walled City and the suburbs to the north and east, and Israeli forces in control of West Jerusalem.

This division of Jerusalem was recognized de facto, but never de jure by the U.S. Government and most of the international community, the rationale being that the resolution of the status of Jerusalem should be determined through peaceful negotiation between Israel and Jordan. Determined to avoid any step that might prejudice the outcome of such negotiations, the United States maintained its embassy in Tel Aviv (where Israel initially established its government), and left the consulate general in charge of representing American interests in the divided city of Jerusalem.

The de facto division of the city continued until the Six-Day War in June 1967, when the Israeli Defense Forces conquered the entire city of Jerusalem and the West Bank of the Jordan River. Shortly after the war, the Knesset passed legislation which, by administrative decree, enlarged the Jerusalem municipal boundaries to include what was formerly Arab Jerusalem, as well as areas of the West Bank.

Fourteen years later, in 1981, Israel formally annexed the expanded city. The U.S. recognizes neither the expansion nor the annexation as legitimate; it has made clear its belief that Jerusalem should be a united city within which would be available free access to the holy sites by people of all faiths and nationalities.

Israel's flag is white, with two horizontal stripes of blue. In its center is the Shield of David.

Arts, Science, Education

Israel's cultural, scientific, and educational institutions have played a significant role in blending a population of mixed geographic and cultural backgrounds into one nation.

Free, primary education is compulsory until age 15. Secondary education, which is not compulsory, is also free. Most schools are state-operated, but many primary and secondary schools are run by Jewish and Christian groups. The major universities are the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, and the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion) in Haifa. Other important schools are Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, the University of Haifa, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-sheba, the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem, and the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem.

Israel, enjoying a worldwide reputation in the sciences, can boast of one of the highest levels of scientific manpower and competence in the world. Israel's principal private research institutions are the Weiz-mann Institute, which offers graduate degrees in basic and applied sciences and in science education; Hebrew University; and the Technion.

Tel Aviv provides Israel's liveliest cultural life, with publicly supported theaters and many small off-Broadway type theaters. Most productions are in Hebrew.

The Israel Philharmonic, under the direction of Zubin Mehta, is one of the world's top orchestras. Its home is the Frederic R. Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv, but regular concerts are also given in Haifa and Jerusalem. Season tickets usually are sold out each year, with some 24,000 subscribers in Tel Aviv alone. Occasionally tickets are available for individual concerts, as well as for special performances not covered by season tickets.

Other symphonic orchestras are the Jerusalem, Haifa, and Galilee Symphonies. Chamber ensembles include Tel Aviv's Israel Chamber Orchestra, the Beersheba Orchestra, and the Holon Chamber Orchestra. Tel Aviv has several internationally known chamber groups, including the Yuval Piano Trio, the Tel Aviv String Quartet, and the Israel String Quartet.

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv Museum are the principal public art museums in the country. Also, innumerable works are found in other sitesfrom the Chagall stained-glass windows at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem to modernistic sculpture dotting the countryside. Private art galleries abound in main cities and smaller towns. Some excellent small art and archaeological museums can be found in about 10 kibbutzim. Safed, Ein Hod, and old Yafo (Jaffa) are considered special art colonies.

The Israel Museum also houses the outstanding collection of Dead Sea Scrolls, plus Jewish ceremonial objects, and archaeological finds.

Tel Aviv's Museum Haaretz includes glass, ceramics, numismatic, ethnological, science, and technology museums, as well as the Archaeology Pavilion, a prehistory museum, and a planetarium. The Archaeology Museum, in a former Turkish bath in old Yafo, contains many local unearthed findings.

Beth Hatefutsoth, the Diaspora Museum, on the campus of Tel Aviv University offers visitors a look at 2,500 years of Jewish history in excellently arranged contemporary exhibits.

Commerce and Industry

From the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 until the 1973 Israel-Arab war, the nation enjoyed one of the world's highest growth rates. The economy was characterized by rapid development, with Gross National Product (GNP) surging upward, sometimes at rates in excess of 10 percent a year in real terms. The pattern of rapid growth was necessary for the absorption of large numbers of immigrants and the building of a modern industrialized society. Large inflows of capital, mostly from the world Jewish community, permitted Israel to develop while consuming more than it produced. Israel has only limited natural resources and, until recently, no normal economic relations with its neighbors. Therefore, the nation wisely emphasized the development of a well-trained work force. The production base was built with emphasis on exports to Europe and the U.S. Substantial progress was made, and continues to be made, in developing these markets.

A major problem of successive Israeli administrations has been the government budget. It is divided roughly into three partsdefense, domestic and foreign debt repayment, and the remainder of government outlays (including welfare spending). Considering Israel's security situation, the government has found it difficult to cut defense spending over the years. Debt repayment must be made on time if Israel is to maintain its access to capital markets. In bargaining over the remaining one-third of the budget, the Israeli Government has run into the same domestic political roadblocks that have plagued most other Western democratic governments. It should be noted that U.S. assistance (in particular, massive military aid) is included in the government budget. Since the military aid is spent in the U.S. and the funds do not enter the domestic economy, the absolute size of the budget is not an accurate indication of the effect of central government spending on the economy.

Soaring inflation rates have characterized the Israeli economy in recent years; however, the degree of inflation has always been somewhat higher than that of other Western nations. Since 1977, the rapid rate of price increases has brought Israel to triple-digit inflation; but, by and large, Israelis have not suffered excessively from these high rates. Wages, welfare payments, pensions, and other incomes, as well as most financial assets and liabilities, and even the exchange rate of the shekel, are all adjusted periodically to take account of inflation. This "indexation" has allowed Israelis to cope with the situation but, at the same time, has made it difficult to lower the inflation rate. Even though Israelis individually are not impoverished by increasing prices, the economy suffers because of the distortions and uncertainties which inflation engenders. Analysts do not agree on the causes and ultimate solutions to the problem. It is clear, though, that large government budget deficits and resulting monetary expansion, imported food and fuel price rises, and expectations of further inflation all play major roles.

The U.S. is an important trading partner with Israel. Israel's other major trading relationship is with the European Community (EC). On July 1, 1977, Israel became an associate member of the EC, and all exports of manufactured goods now enter the EC duty free. Israel also benefits from the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP); over 2,700 of its products enter the U.S. duty free. Israel enjoys a free trade agreement with the U.S. as well as with the EC.

The U.S. has extended to Israel over $30 billion in economic and military assistance since 1949, and over $840 million in 2000 alone. Nearly half of this is in the form of grants. The United States also provided $3.2 billion in assistance over the 1979-1982 period to help finance the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. As part of that support, the U.S. built two new air bases in the Negev to replace those Israel left in the Sinai.

Israel maintains Chambers of Commerce in Jerusalem, at Hillel Street 10, P.O. Box 183; in Tel Aviv, at Hahashmonaim Street 84, P.O. Box 20027; and in Haifa, at Ha'astsmaout Road 53, P.O. Box 33176.


Traveling to other countries from Israel is often inconvenient. Air links exist with many points in Europe, but fares may be considered high for the short distances involved. It is possible to arrange ground and air travel to Egypt, and to travel to other Arab countries via connecting flights from Cairo and Cyprus or by crossing the Allenby Bridge into Jordan.

Arkia (Israel's inland airlines) operates daily flights between Rosh Pina, near the Sea of Galilee, and Tel Aviv and Elat. Arkia also flies a Tel Aviv-Jerusalem route and conducts air/land tours for those with less time than money.

Steamship service is frequent, particularly in summer, between Haifa and Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, and western Mediterranean ports. During summer, weekly auto ferries run between Haifa and Piraeus, touching at Cyprus and Rhodes en route; frequent sailings are available to Corfu and Italy.

Trains run from Nahariya, near the Lebanese border, to Beersheba and Dimona in the Negev, and between Tel Aviv and Gaza. Frequent and inexpensive service operates among Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa.

Hitchhiking, or "tramping," is a way of life in Israel. Drivers are quite willing to stop for needy travelers. However, sudden pickups pose a traffic hazard.

City taxis are quick, easy to hail, and usually metered. Group taxis, or sherut (Hebrew for service) operate within and between cities along predetermined routes. These run frequently, but only from central sherut stands for interurban runs.

Tel Aviv has an extensive bus system which is uncomfortable and crowded in rush hours. Service on interurban buses is good, although time consuming. Reasonably priced tour buses are both comfortable and enjoyable.

Municipal buses, trains, and Israeli airlines do not operate between sundown on Friday and sundown on Saturday (Shabbat ). Taxis, sheruts, and a tour bus line are available for the determined tourist on this day.

A car is essential for most people who work in Tel Avivcertainly for those who live outside the city proper. Almost any American car, even a compact, will be large by Israeli standards and may be difficult to maneuver through narrow, congested streets in some older parts of Tel Aviv (and other cities). Parking in town increases in difficulty proportionally. Apartment parking facilities in Tel Aviv are cramped, and much maneuvering is often required to get into and out of the space provided. Families who live in the suburbs, where parking is not a problem, often consider the safety aspects of a large, heavy car versus the convenience of smaller models. Road accidents, many of them serious, are frequent in Israel.

Compulsory third-party liability insurance rates are fixed by the Israeli Government. A vehicle may not be moved until this coverage has been paid for in advance. Many people also carry a U.S. comprehensive policy which includes collision and theft insurance; it should be noted, however, that a claim is likely to be more easily settled with a local insurer.

Although the annual inspection required for registration is gratis, several features are mandatory on all vehicles, and their installation can be costly. The most important of these features is asymmetric headlights; others are engraved engine numbers, side lights, and reflector strips. It is advisable to have asymmetric lights factory installed.

The damp, salty air and heavy dew at night make it difficult to start newer cars in the morning. Car covers will help protect against salt corrosion and rust. Air conditioning is useful during the hot summers.

Auto repair in general, and even the smallest replacement parts, can be quite expensive. One should be prepared with a supply of spare replacement parts. Windshield wipers, antennas, and side mirrors have disappeared from cars parked in Tel Aviv.

With few exceptions, the roads in Israel are good. Driving is on the right, and traffic signs follow international, rather than American, practice. Most street signs are printed in Hebrew, English, and Arabic.


Israel has a countrywide, government-owned dial telephone network. Although it is a modern and growing system, a shortage of long-distance lines, especially to Jerusalem, can make dialing outside Tel Aviv frustrating. International calls are easily made through an operator and are usually clearer than calls placed locally. Satellite-telephone relay equipment connects with most parts of the world, except the Arab countries.

Mail facilities are good. Reliable cable service exists to all but the Arab countries.

Israel Broadcasting Authority, the government radio network, broadcasts on several standard AM and FM frequencies. Newscasts in English and French can be heard in the early morning, early afternoon, and mid-evening, and in Spanish early morning and evening. In addition, Radio Cyprus, Voice of America (VOA), and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) are received on AM. Shortwave reception is spotty. Local broadcasting includes American and European popular and classical music, as well as Hebrew and Arabic programs. Classical music is also aired on a special FM stereo station.

The national television network airs a number of English-language programs originating from the U.S., England, and Canada. At a moderate expense, an antenna can be rigged to receive TV broadcasts from the Amman (Jordan) station, which also has several English-language programs. In addition, a special antenna can be purchased which will receive broadcasts of Middle East Television (MET), which telecasts Monday Night Football and other U.S. sports programs one week late, and a number of American reruns. MET, transmitting from southern Lebanon, has an evening news program in English.

Reception of one Israeli and two Jordanian stations is good in Tel Aviv and its suburbs. American comedy shows are frequently shown, as are both old and fairly recent films in English. One of the Jordanian stations presents nightly news in English and French. Both Israeli and Jordanian TV operate on the European PAL system625 lines, 50 cycles. Most programs are in color.

Receivers purchased in the U.S. work on the American system and, if color, on NTSC. They will not operate in Israel without adaptation. This can be done locally, but it is expensive and not always satisfactory.

The Jerusalem Post, a small independent daily newspaper, is an English-language paper in Israel. It covers most significant events concerning Israel, but is lacking in world news. Through an arrangement with the New York Times, the Post prints in its Monday edition the previous day's "News of the Week in Review" section of The Times. Local dailies are also available in Arabic, Yiddish, Hungarian, Polish, Bulgarian, Rumanian, German, and French. Several Hebrew-language papers (Ha'aretz is the leading daily) are sold, including two in easy Hebrew for new immigrants. No papers are published on Saturdays or Jewish holidays. The International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today arrive one day late. Major European newspapers are also available with short delays.

Many major American periodicals are available at local newsstands; prices are double those in the U.S. Subscriptions by surface mail arrive irregularly in four to eight weeks. International editions of Time and Newsweek reach Tel Aviv within a day or two of publication, but subscription-copy delivery of air editions is slower. Bookstores are surprisingly few and carry limited stocks of English-language books other than current best-sellers.


Israel has one of the world's highest ratios of medical doctors per patient. Physicians are extremely competent and well trained. English-speaking medical specialists in every field, dentists, oculists, and opticians are available. Most hospitals have laboratories, diagnostic clinics, obstetrical services, and other modern facilities.

The majority of hospitals in Israel are good, but crowded, with a somewhat lower standard of housekeeping and auxiliary services than found in the U.S. Medical fees differ slightly from those in the U.S. American women who have given birth in Tel Aviv believe hospital maternity facilities rank favorably with American facilities.

The numerous reliable and well-stocked city pharmacies are usually closed between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., but a rotating duty pharmacy is open weekends and holidays.

Community health conditions in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are generally much better than in other Middle Eastern cities. Jerusalem, including the bazaar or suq area, is one of the cleanest cities in the Middle East.

Municipal health controls are satisfactory. The water is safe to drink; public cleanliness, sewage, and garbage disposal are good. As in most tropical climates, insects in homes are not uncommon, especially in kitchens and pantry areas. The problem is most acute during summer, but insect-repellent shelving paper and other defensive weapons are available. During the summer months, flour and cake mixes, etc., should be stored in a cool area or refrigerator to prevent weevil infestation.

Tel Aviv has the usual contagious and communicable diseases, but none present a major problem. Amoebic dysentery and infectious hepatitis exist, but to a lesser degree than in other countries in the area. Fungus infections are frequent. Those allergic to dust, molds, and pollens may have trouble at times, and some people find the long, humid summers debilitating.

Israel requires no immunization for entry into the country; however, typhoid, tetanus, and gamma globulin shots are recommended.

Clothing and Services

Clothing worn in the Middle Atlantic States of the U.S. during spring, summer, and fall is suitable for Israel. The climate is hot and humid six to eight months of the year, making a large wardrobe of washable summer clothes advisable. Sportswear, shorts, sleeveless shirts and blouses, beachwear, and sneakers are appropriate.

In winter, houses are chilly and tile floors are cold. A good raincoat, an ample supply of sweaters and shawls, an umbrella, and boots are important. Occasionally, woolen hats and gloves are needed in winter.

While most types of clothing are available, they are expensive; many visitors purchase clothes (especially for children) through catalogues. Israeli shoes, made with European lasts, will not fit narrow feet, but shoes imported from Europe, especially Italy, are easily purchased, although at high prices. Sandals are a local specialty.

American men find that life in Israel is quite informal, and the open-neck shirt is predominant among Israelis in daily business. Formal wear is occasionally needed, but a dark business suit can be readily substituted. Topcoats and medium-weight suits are sufficient for winter.

Israel is famous for its women's leather coats and jackets, and for colorful hand-embroidered dresses and blouses. Street-length dresses are the most popular for evening wear, but long dresses, skirts, and caftans are also useful. Gloves and hats are unnecessary. A medium-weight coat is needed for winter; a fur stole may be useful for special winter events, but a fur coat is not.

Clothing for children of all ages is costly. Children's shoes come in only two widths. Families assigned to Israel are advised to provide a sufficiently large wardrobe for each member initially, and to rely heavily on mail orders from the U.S. for future purchases. Tel Aviv's salt air and humidity are hard on clothes and shoes.

Most basic services are available in the cities. There are reasonably priced beauty salons, some of them excellent, in the neighborhoods, but salons in the larger hotels charge high rates. Dressmakers and tailors are fairly expensive; workmanship ranges from very good to only fair. Many good laundries and dry cleaners are availableagain, with high prices.

Some American cosmetics are manufactured by Israeli subsidiaries of U.S. firms, but local pharmacies, although well-stocked, do not carry American brands.

In The Walled City of Jerusalem, many interesting items can be purchased. Among them are copper and brass pitchers, pots, and trays; olive-wood products; and various knickknacks.

Domestic Help

Experienced domestic help is available, especially in Tel Aviv, and wages compare to those in the U.S. Most foreign residents rely on part-time help, although a few families (those with official or business responsibilities) have one or two full-time domestics. Baby-sitting is done by teenagers, but it is possible to find au pair girls or mothers' helpers full time. Bartenders and waiters can be hired for evening functions.


Due to ongoing military activity in the west Bank and Gaza, the Department of State warns against travel to Israel. The situation in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza is very volatile, with potential for terrorist attacks, confrontations, and clashes. Travelers should exercise extreme caution and remain in close contact with the American Embassy in Tel Aviv.

The normal travel routes from the U.S. to Israel are by air, direct from New York to Tel Aviv, or via a stopover in Paris or Rome. Travelers arriving in Tel Aviv may proceed to Jerusalem by bus or sherut (group taxi).

No visas are required in tourist passports, but are issued at time of entry. Bearers of diplomatic and official passports must have Israeli visas before entering the country. No immunization is required, although typhoid, tetanus, and gamma globulin shots are recommended.

Cats and dogs must have certificates of rabies inoculation. Other animals are admitted at the discretion of the veterinary officer, usually after a two-week quarantine (no quarantine in Jerusalem).

Only the following nonautomatic firearms can be brought to Israel: . 22 rifles (1); and 12 or 20 gauge shotguns (1). One hundred rounds of ammunition (600 for shotguns) are allowed. Updated information is available from the Office of Export Control, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, DC.

The time in Israel is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus two.

The Israeli shekel (IS) is the unit of currency. The shekel continues to fluctuate against an international "basket" of currencies, making it inadvisable to maintain large shekel accounts. Certain shops accept foreign currency but, in general, business transactions are made in Israeli currency.

The metric system of weights and measures is normally used. An exception is the dunam (one-quarter acre or one-tenth hectare), a land measure which dates back to Ottoman times.


Synagogues abound throughout Israel. Several churches are found in Yafo (Jaffa): St. Anthony's and St. Peter's (Roman Catholic); the Greek Orthodox; the Anglican (Episcopal); the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian); and Immanuel Church (Lutheran). Christian worship services in English (ecumenical, Anglican, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic) are conducted every Sunday in Herzlia Pituach in private homes; a Mormon congregation meets Saturdays in Herzlia Pituach. A Baptist mission near Petach Tikva is about a 20-minute drive from Tel Aviv. A Christian Science group meets Sundays in Tel Aviv's Hilton Hotel.

Jerusalem probably has the world's highest per capita number of churches, synagogues, and mosques. Many buildings have historical, religious, and architectural significance. The Old City has Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Coptic patriarchates, and an Anglican church presided over by an archbishop. There are also bishoprics of the Syrian Orthodox and various Uniate churches and a large Lutheran church. Other denominations represented include Scottish Presbyterian, Baptist, and smaller fundamentalist Christian groups. Jewish congregations cover the full range from Reform to ultra-Orthodox. Most of the city's Muslims are Sunni.

Opportunities to share in religious services of all faiths are frequent and include quiet, weekly observances as well as feast and holy days. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim observances attract wide participation by the faithful, and many services are open to the general public.


Jan. 1New Year's Day

Jan/Feb.Tu B'Shevat*



Apr/MayIsraeli Independence Day*

Apr/MayYom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day)*

Apr/MayYom Hazikaron (Soldier's Memorial Day)*

Apr/MayYom Ha Atzmaut (Independence Day)

* Apr/MayLag B'Omer*

May/JuneYom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day)*


July/AugTisha B'Av*

Sept/Oct.Rosh Hashana (New Year) *

Sept/Oct.Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)*

Sept/OctSukkot (Feast of Tabernacles)*

Sept/Oct.Simhat Torah (Rejoicing the Law)*


*variable, based on the Hebrew lunar calendar


The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country.

Ben-Tor, Ammon, ed. The Archaeology of Ancient Israel. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

Benvenisti, Meron. Conflicts and Contradictions: Israel, the Arabs, and the West Bank. New York: Shapolsky Pubs., 1990.

Bickerton, Ian J., and Carla Klaus-ner. A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1990.

Canaan, Garson. Rebuilding the Land of Israel. Stamford, CT: Architectural Book Publishing Co., 1991.

Canby, Courtlandt. Guide to the Archaeological Sites of Israel, Egypt, and North Africa. New York: Facts on File, 1990.

Fodor's Israel. New York: McKay, latest edition.

Kamel, Mohammed I. The Camp David Accords: A Testimony. New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, 1986.

Keren, Michael. The Pen and the Sword: Israeli Intellectuals and the Building of the Nation-State. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1989.

Leonard, Carol S., et al. Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinians: From Camp David to Intifada. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

Rivlin, Paul. The Israeli Economy. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992.

Tilbury, Neil. Israel: A Travel Survival Kit. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 1989.

Uris, Leon. Exodus. New York: Doubleday, 1957 (available in paperback, Bantam).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: State of Israel
Region: Middle East
Population: 5,842,454
Language(s): Hebrew, Arabic, English
Literacy Rate: 95%
Compulsory Schooling: 11 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 7.6%
Libraries: 1,180
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 631,916
  Secondary: 541,737
  Higher: 198,766
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 98%
  Secondary: 88%
  Higher: 41%
Female Enrollment Rate: Secondary: 87%

History & Background

The history of the Israeli educational system reflects a consistent need to address diversity of population, conflicting points of view, and varying needs, while adhering to essential principles of excellence in curriculum and student development. The State of Israel was founded on May 15, 1948, under the auspices of the United Nations, ending a long period of British Mandate. During the past half century, Israel has fought a number of wars with neighboring countries.

Immigrants have reshaped Israeli society and its educational needs and system. Although Jews have been in Israel for centuries, settlement of the modern state has occurred through six major waves of immigration. The first of these in the late nineteenth century included mostly Jews from eastern Europe, followed by a largely Russian group who went to Israel following the 1905 Russian Revolution, and the pogroms in Russia. These immigrants were particularly interested in establishing a collective and collaborative society, thus, they were the force behind the formation of kibbutzim, or collective settlements.

The first third of the twentieth century also brought additional Jews from Europe, particularly following World War I, as antisemitism there escalated. This immigration was supported by Britain's Balfour Declaration in 1917, which committed Britain to help create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Britain received a mandate from the League of Nations in 1923 to govern Palestine, further enhancing immigration. However, Arab residents of the area resisted the growing immigration pattern and the British then attempted to limit the numbers of immigrants.

Large numbers of German Jews arrived in Israel in the period immediately preceding World War II, as many sought to escape the Nazi regime and its persecution of Jews. These immigrants were generally wealthier than most of those who moved to Israel before them, and so brought capital, trade, and industry. Modern Israel has considerable ethnic diversity, because current inhabitants consist of both Ashkenazim (i.e., Jews from European countries), and Sephardim (i.e., Jews from the Mediterranean, Africa, and other parts of the Middle East). Additional immigration from a variety of source countries followed the war, particularly after the independence of the state of Israel in 1948. The last major wave of immigrants arrived in the early 1990s, coming from Russia and Ethiopia.

Contemporary Israel is a country of about 8,000 square miles and almost 6 million people. More than 80 percent of the population is Jewish, though they are not homogeneously religious. The rest of the population consists of other groups, mostly Arab. There is a separate Arabic educational system, in which Arabic is the language of instruction.

In addition to the capital city of Jerusalem, there are four other major cities: Tel Aviv, Haifa, Holon, and Petach Tikva. The government, headed by a Prime Minister, is a parliamentary democracy, with leadership in the Knesset (Parliament) achieved through a coalition of various parties and factions. Elections are held every four years unless the government is dissolved and elections occur sooner.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The formation of the educational system of Israel has come about through a series of laws setting up the system and making changes within it to address diversity issues and problems. It is a highly centralized system, overseen by the Ministry of Education, and Culture and Sport, including separate schools for the Arab and Druze segments of the population. The school system has two major goals: providing equal educational opportunities to all segments of the population, and integrating the large numbers and varied groups of immigrants into the country and the culture.

The basic arrangement of primary and secondary schools and a variety of institutions of higher education, both academic and vocational, has been in place for most of the twentieth century. In addition, the laws provided structure for compulsory education and unified some aspects of the curriculum. Five major pieces of legislation have contributed to the formation of modern Israeli education, along with a variety of other regulations adopted by the Knesset. In 1949, the Compulsory Education Law provided free and required primary education for children between the ages of 5 and 13, requiring 1 year of kindergarten and 8 years of primary school. It was later amended to expand the program to children beginning at age 3.

Subsequently, the government has extended compulsory education through grade 10 and offered free public education through grade 12. Schools may be state schools or state religious schools, as provided for in 1953, through the State Education Law. Among the state schools are the Arab state schools that use Arabic as the language of instruction. This law also allows for nonstate education, mostly through private religious schools, both Orthodox Jewish schools and Christian schools of various denominations.

In 1958, the Council for Higher Education Law centralized and formalized higher education in Israel through the creation of the Council for Higher Education, the central authority for all forms of higher education. It is chaired by the Minister of Education and Culture. The Council oversees the funding, planning, accreditation, degree offerings, academic freedom, and levels of autonomy for all institutions of higher education in the country.

In 1968, the School Reform Act revised the structure of the education system. This Act was intended to replace the eight years of primary education and four years of secondary education with a new structure. As a result of the change, students have six years of primary education, three years of junior high school or intermediate education, and three years of high school. For various sociopolitical reasons, the new structure has only been partially implemented, so that some students still receive the eight-year primary education before moving to grade 9 in junior high (Iram and Schmida). A second goal of the Reform Act was to provide a secondary education for all, partly through expansion of vocational education. There was also a greater need for vocational training in the areas of technology, mechanics, and related areas (Iram and Schmida).

In 1990, the Long School Day Law extended the school day to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for schools where students were doing inferior work in comparison to students in other parts of Israel. The extended hours made it possible for the schools to provide additional small-group instruction, particularly in Hebrew and in mathematics, to help students learn more effectively.

Educational SystemOverview

There are four levels of education in Israel, beginning with a preprimary or nursery school level and continuing through primary and secondary levels to higher education of several different types. Free and compulsory education begins with two years of nursery school starting at age three, and a year of kindergarten at age five. The addition of two years of nursery school was instituted with a change to the Compulsory Education Law in 1984 (Iram and Schmida). Also the primary school years are free and compulsory (grades 1-8). Since about 1963, grades 9 and 10 have also been free and compulsory. Secondary education continues through grade 12 and is free, though not compulsory.

There are three types of high schools: the academic high school prepares students for higher education and culminates in a matriculation certificate; the vocational technical high school prepares students for technical or practical careers in engineering and other fields; and the comprehensive high school offers both types of programs. At the postsecondary level, there are training institutions of several different kinds, offering preparation for primary school teaching, nursing, and other technical and semiprofessional careers. There are seven universities offering bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. degrees. Admission to a university requires that students pass the bagrut, or national matriculation examination.

The academic year runs from September through July, 6 days per week, with about 35 hours per week devoted to school. The language of instruction in Jewish schools is Hebrew; the Arab schools use Arabic. All students study English beginning in the primary school years, either in grade 5 or grade 6. Several strategies have been used to support computer use in the schools, beginning in 1998 with the installation of computers into virtually all primary schools across the country (Schramm). The second step is intended to assist with connections to the Internet and to in-service training for teachers.

The curriculum throughout the Israeli educational system is highly standardized and centralized through the Ministry of Education and Culture. The Ministry over-sees all levels including higher education; the latter is controlled by the Council for Higher Education. The curriculum addresses the diversity of the population in a number of different ways above and beyond the basic divisions among the state and state-religious schools and private schools.

Preprimary & Primary Education

The preprimary educational program developed from the traditional Jewish Heder (translated from Hebrew as room), a form of early childhood education common among Jews in the Middle Ages. In the Heder, boys from age 3 to 13 would study Hebrew and learn religion from a single teacher. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Israeli schools had begun to develop kindergarten and nursery school programs consistent with modern concepts of early child development. These programs entail general preparation for school in three areas: social skills, Hebrew language and cultural study, and some academic preparation for reading and writing. The goal of both nursery school and kindergarten is to help unify the country by offering equal educational opportunities to all students and to help improve children's chances of success in all their education.

The primary school system ranges from six to eight years, depending on whether a particular school has changed from the old (eight/four) pattern of longer primary and shorter secondary schooling to the newer one (six/six). Historically, prior to Israel's independence as a country, there were several competing approaches to primary education. The chief difference among these approaches concerned the amount of time devoted to religious studies as opposed to secular subjects. A secondary issue concerned the use of Hebrew as the language of instruction, a matter settled by the end of World War I with the widespread use of modern Hebrew as the language of instruction in the schools. The State Education Law of 1953 created the configuration of state or state-religious schools, and private religious schools.

The primary schools address issues that arise from the diverse population of Israel and its large immigrant groups. The dual goals of equality of opportunity and integration into Israeli society provide the focus of instruction in the primary school system. Failure to achieve these goals created a need for major reform of the educational system. The reform began in 1968 with the School Reform Act. Parental involvement in the schools has also shifted over time, with some parents seeking a greater degree of choice in terms of their children's enrollment in a particular school. Parents also sought control over curriculum, requesting enrichment in both creative and academic areas. By the 1990s, some specialized schools with enhanced curricula had begun to develop as a result of parental involvement. There was also significant opposition to such arrangements by other Israelis and by professional educator groups, because they were perceived as giving rise to segregated schools and to an elitist form of education; thus, the government provided no additional support for them.

The curriculum of the primary schools is set by the Ministry of Education and Culture. It includes the usual school academic subjects: science, math, geography, history, and so forth. In all schools, students also study the Bible and Talmud (Jewish tradition), with more time allocated to these subjects in the state religious schools than in the state schools. In language study, children are taught Hebrew language and literature, because among immigrant groups Hebrew may not be the native language. The study of English as a first foreign language is required beginning in grade 5 or grade 6, though in a few schools French is required in place of or in addition to English (Bentwich). Two other areas included in the curriculum are manual training (woodwork or metalwork for boys, domestic science for girls, and agriculture for all) and social education (current affairs, proper behavior, respect for property, etc.). There are additional co-curricular activities such as field trips and clubs to give students opportunities for social education; co-curricular activities thus address the goal of helping immigrants become integrated into Israeli society.

Students generally proceed together through the education system as part of a cohesive group. Each school year, they are not rearranged into different classes, but instead, stay together with the same group through their entire education. Considerable emphasis is placed on making sure that everyone stays with the group (i.e., remediation for slower students as necessary); less emphasis is given to enhancing opportunities for the more able students.

This strategy is used deliberately as a form of preparation for compulsory military service for all Israelis at the age of 18. When young people enter the military, they are already part of a unit with others they have known for many years, creating a sense of equality, community, and mutual responsibility. Once in the army, they will function more effectively as a unit. In addition, and of necessity, primary schools in Israel provide instruction for all students in how to respond to a security emergency (Garfinkle).

Primary education is widespread. It provides students with basic instruction in conventional school subjects, languages, and religious studies while it builds group cohesion. The diversity that is the result of Israel's immigrant population is addressed through the curriculum and supplemental activities, allowing new citizens to be integrated into the society through equality of opportunity within the educational system.

Secondary Education

Prior to Israel's independence and in the first years of its existence as a country, secondary education was funded by tuition and was not mandatory. Following the educational reforms of 1968, all students were required to attend school through grade 10 and there were no tuition charges. These changes came about as a result of a perceived failure of the schools to provide equal opportunity, especially for disadvantaged students, and as a result of the failure of the schools to assist with the integration of the various immigrant groups into Israeli society. Another aspect of the educational reform of 1968 was to abolish a previously used screening test that identified students who qualified for the academic high school. Primary school students were then able to move to one of the three forms of secondary education without any selection process.

The academic high school consists of a three or four year program of study that prepares students to take the Bagrut exam (which translates from Hebrew as matriculation); passing this examination is required for admission to any university in Israel. The curriculum of the academic high schools is highly structured and focused on the subjects and skills needed to perform well on the matriculation examination. The examination system has been revised a number of times and in a number of ways, including changes to the numbers of subjects on which students are examined, the use of term papers in some subjects in place of formal written tests, and the use of varied levels of achievement on the exams instead of a simple pass-fail system. Despite its disadvantages and problems, the system remains in place and is considered to be the highest standard for academic educational achievement. Students who succeed in the academic high school are those most likely to go on to a university and be successful members of Israeli society.

A second type of high school program is vocational in nature. Like the academic high school, students complete a three or four year program of study that prepares them for semiprofessional careers in electronics, other technological areas, practical engineering, data processing, and so on. Because of changes in technology resulting from the development of computers, a special committee recommended substantive changes to vocational education to the Ministry of Education and Culture in 1992 (Iram and Schmida). The proposals include a broader preparation in science, a more academic curriculum to prepare for the matriculation examination, and a general focus on technology for all students.

The third type of high school program is centered in the comprehensive high schools. These schools have developed over time and through a series of reforms and modifications to their structure and curriculum. The present configuration consists of a six-year program of study, including both junior high and high school, and is most commonly found in the new towns and settlements rather than in the major cities of Israel. In these schools, both academic and vocational programs of study are offered, and they are considered to be equal in value. The student population is more heterogeneous, supporting the integrative function of the schools in Israeli society more generally. The comprehensive schools make a concerted effort to prepare all students to pass matriculation exams successfully, regardless of their chosen curricula.

Language & Literacy Issues: Israel's educational system has taken a unique approach to language and literacy learning that arises at least partly from the history of the country and from the history of Hebrew as a language. The development of modern Hebrew results from the efforts of one man to transform the language of rabbis and scholars from a language of prayer and sacred text to a living language suitable for a growing country. Eliezer Perlman, who adopted Ben-Yehuda as his last name, a Russian Jewish immigrant and philologist, took it upon himself to revive Hebrew. In 1881, Ben-Yehuda and his wife emigrated to Palestine; Ben-Yehuda felt that the absence of a national language there was an important problem pertinent to the development of a national sense of identity. Arabic, Turkish, French, Russian, and other languages were used by various groups within the region of Palestine, but no one language was widely used. Ben-Yehuda thus resolved to help develop Hebrew as the national language.

Besides the absence of a national language in Palestine, there were two other problems that contributed to Ben-Yehuda's work. In the developing Jewish community within Palestine, Hebrew was used as the common language among Jewish immigrants from a variety of countries. It was apparently not used in a reduced, pidgin form, because these speakers could use the full form of the language, but it was not yet exactly a common language because it was not being used as the language of government, business, and education. In addition, Hebrew was the ancient language of the region and so had a kind of authority enjoyed by no other language spoken in the region.

Linguistically, the problem with Hebrew was not in the syntax or sentence structure, but in the vocabulary. The syntax did change some as the language was revived, with Ben-Yehuda changing the basic structure of simple sentences so that they began with a verb rather than the subject, following the syntactic pattern of Arabic. The phonology and orthography were also acceptable, though there were some irregularities in the spelling system that Ben-Yehuda tried to address with mixed success. The major need, though, was for a greatly expanded vocabulary that would allow speakers to discuss contemporary issues and various aspects of modern life. By the end of World War I, Hebrew had become the predominant language in Palestine and it would be important in the founding of the independent state as well, including a specific role in the educational system.

Ben-Yehuda was not an educator, but a writer and editor of small newspapers and other publications. His major strategy for enhancing and updating the vocabulary of Hebrew was to research the Semitic roots of words and use those roots to create contemporary forms. In 1904, Ben-Yehuda published the first volume of what would ultimately be a 17-volume comprehensive dictionary of Hebrew (Sachar 83). In order to spread the newly created language, though, Ben-Yehuda needed the help of the educational system in Israel. With intensive efforts he achieved ultimate success.

The various waves of immigration brought speakers of many different languages. The schools they established or attended used the native language of the local immigrant group, German, Russian, and so on. Many of the immigrants spoke Yiddish and it, too, was used in the schools in some places. By 1903, there was a Hebrew Teachers' Association, supporting teachers across the country who wanted to use Hebrew as the language of instruction in the schools. Zionist settlers began using Hebrew exclusively in their schools.

A crisis over the language issue was prompted by the development of the first institution of higher education, the Technion, in Haifa. The Technion's origin was supported by donations from Russian and German sources prior to its official founding, and overseen by German administrators who wanted, naturally, to use German as the language of instruction. Moreover, German had a full vocabulary for dealing with technical subjects, whereas Hebrew's vocabulary was still quite limited. Zionist settlers were dissatisfied, and Ben-Yehuda was infuriated by this move. The Hebrew Teachers' Association went on strike over the issue, and ultimately, the directors of the Technion agreed in 1914 that all courses would be taught in Hebrew (Sachar). By the time of the 1916 census, 40 percent of the population spoke modern Hebrew as their first language (Sachar). The schools and the teachers played a key role in establishing Hebrew as the national language and language of instruction in the schools of Israel.

In modern Israel, Hebrew is the language of instruction and English or French is the required second language in all schools, beginning in the primary years (grade 5 or 6). Literacy rates are very high in Israel; the World Almanac estimates the literacy rate at about 96 percent as of 2001. There are large numbers of publications of all kinds, including more than 24 daily newspapers and many periodicals, mostly in Hebrew (Sachar). Book publishers and libraries abound in the country.

For the purposes of supporting new immigrants and fostering their integration into Israeli culture and society, there are a number of ulpanim or intensive Hebrew language schools. Although there are fewer such schools now than in the late 1970s when immigration to Israel was very high, these programs still offer intensive study of Hebrew, either for six months in a day program or for a year in a less intensive evening program. An ulpan may also be offered on a kibbutz, in combination with a work program or as part of an overall longer residential resettlement program for new immigrants.

Vocational Education: The picture of vocational education in Israel is quite complex, both in terms of the development of the system and its position in the overall educational system. In general, the goal of vocational education is like the goal of the education system overall: to offer equality of opportunity while addressing diverse needs in the population, and in the economy. The complexity of the situation is further reflected in a general trend toward more academic education for all students and a trend away from vocational training of any kind in the schools.

The vocational schools have a mixed sponsorship and an assortment of different configurations in their programming. Some schools are sponsored by voluntary organizations such as the Organization of Labor and Vocation (ORT) or the Women's Organization for Israel and Torah (Amit). Others are sponsored by the cities or by the government. Although the curriculum is under the control of the Ministry of Education and Culture, some programs are overseen by the Ministry of Labor and Welfare. There are also the comprehensive high schools within the state system, which offer vocational programs in combination with more traditional academic programs.

There are four different arrangements of vocational programs. The first of these leads to the matriculation exams and certificate described above, with qualifications in technological subjects. Students who successfully complete the matriculation exams of this kind are eligible for higher education. A second arrangement leads to a final certificate and trade diploma. Students who complete this course are then qualified to work in their specialized field. A practical vocational course comprises the third plan; this type of study leads to certification by the Ministry of Labor and Welfare. The last possibility is a "guidance" course for the least able student population. The most sophisticated technological training is available only to the students in the higher levels of the system. Increasing numbers of students have been enrolling at this higher level of study and very few students now enroll at the lower levels.

In addition to these varied arrangements within the regular secondary education program, there are part-time vocational schools. These are closer to an in-service kind of program, offering practical occupational training without the academic preparation. A different approach is offered by the industrial schools, jointly run by the government and individual industries. The courses of study in the industrial schools provide a form of on-the-job training but lead to certificates at three levels: technical, regular, and practical tracks.

The net impact of the vocational system has been to separate the more academically talented students, who are generally of European/Ashkenazic background from the Oriental/Sephardic students who tend to be less talented academically and less capable as students, according to Daniel Elazar. At the same time, offering universal secondary education opened the door to greater equity of treatment of the two groups, giving rise to the expanded curricula that lead to the matriculation exams and opened the possibility of higher education to this segment of the population. Increasingly, students with vocational interests are enrolling in comprehensive high schools where vocational and academic preparation are combined; these programs enable more students to succeed in the matriculation examinations and then to proceed to higher education.

The vocational education offered in Israel continues to struggle with the various competing needs of students and society, attempting to offer a variety of kinds of programs and situations to respond to changing needs.

Arab Education/Multicultural Issues:

Arab Education: One of the key problems facing Israel's educational system is addressing the needs of its Arab students. On the whole, the schools that Arabs attend are not as good as those that Jewish students attend in Israel, resulting in fewer students in the preschool and kindergarten classes, lower overall attendance rates, and fewer graduates. According to Schramm, the enrollment of Arabs in the twelfth grade is 57.8 percent compared to an 87.5 percent enrollment among Jews. Arab education is one area where Israel has not met the needs of a diverse population very effectively. Although the government has made some effort to improve the Arab schools, they lack services considered routine in Jewish schools such as psychological counseling and routine medical services, extracurricular activities of various kinds, library facilities, and additional instruction in reading.

Part of the difficulty with Arab education lies in the teaching staff. The teachers in Arab schools are not nearly as well trained as those in Jewish schools. Their preparation was generally shorter than that of Jewish teachers. The teacher training institutions for Arab teachers did not have as high a level of expertise as the Jewish teachers' colleges. One result of these weaknesses has been that there has been a teacher shortage in the Arab schools. The weakness in teachers and their training plays out in the schools, in that the student/teacher ratio is higher than it is in Jewish schools and Arab schools are also larger in terms of total enrollment than Jewish schools.

Another aspect of the difficulty in Arab schools has to do with relationships within the school itself. Teachers have absolute authority, so that students seldom express views different from those of their teachers. The teachers are locked into an authoritarian hierarchical structure, supervised by inspectors who ultimately report of the Ministry of Education and Culture. Teachers have little incentive for creativity because of the controlled structure in which they work. Their relationship outside of school to a hamula (Arab kinship group) may affect their work. The tensions between or among different kinship groups of this kind also sometimes carry over into the schools and impinge on teachers' effectiveness.

The Arab schools underwent major curriculum review and reform from the mid-1970s to about 1990. Among the changes put into place were additional attention to Arabic language and literature along with Hebrew language and literature, study of the history of the state as well as its culture, and more focus on religious studies including the history of Islam and its key beliefs. However, Arab education still falls far behind Jewish education in Israel and requires additional reform and improvement.

Multicultural issues: The Arab group within Israel is not the only significant group in the total population. As a result of the various waves of immigration both before and after Israel's independence, its society is highly diverse in terms of culture, ethnicity, and national origins. The schools are the major resource for integration of these diverse groups into Israeli society, particularly through the teaching of Hebrew and through the mandatory curriculum followed in the primary schools. Since the early 1980s, the school system has taken a multicultural approach to fostering integration of diverse groups.

Presently, the schools focus on trying to find common ground between Jews of the Orient and Jews from the West, between religious and nonreligious Jews of various types, and between Arabs and Jews. Although promoting integration and unity, school programs also support individual preferences and recognition of each distinct group's contribution to the society. Parents have also been granted the right to choose schools for their children, and some distinctive schools that offer specific experimental or diverse curricula are available.

As with the Arab schools, some problems persist. The government has attempted to address some of the difficulties through additional funding, focused in part on bringing Oriental Jews' socioeconomic conditions closer to those of European and Ashkenazi Jews. Neighborhood renovation projects and additional funding for the schools have been only partly successful in addressing the persistent inequities between these groups. Efforts to address the differences between the religious, and notably the ultraorthodox groups and nonreligious Jews have also been problematic. One example of the kinds of problems that persist is reflected in the continuing use of ability grouping in the junior high school level; this strategy resegregates classes, a move contrary to the goal of building an equal and cohesive group of students. Thus, as in the Arab schools, much work remains to be done.

Higher Education

Higher education in Israel consists of universities, other degree-granting institutions, teacher-training institutions, regional colleges, and academic institutions from abroad that offer programs but confer degrees in their country of origin. The universities have an independent legal status as mentioned previously, under the administration of the Council for Higher Education.

There are seven major universities in Israel. The first three of these were founded before Israel's independence as a nation in 1948, including the Technion or Israel Institute of Technology founded in 1924 in Haifa, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, founded in 1925, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot founded in 1934. Since 1948, four other institutions have been established: Bar-Ilan University in 1955, Tel Aviv University in 1956, Haifa University in 1963, and Ben-Gurion University in 1969 (Iram and Schmida).

In addition to the universities, there are other types of higher education in Israel, including an Open University, teachers' colleges, vocational institutions, and other tertiary educational institutions. The universities form a separate and distinct category from the "other" institutions. The distinctions are made in terms of the degrees offered by the various institutions and in terms of how each type of institution is funded. Thus, the seven universities grant bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in a variety of areas, including humanities, social sciences, law, medicine, engineering, and so on. They are funded exclusively by the Council of Higher Education.

The Open University offers only the bachelor's degree in humanities, social sciences, mathematics, and natural sciences. It operates under the authority of the Council for Higher Education and, according to the Council, enrolls more than 30,000 students (Schramm). The programs include individual study through written textbooks and other media, or alternatively, group study. Under the individual study approach, students work on materials as convenient and attend tutorial sessions every three weeks at centers located throughout the country. Under the group study approach, students do a considerable amount of work on their own using Open University texts and materials, but also attend weekly meetings at regional and municipal colleges or at sites associated with the seven major universities. The Open University draws students from every age group and sector of the population.

The Open University also offers college-level courses to students still in high school. A program approved by the Ministry of Education and Culture in 1999 allows high school students to enroll for university courses leading to an advanced high school diploma (Watzman). The additional work yields college credit and will demonstrate a student's ability to do college work. For this reason, advanced courses through the Open University may be used in place of the national Bagrut examinations for college admission. An important advantage to this program is that courses from the Open University do not require computer access as they are completed through special materials and telephone connections or the periodic meetings described above. Thus, these courses are available to everyone and offer equal opportunities to students regardless of their socioeconomic background. Moreover, there is financial aid available to high school students for enrollment in Open University classes, both through the Ministry of Education and Culture and through private foundations supporting the program.

The rest of the nonuniversity category, in addition to the Open University, includes seven institutions of higher education that award professional bachelor's degrees. There are also nine teachers' colleges, accredited by the Council for Higher Education, that offer the bachelor's degree in education. These two types of institutions are funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, like the state and state-religious schools at the primary and secondary levels. Finally, there are 11 regional colleges supervised by the Ministry and the Council for Higher Education.

These regional institutions offer bachelor's degrees in particular areas of study. Their academic offerings are the parts of their programs supervised by the Council. They are intended to be centers for adult and continuing education and are part of an attempt to make higher education more accessible to the entire population of Israel. They are funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, by local authorities, and by the Ministry of the Interior. From outside the country, there are extension programs offered by at least three institutions under the auspices of the Council for Higher Education. These programs award degrees outside Israel and are not essentially part of the national system of higher education.

The whole of the Israeli system of higher education cannot be easily compared to the systems of most western countries because of the nature of the student population and because the way programs are structured. Most students attend an institution of higher education after they serve in the military immediately following the completion of secondary education; the compulsory military service entails a term of three years for men and two years for women. As a result, typical undergraduates at colleges and universities in Israel are in their 20s. Almost half the population in this age range enrolls in some kind of higher education, a higher rate than that of many developed countries according to Iram and Schmida.

The structure of the programs also makes comparison difficult. Most bachelor's degree programs require three years of study and involve study in two departments selected by the students, providing they are admissible by department criteria. Professional studies in fields such as law and medicine begin immediately in the undergraduate program and require three to five years for completion, with the master's degree requiring three additional years, and the Ph.D. three years beyond that. Students seeking doctoral degrees typically plan their own programs of research and study.

There are a number of changes occurring in the system of higher education in Israel, focusing on the key issues confronting the other levels of education: equality of opportunity, excellence, and diversity. On the one hand, the goal is provide high quality of education and to have a structure that is efficient and effective. Both internal and external reviews have suggested the need for reform and rethinking of programs, as well as changes to the funding structure and control by the government. On the other hand, the goal of higher education in Israel is to make advanced education available to as much of the population as possible, a shift from a view of higher education as properly "elite" to a more egalitarian view of universal access to postsecondary education. This newer view requires changes in the government's role in higher education, the types of institutions that exist or that can be started and supported, and the amount of autonomy various institutions might have within the system. A number of proposals to address both goals are under discussion.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

The diversity of Israel's educational system is further reflected in its overall structure and financing, which allows for centralized leadership and structure balanced by some aspects of local control. Thus, the Ministry of Education and Culture establishes the curriculum, oversees most aspects of the system of state and state-religious schools, and pays teacher salaries. Local authorities supervise buildings, equipment, and maintenance, and can impose a local tax for particular services they provide.

The local authorities provide some financing; they also enforce the compulsory education law. They see to the construction and maintenance of school buildings. They also provide equipment and whatever support services are needed. The state does not impose an education tax, though local authorities may do so. Israel spent 7 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on education in 1999 (Schramm).

The Ministry divides its work into two parts: a pedagogical secretariat that controls the curriculum and policies and that supervises the system, and a pedagogical administration that implements policy for teachers and staff, students, and that deals with buildings and financial matters. The structure is tied to the various levels within the overall system: preprimary, primary, secondary, and higher education. In addition, the country is divided into six regions and a nationwide rural region for the purposes of overall administration.

Nonformal Education

Nonformal education includes both activities outside of school programs and unrelated to them, and those sponsored by the schools in addition to regular instruction, for instance, extracurricular activities. Israel's informal education outside of the schools consists mainly of the youth movements sponsored by the various political parties. These youth groups are funded and supported by the parties who provide the national leadership that keeps them unified. These are not educational groups in the academic sense, but do encourage knowledge of national and international issues as well as political ideology. Youth who join are usually older children and teens. The youth movements offer a variety of activities and programs including games and sports, arts activities, and social events. Some movements also offer academic support programs for students who need help with school work. There are some nonpolitical youth movements along with other informal educational programs targeting youth who get in trouble with the law, those with special health needs, and similar groups.

Extracurricular activities are sponsored by the schools to offer students enrichment beyond the academic curriculum. These activities allow students to develop their interests and talents in areas beyond academic subjects. The activities offered do not presume any political affiliation; their unstructured nature offers students opportunities to excel in areas other than the strictly academic ones offered in the formal school programs. There are clubs for arts, entertainment, student councils or committees, newspapers, and yearbooks.

According to Cohen and Schmida, the schools' programs of "complementary education" were developed to address the increasing diversity of the student body after the founding of the state of Israel. In addition, the schools developed informal programs as part of their overall goal of helping large numbers of immigrants feel comfortable in Israeli society. A variety of different agencies within the Ministry of Education and Culture oversee the programs that are offered in conjunction with the schools.

With respect to distance learning, the major developments in Israel have been in higher education. Bar-Ilan University offers courses through its Virtual Jewish University via the Internet. These courses are part of the regular credit offerings at Bar-Ilan, but are also open to students around the world through the World Wide Web. Bar-Ilan is working to also offer these courses through universities in both the United States and Canada.

The Open University has been the other main source of distance learning in Israel, offering courses through computer connections since 1994, according to Sopova. The Open University uses satellite connections, video systems, and computers to offer courses across Israel. Its course materials are developed by faculty of the Open University and other institutions, and its regional or local study centers are located in public schools across the country, making it a highly cost-effective and efficient system. The further advantage of distance education of this kind that makes use of interactive computer technology (chat rooms, bulletin boards, and other similar devices) is that it allows students in various countries and across otherwise closed borders to meet and exchange ideas, albeit in a virtual setting.

Teaching Profession

Teachers in the state schools are generally trained in teachers' colleges. The state hires and supervises primary school teachers, while at the secondary level, teachers may be hired by the state, by local authorities, or by public agencies. All teachers are supervised by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Teachers in the state-religious schools are supervised by the state's religious council. Increasing numbers of teachers at the preschool level have certification through training programs at the teachers' colleges. Relatively few teachers lack certification at the primary level and beyond.


Despite the clear goals for education established by Israel's founders, the system has not been very successful in achieving either the high level of excellence in curricular achievement or the full integration of a diverse population into a cohesive society. There are still strong divisions between Ashkenazi and Sephardic segments of the population, between religious and nonreligious Jews, and between Jews and non-Jews. There are also increasing differences and tensions across socioeconomic classes as Israeli society becomes more segregated and socially stratified. Widespread agreement within a pluralistic and democratic society has been difficult to achieve. Although the central Ministry of Education and Culture has responsibility for all the schools, local authorities, more responsive to needs of particular groups, do not always comply with Ministry programs and reforms.

The difficulties are particularly clear with respect to vocational education. In vocational education, there are competing needs: first, to serve a population of students who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and who are not strong students; second, to provide a solid academic preparation in addition to vocational training; and third, to prepare students to work in a variety of settings in the absence of on-the-job training in Israeli industry. These competing needs have resulted in greater distinctions and separations among groups, rather than greater integration. The system of tracking students into vocational or academic education has not promoted the greater social integration that is the overall goal of the education system. A number of recommendations have been made for reform of the vocational system, including moving all vocational training to business and industry, allowing the schools to focus on academic preparation of students.

One set of developments in the educational system in Israel is a byproduct of the work of a committee appointed by the government and chaired by Professor Aliza Shenhar of Haifa University. The committee was established in 1991 in response to two general trends observed in the matriculation examinations and subsequent studies of university students; the trends entailed, first, a decreasing number of students taking exams in any area of Jewish studies, and second, a similar declining number of students preparing to teach in these subject areas. The committee is referred to as the Shenhar Committee after its chair. It was broadly constituted, including people from all levels of the education system as well as those outside it, providing a range of viewpoints. The findings and report of the committee, entitled "A Nation and the World: Jewish Culture in a Changing World," were presented to the government in 1994.

According to Walter Ackerman (Making Jews, 1997), the report makes recommendations that address the fundamental goals of Israeli education. In particular, it suggests new curricula in four areas: Jewish culture in a universal context, Hebrew, Zionism, and study of the land of Israel. In making these recommendations, the report supports the key concepts of identity, pluralism, interdisciplinary study, and culture. Among other developments, the report has spawned changes within the Ministry of Education and Culture and in new programs offered by outside groups, including interaction with Jewish studies departments of universities, development of Internet sites, and connections between Israeli schools and other Jewish schools worldwide. There is also now an ongoing in-service program for teachers in the area of Jewish studies through a center established in 1995. The report and changes in curriculum seem also to have changed student behavior, resulting in larger numbers of students preparing for Jewish studies subjects in the matriculation exams and then enrolling in courses in Jewish studies at universities.

Further changes are difficult to predict because of Israel's internal and external political situation. Within the government, internal changes in the coalitions of parties holding a majority in the Knesset (parliament) inevitably have an impact on the Ministry of Education and Culture. Frequent changes in leadership lead to changes in programs. Externally, until Israel makes peace with its neighbors, there will always be a threat to its overall security. Educational goals are necessarily affected by the pressures of external forces. In general, the diverse demands of immigration, ethnicity, socialization, and religion all compete for attention in the educational system in the primary and secondary schools.

In higher education, some of these problems also exist. However, one general trend that is clear is that increasing numbers of Israeli students are going on to some form of higher education. According to Iram and Schmida, 90 percent of students were attending through grade 12 in high school. Increasing numbers of these students take the Bagrut exams; the percentage of such students eligible for college has also been growing. In response to this trend, Israel has been creating a system of regional colleges to cope with the growing demand for higher education. There were 22 such colleges in 1999, according to Schramm. Many students also attend foreign universities awarding academic degrees in Israel. These trends all contribute to the increasing democratization of higher education, enhancing the equality of education, one of the key goals of the system.


Ackerman, Walter. "Making Jews: An Enduring Challenge in Israeli Education." Israel Studies 2 (Fall, 1997): 1-20.

Bentwich, Joseph S. Education in Israel. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1965.

Cohen, Burton, and Mirjam Schmida. "Informal Education in Israel and North America." Journal of Jewish Education 63 (Winter/Spring, 1997): 50-58.

Council for Higher Education in Israel. Higher Education in Israel: A Guide for Overseas Students. 5th ed. Jerusalem: Committee for Overseas Students, Planning and Budget Committee, Council for Higher Education, 1991.

Eisenstadt, Shmuel N. Israeli Society. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1967.

Elazar, Daniel J. "Education in a Society at a Crossroads: An Historical Perspective on Israeli Schooling." Israel Studies 2 (Fall, 1997): 40-65.

Garfinkle, Adam. Politics and Society in Modern Israel: Myths and Realities. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1997.

Iram, Yaacov, and Mirjam Schmida. The Educational System of Israel. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Metz, Helen Chapin, ed. Israel: A Country Study, 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1990.

Sachar, Howard M. A History of Israel from the Rise of Zionism to Our Time. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1996.

Schramm, Lenn, ed. "Education." Israel Yearbook and Almanac 53 (1999): 128-134.

Sopova, Jasmina. "Distance Education in the High-Tech Era." UNESCO Courier 4 (April, 1996): 27-28.

Watzman, Haim. "Israeli Colleges Will Begin Using an Alternative to National Admissions Tests." Chronicle of Higher Education 46 (21 January 2000): A 53.

. "A Virtual Jewish-studies Program Attracts Students of Many Faiths." Chronicle of Higher Education 46 (28 April 2000): A 51.

Alice S. Horning

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State of Israel

Medinat Yisrael

Dawlat Israel



Israel, a country slightly smaller than the U.S. state of New Jersey, is located in the Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea for a length of 273 kilometers (168 miles). In the south and southwest, it borders the Gulf of Aqaba and the Sinai Peninsula, occupied in the war of June 1967 and returned to Egypt in April 1982. To the east, it shares a 238-kilo-meter (147-mile) borderline with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and 307 kilometers (189 miles) with the Palestinian Autonomous Area on the western shore of the Jordan river. In the north, Israel shares 79 kilometers (49 miles) of borders with Lebanon, and with Syria for 76 kilometers (47 miles) on the disputed Golan Heights.

The "Gaza Strip," a small piece of territory running some 40 kilometers (25 miles) along the Mediterranean coast, has been under limited jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) since 1994 and may eventually form a part of a single Palestinian entity, together with the Palestinian Autonomous Area in the West Bank. The territories which were occupied after the war of June 1967 are not recognized as forming part of the State of Israel, although it seems unlikely that Israel will reverse its annexation of East Jerusalem. Control over the Old City, which is the Jews' principle holy site, the Wailing Wall, and the Muslims' holy mount, the Haram al-Sharif with the al-Aqsa mosque, is heavily disputed.


Israel's population was estimated to total 5.85 million in July 2000. This number includes about 171,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank; about 20,000 in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights; about 6,500 in the Gaza Strip; and about 172,000 in East Jerusalem. The country's population is heavily concentrated along the coastal strip, with about 75 percent of the Jewish inhabitants and around 60 percent of the non-Jewish population located between Ashkelon and Nahariya. In 1997, the Tel Aviv district had almost 1.2 million inhabitants, accounting for some 20 percent of total population. Jerusalem (Yerushalayim in Hebrew and al-Quds in Arabic) counted 633,700 inhabitants, in 1998. Haifa (Hefa) is the largest city in the north with some 265,000 inhabitants. Of the total population, 91 percent are defined as urban, that is resident in localities with more than 2,000 inhabitants. Around 80 percent of Israel's population is Jewish of which 40 percent were born abroad, mostly European or American-born (1.2 million citizens), and 60 percent (2.8 million citizens) were Israeli-born Jews. The 20 percent of non-Jewish Israeli citizens are mostly of Arab origin.

There are 2 main Jewish communities, the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim. The former are the Jews from Eastern, Central, and Northern Europe, while the latter originate from the Balkan countries, North Africa, and the Middle East. There are around 15 percent Muslims and some 2 percent Christians and 2 percent Druze. Israel is also home to the Bahai community's principal sanctuary in Haifa.

Hebrew is the official language and Arabic is officially used for the Arab minority. English is the most commonly used foreign language. Ultra-orthodox Jews, who refuse to converse in the holy language of Hebrew, and elder Eastern European immigrants speak Yiddish. Due to the diversity of the immigrant population, most Israelis are multilingual.

After the Diaspora (the dispersion of Jews from their homeland) for nearly 2000 years, aliyas or waves of immigration started bringing Jews to what had once been Israel in the last decades of the 19th century, driven by the idea of establishing a Jewish national homestead in their biblical land. From the early 1920s, the Jewish population in Palestine increased more than sevenfold, from only 80,000 to 600,000 in 1948, when the State of Israel was declared. In the first 20 years of the state's existence, between 1948 and 1972, the country's population quadrupled.


Once a traditional economy based mainly on agriculture, light industry and labor intensive production, Israel was until the 1990s described as the "most socialist economy of any nation outside of the Eastern bloc". High growth, second only to Japan in the period 1922-73, was achieved through a highly centralized, state-driven economic policy, making Israel a world record-holder in high taxes, foreign debt , and finally inflation , which reached triple digit levels from 1977 to 1984.

Since a national unity government first began implementing measures of stabilization and reform in 1985, Israel's economy has been transformed from a highly state-centered one to a mixed economy focused on high-tech and exports. The influx of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union topped 750,000 between 1989 and 1999, bringing the population of Israel from the former Soviet Union to 1 million, one-sixth of the total population, and adding scientific and professional expertise of substantial value for the economy's future. The influx, coupled with the opening of new markets at the end of the Cold War, and the onset of the Middle East peace process, energized Israel's economy, which grew rapidly in the 1990s, despite a slight setback during 1997 to 1999. Capitalizing on the country's human resource potential, the government instituted economic reforms and new policies that have created a global high technology powerhouse in such industries as semiconductors, computer software, telecommunications, and biomedical equipment. The dramatic growth of Israel's high tech sector in recent years has led to a shortage of qualified workers and a significant rise in salaries for these positions.

In the 1990s, Israel enjoyed a remarkable economic expansion that brought new levels of prosperity and a significant increase in purchasing power. With economic growth averaging nearly 6 percent between 1990 and 1996, Israel's economy expanded by some 40 percent in real terms, and per capita income jumped from US$11,000 to almost US$17,000. The slowdown in economic growth between 1997 and 1999 was generally attributed to the waning of the stimulative effects of the immigration waves, such as for residential construction and new business investment, high interest rates, and much tighter fiscal policy in this period. A further reason was increased political and security uncertainty due to a lack of progress in the peace process. In 2000, Israel's GDP per capita was US$17,500higher than in Spain or New Zealand.

Both major parties, the currently ruling Likud under Ariel Sharon and the Labor party, are committed to further liberalizing the economy, strengthening exports and attracting further foreign investments, mainly in the high-tech sectors, and to keeping the macroeconomic environment stable. Despite moving gradually toward a more open, competitive, and market-orientated economy over the past decade, the level of government involvement in the economy remains high, as do the public's expectations for government assistance. The country's infrastructure network remains publicly owned, as does much of the banking system. However, the pace of privatization has quickened in recent years.


Israel is a parliamentary democracy. The president, who has ceremonial function, is elected by the Knesset, a unicameral parliament, for a 5-year term. Moshe Katzav, member of the Likud party and of Persian origin, was elected president in 2000. Since the May 1996 election, the prime minister is elected directly by a separate universal vote. The minimum voting age is 18. The prime minister since 2001 is Ariel Sharon, who took over from Ehud Barak. The latter had failed to achieve an agreement with the Palestinian National Authority at Camp David and could not meet the Israeli public security expectations in the early phase of the second intifada or uprising. Apart from Ehud Barak, the 1990s saw a number of prime ministers come and go. Benyamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Shamir, and the much-loved Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995 by an ultra-orthodox Jew frustrated by rapprochements with the Palestinians, have held the office in the last decade.

The State of Israel was declared on 14 May 1948, its political leadership emerging from the Jewish Agency. Its chairman, David Ben Gurion, became the first prime minister and is considered the father figure of the state. For decades the country was dominated by the Labor Party (though under changing names) first under Ben Gurion, then under other leaders, and the Histadrut, Israel's General Federation of Labor. The 2 institutions formed a quasi-socialist system with large state welfare provisions. The first change of the ruling party came as a surprise in 1977, when the Likud Party, under Menachem Begin, won the largest share of seats.

With 5 wars fought since the inception of Israel with its Arab neighbors the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have at any stage played an important role. Virtually all leading statesmen in Israel had senior positions in the IDF before coming to office. A permanent peace settlement seemed possible for the first time when President Sadat of Egypt visited Jerusalem in 1977 and addressed the Israeli parliament. A year later at Camp David under the guidance of President Carter, Begin and Sadat agreed on a peace treaty that was finally signed in March 1979. Until today, though, a comprehensive peace agreement with all Arab neighbors has not been struck and the problem of a Palestinian entity has not been resolved.

The Israeli Parliament, known as the Knesset, consists of 120 members elected to 4-year terms, although the prime minister has the option to call for new elections before the end of the term, or the prime minister's government can fall on a vote of no-confidence in the Knesset. A total of 11 political parties are currently represented in the 16th Knesset. The political spectrum includes the Hadash Party, a left-wing umbrella group, including the Communist Party and other Marxist factions that is made up of both Arab and Jewish citizens; the left-wing Meretz Party; the center-left and chief opposition Labor Party; the new centrist Third Way Party; the ruling right-center Likud Party; the religious parties (National Religious Party, Shas, and United Torah Judaism); and the rightist Moledet. Yisrael B'Aliya is a centrist party focused on the rights of Russian immigrants. The United Arab List, a combination of the Democratic Arab Party and representatives of Israel's Islamic Movement, is a defender of the rights of Arab citizens.

After the failed talks between Palestinians and Israelis at Camp David the ongoing second intifada began in September 2000. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict over land and the status of Jerusalem remains a crucial issue. Israel had benefitted considerably from the onset of the Middle East peace process, and its economic success depends at least to some degree on political stability. Since the 1993 signing of the Declaration of Principles on Palestinian self-rule, the future status of Jerusalem and the continuing expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank have emerged as 2 of the most critical issues affecting the peace process. The ongoing intifada was triggered when Ariel Sharon, as prime minister, paid a highly disputed visit to the Muslim holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Old City, within the walls of which are found the ancient quarters of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Armenians, has a population of some 25,500 Arabs and 2,600 Jews. In addition there are some 600 recent Jewish settlers in the Arab quarter. It is highly unlikely, though, that any Israeli government will give up control, gained in 1967, over East Jerusalem and the Old City, in particular.


Israel's infrastructure is modern and well developed. To cope with its growing population and to improve the functioning of the economy, Israel is making large investments to upgrade its infrastructure. Major projects include the construction of a new terminal at Ben Gurion International Airport; a tunnel through Mt. Carmel to provide a bypass route around Haifa; the Cross-Israel Highway, a major north-south artery; and mass transit systems planned for Jerusalem, Beer Sheva, and the Tel Aviv region.


Israel has a total of almost 16,000 kilometers (9,942 miles) of paved roads, including 56 kilometers (35 miles) of expressways. The main highway runs along the Mediterranean coast, linking the north (Haifa) and the center (Tel Aviv). The second major link between Tel Aviv-Jerusalem causes major problems. Due to little space for the construction of new roads, the 45-minute-drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem takes about 3 hours during rush hours. Part of the old Beirut-Jerusalem railway connection runs from Nahariya via Haifa to Tel Aviv. The route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is not in use anymore. The importance of trains especially in passenger transportation is overshadowed by the government-owned Egged bus company, which operates the second largest bus system in the world after Greyhound. Freight traffic consists of grain, phosphates, potash, containers, petroleum, and building materials. Rail service serves Haifa and Ashdod ports and extends to Eilat port. Haifa and Ashdod on the Mediterranean Sea coast are the main ports in Israel. The port of Eilat is Israel's gateway to the Red Sea. In 1997, Israel's merchant fleet consisted of 55 vessels. There are 2 international airports in Israel, Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion airport and Eilat airport. Plans to merge the airports of Eilat and of the neighboring Jordanian city of Aqaba did not materialize. An international airport in the Gaza strip in operation since 2000 but currently largely dysfunctional due to security problems.


The Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) has completed a US$10 billion investment program in 2000, which has boosted the country's generating capacity from 8,000 megawatts to about 12,000 megawatts. The country's plants almost entirely run on fossil fuels; no nuclear power plants are in operation. Israel is preparing for the availability of natural gas by planning a natural gas distribution network. Local authorities are searching for solutions to environmental problems related to municipal solid waste and wastewater treatment. The first international tender for a waste-to-energy plant was issued in January 1998. Development of regional sanitary landfills, a national air pollution monitoring system, and municipal wastewater treatment plants, even in outlying regions of the country, are indicative of a growing awareness of environmental issues.


Israel is one of the world leaders in mobile communications. There are currently 3 major Israeli cellular mobile network providers, as well as a Palestinian company and almost as many cell phones in use as main lines. In 1999, there were 2.8 million land-lines and 2.5 million mobile users. The Israeli telephone

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations b Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Israel 2.8 M (1999) 2.5 M (1999) AM 23; FM 15; shortwave 2 3.07 M 17 (1995) 1.69 M 21 1 M
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
Saudi Arabia 3.1 M (1998) 1 M (1998) AM 43; FM 31; shortwave 2 6.25 M 117 5.1 M 42 (2001) 400,000 (2001)
Jordan 403,000 11,500 (1995) AM 6; FM 5; shortwave 1 (1999) 1.66 M 20 (1995) 500,000 5 87,500
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

system, no longer monopolized by the government-owned Bezek company but open to competition, is the most highly developed system in the Middle East, with a good system of coaxial cable and microwave radio delay. All systems are digital. In addition to telephony providers, Israel has now at least 21 ISPs, a figure constantly increasing.

Israelis are radio listeners: There were 3.07 million radios in the country in 1997, compared to 1.69 million televisions. Given the importance of news and information, people commonly listen to the news at work; bus drivers usually turn up the volume to allow passengers to listen to the news. Since 1999, there has been a digital TV station in operation, which has also drawn a large number of subscribers.


Once strongly based on agriculture and low-cost industrial production for the domestic market, the country has undergone major structural changes, shifting to a modern export-oriented economy. In recent years, it has been the high-tech sector that has grown most substantially. Agriculture contributed 4 percent to the GDP in 1999, while industry accounted for 37 percent, and services for 59 percent.


The agricultural sector is fairly small, accounting for 3.5 percent of the GDP in 2000 and employing 2.6 percent of the labor force . Nonetheless, Israel is largely self-sufficient in foodstuffs lacking only in grains, oils, and fats. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the area under cultivation has increased. Currently, the cultivated area totals 4.2 million dunams (4 dunams equal 1 acre) about 50 percent of which are irrigated crops. The main factor limiting agricultural development is not land but the availability of water. With several years of water shortages in summer the further development of Israel's agriculture will involve raising the yield of existing land and recycling wastewater. Revenues in the agricultural sector amounted to around US$4 billion in recent years. The main categories are livestock and poultry, vegetables, fruits, flowers and field products.

A special feature of Israel's agriculture that has gained a great deal of international attention is its cooperative settlements. For centuries, Jews in the Diaspora were barred from owning land; therefore, the Zionist movement saw land settlement as one of the chief objectives of Jewish colonization. There are 2 basic forms of settlements, the moshav and the kibbutz, both developed to meet the needs and challenges encountered by a farming community new to its professions and its sometimes hostile surroundings. The moshav works on the principal of a co-operative with individual farms of equal size with every farmer working his own land to the best of his ability. The farmer's economic and social security is ensured by the cooperative structure of the village which handles marketing his products, purchasing farm equipment, and providing credit and other services. In 1998, a total of 455 moshavim existed, inhabited by 180,000 people. The kibbutz is a collective settlement of a unique form, based on common ownership of resources and the pooling of labor, income, and expenditure. Every member is to work to the best of his ability. He is not paid any wage but is supplied with all the goods and services he needs. The kibbutz is, therefore, based on voluntary action and mutual liability, equal rights for all members, and it assumes for them full material responsibility. In 1998, the 268 kibbutzim were inhabited by around 120,000 people.


Israel's industry was originally designed to cater to a domestic market. It was to supply such basic commodities as soap, vegetable oil and margarine, bread, ice, printing, and electricity. It used raw materials available locally to produce goods as canned vegetables and fruit, cement, glass, and bricks. In order to save foreign exchange, imports of processed goods were curtailed, giving the local industry the opportunity of adding local value to the manufacturing process of products imported from abroad. Although most of Israel's industrial production is still for domestic consumption, the country's economy is far more export-oriented. Higher valued processed goods (excluding diamonds), especially electronics and high-tech related, currently constitute 90 percent of total exports. There has been a heavy expansion in export-oriented industries as a result of government tax and investment incentive schemes.


The Dead Sea area, a land depression bordering Jordan, which contains potash, bromides, magnesium, and other salts in high concentration, is the country's chief source of mineral wealth. The large potash works on the southern shore of the Dead Sea are linked by road to Beer Sheva from which a railway runs northward.

Lacking large-scale resources of fuel and power, Israel is forced to import more than 90 percent of its energy requirements. Petroleum constitutes around 8 percent of all goods imports. The main sources of the annual crude oil requirements of around 50 million barrels are Egypt, Mexico, and Norway. Around 30 percent of requirements are purchased on the spot market. Most imported crude oil is refined at the Haifa oil refinery, which has a capacity of more than 6 million tons a year. Output of natural gas from the Dead Sea area is transported through a pipeline to the Dead Sea potash works and to towns in the Negev desert and a large phosphate plant. Production totaled 21.5 million cubic meters in 1994.


The total value of Israeli exports has risen: US$18 million in 1950, US$780 million in 1971, and almost US$21 billion by 2000. The greatest expansion has taken place in the electronics industry with Israel specializing in defense-related and communication equipment, software, and network equipment. The value of exports of this sector and of metals and machinery has grown from US$12.8 million in 1970 to US$9.5 billion in 1999 and by an incredible 40 percent to US$13.3 billion in the strong export year of 2000.

Israel's single most important industrial export product is cut and polished diamonds. The diamond trading and processing industry has traditionally been a Jewish stronghold. Expertise and trading contacts were brought to Israel by immigrants from the Netherlands and Belgium, home to the world's largest diamond trading center, Antwerp. Israel's specialty is medium-sized diamonds which controls approximately 75 percent of the world market in this segment. Annual exports grew from US$4.6 billion in 1995 to US$5.7 billion in 1999 and jumped to US$6.8 billion in 2000.



Israel and the surrounding countries, also known as the Holy Land, are the sites of biblical history. David's mountaintop capital, Jerusalem, is holy to the world's 3 monotheistic religions. Nearby in the West Bank lies Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus. But Israel is also an attractive destination for hiking, desert trips, diving, or relaxing in one of the Dead Sea spas.

Tourism is the industry most severely affected by the security downslide caused by the ongoing Palestinian uprising. Since October 2000 tourism has declined by 45 percent in comparison to the peak in the quarter immediately preceding the intifada. Experience has shown that tourists take many months to return after the end of unrest. With no improvement of the security situation in sight the sector is unlikely to recover in 2002. Since the end of the Gulf War visitor numbers had been on the rise. While in 1990 only 1.1 million tourist visas were issued, this number continuously increased to 2.3 million in 1999, according to Israel's Ministry of Tourism. Tourist receipts totaled US$2.77 billion in 1996 and reached US$3 billion in 1999.


Israel possesses a highly developed banking system, consisting of a central bank, the Bank of Israel, 14 commercial banks, 5 mortgage banks, and other financial institutions. Bank groups, namely Bank Leumi group, Bank Hapoalim, and Israel Discount Bank, are at the core of the industrial complex and hold 92 percent of the total assets of the banking system. Once owned by the Histadrut, the all-powerful General Federation of Labor, they had to be bailed out by the government during an economic crisis in the early 1980s. Since then, they have been quasi-government owned, but there are plans for privatization. A law inhibiting banks to own more than 10 percent of industrial holding companies , introduced to prevent another structural crisis, has not been enforced strictly.

In 1997, the Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) adopted an automated trading system leading to lower transaction costs. The then ongoing peace process and flourishing high-tech industries have since strongly attracted foreign investors. The real value of stocks traded in TASE increased by 59 percent during 1999. In 2000, 681 companies were listed on the TASE. The turnover was US$58.7 billion in 2000. In October 2000, Israel's Securities Authority adopted a dual listing regulation, allowing for Israeli companies that are traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and Nasdaq to trade on the TASE without additional regulatory requirements. This measure enables Israeli and foreign investors to trade in these shares at convenient hours, and at low costs. Nevertheless, the general slump, especially in the high-tech shares, has affected the TASE, too. The combined effects of the economic downturn and security uncertainties will have to be monitored. Investment in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, acquisitions of Israeli companies, and equity flotation by Israeli companies on foreign stock markets, principally New York, have brought billions of dollars in new capital to Israel in recent years, primarily though not exclusively to its high technology industries.


Until the 1990s, high tariffs and strong non-tariff barriers characterized Israel's trade policy, and several barriers are still in place in particular with regard to processed food and agricultural products. Israel has free trade agreements with the European Union (since 1975), the United States (signed in 1985, fully effective since 1995), the European Free Trade Association (EFTA, effective since 1993), Canada (1997), and Turkey and has concluded bilateral agreements with a number of other states. Israel is the sole country in the world to have both European Union and U.S. free trade agreements. In June 2000 an association agreement between the EU and Israel came into force. In line with WTO regulations, Israel gradually began exposing the domestic market to foreign imports since September 1991. This process allowed administrative limitations on imports from third countries to be canceled, imposed higher rates of customs tariffs that since have been reduced, according to their degree of influence on local production, and allowed Israeli industry time to adjust to competition. The

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Israel
Exports Imports
1975 1.941 5.997
1980 5.540 9.784
1985 6.267 9.875
1990 11.576 16.791
1995 19.046 29.579
1998 23.286 29.342
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

final stage of this process came to an end in September 2000, when tariff rates reached a maximum range of 8 percent to 12 percent.

Israel's main exports are manufactured goods and software, which accounted for 97 percent of total exports (excluding diamonds, ships and aircraft) in 2000. Agricultural exports accounted for 3 percent in 2000, compared to 16.5 percent in 1970, illustrating the depth of Israel's structural changes. The share of Israel's information communication technology exports as a percentage of exports of services is substantially high. In 1997, this share (20.1 percent) was second only to Japan (24 percent), and much higher than the OECD average, which was 12.5 percent. The United States alone absorbs more than a third (41.2 percent) of Israel's exports. Other important destinations include the European Union (27.3 percent), of which Belgium (6 percent), Germany (4.8 percent), and United Kingdom (4.3 percent) dominate; and Asia (18.5 percent), of which Japan (2.7 percent) dominates, according to Central Bureau of Statistics 2000 figures. The change in Israel's exports between 1999 and 2000 indicate that the growth rate of traditional manufacturing exports increased slightly, whereas it increased dramatically in the high-tech industries.

The geopolitical situation that has prevailed in the Middle East, since the inception of Israel, has prevented trade between Israel and its neighbors. Furthermore, the difference in the level of development and production structure between Israel and its neighbors made Europe and the United States her main trading partner. In 2000, the United States and the EU accounted for 32 percent and 30 percent, respectively, of Israel's exports and for 22 percent and 41 percent of its imports. In 2000, exports for the United States (excluding diamonds) totaled US$21.7 billion, constituting an increase of 23.3 percent in Israel's exports. Within the EU, Israel's largest export markets were Germany (21 percent), the United Kingdom (18 percent), The Netherlands and Italy (both 11 percent), and France (10 percent). Exports to Asia (excluding diamonds) increased from 12 percent in 1998 to 16 percent in 1999.

Israel has traditionally run a large external trade deficit , meaning that imports exceeded exports. Israel's imports have always exceeded its exports because of the Jewish state's dependence on raw materials. In addition, Israel imports military equipment, investment goods, rough diamonds, fuels, and consumer goods , mainly from the United States (18.6 percent), Belgium (9.9 percent), Germany (7.5 percent), the United Kingdom (7.6 percent), Italy (4.8 percent), and Japan (3.3 percent), according to 2000 figures. The cost of Israel's imports has largely been offset by cash grants from the U.S. government and charitable organizations and individuals abroad. The EU accounted for 67 percent of Israel's 2000 trade deficit, and Asia accounted for 15 percent. The trade balance with the United States was positive.


Israel's fiscal policy has focused on reducing the state's intervention in the economy and improving Israel's fiscal stance, namely, reducing the budgetary deficit as a percentage of the GDP and the government's debt relative to the GDP. The reduction of the deficit law was drafted in 1991 for the fiscal year 1992 and for the years to come. The law sets a maximum level for the budget deficit . Indeed, the budget deficit as a percentage of the GDP decreased from 4.9 percent in 1990 to 0.6 percent in 2000. However, Israel's ratio of government debt to the GDP still remains high compared to European countries. The internal debt, as a percentage of the GDP was reduced from 104 percent in 1989 to 70 percent in 2000; the external debt decreased from 39 percent in 1990 to 24 percent in 2000. Both the political right and the political left are committed to a sound fiscal policy. Since 1985 the Israeli government has not been allowed to borrow from the Bank of Israel and has had to finance its debt by issuing bonds. The Israeli government issues bonds in Israel, as well as in the United States, Europe, and the Far East.

The end of the disinflation process in Israel, which began with the 1985 Economic Stabilization Program, is aimed for 2003. Israel's inflation rate was cut from a worrying 444.9 percent annual inflation in 1984 to 18 percent in the late 1980s. Currently, the country has virtually reached price stability with inflation down to 1 percent in 2000. The inflation rate in the past 2 years has been consistently under the inflation target and is one of the lowest in the developed world.


Though Israel has a strong social record, as in most societies, inequality exists in different guises. In 1988, families in the upper 10 percent of household income received 8.4 times the share of the bottom 10 percent; in

Exchange rates: Israel
new Israeli shekels (NIS) per US$1
Dec 2000 4.0810
2000 4.0773
1999 4.1397
1998 3.8001
1997 3.4494
1996 3.1917
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].
GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Israel 10,620 11,412 12,093 13,566 15,978
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Saudi Arabia 9,658 11,553 7,437 7,100 6,516
Jordan 993 1,715 1,824 1,436 1,491
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

1997, the share of the uppermost 10 percent increased to 10.6 times that of the lowest 10 percent. The 20 percent of households with the highest income increased their share of the national wealth while the share of the lower income households decreased. Nevertheless, the economic boom in the early 1990s has left the average Israeli better off. The GDP per capita has increased from US$5,600 in 1980 to US$17,500 in 2000, an increase only exceeded by Singapore and Hong Kong.

However, inequality between Israelis of different ethnic origins is deeply entrenched. The average incomes of Arab citizens of Israel are the lowest and have hardly changed over the last decade. The average income of Israel-born Mizrahi Jews (originating from Africa or Asia) are somewhat higher, increasing over the last decade, but the gaps between their incomes and those of Ashkenazi Jews (originating from Europe or America) did not change. The average incomes of Israel-born Ashkenazis are the highest and increase steadily. In 1997, Israel-born Ashkenazi salaried employees earned 1.6 times more than Israel-born Mizrahi employees and 1.9 times more than Arab employees, according the Central Bureau of Statistics. Israeli society also faces gender inequality, which are stronger among Oriental Jews and Arab Israelis. In 1997, women's monthly wages were, on average, 63 percent those of men. Women's hourly wages were, on average, 83 percent those of men. These figures show an

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Israel
Lowest 10% 2.8
Lowest 20% 6.9
Second 20% 11.4
Third 20% 16.3
Fourth 20% 22.9
Highest 20% 42.5
Highest 10% 26.9
Survey year: 1992
Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].
Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Israel 23 6 11 2 6 8 44
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Saudi Arabia N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Jordan 32 6 17 5 8 8 23
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

improvement over 1993 when women's earnings as a percent of men's was still 58 percent. The fact that many women only work part-time explains some of the gap in monthly earnings. Most salaried Israelis make less than the average wage; in 1996, 62 percent made less than 75 percent of average income. For about one-third of Israelis the labor market does not provide a decent living. Between 1979 and 1990, the proportion of Israeli families with poverty-level wages increased from 27.9 percent to 34.3 percent, according to the National Insurance Institute. This figure remained stable throughout the 1990s.


The Israeli civilian labor force were 2.435 million, or 54 percent of the 4.487 million population aged 15 years and over, in 2000. In Israel the rate of participation in the labor force is low compared to other developed economies. Women's rate of participation in the civilian labor force was 48.2 percent in 2000, as opposed to 60.8 percent for men. In 2 segments of the Israeli society, among Arab Israelis and ultra-orthodox Jews, the rate of participation in the labor force is rather low, especially for women. About 11.5 percent of the labor force in the business sector are foreign workers, of which 46 percent are Palestinians, and the rest are from other countries. Except for the Dead Sea minerals, Israel has almost no natural resources, making human capital the country's catalyst for economic growth and competitiveness. In 1999, about 13 percent of those employed were academic professionals, and 14.6 percent were professionals and technicians. In 1999 about 15 percent of the civilian labor force had 16 years of schooling or more, compared to 1 percent in 1979, indicating a sharp rise in qualified Israeli professionals.

The General Federation of Labor in Israel, usually known as the Histadrut, is the largest voluntary organization in Israel and an important economic body. It is open to all workers, including the self-employed, members of co-operatives and of the liberal professions, as well as housewives, students, pensioners , and the unemployed. The reach of the Histadrut extends to approximately 85 percent of all workers. Dues are between 3.6 and 5.8 percent of wages and cover all its trade union, health insurance, and social service activities. The federation engages in 4 main fields of activity: trade union organization, social services, educational and cultural activities, and economic development.

Israel's labor standards are in line with international regulations and norms. There is a minimum monthly wage, and employees are entitled to social benefits under the comprehensive national insurance, Bituah Le'umi. There is also a state-provided health-care system in place, the so called Kupat Holim. Every male conscript has to serve up to 30 days of army reserve duty every year; employers continue paying their employees' salaries during this time. Israel has a minimum wage law, which is 47.5 percent of the average wage. Sometimes questionable is the enforcement of labor standards with regard to foreign workers, mainly from Eastern Europe and South Asia, as well as Palestinian workers employed in Israel.


70 A.D. After a Jewish uprising against Roman occupation, the Diaspora begins, and Jews emigrate to Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, and North Africa.

1882-1903. First Aliya (large-scale immigration) occurs, mainly from Russia.

1897. First Zionist Congress is convened by Theodor Herzl in Basel, Switzerland; Zionist Organization is founded.

1904-14. Second Aliya occurs, mainly from Russia and Poland.

1909. First kibbutz, Degania, and first modern all-Jewish city, Tel Aviv, are founded.

1917. The Ottoman rule, which has lasted for 400 years, is ended by British conquest; British Foreign Minister Balfour pledges support for establishment of a "Jewish national home in Palestine." (This statement is called the Balfour declaration).

1919-23. Third Aliya occurs, mainly from Russia.

1924-32. Fourth Aliya occurs, mainly from Poland.

1933-39. Fifth Aliya occurs, mainly from Germany.

1936-39. Arab revolt against Jewish immigration.

1947. After World War II and the Holocaust, the UN proposes the establishment of an Arab and a Jewish state in Palestine. The British pledge to end their mandate in 1948.

1948. On 14 May, David Ben Gurion, chairman of the Jewish Agency in the mandate of Palestine, declares the State of Israel. The following day, the armies of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt attack the newborn Jewish State. The War of Independence (Israel) or the "Nakba" (catastrophe) begins and continues in 3 phases until 1949. Israel not only defends itself but increases its territory far beyond the original division plan. To Israelis, this is the miracle of David defeating Goliath; for the Arabs, it means escape and expulsion and the beginning of the refugee Odyssey of the Palestinians, the "Nakba." Peace talks in Cyprus fail.

1956. England, France, and Israel collaborate in a plot to remove Egyptian president Nasser, the hero of the Arab world and one of the leaders of the Non-Alignment movement, and attack Egypt. Under U.S. and Soviet pressure, Israeli troops withdraw, and Nasser claims victory

1967. On 6 June, following misinformation from Soviet observers, tensions suddenly build up and lead to an Israeli "pre-emptive" strike against its Arab neighbors. Within 6 days, Israel defeats all its enemies, among them the entire Egyptian air force before it can even take off, and occupies large amounts of land: in the South, Israel "frees" the Negev and occupies the Sinai peninsula; in the North, the Jewish state captures the strategic Golan Heights; and to the East, Israel occupies the Jordanian West Bank, including Jerusalem. The historic town is immediately declared the "eternal and undivided capital" of the Jewish state. At the same time, Israel becomes an occupation force controlling a large population of Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

1973. A surprise attack by Egypt and Syria gives the Arab states a face-saving "victory" that, in fact, is another defeat in the Yom-Kippur or October War.

1977. The Likud wins the general elections in 1977, introducing a new era in Israeli politics. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat visits Jerusalem and speaks to the Knesset, paving the way for ensuing peace negotiations at Camp David. A peace agreement between Egypt and Israel is signed in 1979.

1982. Israel invades Lebanon and manages to drive the PLO leadership from Beirut to Tunis. Ariel Sharon, the minister of defense and former war hero, single-handedly and somewhat illegally masterminds the invasion as far as Beirut. He has to resign after the invasion and later faces a court charge over a massacre of Palestinian refugees in the camps of Sabra and Shatilla by Israeli-allied Christian militias. In the midst of a deepening economic crisis, a national unity government and reform measures are implemented. Economic deprivation and general dissatisfaction with the Israeli military occupation trigger a Palestinian uprising, the Intifada.

1990. The downfall of the Soviet Union brings almost 1 million new immigrants to Israel. During the Gulf War and the liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation, Iraq fires missiles on Tel Aviv and Haifa.

1992-93. The elections are won by war hero and ex-prime minister, Yitzak Rabin, in 1992. A secret channel leads to direct negotiations between PLO and Israel, resulting in mutual recognition and a Declaration of Principles for the assumption of peace talks, known as the Oslo Accord, presented to the public in Washington, D.C., on 23 September 1993.

1994-95. Israel concludes a peace treaty with Jordan and the Gaza-Jericho (Oslo II) agreement with the Palestinians. After a series of suicide bomb attacks within Israel, Rabin is assassinated on 4 November 1995. Shimon Peres becomes prime minister but loses the elections to Benyamin Netanyahu ("Bibi") who becomes prime minister in May 1996 and opens his reign with the tunnel under Al-Aqsa, leading to violent riots.

2000. Having won the elections against Bibi Netanyahu in June 1999 on a pro-peace platform, Israel's highest-decorated soldier, Ehud Barak, realizes his promise to pull Israeli troops out of South Lebanon within a year. Peace talks with the Palestinians at Camp David fail and the so-called Al-Aqsa Intifada breaks out in September, after a highly controversial visit of the new Likud leader, Ariel Sharon, to the holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.

2001. Ariel Sharon becomes prime minister.


The real key to Israel's economic take-off will be its ability to come to some peaceful accommodation with its immediate Palestinian neighbors and the other countries of the region. As the Peace Process has stalled, so have the bright prospects for economic integration which were supposed to boost the regional demand for Israeli products and services. With a genuine peace in this region, Israel is easily poised to be a significant "engine of growth" for the whole Middle East.

Israel remains well positioned to compete in the knowledge-intensive industries of the 21st century, and its economy has the potential to grow at some 4 to 5 percent per year. Israel's proportion of scientists, engineers, and other skilled personnel in the labor force is high by international standards, and Israeli companies are rapidly developing experience in the business aspects of transforming technology into marketable products and services. Further, the ongoing structural transformation of the economy, especially its shift from traditional to higher-value goods and services, should add to Israel's growth potential in the near future. Finally, structural reforms that will increase the level of competition and reduce the role of the state should add to overall efficiency and productivity.



Since the Oslo Accords in 1993 between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the State of Israel, a Palestinian National Authority has been established and autonomously rules over parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Those territories are Israel's largest market and most important trade partner, with a total population of 2.9 million, of which 1.9 million lived in the West Bank and 1 million in the Gaza Strip in 1997.

With the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israel in the 1967 war, both territories became economically dependent on Israel. By 1987, almost 50 percent of the Gaza Strip's total labor force was employed in Israel. About 90 percent of imports came from Israel, in an involuntary and one-sided customs union. Local trade was concentrated in the hands of a few large-scale wholesalers. As a result, indigenous development did not occur. The Palestinians became increasingly dependent on Israeli wages, imports, and technologies. Industry remained weak, contributing only a small percentage of GDP, employing only a small fraction of the total labor force and remaining limited to small firms that were mainly engaged in subcontracting for Israeli firms of the textiles and clothing industry.

Until 1989, the combined level of the GNP in the Palestinian territories was only 6 percent of Israel's; the combined GDP of the territories was only 5 percent of Israel's, thus indicating the massive inequalities implied in the relationship. The outbreak of the first intifada, or uprising, in 1987, itself the result of the oppressive conditions of life under occupation, worsened the economic situation. The 1991 Gulf War effectively stopped vital remittances , direct aid, and income from wages in Israel, with frequent closures and curfews imposed on the territories. The repeated closures in the context of a deteriorating security situation in 1992 and 1993 led to mass unemployment and impoverishment.

The 1993 beginning of the peace process was hoped to bring remedy. But despite the peace process, employment of Palestinian workers in Israel steadily decreased, and as a result, unemployment soared to 20 percent to 30 percent on average and up to about 50 percent in Gaza. Closures have also contributed to a decline in the GDP, which fell by about 14 percent during 1992-96, while private investment declined by about 60 percent. Poverty has risen substantially. Trade relations have barely changed. Israel has remained Palestine's most important partner, still accounting for about 90 percent of trade. The current second intifada, an expression of the population's dissatisfaction with the peace process, has had devastating effects so far. Unemployment has soared to more than 50 percent, in the case of the Gaza Strip estimates reach figures as high as 80 percent. Billions of dollars of investments have been destroyed, and the little business infrastructure that has existed has been disrupted or destroyed.


Aharoni, Yair. The Israeli Economy: Dreams and Realities. London: Routledge, 1991.

BDO Shlomo Ziv. Doing Business in Israel. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Israel. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

Israeli Ministry of Finance. <>. AccessedSeptember 2001.

Rivlin, Paul. The Israeli Economy. Boulder: Westview Press,1992.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <http://>. Accessed October 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Commercial Guide, FY 1999: Israel. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Ralph Stobwasser

Markus R. Bouillon


Tel Aviv/Jerusalem. Israel proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital in 1950, but most countries, including the United States, have not recognized this internationally disputed move and maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv.


New Israeli Shekel (NIS, named after the currency in use in biblical Israel, was introduced in the late 1980s). Bills include 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 shekels, and there are coins worth 1/2, 1, 5, and 10 shekels. The New Israeli shekel is divided into 100 agorots, of which there are 5, 10, and 20 agorot coins.


Machinery and equipment, software, cut and polished diamonds, chemicals, textiles and apparel, agricultural products.


Raw materials, military equipment, investment goods, rough diamonds, fuels, consumer goods.


US$110.2 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$35.1 billion (f.o.b., 2000). Imports: US$31.5 billion (f.o.b., 2000).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: State of Israel
Region (Map name): Middle East
Population: 5,938,093
Language(s): Hebrew, Arabic, English
Literacy rate: 95.0%
Area: 20,770 sq km
GDP: 110,386 (US$ millions)
Number of Television Stations: 17
Number of Television Sets: 1,690,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 284.6
Number of Cable Subscribers: 1,147,000
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 185.0
Number of Satellite Subscribers: 1,160,000
Satellite Subscribers per 1,000: 195.3
Number of Radio Stations: 40
Number of Radio Receivers: 3,070,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 517.0
Number of Individuals with Computers: 1,590,000
Computers per 1,000: 267.8
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 1,270,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 213.9

Background & General Characteristics

Since the very inception of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, as the culmination of the Zionist movement, there has been virtually no respite from one kind of violence or another between Israelis and neighboring Arab states. Though the state of Israel's creation was mandated by the United Nations, Arab states rejected the arrangement. Wars in 1948, 1967, and 1973 ensued between the newly founded state and its neighbors with Israel winning each time. While Egypt has signed a peace treaty with Israel and other Arab states have recognized its existence as a state, there continues to be no overall peaceful resolution to the differing perspectives. Israel has been embroiled in dispute over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with the former Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)now known as the Palestine Authority (PA)as they have been given semi-autonomous governance in those areas. Within this milieu, access to information and use of technology plays a vital role in the ongoing maintenance of the state.

Country Geography

Israel is located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan directly east and southeast, Egypt to the southwest, and the Red Sea directly south. Its geographical location has placed it in an area where it could not help but make news and it has been performing to capacity ever since opening day in 1948. In fact, as noted by Rami Tal, relative to its size as a nation-state Israel is the largest source of news in the world.

State of the Press

The history of the press begins all the way back in 1863 during the period of the Ottoman Empire, almost a century before the state of Israel existed. Ha-Levanon (founded by Yoel Moshe Salomon, later a founder of the town of Petah Tikva, and Michael Cohen) and Havazzelet (started six months after Ha-Levanon and founded by Rabbi Israel Bak as a voice for the Hassidic movement) were the first Hebrew newspapersweekliesestablished in Israel. Unfortunately, each weekly had a habit of informing the authorities about alleged illegal activities by the other and so the Ottomans shut down both of the papers within a year. Havazzelet, however, reopened in 1870 edited by Bak's son-in-law, Israel-Dov Frumkin, and ran for forty more years through 1911; outlasting many other weeklies attempting to start up and subsequently failing. Havazzelet was an extremely important early activist paper calling for numerous reforms and actions on behalf of the Jews residing in Palestine during that era. For his activism, Frumkin was issued a heremexcommuniction from the orthodox communitybut he continued in his cause. Among his admonitions in Havazzelet were calls for assistance to Russian immigrants fleeing the pogroms of the 1880s, for an ending of the Old Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine) dependence on philanthropic donations from abroad, and for aid for the Yemenite immigrants who were being exploited by Jewish farmers in the region.

Havazzelet offered one other important contribution to the Jewish people in Palestine. In 1882, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda joined the staff of the paper to which he had contributed to as a student in Paris. Ben-Yehuda eventually took over a weekly in 1885, called Hatzvi (Deer), which became Hashkafa (Outlook) in 1901 when the Ottomans gave him a license to publish his own paper, through which he greatly aided the new yishuv and the Zionist cause. However, his most important contribution through Hatzvi was aiding the revival of spoken Hebrew by disseminating new vocabulary through print. His work became so important to the reemergence of spoken Hebrew that he has been labeled the "reviver of the Hebrew language."

The ending of World War I saw considerable change in the press in Palestine. Dailies began to make their appearance, but were sporadic for quite some time. In 1910, Ben-Yehuda founded the first daily paper in Palestine, Ha'or (The Light), edited by his son, Itamar Ben Avi, who returned from working as a journalist in France in order to take up the post. However, only Herut (Freedom), which was initially published as a weekly in 1909 and had become a daily in 1912, continued to appear regularly. However, by 1917, during the administration of Palestine by the British as a League of Nations mandate, people who had been exiled by the Turks returned and the situation for the press began to improve. Dailies and weeklies began to take on more of their modern differentiations. Afternoon dailies began to appear alongside the morning dailies. And already during this period the publishing exodus from Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv was beginning.

By 1925, the political press ran by particular parties, was seeing its beginning with the publication of Davar (Event or Word). The General Federation of Labor (Histadrut) founded Davar and appointed one of its leaders, Berl Katznelson, editor. Due to the work of Katznelson the paper was a large successits Friday literary supplement attracting some of the preeminent poets and writers of the time. Almost all of the papers of the time adhered to the "mouthpiece of a political party" model. Only Hadashot Ha'aretz (News of the Land), subsequently shortened to Ha'aretz (The Land), which was founded in 1919 in Jerusalem and moved to Tel Aviv in 1923, followed a different path (and later also Yediot Aharonot, but it was not founded until 1939). Ha'aretz attempted to be a serious publication advocating a liberal-democratic perspective. Dr. Moshe Glickson was the editor-in-chief during this period until 1937. In 1937, a German-Jewish multimillionaire, Shlomo-Zalman Schocken, a zealous patron of high culture, purchased Ha'aretz. Schocken appointed his son, Gershom (Gustav), editor and this remained the case for the following decades. Ha'aretz is still being published as one of the most respected and influential dailies in Israel and may be accessed on the Internet.

A final historical reflection concerns the inauguration of the rivalry between Yediot Aharonot (The Latest News) and Ma'ariv (Evening Paper) which remains one of the main rivalries of Israeli press in our day. Yediot Aharonot produced the most popular editor and journalist of the time, Azriel Carlebach. In early 1948, about three months before Israel was established as a nation-state, Carlebach staged a "putsch." He left Yediot Aharonot with dozens of reporters, editors, administrative personnel and staff of the printing press to begin Ma'ariv. Ma'ariv was being funded by Oved Ben-Ami (a banker and investor from Netanya). Carlebach thought that Yediot Aharonot would collapse, eliminating competition, but he miscalculated. The owner (Yehuda Mozes) of Yediot Aharonot and his son (Noah Mozes) managed to keep the daily afloat. Thus, with both dailies continuing to operate, there remains huge animosity between them. Somewhat justifiably, Yediot Aharonot seems to be winning the rivalry with weekday circulations at 300,000 compared to weekday circulations of 160,000 for Ma'ariv. Yediot Aharonot became the clear forerunner by circulation in the 1970s, not only above Ma'ariv but also any other daily in the country. It remains undisputedly in the lead as concerns circulation. However, the unexpected death of Yehuda Mozes in a car accident in 1986 has caused internal instability in the paper due to contentions for control among family shareholders. Yet, Aharon Mozes, grandson of the founder and son of Noah Mozes retained control in 2002. Yediot Aharonot maintains a strong editorship tradition by maintaining Moshe Vardi, who studied international relations in London. He is the son of the late Herzl Rosenbloom who was the paper's editor from 1948 to 1986.

Israel far outshines other countries by the manner in which each and every event is reported, analyzed, and reanalyzed. Thus, with Israelis' constant concern to stay in the know for the sake of safety, some of the most intensive event coverage in the world, and a population ranking a 95 percent average literacy rate, there are many of people ready to read, listen, and watch. Israel, despite recent and ongoing increases in radio and television allegiance, still maintains one of the world's highest newspaper readership rates among adult populations.

All newspapers in Israel are privately owned and managed with Tel Aviv being the main publishing nexus. This makes sense when one considers that for all practical purposes it is also the functioning capital. Jerusalem is the actual capital, but most of the embassies are located in the port city of Tel Aviv. Not only is Tel Aviv the main publication center, but all papers are produced in the larger cities. This phenomena has arisen largely owing to various economic reasons including urbanization, employer and employee living concerns, reader base per capita, and relative ease of delivery due to the small size of Israel. Actually, the population is heavily concentrated along the coastal region, with roughly two-thirds inhabiting the area between Nahariyya in the north and Ashqelon in the south. The largest circulation newspapers can drop-ship their newsprint by air to Haifa from Tel-Aviv within one hour of press time. This potential for fast and thorough circulation of papers has led to all newspapers considering themselves national rather than local papers. Week-day circulation figures of many papers receive a considerable boost on the weekends. Friday editions are typically twice the size of the weekday editions due to added supplements and prove to be popular fare as they are issued on Sabbath eve; no papers are issued on Saturday.

Newspapers, especially the morning dailies, have strong religious and/or political ties. Despite high circulation figures and advertising revenue, as in the past, most papers still end up depending on political parties, religious organizations, and/or public monies to fund their business. This has a deleterious effect on freedom of the press as there are often expectations tied with the transferring of funds. Such limitations on the press have been soundly criticized time and again, but unfortunately the papers have a fine line to walk between losing necessary operating funding and being willing to acquiesce in certain areas.

Besides the dailies, there are approximately 400 other newspapers and magazines being published. Of the four hundred, about fifty are weekly and about one hundred and fifty are fortnightly publications. Eleven languages are utilized in the publishing of these materials; two hundred and fifty of them are published in Hebrew.


Israel has around twenty-two privately owned dailies. The most influential and respected daily is Ha'aretz (The Land) for both its news coverage and its commentary. It attempts to maintain a non-sensational approach and Israeli decision-makers keenly scrutinize the op-ed page. Due to the way it presents its material it is able to fit twice the amount of material on each page compared to Yediot Aharonot and Ma'ariv and is the most widely read morning paper with a typical circulation of 65,000 on weekdays and 75,000 on weekends. However, its readership is dwarfed by the popular afternoon press of Ma'ariv (Evening Prayer)which produces a circulation of 160,000 on weekdays and 270,000 on weekendsand Yedioth Aharonoth (The Latest News)with a weekday circulation of 300,000 and a weekend circulation of 600,000. The weekend circulation figures of dailies are especially staggering considering that no newspapers appear on Saturday.

The most influential English language daily newspaper is The Jerusalem Post. It provides detailed and reliable news coverage. It publishes nationally with weekday circulation figures at 30,000 and weekend numbers at 50,000. It also publishes a weekly English international edition with circulation numbers at 70,000 and a French international edition with circulation figures at 7,500. Though its circulation numbers are low, it is disproportionately influential due the fact that it is read by the diplomatic community and all the foreign journalists in Israel.

The overall weekday daily newspaper circulation figures lie in the range of 500,000-600,000. This averages out to around 21 papers per one hundred people, but most Israeli citizens end up reading more than one daily. Newspapers are produced in a variety of languages with the majority of dailies being in Hebrew. Other languages include: Arabic, English, French, Polish, Yiddish, Amharic, Farsi, Ladino, Romanian, Hungarian, Russian, and German.

The dailies include: Al Anba (The News; circ. 10,000; founded 1968), Globes (circ. 40,000; founded 1983), Ha'aretz (The Land; circ. 65,000-75,000; founded 1918), Hadashot (The News), Al Hamishmar (The Guardian; founded 1943), Hamodia (The Informer; circ. 25,000), Hatzofeh (The Watchman; circ. 60,000; founded 1938), Israel Nachrichten (News of Israel; circ. 20,000; founded 1974), Al-Itihad (Unity; circ. 60,000; founded 1944), The Jerusalem Post (circ. 30,000-50,000; founded 1932), Le Journal d'Israël (circ. 10,000; founded 1971), Letzte Nyess (Late News; circ. 23,000; founded 1949), Ma'ariv (Evening Prayer; circ. 160,000-270,000; founded 1948), Mabat (circ. 7,000; founded 1971), Nasha Strana (Our Country; circ. 35,000; founded 1970), Al-Quds (Jerusalem; circ. 55,000; founded 1968), Ash Shaab (The People), Shearim (The Gates), Uj Kelet (circ. 20,000; founded 1918), Viata Noastra (circ. 30,000; founded 1950), Yated Ne'eman (circ. 25,000; founded 1986), and Yedioth Aharonoth (The Latest News; circ. 300,000-600,000; founded 1939).

Weeklies and other Periodicals

Israel has a large number of weeklies, fortnightlies, and other periodicals being produced at varying increments of time. These publications are largely niche marketed to a broad variety of special interests. The circulation numbers of these volumes ranges from the hundreds of thousands to just over one thousand.

Some examples of the publications, listed with brief amounts of background information and chosen to offer a sense of the diversity available, include: Aurora (circ. 20,000; founded 1963; weekly; for expatriates), Bama'alah (journal of the young Histadrut Movement), Bamahane (In the Camp; circ. 70,000; founded 1948; military, illustrated publication of the Israel Armed Forces), Glasul Populurui (weekly of the Communist Party of Israel), Al-Hurriya (Freedom; weekly of the Herut Party), Jerusalem Report (circ. 65,000 worldwide; founded 1959), MB (Mitteilungsblatt; founded 1932; German journal of the Irgun Olei Merkus Europa [The Association of Immigrants from Central Europe]), Laisha (circ. 150,000; founded 1946; women's magazine), Al Mirsad (The Telescope; news and current affairs), Otiot (founded 1987; for children), As-Sinnarah (for Christian and Muslim Arabs in the region), Ariel (circ. 30,000; founded 1962; review of all aspects cultural in Israel by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Israel Law Review (founded 1965), Lilac (founded 2000; Israel's first magazine for Arabic women), Nekuda (voice of the Jewish settlers of the West Bank and Gaza Strip), Israel Journal of the Medical Sciences (founded 1965), and Sinai (founded 1937; Torah science and literature).

Economic Framework

With the average annual income being US$18,900, Israel is in a good position compared with its neighbors. Israel's economy is based on exporting computer software, military equipment, chemicals, and agricultural products. The economy has significantly improved during the 1980s and 1990s as Israel has been able to allocate less to defense and more into the civilian sector. In 1973 over forty percent of state funds were being funneled to defense expenditures, whereas today it stands at around 12 percent. Though the economy hit a period of recession in the late 1990s recovery began in 2000 under the Barak Government and was aided by the surge in the peace process during that time.

Also relevant to the economy, Israel continues to receive substantial funding from the United States and various Jewish communities around the world. However, while all of the assistance is extremely beneficial and indeed necessary in helping Israel's economy remain strong, the on-the-ground situation of continuing and often escalating violence, security problems, and a general stalling of the peace process has led to less promising short-term economic returns for the near future.

Press Laws

The Daily Newspaper Publishers' Association of Israel represents publishers in negotiations with official and public agencies. It also negotiates contracts with employees and distributes newsprint. It has members from all daily papers and is affiliated with the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers.

The Israeli Press Council (Chair Itzhak Zamir; founded 1963) deals with drafting codes of professional ethics that are legally applicable to all journalists and other issues of common interest to all the press.

Also concerned with the enactment of legal codes and protection of the press in Israel are the Foreign Press Association, the Israel Association of the Periodical Press, and the Israel Press Association.

In 1986 the government approved the establishment of private radio and television stations to be run in competition with state systems.

Censorship & State-Press Relations

Censorship was extremely tight in the beginning years of the state through the early 1970s and the Yom Kippur War.

A huge scandal in the 1980s involved the closing of Hadashot for four days by military censors after the paper ran a photograph displaying two Arab terrorists being led away for interrogation by agents of the General Security Service. The scandalous aspect was that the terrorists had already been reported to have "died of their wounds" according to an official communiqué.

The major issue with censorship in Israel boils down to this: Anything related to national security or military operations are off-limits to journalists. Of course, most of the news attempting to be reported from Israel deals with issues easily construed as related to national security and/or military operations. Thus, there can be understood to be significant curtailment of freedom of the press in Israel. Material produced by foreign journalists is routinely supposed to be passed by censors before it is broadcast. As well, besides the official channels of censorship, it is commonly recognized that bribery, intimidation, and violence on the part of the government/military plays into the equation of what gets printed/broadcast and what does not.

What must be recognized is that Israel feels that it is a nation-state constantly under siege, being probed for its weaknesses. Its civilians, as well as its military, are constantly being shot at and bombed. On the other side, Israel is holding captive thousands of Palestinians in dismal conditions, including curfews, house arrests, arbitrary detainment, and the like. This creates animosity toward them and attacks are perpetrated by the Palestinians which consequently provokes further and harsher responses by the Israelis. While it needs to be recognized this situation has created a vicious cycle of violence it must be also be recognized that it is absolutely essential that this situation not be allowed to become an excuse for violation of international standards of journalistic practice and/or of human rights by Israel (or by Palestinians). As it currently stands, Israel appears to be abusing its upper-hand of military might and has been accused by multiple human rights agencies, time and again, to be in violation of numerous standards of human rights and journalistic practice.

Considerations of some recent, more specific examples are in order. According to Reporters Without Borders, since the start of the second Intifada (uprising) on September 29, 2000, over 45 journalists have been reported injured by gunfire. The Israeli Defense Ministry in mid-December 2001 issued a statement concerning this matter only acknowledging nine of the cases and exonerating Tsahal (the Israeli military) in eight of the nine occurrences.

Then, at the end of 2001, the Israel GPO (Government Press Office) said that it would not renewing foreign press passes to Palestinian journalists. Instead, the GPO would give out Orange Assistant Cards that would only be valid in the Territories and not give immediate access to Israel because the Palestinian journalists "spread propaganda and do not meet journalistic standards for balanced coverage."

On January 28, 2001, Cameraman Ashraf Kutkut and reporters Mas'adah 'Uthman and Duha Al Shami, all working for Al Wattan TV, were attacked by Tsahal at the entrance of Ein Kenia, a village near Ramallah in the West Bank, although they all had valid press cards. Al Shami was beaten by the soldiers and the crew's equipment confiscated at the checkpoint. Eventually the crew was released, and the next day they retrieved their cameras and video cassettes after they had been searched by Israeli authorities.

On February 11, 2001, Khalid Jahshan, a Palestine Television photographer, Husam Abu-Allan, an AFP photographer and Lu'ay Abu-Haykal, a Reuters photographer, were beaten by Israeli troops in Hebron.

On February 12, 2001, the Israeli army bombed Palestinian residential areas in the West Bank. One of the buildings targeted was the Al Hayat Al Jadida newspaper, located in Ramallah. The Palestinian Al Salam Television was also shelled by Israeli forces.

According to a transcript from the International Press Institute, on April 20, Laila Odeh, Abu Dhabi TV bureau chief was shot at by Israeli troops and wounded while she and her crew were filming at the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. She was hit in the leg by live ammunition after identifying herself as a journalist to Israeli soldiers positioned nearby. By her own account, and that of others at the scene, she left the area immediately when ordered to do so by IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers, and was shot as she was fleeing. The International Press Institute further reported that after significant criticism from various press associations the government blamed the reporter with illegitimate reconstructions of the scene as a riot scene even though the Foreign Press Association in Israel advocated that Odeh was nowhere near a riot when shot.

May 13, 2001, Israeli troops shot and wounded Iman Masarweh as she was driving near East Jerusalem in a car marked "Press." Masarweh, a London-based Quds Press News Agency reporter, was hospitalized and operated on to remove the bullet. She noted that there were "no confrontations taking place when the soldiers targeted and shot her."

On May 15, 2001, it is reported that Bertrand Aguirre of French television TF1 was shot by an Israeli sniper who jumped out of a jeep, pointed an M-16 and fired. Aguirre's flak jacket saved his life, but the disturbing aspect of the situation is that this occurred while he was standing among a group of cameramen, being filmed while speaking into a microphone. An Associated Press Television News video captured the whole incident on film. As of July 2001, no statement had been offered by the Israeli government despite promises to investigate the matter.

June 28, 2002, while visiting neighbors with family, Nizar Ramadan, correspondent of the newspaper Qater, was arrested in Hebron and taken to the Ofer detention center. Also that day, Israeli soldiers seized and destroyed material in his office. On July 6, Ramadan's detention was extended 18 days without explanation. By July 30, his lawyer had still not been allowed to visit him.

As of July 30, 2002, five Palestinian journalists who have been jailed since April remain incarcerated. Two of these have been accused of aiding terrorists, but no proof has been offered. The other three still have no idea why they are being held. Reporters Without Borders continued to write the government on their behalf. Since May 29, 2002, when Israel began to occupy Palestinian cities and towns, more than 20 Palestinian journalists have been arrested, many being treated violently.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

Recognizing that significant harassment, detainment, and deaths have occurred in the past couple of years, especially since the September 29, 2000, inauguration of the new Intifada sparked by Ariel Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, still foreign can often find a more welcoming home in Israel than in many of the surrounding Arab countries as far as concerns freedom of movement, ease of transmitting copy, and general access to compatible, even superior technology. Generally, if issues of national security are avoided, Israel is a relatively safe base considering the issues often being covered. Due to the intense output of news originating from the area, even recognizing the substantive dangers, the country boasts of the largest contingents of foreign journalists hunkered in one place compared to anywhere else in the world.

Some of the foreign bureaus based in Israel include: Agence France-Presse (France) Agencia EFE (Spain), Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA; Italy), Associated Press (AP; USA), Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa; Germany), Jiji Tsushin-Sha (Japan), Kyodo News Service (Japan), Reuters (UK), United Press International (UPI; USA), and Informatsionnoye Telegrafnoye Agentstvo RossiiTelegrafnoye Agentsvo Suverennykh Stran (ITAR-TASS; Russia).

News Agencies

There are three news agencies in Israel (including the Occupied Territories). The Israeli News Agency (ITIM), founded in 1950 by a group of newspapermen is controlled by a board representing the newspaper dailies of the country that hold shares in the agency. It has staff reporters covering various sections of the country that then furnish news to the newspapers and as well to radio stations.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) is the oldest and best-known agency in Israel. Internationally, it has bureaus in New York, Paris, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg and has access to other fields through stringers.

The Palestine Press Service is the only Arab news agency in the Occupied Territories.

Broadcast Media

In 1986 the Israeli government approved establishment of privatized and commercialized television and radio stations to be run in competition with the state system. However, while this is occurring, a debate, similar to that in the United States, as to how this will affect the content of programming available on these media, especially in relation to educational content. The debate was exacerbated in 1996 when the government declared that they wished to privatize all broadcasting. One of the most prominent skeptics of the current trend in Israeli television is Professor Elihu Katz who was one of the founders of Israeli television. He fears that with the considerable increase of channels television will lose its "agenda-setting" function of providing education to society and fostering civic involvement in the democratic process; in essence, he is suggesting that there will be largely no shared experience from which to foster societal dialogue. Of course, this is not the opinion of everyone, but then that is obvious by the progression of the matter.

For the moment, the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), which is modeled closely akin to the BBC, maintains state-ownership and responsibility for Kol Israel (The Voice of Israel) radio and Israel Television (ITV). It derives its funding primarily by license fees on television sets, but also about twenty percent from advertising. IBA's ITV broadcasts began in 1968. It has stations in Jerusalem and additional studios in Tel-Aviv. One color network (VHF and UHF capabilities) and one satellite channel (began in the early 1990s) are run, broadcasting in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Channel One, is the main channel and provides news, original productions, films, and children's and entertainment programming. One and a half-hour of each evening's broadcasts is offered in Arabic.

IBA's radio broadcasting began in 1948 and, as of 2002, there are stations in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, and Haifa. IBA broadcasts six programs that are available both locally and internationally on medium, short-wave, and VHF/FM frequencies. Taking into account the production of all the programming, sixteen languages are utilized: Hebrew, Arabic, English, Yiddish, Ladino, Romanian, Hungarian, Moghrabi, Persian, French, Russian, Buchranian, Georgian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Amharic. Some of the channels and their offerings include: Reshet Alef (first network) broadcasting children's programs and discussions on cultural and general events; Reshet Bet (second network) providing news and discussion of current events; Reshet Gimmel (third network) playing easy listening music; Kol Haderech interspersing traffic reports with music; Reka being designated for new immigrants broadcasting mainly in Russian and Amharic; Kol Hamusica offering classical music; Kol Zion Lagola is beamed to Jewish communities abroad; and Kol Yisrael in Arabic is broadcast for Israeli Arabs and listeners in Arab countries.

Founded in 1991 and established by law in 1993, the government established the Second Channel TV and Radio Administration to supervise the running of the Second Television Channel and sixteen regional radio stations. The administration authorizes and supervises three licensees who are given a four to six-year period to broadcast programming. Each licensee broadcasts two days a week and Saturdays are rotated. General entertainment offerings and films make up the bulk of the programming. The stations on Second Channel receive all of their funding from advertising and though supervised by a government authority Second Channel is a commercial operation that sees itself in competition with the state channel.

Since the late 1980s, cable TV has had a monumental impact on Israeli culture. Today it reaches over 65 percent of all households. By law the government issues one license per designated area with funding to the licensee provided by user fees. Typically, thirty to forty channels are offered with a significant amount of foreign programming picked up by satellite. Channels include: MTV, SKY NEWS, CNN, BBC, and also channels from Egypt, France, Germany, India, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Spain, Russia and Turkey. Of course, in heavy, and rather unregulated, competition with cable television is the satellite television market.


In 1965, Israel became the first country in the world to sanction educational television (known as Israel Educational Television [ETV]) before general-purpose television. The government realized television's importance for educating society (and of course for disseminating their perspectives). Funding for the project was secured from the Rothschild Foundation and they also managed supervisory responsibilities. Later, the Ministry of Education and Culture took over responsibilities for funding and supervision of ETV. Programming largely consists of school programs on a variety of subjects and adult education.

Of the current commercial television stations, it should be noted that the influential newspapers Yediot Aharonot and Ma'ariv are senior partners in two of the companies. This suggests that the papers are well aware that there will be cuts in advertising revenues for the newspaper industry due to the popularity of television as a medium and so are making sure to grab a stake in the next lucrative market burgeoning in Israel.

In the early 2000s there were seventeen broadcast stations in the country with thirty-six additional low-power repeaters, broadcasting to 1.69 million televisions and according to a finding by IBA, eighty-seven percent of Israelis on a daily weekday basis. As well, May 18, 1996 Israel's Amos 1 satellite was launched and began transmitting local television and radio programming.


The first radio station in the Palestine area came on air March, 30, 1936, as The Palestine Broadcasting Service (PBS) with its Hebrew name being agreed upon as Kol Yerushalyim (The Voice of Jerusalem). It was an organ of the British administration, but did provide news bulletins to the Jewish and Muslim populations however skewed the perspective may have been to these populations. In 1940, the Haganah (Jewish Underground) opened a pirate radio station called Kol Israel (Voice of Israel) on 42 meters (about 7000 kHz). In June of the same year it is ends broadcasting due to potential invasion by Axis powers. Then, with the establishment of Israel as a state in 1948, the radio station Kol Yerushalyim is turned over to the Israelis and they rename it Kol Israel. Two years later, in 1950, the military station Galei Tzahal was added to the foray. Both stations still operate.

Currently, there are roughly 23 AM, 15 FM, and 2 short-wave licensed stations operating in Israel. They broadcast to 3.07 million radios. Radio is utilized as a good medium to disseminate information since it is noted as being able to reach over ninety percent of the population.

As well as the licensed stations, unlicensed stations are also ubiquitous. The government tends to be lenient on these stations even though they are illegal (one can speculate it gives a feeling of leniency to the government that tends come across harshly in its censorship of other aspects of the press). Some of the "pirate" stations are even commercial, being funded by advertising. The first unlicensed station was the Voice of Peace started in 1973 and took its cues from similar pirate stations in Europe. It ceased operation October 1, 1993, saying that "the goal has been achieved."

Two examples of specific stations are Galei Tzahal and Arutz 7 (Channel 7). Galei Tzahal is Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Radio set up by the military in 1950. It broadcasts twenty-four hours a day with news, music, and talk shows on two channels. News and talk programming comprise the first channel and music and traffic reports make up the second. Though it is still funded by the army, the stations main listeners are now civilians. It remains a popular Israeli channel. Arutz 7, formerly designated Voice of the Gazelle, is a station that promotes the perspectives of ultra-orthodox groups and of Israeli settlers in the occupied territories.

Electronic News Media

Israel actively utilizes the Internet for government, military, public, and private purposes. The country is know for its information technology (IT) industry and is known to possess one of the world's most technologically sophisticated populations. In a country of about six million people there are approximately one million Internet users working from twenty-one Internet Service Providers (ISPs).


Being one of the younger states in the world, Israel has made a dramatic splash on the world stage. Often, despite significant and numerous lapses, it seems that the country is headed in an appropriate direction concerning press freedoms and use of technology. However, the negative treatment of the press concerning violence and censorship is a glaring mark against the state. Since its birth, it is obvious the state has remained continually encumbered and beset by various factors, but this cannot be allowed to be an excuse for extreme limitations being placed upon journalists and speech in a country that boasts itself a democracy. The press in Israel compared with many of its surrounding Middle Eastern neighbors enjoys comparatively bountiful freedoms.


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Clint B. Thomas Baldwin

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Israel (country, Asia)

Israel (Ĭz´rēəl), officially State of Israel, republic (2005 est. pop. 6,277,000, including Israelis in occupied Arab territories), 7,992 sq mi (20,700 sq km), SW Asia, on the Mediterranean Sea. (The area figure used above does not include the Golan Heights or the West Bank, which are occupied by Israel.) It is bordered by Lebanon in the north, Syria and Jordan in the east, the Mediterranean Sea on the west, Egypt on the southwest, and the Gulf of Aqaba (an arm of the Red Sea) on the south. The capital and largest city of Israel is Jerusalem. This article deals primarily with the events in Israel from 1948 to the present. For the earlier history of the region, see Palestine.

Land and People

The country is a narrow, irregularly shaped strip of land with four principal regions: the plain along the Mediterranean coast; the mountains, which are east of this coastal plain; the Negev, which comprises the southern half of the country; and the portion of Israel that forms part of the Jordan Valley, in turn a part of the Great Rift Valley. North of the Negev, Israel enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with long, hot, dry summers and short, cool, rainy winters. This northern half of the country has a limited but adequate supply of water, except in times of drought. The Negev, however, is a semiarid desert region, having less than 10 in. (25 cm) of rainfall a year.

The most important river in Israel is the Jordan. Other smaller rivers are the Yarkon, the Kishon, and the Yarmuk, a tributary of the Jordan. Other bodies of water include the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea (part of which belongs to neighboring Jordan and the West Bank). Owing to interior drainage and a high rate of evaporation, the waters of the Dead Sea have about eight times as much salt as the ocean.

The highest point in Israel is Mt. Meron (3,692 ft/1,125 m) near Zefat. The lowest point is the shore of the Dead Sea, which is c.1,400 ft (425 m) below sea level, the lowest point on the surface of the earth. In addition to Jerusalem, other important cities include Tel Aviv–Jaffa (see separate entries on Tel Aviv, Jaffa), Haifa, Beersheba, and Netanya).

Israel proper is made up of about 76% Jews, about 18% Arabs, and the rest Druze and others. While the Jewish population as of 1948 consisted mostly of those from central and E Europe (not including Russia), Jews from African and Asian countries came in increasing numbers after 1948. The majority of the current Jewish population was born in Israel. Around 500,000 Russian Jews have arrived in recent years, as have most of the small population of Ethiopian Jews (see Falashas). The Arab population is primarily Sunni Muslim; a smaller proportion are Christians. Hebrew is the official language, while Arabic is used officially for the Arab minority and English is widely spoken.


Agriculture in Israel largely depends on extensive irrigation to compensate for the shortage of rainfall. Agricultural exports include citrus and other fruits, vegetables, and cut flowers. Other sizable crops are cotton, wheat, barley, peanuts, sunflowers, grapes, and olives. Poultry and livestock also are raised.

Most of the land (apart from the land belonging to non-Jews) is held in trust for the people of Israel by the state and the Jewish National Fund. The latter was set up in 1901 to buy land in Palestine for Jews to cultivate, and now implements a wide range of forest and land development activities. The Israel Land Authority leases the land to kibbutzim, which are communal agricultural settlements; to moshavim, which are cooperative agricultural communities; and to other agricultural or rural villages.

High-technology industries are Israel's fastest-growing businesses, with emphasis on computers, software, aviation, telecommunications, biotechnology, medical electronics, and fiber optics. Diamond cutting and polishing is also important, and a number of light industries produce wood and paper products, processed foods, tobacco, precision instruments, metal and plastic goods, chemicals, textiles, and footwear. The Dead Sea has minerals of commercial value, such as potash, magnesium bromide, and salt, and there is natural gas offshore in the Mediterranean Sea. Tourism, which is one of Israel's largest sources of revenue, is also important.

Major exports include machinery and equipment, software, high-technology and military products, cut diamonds, agricultural products, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and textiles and apparel. Leading imports are raw materials, military equipment, rough diamonds, fuels, grain, and consumer goods. Although Israel imports more than it exports, the balance of trade is far more favorable now than it was in the early years of the state. The United States is by far the country's largest trading partner, as well as its major source of economic and military aid. Other important trading partners are Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, and Hong Kong.


Israel has no constitution; it is governed under the 1948 Declaration of Establishment as well as parliamentary and citizenship laws. The president is head of state, a largely ceremonial role, and is elected by the legislature for a seven-year term with no term limits. The government is headed by the prime minister, generally the leader of the largest party following legislative elections. The unicameral legislature consists of the 120-seat Knesset, whose members are elected by popular vote for four-year terms. The prime minister appoints a cabinet that must be approved by the Knesset; both the prime minister and the president are responsible to the Knesset. Administratively, the country is divided into six districts.


Beginnings of the Israeli State

The state of Israel is the culmination of nearly a century of activity in Zionism. Following World War I, Great Britain received (1922) Palestine as a mandate from the League of Nations. The struggle by Jews for a Jewish state in Palestine had begun in the late 19th cent. and had become quite active by the 1930s and 40s, when Jewish immigration greatly increased as a result of the events in Europe. Jewish-Arab violence in the area led to the establishment of guerrilla forces on both sides, and there were Jewish terror attacks on the British.

The militant opposition of the Arabs to the division of Palestine to create a Jewish state (and the inability of the British to solve the problem eventually led to the establishment (1947) of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, which devised a plan to divide Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a small internationally administered zone including Jerusalem. The General Assembly adopted the recommendations on Nov. 29, 1947. The Jews accepted the plan; the Arabs rejected it. As the British began to withdraw early in 1948, Arabs and Jews prepared for war.

On May 14, 1948, when the British high commissioner for Palestine departed, the state of Israel was proclaimed at Tel Aviv. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq invaded Israel, as most Palestinian Arabs were driven from Jewish territory. By the time armistice agreements were reached (Jan., 1949), Israel had increased its holdings by about one-half. Jordan annexed the Arab-held area adjoining its territory, and Egypt occupied the coastal Gaza Strip in the southwest.

The New Nation

A government was formed at Tel Aviv, with Chaim Weizmann as president and David Ben-Gurion as prime minister. The capital was moved (Dec., 1949) to Jerusalem to strengthen Israel's claim to that city. Following the Lausanne Conference of 1949, Israel allowed the return of 150,000 Arab refugees, mostly to reunite families. One major aim of the government was to gather in all Jews who wished to immigrate to Israel. This led to the 1950 Law of the Return, which provided for free and automatic citizenship for all immigrant Jews. Border incidents with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan continued.

Trouble in the Gaza area reached new heights in the mid-1950s despite UN intervention, and in 1956, Egyptian President Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. On Oct. 29, 1956, Israel made a preemptive attack on Egyptian territory and within a few days had conquered the Gaza Strip and the Sinai peninsula, while Britain and France invaded the area of the Suez Canal. Israel eventually yielded to strong pressure from the United States, the USSR, and the United Nations and removed its troops from Sinai in Nov., 1956, and from Gaza by Mar., 1957, as UN forces were sent to the Sinai and Gaza to keep peace between Egypt and Israel. Through this war, Israel succeeded in keeping open its shipping lanes via Elat and the Gulf of Aqaba to the Red Sea.

In 1962, Israel became the scene of the celebrated trial of Adolf Eichmann. In 1963, Ben-Gurion resigned as prime minister and was succeeded in that office by Levi Eshkol. Eshkol had to cope with increased guerrilla incursions into Israel from Syria and the shelling of Israeli villages by the Syrian army from the Golan Heights.

Renewed Hostilities

In May, 1967, Nasser mobilized the Egyptian army in Sinai. The UN then acceded to his demand to withdraw from the Israeli-Egyptian border, where it had been stationed since 1956. Egypt next blockaded the Israeli port of Elat (on the Gulf of Aqaba) by closing the Strait of Tiran.

On June 5, 1967, Israel struck against Egypt and Syria; Jordan subsequently attacked Israel. In six days, Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the Sinai peninsula of Egypt, the Golan Heights of Syria, and the West Bank and Arab sector of E Jerusalem (both under Jordanian rule), thereby giving the conflict the name of the Six-Day War. Israel unified the Arab and Israeli sectors of Jerusalem, and Arab guerrillas stepped up their incursions, operating largely from Jordan. After Eshkol's death in 1969, Golda Meir became prime minister. There followed an inconclusive period when there was neither peace nor war in the area.

On Oct. 6, 1973, on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, Egypt and Syria attacked Israeli positions in the Sinai and the Golan Heights. Other Arab states sent contingents of soldiers to aid in the attack on Israel. Egypt succeeded in sending troops in force across the Suez Canal to the east bank before being halted by Israeli troops. Toward the end of the fighting, the Israelis managed to send their own troops across the Suez Canal to the west bank, encircling Egypt's Third Army on the east bank and clearing a path to Cairo. They also drove the Syrians even further back toward Damascus. A cease-fire called for by the UN Security Council on Oct. 22 and 23 went into effect shortly thereafter.

Attempts at Peace

In Dec., 1973, the first Arab-Israeli peace conference opened in Geneva, Switzerland, under UN auspices. An agreement to disengage Israeli and Egyptian forces was reached in Jan., 1974, largely through the "shuttle diplomacy" mediation of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Israeli troops withdrew several miles into the Sinai, a UN buffer zone was established, and Egyptian forces reoccupied the east bank of the Suez Canal and a small, adjoining strip of land in the Sinai. A similar agreement between Israel and Syria was achieved in May, 1974, again through the efforts of Kissinger. Under its terms, Israeli forces evacuated the Syrian lands captured in the 1973 war (while continuing to hold most of the territory conquered in 1967, such as the Golan Heights) and a UN buffer zone was created.

Golda Meir resigned and was succeeded (1974) by Yitzhak Rabin, who formed a coalition government. In 1977, the Likud party under the leadership of Menachem Begin defeated the Labor party for the first time in Israeli elections. As prime minister, Begin strongly supported the development of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories and opposed Palestinian sovereignty.

Egypt began peace initiatives with Israel in late 1977, when Egyptian President Sadat visited Jerusalem. A year later, with the help of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, terms of peace between Egypt and Israel were negotiated at Camp David, Md. (see Camp David accords). A formal treaty, signed on Mar. 26, 1979, in Washington, D.C., granted full recognition of Israel by Egypt, opened trade relations between the two countries, returned the Sinai to Egyptian control (completed in 1982), and limited Egyptian military buildup in the Sinai.

The 1980s to the Present

Israeli troops briefly invaded (1979) Lebanon in an unsuccessful attempt to eliminate Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) bases and forces used in raids on N Israel. On June 6, 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in a second attempt. Israeli troops advanced to Beirut and surrounded the western part of the city, which housed PLO headquarters, and a siege ensued. Israeli troops began a gradual move out of Lebanon (completed in 1985) after PLO forces withdrew from Beirut. A 6-mi (10-km) deep security zone within S Lebanon was established to protect N Israeli settlements.

Begin had been returned to office in 1981, but he resigned in 1983 and was replaced by Likud's Yitzhak Shamir. Undecisive majorities in the 1984 elections led to a sharing of the prime ministership by Shamir and Shimon Peres of the Labor party. Shamir, who regained sole prime ministership after the 1988 elections, strongly upheld the policy of increased Jewish settlement in the occupied territories. Large numbers of emigrants from Ethiopia and, primarily, the Soviet Union increased Israel's population by nearly 10% in three years (1989–92), leading to increased unemployment and a lack of housing.

In Dec., 1987, a popular Arab uprising (Intifada) began against Israeli rule in the occupied territories. During the Persian Gulf War in early 1991, Israel suffered Iraqi missile attacks, as Iraq unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the allied coalition and widen the war. Peace talks between Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation began in Aug., 1991.

Rabin reentered the political scene in 1992, becoming prime minister after the defeat of the Likud party and the establishment of a Labor-led coalition. He pursued Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, in which significant progress was made. In 1993, Israel and the PLO signed an accord providing for joint recognition and for limited Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and Jericho. In 1995, Israel and the PLO agreed on a transition to Palestinian self-rule in most of the West Bank, although acts of terrorism continued to darken Israeli-Palestinian relations. In 1994 a treaty with Jordan ended the 46-year-old state of war between the two nations.

In Nov., 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli extremist who opposed the West Bank peace accord with the PLO; Peres, who was foreign minister, became prime minister. In early 1996, Israel was hit by a series of suicide bombs, and Shiite Muslims launched rocket attacks into Israel from Lebanon. Retaliating, Israel blockaded the port of Beirut and launched a series of attacks on targets in S Lebanon.

The 1996 elections, in which the prime minister was elected directly for the first time, resulted in a narrow victory for Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed Labor's land-for-peace deals. In an attempt to allay fears about Israel's future policies, Netanyahu pledged to continue the peace process. After setbacks and delays, most of Hebron was handed over to Palestinian control in Jan., 1997, and, under an accord signed in 1998, Israel agreed to withdraw from additional West Bank territory, while the Palestinian Authority pledged to take stronger measures to fight terrorism. Further negotiations over territory, however, were essentially stalled.

In the May, 1999, elections, Labor returned to power under Ehud Barak, a former army chief of staff. He formed a broad-based coalition government, promising to ease tensions between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, as well as to move the peace process forward. In September, Barak and Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, signed an agreement to finalize their borders and determine the status of Jerusalem within a year; Israel also began implementation of a plan to hand over additional West Bank territory, which was completed in Mar., 2000.

Barak's coalition was weakened in May, 2000, when three right-of-center parties pulled out of the government. In the same month, Israeli forces withdrew from the buffer zone that had long been maintained in S Lebanon. In July, negotiations in the United States between Israel and the Palestinians ended without success, and Israeli-Palestinian relations turned extremely acrimonious when a September visit by Ariel Sharon to the Haram esh-Sherif (the Temple Mount to Jews) in Jerusalem sparked riots that escalated into a new, ongoing cycle of violence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel itself. Barak resigned in Dec., 2000, in an attempt to reestablish a electoral mandate, but he was trounced in the Feb., 2001, election by Ariel Sharon, who formed a national unity government.

Despite Israeli military incursions into Palestinian territory and attacks on Palestinian authorities and forces, Palestinian attacks on Israelis in Israel and the occupied territories did not end, and in 2002 Sharon's government ordered the reoccupation of West Bank towns in a new attempt to stop those attacks. In Oct., 2002, Labor members of the government accused Sharon of favoring Israeli settlers in the occupied territories over the poor, and withdrew their support. Left with a minority government, Sharon called for parliamentary elections in early 2003, and in January Likud won a substantial victory at the polls. The following month Sharon formed a four-party, mainly right-wing coalition government.

In May, 2003, Sharon's government accepted the internationally supported "road map for peace" with some limitations; the plan envisioned the establishment of a Palestinian state in three years. Talks resumed with Palestinian authorities, who also negotiated a three-month cease-fire with Palestinian militants, and Israel made some conciliatory moves in Gaza and the West Bank. Suicide bombings and Israeli revenge attacks resumed, however, in August, and in October Israel attacked Syria for the first time in 20 years, bombing what it termed a terrorist training camp in retaliation for suicide bombings.

Israel's ongoing construction of a 400-mi (640-km) fence and wall security barrier in the West Bank, potentially enclosing some 15% of that territory, brought widespread international condemnation in late 2003, and a July, 2004, advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice (requested by Palestinians and the UN General Assembly) termed its construction illegal under international law because it was being constructed on Palestinian lands. Meanwhile, an Israeli court ruling (June) ordered the wall to be rerouted in certain areas because of the hardship it would cause Palestinians.

In March the killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin heightened tensions in the occupied territories, especially the Gaza Strip. Sharon's plan to withdraw from the latter, while supported by most Israelis, was rejected in a nonbinding vote (May, 2004) by Likud party members. The plan then resulted in defections from his coalition, but Sharon vowed to complete the withdrawal, which was being undertaken for security reasons, by the end of 2005. In Oct., 2004, he secured parliamentary approval for the plan. The plan also called for abandoning a few settlements in the West Bank while expanding others there. Sharon formed a new coalition that included the Labor party, which supported the Gaza withdrawal, in Jan., 2005. He subsequently agreed to a truce with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, and in Mar., 2005, Israeli forces began withdrawing from Jericho and other West Bank towns. The planned Gaza withdrawal sparked protests by settlers and their allies beginning in June, but in August the evacuation of the settlements proceeded relatively straightforwardly. Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza the following month.

In Nov., 2005, Shimon Peres lost his Labor party leadership post to Amir Peretz, a trade union leader. Peretz pulled Labor from the government, prompting new elections, and Sharon withdrew from Likud to form the centrist Kadima [Forward] party, in an attempt to force a realignment of Israeli politics and retain the prime ministership. In Jan., 2006, however, Sharon suffered an incapacitating stroke and was hospitalized. Ehud Olmert, the deputy prime minister, became acting prime minister and leader of the new party.

The Kadima party won a plurality in the Mar., 2006, elections, with Labor placing second. In April, Sharon was declared permanently incapacitated; Olmert became prime minister, and in May formed a new coalition government. Escalating rocket attacks from Gaza and the capture by Hamas guerrillas of an Israeli soldier led to an Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip in June, 2006, as well as other actions against Hamas and the Palestinians. Israel continue to mount attacks into Gaza in the succeeding months.

In July, Lebanese Hezbollah forces captured two Israeli soldiers, and Israel launched air attacks against targets throughout Lebanon and sent troops as far as 18.5 mi (30 km) into S Lebanon; Hezbollah responded mainly with rocket attacks against N Israel, including Haifa and Tiberias, but also offered resistance on the ground against Israeli forces. A UN-mediated cease-fire took effect in mid-August, and by early October Israel had essentially withdrawn from Lebanon. The invasion's aim of disarming Hezbollah and winning the release of the captured Israeli soldiers was in the main unattained, and Hezbollah's sustained resistance to Israeli forces enhanced the group's prestige in the Arab world. Amnesty International accused both sides of war crimes in the fighting, mainly because of their attacks on civilians.

As a result of the fighting in Gaza and Lebanon and the rise of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, Olmert suspended his planned unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, and brought (Oct,. 2006) a far-right party into his government to strengthen the coalition in the Knesset. Also in October, Israeli police accused Israeli President Moshe Katsav of sexual assault and other crimes, prompting an investigation and leading to calls for Katsav to resign (which he refused to do). The Israeli group Peace Now asserted in November that, according to government documents, nearly 40% (and perhaps more) of the land on which Israel's West Bank settlements were built was privately owned Palestinian land, in violation of Israeli law. More current information given by the government to the group in Mar., 2007, indicated that private land made up more than 30% of the settlements but did not indicate how much was Palestinian-owned (the vast bulk of the private land in the first set of documents was Palestinian).

In Jan., 2007, the head of the Israeli armed forces resigned, taking responsibility for the unsuccessful anti-Hezbollah campaign of 2006; his resignation led the opposition to call for the prime minister and defense minister to resign as well. (An independent report, released in Apr., 2007, was critical of the prime minister's and defense minister's handling of the invasion.) Late in Jan., 2007, Katsav secured a suspension of his duties as president after Israel's attorney general said he was considering charging Katsav with rape and other crimes; a plea deal in June allowed him to plead guilty to lesser charges and avoid prison but forced him to resign. (In Apr., 2008, however, Katsav withdrew from the plea bargain and decided to contest any charges; he was convicted of rape in Dec., 2010.) and Shimon Peres was elected president earlier the same month.

The takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas forces (also in June, 2007) led to increased talks with the Palestinian Authority and other moves designed to strengthen President Abbas, as well as Israeli restrictions on cross-border trade into the Gaza Strip. In September, Israeli jets attacked a military site in N Syria that some reports suggested was part of nuclear program. Under U.S.-sponsorship, an international Mideast peace conference was held in Annapolis, Md., in Nov., 2007, in an attempt to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. In early 2008, in response to Hamas rocket attacks, Israel tightened its blockade of goods into the Gaza Strip, but that move and Israeli retaliatory attacks failed to stop the rocket attacks. In June, 2008, however, Egypt brokered a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza's Palestinian factions that included an easing of border restrictions, and the cease-fire largely held until November.

Also in June, Olmert, facing the loss of Labor party support because of an investigation into his alleged receipt of bribes, agreed to face a vote for the leadership of Kadima in Sept., 2008, in order to preserve the governing coalition; he later decided not to run for party leader. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was elected Kadima party leader, but she was unable to form a new governing coalition.

In Nov., 2008, significant fighting between Palestinian and Israeli forces began in Gaza, with rocket attacks against neighboring portions of Israel and Israeli retaliatory strikes against the Gaza Strip. In Jan., 2009, Israeli forces invaded the territory in what Israel said was an attempt to stop rocket attacks against Israel (during the fighting one rocket attack reached Ashdod, 20 mi (32 km) from Gaza). The extent of the destruction and number of non-Hamas deaths resulting from the fighting led to criticism of Israel, and both Israel and Hamas were accused by human rights groups of committing war crimes.

Parliamentary elections in Feb., 2009, resulted in a narrow plurality for Kadima and significant gains for Likud and other right-wing parties. Likud leader and former prime minister Netanyahu forged a largely right-wing coalition (the Labor party also joined the government), and became prime minister in April.

Israel's continuing approval of new construction in the West Bank led to U.S. criticism in Nov., 2009, that Israel was frustrating peace negotiations. The government subsequently suspended new construction for 10 months, but the exclusion of East Jerusalem from the moratorium and the continuing construction of buildings already begun was denounced by the Palestinians. When the moratorium ended in Sept., 2010, there had been little progress if any in negotiations, and a year later the Palestinian Authority unsuccessfully sought recognition from, and full membership in, the United Nations. Israel was widely condemned internationally for a deadly raid in May, 2010, on a Turkish-organized convoy that was seeking to challenge Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. The raid, which occurred in international waters, significantly strained Israel's already increasingly difficult relations with Turkey.

In May, 2012, after Netanyahu proposed early elections for Sept., 2012, Kadima joined the governing coalition, but it withdrew two months later in objection to a proposed replacement for an unconstitutional law that permitted students in religious studies to defer military service. In October the Knesset was dissolved and early elections called for Jan., 2013. In Nov., 2012, Israeli air strikes against the Gaza Strip, including one that killed the Hamas military chief, sparked the most intense cross-border attacks with Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip since early 2009. After the Palestinian Authority received de facto recognition as an independent state from the UN General Assembly in Dec., 2012, the Israeli government authorized the development of thousands of new settler homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In the 2013 elections the Likud alliance won a plurality but lost a quarter of the seats it had held. A center-right coalition government was formed in March, with Netanyahu again as prime minister; it was the first Israeli government in nearly three decades that did not include an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party. In mid-2013, U.S.-brokered peace talks resumed, but by Apr., 2014, they had essentially collapsed amid increased demands from Israel on retaining areas in the West Bank, Israeli approval for new settlements in the West Bank, a stalled Israeli prisoner release program, and a Palestinian bid for further recognition from UN agencies.

Israel blamed Hamas for the murder of three teenage settlers in the West Bank in June, 2014; its air strikes against Hamas and the Gaza Strip in July sparked a cycle of retaliatory attacks involving Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and Israeli air raids in Gaza, and Israeli forces entered Gaza in a ground offensive. A cease-fire was agreed to in August. Political tensions in the government led to the dismissal of centrist ministers in Dec., 2014, and parliament was subsequently dissolved. In the Mar., 2015., elections Likud won a plurality, with one fourth of the Knesset seats and roughly one fourth of the vote, about what it won in 2013. Netanyahu formed a largely right-wing coalition government in May.


See J. García-Granados, The Birth of Israel (1948); D. Ben-Gurion, Israel: Years of Challenge (1965); S. N. Eisenstadt, Israeli Society (1971); A. Perlmutter, The Military and Politics in Israel (2d ed. 1977); H. M. Sachar, A History of Israel (1979); E. Orni and E. Efrat, The Geography of Israel (4th rev. ed. 1980); C. Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars (1982); S. McBride, ed., Israel in Lebanon (1983); A. Arian, Politics in Israel (1985); Y. Ben-Porath, ed., The Israeli Economy (1986); S. Segev, 1949: The First Israelis (1986); B. Kimmerling, ed., The Israeli State and Society (1988); M. Mandelbaum, Israel and the Occupied Territories (1988); T. Parker, The Road to Camp David (1989); T. Segev, Crossing the Jordan: Israel's Hard Road to Peace (1998); B. Morris, Righteous Victims (rev. ed. 2001) and The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949 (rev. ed. 2004); G. Gorenberg, The Accidental Empire (2006); L. Stein, The Making of Modern Israel, 1948–1967 (2009); I Peleg and D. Waxman, Israel's Palestinians (2011); H. Lazar, Out of Palestine: The Making of Modern Israel (2011).

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Compared to other industrialized countries, Israel is a familistic society. The country's small size permits relatives to live in close geographic proximity and have frequent personal contact. Holidays and life-cycle events are generally celebrated through ceremonies and customs that bring family members together. Intrafamilial involvement and assistance (from baby sitting through major financial help) are the norm. Key indicators of Israel's familism include relatively high marital and fertility rates and low divorce rates, compared to other postindustrial countries. In 1999, for every 1,000 persons in the population of 6.4 million, there were 6.7 marriages, 21.9 births, and 1.7 divorces. The downside of this familism is that people without family may suffer social isolation, lack of social support, and a sense of not belonging.

At the same time, the traditional Israeli family shares many features of the modern family. Marriage is based more on emotional bonds than on economic or social considerations. Family functions such as childcare and caring for the elderly have been transferred to the community. Independence from the family of origin is encouraged from an early age. The monogamous nuclear family is increasingly becoming one model among others. The major values that people expect to realize within the family are less the good of the family than the good of the individual. The Israeli family also shares the stresses of other modern families: spousal tension over roles and tasks brought about by increasing gender equality, and difficulties, especially among mothers, in balancing childcare, work, and personal interests and goals.

Declining marital rates, rising divorce rates, and falling birth rates point to decreasing familism in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The decrease is most salient in the Jewish population (81% of the total), which saw substantial falls in the marital and birth rates and a doubling of the divorce rate. The Muslim (15.6%), Christian (1.8%), and Druse (1.6%) communities have remained more strongly family oriented, but cracks have begun to appear. Among the Muslims, marital rates have risen slightly, but the birth rate has fallen, and the divorce rate has more than doubled. Among the Christians and Druse, marital rates have risen or remained high, and divorce is virtually nonexistent, but birth rates have declined substantially.

Factors Affecting the Israeli Family

Key factors that have shaped the Israeli family are Israeli family law, the country's history of immigration, and the prevalence of trauma and war.

Family law. Family law in Israel comes under both religious and secular jurisdiction, with two parallel legal systems working in tandem. People who want to marry and divorce in Israel must obtain the authorization of the court of their religion. These state-supported courts rule in accord with religious laws, which restrict interfaith marriage, encourage family stability, and place obstacles in the way of divorce. Jewish religious law forbids marriage between relatives or between divorcees and descendants of the ancient priesthood. Divorce requires that the husband give his wife a writ of divorce and that she accept it.

The rulings of the religious courts are subject to the laws passed by Israel's parliament. These forbid child marriage, polygamy, and the husband's one-sided, nonjudicial divorce of his wife, which are permitted by Muslim religious law. They allocate legal guardianship for the children of a union (whether in or out of wedlock) to both parents. In divorce, custody is to be awarded on the basis of the best interests of the child, and non-custodial parents receive visiting rights and pay child support.

The religious courts' control over marriage may be circumvented by wedding abroad or by cohabitation. After a stipulated period of time, cohabiting couples become known in public and are legally entitled to full spousal rights. Their control of divorce is reduced by provisions permitting either partner to file for divorce in a religious or civil court (which may rule on all matters other than the writ of divorce) and to appeal to the civil court against religious court rulings.

table 1
Marital, birth, and divorce rates in Israel: 1975–1999
number of marriages, births, and divorces a year for every 1,000 people
  marriages  births  divorces
source: Central Bureau of Statistics 2000.
jews 81%9.6–6.1  24.3–18.7  0.9–1.9
muslims 15.6%7.3–7.9  39.5–34.5  0.5–1.1
christians 1.8%4.5–5.7  19.9–16.4  0.1
druse 1.6%9.3  36.8–22.7  0.6

Immigration. Israel is a country built by successive waves of immigration. In 1995, only 61 percent of Israelis were native born (Good and Ben-David 1995). The pattern for the mainstream Israeli family developed from the meeting of the European and Afro-Asian immigrants whose descendants compose in about equal portions most of Israel's Jewish population.

The European Jews who arrived in Israel in the first half of the twentieth century separated themselves from the ramified, closely knit European Jewish family that had served as a haven and support in Europe's hostile, anti-Semitic environment. The first group to arrive was made up of young, unmarried idealists, who came from Eastern Europe at the turn of the century with the dream of creating an entirely new Jewish society, free of the faults of their Eastern European Jewish communities. They viewed marriage and family as secondary to this task. They rejected the traditional norms and customs of European Jewish family life, including prearranged marriage, rigid sex roles, and high fertility, and sought to replace them with equality and freedom (Katz and Peres 1986). These immigrants were followed in the 1930s by Jews fleeing Hitler's Europe and in the 1940s and 1950s by survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. The new arrivals did not share the radical ideology of their predecessors. But they too were mostly young, without parents and relatives, and distanced both geographically and psychologically from their former family model.

The European immigrants established in Israel a Western, liberal family model, of small to medium-sized, isolated nuclear units, characterized by various degrees of closeness and the ideal, if not always the practice, of gender equality. Family relations were influenced by two contrary pulls:
(1) the prevailing ideal of the sabra, or native-born Israeli, which touted toughness and autonomy, and (2) the strong needs of the refugees and survivors, most of whose families of origin had been eradicated in Europe. The survivors generally infused their new families with intense emotional significance and vested in their children their aspirations for renewal.

The European model was modified by the arrival in the 1950s of the Afro-Asian immigrants from the Arabic-speaking countries of North Africa and the Middle East. Arriving in whole communities, these immigrants introduced into Israel the conservative, patriarchal family structure and values of the countries from which they came. They had large households (five or more children), and large extended family networks. Most marriages were arranged; girls married young; fertility was high. The family was held together by a clear structure of authority and reciprocal obligations between genders and generations (Katz and Peres 1986). These immigrants and their descendants bolstered the familism that had been weakened by the immigrants from Europe.

Over time, the two models converged. The Afro-Asian Jewish family loosened its hold; arranged marriage is unacceptable in both communities; and the age of first marriage, fertility rates, and the allocation of conjugal tasks are similar for similar socioeconomic levels. Because the European culture of the early immigrants was the dominant one in Israel, most of the changes were made by the Afro-Asian family. The European family, however, which had been enlarged by the natural addition of grandparents and other relatives, also adapted in the encounter, with a renewed valuation of marriage and childrearing.

The immigrants who followed added to the diversity of the Israeli family. Two groups, from the Soviet Union, who arrived in the 1970s and 1990s, and from Ethiopia, who arrived in the 1990s, are of particular interest.

The Soviet immigrants can be divided into those from the Muslim republics and those from Russia's urban areas. The former came with large, traditional families, much like those of the Afro-Asian immigrants two decades earlier. The latter have small but tightly knit families, often with only one child. Thirty percent of them are headed by single mothers, with the father remaining in Russia. The grandmother is an important family member and major source of support, taking care of the home and children while the parents work. The outcome is a high degree of interdependence among family members. Many Russian immigrants live in three-generational households. They generally place considerable emphasis on education. The upbringing of the children tends to be strict and the parents to be highly involved in the children's lives (Poskanzer 1995).

The Ethiopians came largely from closed rural communities, where core families lived alongside one another in multigenerational extended family groups, which cooperated socially and economically. Authority was vested in the oldest male, and the father was the undisputed head of the family; women were considered the property of their husbands. In Israel, this structure has been undermined: by the high death rate of immigrant males en route to the country, the fact that different parts of the family-community immigrated at different times, and the economic dependence of the formerly self-supporting family group on the Israeli government. More than 30 percent of the Ethiopian core families in Israel are headed by single mothers, whose husbands died or abandoned them (Ben-David 1993).

Immigration has had a strong impact on the families of all the immigrant groups. As among immigrants elsewhere, the children became the agents of socialization, standard intergenerational conflict was intensified, and parental authority was weakened as the children learned the language and adopted the identity and values of the new land. Moreover, in its encounter with Israel's Western culture, which stressed individualism, the close relatedness of the traditional Jewish family of all extractions yielded to increased emotional distance between generations.

The transition has been particularly wrenching for the immigrants from traditional cultures. These immigrants faced discrimination and lacked the means to compete in Israel's technologically advanced society. Men who had provided adequately for their families in their countries of origin, where they worked as farmers, artisans, or tradesman, found it difficult to earn a living in Israel, and their wives, who were formerly confined to the home, had to go out to work. The result was that the father lost his status and authority as the patriarchal head of the family. As elsewhere, these developments sometimes exacted a high social price in alienation, street gangs, and crime among the descendants of the immigrants (Halpern 2001)

Successive Israeli governments have viewed immigration both as a way of rescuing Jews and of building a new Israeli society. Large numbers of children and adolescents in certain immigrant groups were thus brought to Israel before their parents. In Israel, many immigrant children were sent to boarding facilities for their education and acculturation. The practice was particularly widespread among Ethiopian children at the beginning of the twenty-first century, some 90 percent of whom study in publicly supported religious boarding facilities. The practice stresses immigrant absorption and the acculturation of young immigrants over family closeness and continuity.

Recurrent traumas. The legacy of the Nazi Holocaust, multiple wars stemming from the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict; and decades of terrorism have fostered familism in Israel, while placing great burdens on Israeli families. These events produced a perpetual, underlying anxiety, which has intensified Israelis' needs for the affiliation and belonging that the family can provide (Malkinson; Rubin; and Witztum 2000). They also engendered a realistic concern with losing a child to war or terror, which has led most Israeli couples to have more children than their counterparts in other Western countries and Israeli society to encourage childbirth.

At the same time, these events have caused enormous stress for Israeli families. Hardly a family in Israel is untouched by loss and bereavement. Many Israeli families cope with the myriad emotional, practical, and financial difficulties of caring for a family member who has been physically injured or psychologically traumatized by these events.

Family Patterns

Several overlapping family patterns may be found in Israel.

The mainstream family. Among Israeli Jews, the great majority of families, of both European and Afro-Asian origin, combine traditional Jewish family values and norms with modern features. These are medium-size families with an average of three children. Marriage is seen primarily, though not only, as a framework for raising children. The man is expected to be the major breadwinner and the woman to fulfill the duties of wife and mother. Although 70 percent of the women work outside the home, work is secondary to childrearing. Divorce is viewed as a failure, not as an opportunity for growth. At the same time, under the impact of feminism and Israel's egalitarian ideology, the men in these families are increasingly involved in childcare, decisions are made jointly, and resources are divided democratically.

The ultra-orthodox family lives by literal adherence to Jewish religious law and at a remove from what they view as the corruption of Israel's secular society. It emphasizes personal modesty (married women must cover their heads); the separation of men and women in education, worship, and public places; early marriage; and clear role divisions. The woman's task is to be a wife and mother, responsible for making a Jewish home. The man's task is to pursue religious studies. The commandment to be fruitful and multiply is taken literally, resulting in a high birth rate. At the same time, ultra-orthodox women have always worked (in feminine occupations, such as secretary and teacher) so as to enable their husbands to study. In addition, there is increasing cooperation with the secular authorities to deal with family problems that were traditionally kept within the community.

Postmodern and single parent families. Israel has a small percentage of postmodern families. These include double-career families, in which the husband and wife are financially autonomous, as well as cohabiting couples, same-sex couples, some of them with children, and unmarried parents by choice.

In 1998, 11 percent of all Israeli families were headed by single parents, 90 percent of them by mothers. Of these mothers, 68 percent were divorced, 17 percent widowed, and 15 percent unmarried (Central Bureau of Statistics 1999). The unmarried mothers are mostly middle- and upper-middle-class college-educated women of European origin, who first gave birth in their midto late thirties. Their choice reflects both the high valuation of having children in Israeli society and the legitimacy it accords to the individual's strivings for self-actualization.

The kibbutz family. The kibbutz family today falls into the mainstream family pattern, but it was once a daring social experiment. The kibbutz is a collective community that was created in Israel on the basis of egalitarian, Marxist principles. For ideological and economic reasons, the family took second place to the community. The legal and ceremonial aspects of marriage were de-emphasized, meals were taken in the communal dining room, and community pressure was exerted on people to spend their leisure time in communal activities rather than with their families. Children were raised with their age mates in separate children's houses. They were cared for by child minders and spent only leisure time, two to three hours daily, with their parents. Their physical, social, and emotional needs were to be met by the kibbutz.

Although kibbutz members have contributed beyond their numbers to the defense and leadership of Israeli society, the psychological impact of this communal upbringing and loosened family ties was always a matter of debate. Beginning in the 1970s, one kibbutz after another returned the children to their parents' homes and care. Moreover, extended families now constitute a recognized part of the kibbutz social landscape.

The Arab family. The traditional Arab family is hierarchical, patriarchal, partrilineal, and collectivist. Individuals are expected to subordinate their wishes to the needs of their families, and wives their wishes to those of their husbands. The nuclear family nests within the hamula, an extensive kinship network formed by ties of marriage and blood, whose traditional function was to provide its members with cohesion and financial support (Haj-Yahia 1995).

Over the latter part of the twentieth century, the Arab family in Israel has been undergoing a process of modernization. The hamula has been whittled down in size and the status and the authority of its elders undermined (Smooha 1989). Arab men have seen their traditional role as head of the family eroded and their authority over their wives and children diminished. Arab women have become increasingly educated and, to help carry the economic burden, have started to work outside the home. Nonetheless, women are generally still expected to be deferential to their husbands, parentsin-law, and parents (Haj-Yahia 1995). Divorce, though on the rise, is strongly stigmatized (Cohen and Savaya 1997; Al-Krenawi and Graham 1998).

Public Support for Families

Familism in Israel is encouraged by the availability of extensive public supports, which are anchored in law and provided by a combination of state and voluntary bodies.

Families benefit from mandatory health insurance with universal access and from a guaranteed minimal income contingent on the number of dependents.

Israel's many laws and services on behalf of children reflect the society's positive attitudes towards children. Employers are forbidden to fire pregnant women. Prenatal care, hospitalization, and delivery are included in the national health package, as is artificial insemination. New mothers receive a monetary grant to pay for the newborn's needs and are entitled to a twelve-week maternity leave, paid for by the National Insurance Institute.

Direct financial support is provided to assist parents to care for their children. Every family receives a monthly child allowance for each child deposited directly into the mother's bank account. Single parents are entitled to a discount on municipal taxes and to financial assistance for such things as purchasing school supplies. The National Insurance Institute pays child support where the father, whether divorced or not, defaults on his obligations.

A ramified system of prenatal and well-baby clinics run by state-supported HMOs and other public bodies is dispersed throughout the country. Day care centers run by state-subsidized voluntary organizations liberally dot Israel's towns and cities. So do community centers, which provide low-cost activities for children, teens, and adults.

Most municipalities in Israel offer state-funded family services that include instrumental services, family counseling, and educational testing and counseling. Shelters for battered women and children have been established by a variety of women's organizations.

The elderly receive National Insurance payments. Indigent elderly who have difficulties taking care of themselves are entitled to home care.

In sum, although Israel is a relatively familistic society, Israeli families, hailing from many parts of the world, are highly diverse and still changing.

See also:Bedouin-Arab Families; Familism; Immigration; Intentional Communities; Islam; Judaism; War/Political Violence


Al-Krenawi, A., and Graham, J. R. (1998). "Divorce among Muslim Arab Women in Israel." Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 29:103–119.

Ben-David, A. (1993). "Culture and Gender in Marital Therapy with Ethopian Immigrants: A Conversation in Metaphors." Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal 15:327–339.

Central Bureau of Statistics. (1998). Statistical Abstract ofIsrael, no. 49. Jerusalem.

Central Bureau of Statistics. (1999). Statistical Abstract ofIsrael, no. 50. Jerusalem.

Cohen, O., and Savaya, R. (1997). "Broken Glass: The Divorced Woman in Moslem Arab Society in Israel." Family Process 36: 225–245.

Good, I. J., and Ben-David, A. (1995). "Family Therapy in Israel: A Review of Therapy Done under Unusual Circumstances." Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal 17:353–366.

Haj-Yahia, M. (1995). "Toward Culturally Sensitive Intervention with Arab Families in Israel." Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal 17:429–447.

Halpern, E. (2001). "Family Psychology from an Israeli Perspective." American Psychology 56:58–64.

Katz, R., and Peres, Y. (1986). "The Sociology of the Family in Israel: An Outline of Its Development from the 1950s to the 1980s." European Sociology Review 2:148–159.

Malkinson, R.; Rubin, S. S.; and Witztum, E. (2000). Traumatic and Nontraumatic Loss and Bereavement: Clinical theory and Practice. Madison, CT: Psychosocial Press.

Poskanzer, A. (1995). "The Matryshka: The Three-Generation Soviet Family in Israel." Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal 17:413–428.

Smooha, S. (1989). Arabs and Jews in Israel: Conflict andShared Attitudes in a Divided Society. San Francisco: Westview Press.

orna cohen

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Fresh Oranges........................................................... 124
Blintzes ..................................................................... 124
Shakshooka (Egg-and-Tomato Dish).......................... 126
Fava Bean Spread...................................................... 126
Sesame Candy .......................................................... 127
Felafel ....................................................................... 128
Tahini Sauce.............................................................. 128
Israeli Vegetable Salad............................................... 129
New Year's Honey Cake ............................................ 130
Charoseth ................................................................. 131
Pita Sandwiches ........................................................ 131
Mandelbrot (Almond Cookies) .................................. 132


Located in the Middle East along the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, Israel is slightly larger than the state of New Jersey. Although it is not extremely large, Israel has several different climates that are home to a wide variety of plants and animals.

Despite varied climatic conditions across the country, the climate is generally temperate. Temperatures rarely dip below 40°F and may reach as high as 120°F, depending on the location. Mild temperatures by the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River (which borders the country of Jordan to the east) allow citrus trees to grow fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, and lemons. Other areas grow figs, pomegranates, and olives. Animals such as jackals, hyenas, and wild boars roam in some areas of Israel.

Throughout the 1900s, about 200 million trees were planted in an effort to restore forests that were destroyed. Reforestation is helping to conserve the country's water resources and prevent soil erosion, making it easier for farmers to grow healthy crops for food.


Israel's diverse population makes its cuisine unique. People from more than seventy different countries, with many different food and customs, currently live in Israel. Many people began arriving in 1948, when the country, then known as Palestine, gained its independence from Great Britain. At this time, large numbers of Eastern European Jews hoped to establish a Jewish nation in Israel. They brought traditional Jewish dishes to Israel that they had prepared in countries such as Poland, Hungary, and Russia. The Palestinians, most of whom were of Arab descent, enjoyed a cuisine adapted from North Africa and the Middle East.

The struggle to establish a Jewish nation heavily impacted the Israeli diet. People lived in small, crowded homes without most modern conveniences, including refrigerators. Because of the turmoil, Israel was not known for the quality of its food. Fresh fruit was considered one of the country's best meals. Israel's orchards produce some of the world's best citrus fruits. U.S. grocery stores often carry grapefruit and oranges with stickers identifying them as "grown in Israel."

Fresh Oranges

Fresh-squeezed orange juiceor oranges cut into wedges as a snackare favorites all over Israel.


  • 6 oranges (with "Jaffa" or other Israeli stickers, if possible)


  1. Cut the oranges in half lengthwise.
  2. Cut each half into thirds, to make six wedges.
  3. Arrange on a plate and serve as a snack.

Since the 1970s, new farming technology and long periods of relative peace have allowed Israelis to pay more attention to food, building on their rich and diverse cultural heritage.


Ingredients for crepes

  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ Tablespoon salad oil
  • ½ cup flour
  • Oil for frying


  1. Break egg into bowl. Add the milk, salt, and oil. Beat the ingredients with the fork until mixture is blended.
  2. Add flour to bowl and mix ingredients until all lumps are gone. Mixture should be as thick as heavy sweet cream.
  3. Oil skillet lightly and heat. Turn heat to medium.
  4. Pour 2 Tablespoons of batter into the skillet. Quickly tilt the skillet from side to side until the batter coats the whole bottom.
  5. Let the batter lightly brown on one side until firmthis takes less than 1 minute.
  6. Turn the blintz out onto a paper towel or dishtowel, brown side up.
  7. Repeat the process until the rest of the batter is used up.

Ingredients for filling

  • 1 cup farmer cheese or drained cottage cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Mix all ingredients together in bowl.
  2. Place a heaping teaspoon of the filling toward one end of the blintz leaf. Flatten the filling slightly.
  3. Roll up the blintz like a jelly roll. Fold each end into the center to seal.
  4. Repeat until the all the filling and all the wrappers have been used.
  5. To heat: Blintzes may be fried or baked. To fry, heat oil in a frying pan until the oil sizzles.
  6. Place blintzes in the pan with the folded-over edge down. Fry the blintzes over medium heat until they are golden brown.
  7. Turn the blintzes over, and brown the other side.
  8. To bake: Heat the oven to 400°F.
  9. Place the blintzes in a buttered baking pan with the folded-over edge down.
  10. Bake the blintzes until they are golden brown (about 15 minutes).

Serve the blintzes hot with sour cream or yogurt, garnished with berries. Serves 8 to 10.

Shakshooka (Egg-and-Tomato Dish)

This is a traditional Sephardic recipe. The Sephardic Jews came from North Africa.


  • 5 ripe tomatoes
  • ½ large green pepper
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 Tablespoons oil, for frying
  • Salt, to taste
  • Red pepper, to taste
  • 6 eggs


  1. Cut the tomatoes into cubes and the green pepper into thin strips. Place them in the bowl.
  2. Peel the garlic and onion, and chop both into tiny pieces.
  3. Heat oil in the frying pan until it sizzles. Add the onion and garlic.
  4. Turn the heat down to medium and fry vegetables until they turn golden brown.
  5. Add tomatoes, green pepper, salt, and red pepper.
  6. Cover the pan, and simmer the mixture over low heat until the tomatoes are soft.
  7. Carefully crack open the eggs (try not to break the yolks) and drop them on the vegetables.
  8. Cover the pan and keep cooking the mixture at the lowest heat for 10 more minutes or until the eggs are set.

Serve on a platter or in a warm pita. Serves 6.


Typical foods of the Middle East include flat bread, lentils, fresh fruit and nuts, raw vegetables, lamb, beef, and dairy products, including goat cheese and many types of yogurt. Some dishes feature grilled meats and fish, stuffed vegetables, and traditional spicy Mediterranean salads and spreads, such as fava bean spread. Typical dishes are stews, schnitzel (veal, chicken, or turkey cutlets), cheese-filled crepes (blintzes), matzo balls (dumplings eaten with chicken soup), and latkes (potato pancakes). Israel was called the "land of milk and honey" in the Bible. Sweets, such as candy made from honey and sesame seeds, are favorites among school children.

Fava Bean Spread


  • One can of fava beans, drained
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper (more if you like pepper)
  • Pita bread, torn or cut into triangles


  1. Drain the can of beans, and empty the beans into a saucepan.
  2. Heat over low heat, mashing the beans against the side of the saucepan with a wooden spoon as they heat.
  3. Continue mashing until the beans have become thick, pasty, and warm.
  4. Add lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve warm or at room temperature with triangles of pita bread.

Sesame Candy


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 24 ounces honey
  • 24 ounces sesame seeds
  • Juice squeezed from one orange (or ½ cup orange juice)
  • Grated rind of orange
  • Peanut oil


  1. Measure honey and sugar into a saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until the mixture boils vigorously.
  2. Lower the heat just enough to keep the mixture bubbling. Add the sesame seeds, orange juice, and rind.
  3. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes.
  4. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking sheet with peanut oil.
  5. Pour candy mixture onto it and press down on the surface with a wooden spoon to flatten it.
  6. Set baking sheet on a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Cut into rectangles or diamond shapes.
  7. Allow to cool completely. Wrap pieces in wax paper to store.

Israel does not have a universally recognized national dish because the nation is young and its people are so diverse. However, many believe it is felafel. Felafel is made from seasoned mashed chickpeas, formed into balls and fried.

The most common way to serve felafel is as a pita pocket sandwich, smothered in tahini, a lemon-flavored sesame sauce. Street vendors throughout Israel sell felafel sandwiches.


Note: This recipe involves hot oil. Adult supervision is required. Many grocery stores now sell prepared felafel in the deli section.


  • 1 cup canned chickpeas, well-drained
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon pepper
  • cup fine breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • Oil for deep frying, enough to fill the pot about 3 inches
  • Pita bread


  1. Mash the chickpeas in a large bowl.
  2. Cut the garlic into tiny pieces. Add the garlic, salt, pepper, and bread crumbs to the chickpeas. Mix the ingredients together.
  3. Add the eggs and oil to the mixture and mix thoroughly.
  4. Heat oil in the pot until little bubbles rise to the surface.
  5. Shape the mixture into 16 balls, each about 1-inch across.
  6. With the mixing spoon, gently place a few of the balls in the oildo not drop them in because the hot oil may splash.
  7. Fry a few at a time until they are golden brownabout 5 minutes.
  8. Remove the felafel with the slotted spoon. Drain them on a plate covered with paper towels.
  9. To serve, cut pita bread in half to make pockets.
  10. Put two or three felafel balls into each pocket and drizzle with tahini sauce (see recipe).

Serves 6 to 8.

Tahini Sauce

Some grocery stores stock tahini sauce, already prepared, or packaged tahini mix.


  • ¾ cup tahini (sesame seed paste; can be purchased in stores that sell Middle Eastern foods)
  • cup lemon juice
  • teaspoon garlic powder
  • cup water


  1. Mix tahini, lemon juice, and garlic powder in bowl until you have a smooth sauce.
  2. Add the water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until sauce is thin enough to pour.
  3. Pour tahini sauce over pita sandwiches; can also be used as a dip for raw vegetables.

Israeli Vegetable Salad


  • ½ head of lettuce
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • ½ cucumber, peeled
  • 5 radishes
  • 6 scallions
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 carrot
  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped


  1. Chop all vegetables except the carrot into small cubes and put them in a bowl.
  2. Grate the carrot and mix it with the other vegetables.
  3. Just before serving, put the lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper into a small pitcher and mix with a fork.
  4. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well. Sprinkle the parsley on top.

Serves 4 to 6.


More than 80 percent of Israelis are Jewish. Of these, a small percentage observe a set of dietary laws called kashruth (or "keeping kosher"). Although only a small percentage of Israel's population strictly observes these laws, the laws affect the availability of certain non-kosher foods throughout the country. The laws also affect both food preparation and availability of certain foods in some restaurants.

According to the rules of kashruth, meat and milk products cannot be served at the same meal. Also, the consumption of certain types of animals is banned. Meat must come from animals that have cleft (divided) hooves and chew their cud. Pork and other products that come from pigs are not to be eaten. Also, an animal must be slaughtered quickly and under supervision of religious authorities for its meat to be considered kosher.

Other restrictions include bans on the consumption of shellfish and of carrion birds (flesh-eating birds). Kosher households have two different sets of dishes and silverware, one for meat meals and the other for dairy meals, which must be kept separate at all times. Some households even have separate sinks for washing the two sets of dishes.

Another religious dietary restriction observed by Jews in Israel is the set of guidelines for the holiday of Passover, which occurs every spring. Leavened bread and many other foods are prohibited during this period, so unleavened bread (called matzo) is substituted. Some Jewish households may eliminate all banned foods from their homes every year before Passover and use a special set of dishes and cooking utensils throughout the holiday. Seder is the time during Passover when lavish meals and family gatherings are enjoyed.

Typical Foods


Hummus with pita

Gefilte fish


Chicken soup with matzo balls

Roasted meat

Cooked sweet carrots

Other cooked vegetables

Dessert: macaroons; cakes made from special Passover flour

Typical Menu for Passover Seder

Ceremonial food:

Boiled eggs dipped in salt water

Celery or other green vegetable



Charoseth (recipe provided below)

Wine or grape juice

New Year's Honey Cake

This cake is typically served on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)


  • cup self-rising flour
  • cup flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 medium egg
  • ½ cup sugar
  • cup cooking oil
  • cup honey
  • cup boiling water


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and grease and line a baking pan.
  2. Place flour, baking soda, cocoa, and spices into a sieve over a large mixing bowl and shake them gently through the sieve.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the egg with the sugar.
  4. Add the oil and honey and mix together.
  5. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture in the first bowl.
  6. Pour in the boiling water and mix together until smooth.
  7. Pour the mixture into the greased pan and bake for 45 minutes.
  8. Leave the cake to cool in the pan before removing and serving.

Serves 12.


This dish is part of the ceremonial Seder plate on Passover.


  • 1 apple, peeled and cored
  • 2½ ounces almonds, shelled
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 Tablespoons red grape juice
  • Matzos


  1. Chop the apple into chunks.
  2. Place the apple and almonds into a food processor (or finely-chop by hand).
  3. Blend together until they are in small pieces.
  4. Add sugar, cinnamon, and grape juice and blend the mixture into a thick paste.
  5. To serve, spread the paste thickly on matzos (unleavened bread).


In the late 1800s and early 1900s, breakfast was the most popular meal in what is modern-day Israel. Pioneer farmers from Russia and Poland would begin their work at dawn to beat the hot midday sun. After working for several hours, they would eat a hearty breakfast composed of bread, olives, cheese, and raw vegetables. This meal became famous as the "Israeli breakfast," and hotels still serve this type of meal to tourists. However, for many Israelis this breakfast has become increasingly rare, especially for those living in cities.

Main meals typically begin with a large assortment of appetizers, called mezze in Arabic, one of Israel's official languages. Meals may include dips and stuffed vegetables. In a full dinner, soup and a main dish that usually contains chicken or lamb follow the appetizers. Fresh fruit or Middle Eastern pastries, such as baklava, are delicious after-dinner treats.

Many restaurants offer alfresco (out-door) dining, where guests order appetizers and main dishes for the entire table to share. Cafés and outdoor food vendors are numerous throughout the country. The most popular Israeli fast food is felafel (a pita pocket filled with various pickles and fried balls of ground chickpeas), followed by shwarma (sliced turkey or lamb wrapped in pita bread). Another very popular snack food is the boureka, a pastry made of flaky filo dough stuffed with cheese, potato, or other fillings, then baked. Western-style fast food chains also operate in Israel.

Pita Sandwiches


  • ½ onion
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 green pepper
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 4 pitas
  • 16 felafel balls (see felafel recipe)
  • Tahini sauce (see tahini recipe)


  1. Peel the onion and cucumber.
  2. Cut the green pepper in half.
  3. Scoop out the seeds and white ribs and throw them away.
  4. Slice the tomatoes.
  5. Cut all the vegetables into narrow strips and cut the strips into little pieces.
  6. Place them in the bowl and mix the ingredients thoroughly.
  7. Slit the top edge of each pita.
  8. Pull the sides apart to make an open pocket.
  9. Fill each pocket with ¼ of the vegetables.
  10. Add 4 felafel. Pour tahini sauce over the filling in each pocket.

Serves 4.

Mandelbrot (Almond Cookies)


  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup finely chopped, blanched almonds


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Place eggs and sugar in large mixing bowl, and use egg beater or electric mixer to blend well.
  3. Add flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and almonds and mix well to blend.
  4. Pour into loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes until golden.
  5. Remove from oven and cool before using knife to slice into ½-inch-thick pieces.
  6. Reduce oven heat to 200°F.
  7. Place slices side by side on cookie sheet and return to oven to dry out.
  8. Bake for about 20 minutes on each side until very dry and lightly toasted.
  9. Keeps indefinitely when stored in an airtight container.


Almost all97 percentof Israelis receive adequate nutrition, and even those living in rural areas have access to clean water. When occasional violence erupts between Palestinians and Israelis, food supplies may be interrupted. Otherwise, Israelis have no political or economic factors that restrict their access to nutrition.



Burstein, Chaya M. A Kid's Catalog of Israel. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1988.

Cooper, John. Eat and be Satisfied: A Social History of Jewish Food. London: Jason Aronson, 1993.

Randall, Ronne. Food and Festivals: Israel. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1999.

Wigoder, Devorah Emmet. The Garden of Eden Cookbook. New York: Harper & Row: New York, 1988.

Web Sites [Online] Available (accessed April 2001).

Jewish Virtual Library. "Israeli Foods." [Online] Available (accessed August 7, 2001).

Middle East Food. [Online] Available (accessed April 2001).

Searchable Online Archive of Recipes (SOAR). [Online] Available (accessed April 2001).

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The State of Israel was established after the Holocaust, in 1948, as a Jewish and democratic state. One of its declared goals was to become the renewed homeland, open to Jews from all over the world. Since then, Israel has absorbed immigrants from about one hundred countries. Most of them came in large waves during short periods of time as other countries opened their gates for emigration. The demographic composition of these immigrant waves has thus been a significant factor in shaping Israel's demography.

Aging population

When Israel was established, it was a young society with just 4 percent of its population age sixty-five and over. The first large immigration wave was composed mainly of European Jews, most of whom were young people who had survived World War II. The most recent wave of immigrants began in 1989 from the former Soviet Union. Since then, approximately 730,000 people have arrived in Israel, increasing its population by about 20 percent. The relatively high percentage of elderly people among them (16 percent) significantly increased the absolute number of elderly people in Israel, as well as their proportion in the general population.

In addition to the effect of immigration on Israel's demography, its population has grown older over the years due to a constant decrease in the fertility rate and increase in life expectancy. The aging of the population has been quite rapid. The percentage of elderly people age sixty-five and over grew from 4 percent in 1948 to 9.85 percent in 1998. The population of people age seventy-five and over (the old-old) grew even more rapidly. Thus, not only has the general population been aging, but also the old population itself has been growing older. By the end of 1998, the group of the old-old comprised 42.5 percent of people age sixty-five and over.

These trends are expected to continue. At the end of 1999 the Israeli population numbered 6,041,400 persons, with about 600,000 (almost 10 percent) elderly. In 2020 elderly people will make up close to 12 percent of the general population, and the old-old will constitute about one-half of the total elderly population.

Heterogeneity is a dominant characteristic of Israel's population. About 80 percent of Israelis are Jews, the remaining 20 percent are mostly Moslem Arabs. Elderly Jews comprise 11.5 percent of the Jewish population, while Arab elderly comprise only about 3 percent of the Israeli Arab population. Elderly Arabs are younger than elderly Jews, have less education, and lower income.

Significant diversity also exists among elderly Jews. In 1998, almost two-thirds of them were born in European or American countries, about 26 percent were born in Asian or African countries, and only 8 percent were born in Israel. In general, Israeli-born elderly persons and elderly of western origin have more education and higher levels of income than people of Asian or African origin. However, elderly immigrants who arrived to Israel in the 1990s from the former Soviet Union, although younger and more educated than the Israeli veteran elderly, are physically and economically weaker (Carmel and Lazar).

Gender differences are found in all the cultural groups of elderly Israelis. Similar to other industrialized societies, Israeli women live longer than men. In 1999, their life expectancy at birth was 79.9 years, while that of men was 76.2 years. Despite living longer, women's general well-being is worse than that of men in terms of health and socioeconomic status. More women than men also live alone and a significantly lower percentage of them is married (40.3 percent versus 78.7 percent in 1999).

Social services

Awareness of needs of the large and rapidly growing group of elderly population intensified in the 1980s. Israel responded to these needs by passing new welfare laws and developing new services. Israel ensures by law a minimal level of income to its older population. In addition to a pension received from the workplace, Israeli citizens above the official retirement age (women at the age of 60 and men at the age of 65) are eligible to receive an old-age pension from the National Insurance Institute (NII). In 1998, about one-third of the elderly population received a supplementary income because this was their only income, or because their overall income was lower than the poverty line. In general, elderly Israelis have lower socioeconomic status than younger age groups. This situation is expected to change in the twenty-first century as younger and better-educated cohorts reach old age.

Since the establishment of Israel, health care services have been available to the vast majority of the population. In 1995, Israel passed the National Health Care Law, under which all Israeli citizens have health care coverage, regardless of income. This insurance covers ambulatory and hospitalization services, including medications which are provided by four sick funds. Elderly Israelis consume more than 30 percent of the national expenditure on health services.

The dominant orientation that has guided Israel's health and welfare policies in meeting the needs of frail and disabled persons is to enable them to continue living in their own homes and communities as long as possible. Accordingly, a wide network of welfare and long-term health services has been established throughout the country by public and private agencies.

For independent elderly persons, many municipalities have opened social clubs. Public and private sheltered housing units have been built in many settlements for persons who want to live independently and for those who need limited services.

The needs of disabled elderly persons have been addressed in part by the Nursing Law, which was passed in 1988. Under this law, people who live in the community and who have difficulties in performing activities of daily living (ADL) are eligible to receive up to sixteen hours per week of help at home, providing for personal needs as well as cooking, house cleaning, and shopping. These trained care providers are paid directly by the state through private manpower agencies.

Community services for the disabled elderly are also provided in numerous public day-care centers. These centers provide a variety of services to people who need assistance in ADL. Services include transportation, meals, nursing surveillance, dentistry and physiotherapy, workshops, social activities, and help in bathing, foot care, and hair styling.

Large municipalities provide subsidized hot, nutritionally balanced meals to the home through the Meals on Wheels service. In addition to regular welfare services, many localities have also developed a wide range of voluntary community services including home visits to ill or lonely persons, information and counseling services, loan of medical equipment and devices for disabled persons, supportive neighborhood programs, and home repair projects. Due to this network of community services, only 22.4 percent of the elderly people who were defined as disabled lived in institutions in 1999.

Long-term institutional care is provided by a variety of public and private organizations such as nursing homes for independent, frail, and nursing-care elderly. These services are financed partly by the government and partly by the patient and the patient's children, depending on their income. Long-term, institutional complex nursing care is financed by the sick funds. The total number of beds for elderly persons in long-term care institutions in 1998 was 43 per 1,000 elderly persons. Only about 5 percent of the elderly population lived in institutions in that year.


Despite this rich network of services, at the beginning of the twenty-first century Israel has to find responses to a number of emerging issues. Because of the growing number of elderly persons who are healthy and independent, programs must be developed to increase their involvement in the workplace, community, and family life in order to improve their health and quality of life and to reduce their needs for social and health services. Israel must also address the challenge of providing appropriate services for a large number of elderly people with diverse cultural backgrounds and languages who live in the same communities. Developing and expanding training programs for formal care providers in order to ensure the quality of services is another important social challenge.

The multiple various services which differ in ownership, responsibility, and financing result in duplications, inefficiency in the provision of services, and fragmentation in the continuity of care. This situation is confusing to the disabled persons, their families, and to formal caregivers. Changes in financing arrangements and the establishment of coordinating mechanisms, which will ensure access to comprehensive, continuous, and efficient care to all are critical (Clarfield et al., 2000).

Families have a dominant role in caring for elderly people in Israel. Most of the main care-givers are women, either spouses or daughters. With the decrease in the number of children per family, and increases in longevity, the number of dependent parents will significantly increase. This load will become heavier with the years, when the middle aged and young-old women, many of whom will be frail themselves and still working outside home, will have to care for a number of older relatives, as well as for their husbands, children, and grandchildren. In 1999 about 10 percent of the Israeli population over age sixty-five had older parents, and 42 percent of them took care of their parents on a daily basis. The parent support ratio (persons eighty and over divided by population age fifty to sixty-four) increased from 57 per thousand in 1961 to 192 in 1997. The development of supportive services for family and other informal caregivers will become one of the goals of the future. The increasing ratios of dependency on the national level will also have economic implications for the whole society, which will require such changes as raising the age of retirement and revisions in the pension system.

Sara Carmel

See also Middle Eastern Countries; Population Aging.


Carmel, S., and Lazar, A.. "Health and Well-Being Among Elderly Persons: The Role of Social Class and Immigration Status." Ethnicity & Health 3 (1998): 3143.

Clarfield, M. A. M.; Paltiel, A.; Gindin, Y.; Morginstin, B.; and Dwolatzky, T. "Country Profile: Israel." Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS) 48 (2000): 980984.

Statistical Abstracts of Israel 1999. Jerusalem: Central Bureau of Statistics, no. 50, 1999.

World Health Organization. The World Health Report 2000Health Systems: Improving Performance. Geneva: WHO, 2000.

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Reflecting the intense struggle of generations not only for survival but also for the establishment of a new social order, Israeli psychoanalysis is intertwined with modern Israeli history, the reestablishment of a nation. After the publication of the 1917 Balfur Declaration, which provided the basis for establishing a Jewish state in Palestine, the British Zionist Commission was appointed. Among its members was David Eder, the first secretary of the British Psychoanalytical Society, founded in 1913. He stayed in Palestine from 1918 to 1922, during which time he urged cooperation between Jews and Arabs and proposed extending medical and social services to all segments of the population. Together with A. Feigenbaum, who immigrated to Palestine from Vienna in 1920, he worked with teachers and educators, applying psychoanalytic theories.

After both had left Palestine, there was little or no active psychoanalytical work in Palestine until the arrival of Max Eitingon (1881-1943) in Jerusalem in 1933, following Hitler's rise to power. He proceeded to found the Palestine Psychoanalytic Society (later the Israeli Psychoanalytic Society) with the help of other refugees who, like himself, came to Palestine via Berlin (Moshe Wulff, Ilja Schalit, Anna Smelianski, Gershon and Gerda Barag, Vicky Ben-Tal, Ruth Jaffe, and others).

Eitingon hoped to set up the first chair of psychoanalysis at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where Freud had been a member of the first board of governors. But the university authorities considered the inclusion of psychoanalysis in the university setting to be premature, as a chair of psychology had yet to be established. On December 5, 1933, Freud wrote to Judah Magnes, the rector of the university, "The plan to establish a chair for psychology indicates a barely disguised rejection of psychoanalysis and the University of Jerusalem would thus have followed the example of other official teaching institutions. It is then comforting to bear in mind that Dr. Eitingon is determined to pursue the practice of psychoanalysis in Palestine also independently of the University." Nonetheless, the attempt to introduce psychoanalysis into the university was a historic first.

Eitingon then decided to create an independent psychoanalytic institute modeled after the Berlin institute. In 1934 he founded a polyclinic and the Palestine Institute of Psychoanalysis, which became the eleventh member institute of the International Psychoanalytical Association. As in Berlin, the purpose was to offer treatment, training and supervision, and a forum for discussing psychoanalytic theory. The Israeli clinic still functions according to this model to the present (2004).

Eitingon served as president of the Israeli Psychoanalytic Society (Hachevra Hapsychoanalytit be Israel) during its first ten years. The formative years of the society and the institute were characterized by idealism, devotion, and hard work, often overshadowed by political and economic difficulties. Eitingon's spirit continued to prevail after him, and within a few years there were twenty analysts practicing in Palestine. Three groups were formed in the three major cities, and all three participated in the institute. Eitingon's concern and compassion for those who needed psychoanalytic treatment was maintained and handed down from one generation of analysts to the next (the first pioneer group even raised a small fund called the "Institute's Loan Fund" to offer needy patients a daily meal, as an empty stomach is not conducive to analysis). It should be noted that in the first ten years the language used at meetings was German, and for a while later as well, some analyses were carried out in a language in which either the analyst, the patient, or both were not fluent, and they sometimes even used different languages. Eitingon left a legacy of interdisciplinary and multicultural relations and interests that made the institute a vibrant intellectual and cultural center.

The second president of the Israeli Psychoanalytic Society was Moshe Wulff (1943-1953). Wulff was born in 1878 in Odessa, Russia, and later settled in Tel Aviv. He made many important contributions to psychoanalysis, one of them being "Fetishism and Object Choice in Early Childhood" (1946). On the basis of his findings, Wulff formulated a theory about the transition from infantile narcissism to the first genuine libidinal cathexis of an outside object. He also promoted the acceptance of analysis in Israel, especially in educational circles. After Wulff, the presidency of the society rotated for almost twenty years between Heinz Winnik, founder of the Israel Annals of Psychiatry and Related Sciences and a pioneer of psychiatric education in Israel, and Erich Gumbel, the first graduate of the institute.

In the 1950s Israeli analysts became increasingly involved in education and training. Heinz Winnik and Ruth Jaffe were the first psychoanalysts to head psychiatric hospitals. Erich Gumbel led an effort that began a three-year program in psychotherapy for non-analysts, and it still continues in 2004. Analysts began teaching at the School of Medicine in Jerusalem.

In the 1960s New Yorker Mortimer Ostow set up a group in the United States of corresponding members of the Israeli Psychoanalytic Society. These American analysts maintained a special relationship with the Israeli society through visits, symposiums, and financial assistance.

Almost as a rule, members of the Israeli Psychoanalytic Society have been continuously involved in social issues. A topic of special interest to analysts is the special conditions under which children were raised in kibbutzim. Shmuel Golan, a leading theoretician and practitioner in the kibbutzim, based his educational and developmental theories on psychoanalysis (1959). Shmuel Nagler, another psychoanalyst involved in work with kibbutzim, wrote of his clinical observations of kibbutz children (1963).

In the Six-Day War (1967), Yom-Kippur War (1973), Lebanon War (1982), and Gulf War (1991), psychoanalysts assumed a significant role in treating and researching combat-stress reactions and the consequences of social violence (Raphael Moses, Gad Tadmor). Other societal issues of great interest to Israeli analysts were the Israeli-Arab conflict, immigration, and survivors of the Holocaust and their children (Hillel Klein, Shamai Davidson, Raphael Moses, Dan Hertz, Ilani Kogan, Shalom Robinson, Martin Wangh, and Yolanda Gampel). The Israeli Psychoanalytic Society and the Freud Center cosponsored conferences and dialogues between Israeli and German analysts. Prominent in this dialogue was Hillel Klein, a survivor of Auschwitz. This dialogue has evolved into a working conference held under the title "Germans and Israelis: The Past and the Present."

In 1977 the International Psychoanalytical Association held its thirtieth congress in Jerusalem. This was the first IPA congress held outside Europe. At this time, after efforts by numerous analysts throughout the world, among them Martin Wangh, Hebrew University established a chair of psychoanalysis, thus realizing Freud's dream. Joseph Sandler was the first person to hold this chair. He stayed in Jerusalem with Anne-Marie Sandler, his wife, and contributed greatly to the further development of psychoanalysis in Israel. After Sandler, a number of distinguished psychoanalysts were appointed to this chair, including Albert Solnit, who developed psychoanalytical thought in the Ben Gurion University Medical School. In the 1990s the chair was held by Shmuel Erlich, a senior psychoanalyst and academician.

Over the past twenty years, among those who made major theoretical and clinical contributions to psychoanalysis through the Israeli Psychoanalytic Society were Pinchas Noy (who contributed to psychoanalysis in the fields of art and creativity), Rivka Eiferman, Rina Moses-Hrushevski, Emanuel Berman, Ruth Stein, and Shmuel Erlich. Those who contributed to the development of child analysis in Israel include Naomi Weiss, Eliezer Ilan (who was the director of the child guidance clinic in Jerusalem), Yecheskiel Cohen (who directed a residential treatment center where boys receive psychoanalytic treatment and education), Raanan Kulka, and Yolanda Gampel.

A theme that Israeli psychoanalysts are very involved with is the consequences of social violence. Psychoanalysis at the political border (Rangell and Moses-Hrushovski, 1996), presents, among other topics, the contributions of Israeli psychoanalysts to compelling issues confronting groups and nations.

In 2004 the Israeli Psychoanalytic Society has more than 100 members, and the Israeli Psychoanalytic Institute, as it is now called, has more than 70 candidates. The number of applicants has been five times higher than can be accepted. Throughout the years, analysts who completed their training in different institutes have immigrated from Argentina, France, Holland, and the United States, bringing different outlooks and perspectives from a variety of paradigms in psychoanalysis. If influence initially emanated from European, especially classical Freudian Berliner and Viennese, psychoanalysts, current major influences are Melanie Klein's model and Heinz Kohut's ideas. During the mid-1990s Donald Winnicott's and Wilfred Bion's concepts have achieved prominence in teaching and discussion in the society. The society and institute are growing and developing creatively; its members hold leading positions in psychiatry, psychology, and particularly academia.

Yolanda Gampel


Cohen, Yecheskiel. (1988). The "golden fantasy" and countertransference: Residential treatment of the abused child. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 43, 337-350.

Golan, Shmuel. (1959). Collective education in the kibbutz. Psychiatry, 22, 167-177.

Kulka, Raanan. (1988). Narcissism and neurosisan opportunity for integration in psychoanalytic theory and technique. International Journal of Psycho-analysis, 69, 521-531.

Moses, Raphael. (1998). Psychoanalyse in Israel. Psychoanalytische Blätter, 9.

Moses-Hrushovski, Rina. (1994). Deployment: Hiding behind power struggles as a character defense. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

Noy, Pinhas. (1973). Symbolism and mental representation. Annual of Psychoanalysis, 1, 125-158.

Rangell, Leo, and Moses-Hrushovski, Rena (Eds.). (1996). Psychoanalysis at the political border. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.

Wulff, Moshe. (1946). Fetishism and object choice in early childhood. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 15, 450-471.

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Official name: State of Israel

Area: 20,770 square kilometers (8,019 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Meron (Har Meron) (1,208 meters/3,963 feet)

Lowest point on land: Dead Sea (408 meters/1,339 feet below sea level)

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 2 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 320 kilometers (200 miles) from north to south; 110 kilometers (70 miles) from east to west

Land boundaries: 1,006 kilometers (625 miles) total boundary length; Egypt 255 kilometers (158 miles); Gaza Strip 51 kilometers (32 miles); Jordan 238 kilometers (148 miles); Lebanon 79 kilometers (49 miles); Syria 76 kilometers (47 miles); West Bank 307 kilometers (191 miles)

Coastline: 273 kilometers (170 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Israel is a small country located in the Middle East, bordering Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank to the east, the Gulf of Aqaba to the south, Egypt and the Gaza Strip to the southwest, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Israel consists of six administrative districts or mehoz: Central, Haifa, Jerusalem, Northern, Southern, and Tel Aviv.


In addition to the land within the country's original 1948 borders, Israel also controls the areas known as the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip These are collectively called the occupied territories. They were captured from Jordan, Syria, and Egypt during wars in 1967 and 1973, and have been occupied by Israel since that time. These occupied territories are not recognized as an integral part of Israel. Syria claims the Golan Heights, while Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have long sought to become independent of Israel.


Israel has a Mediterranean climate. Summers are hot and dry; winters are short, warm, and wet. Average summertime temperatures range from 24°C (75°F) at Safed, in the hills of Galilee, to 34°C (93°F) in Elat, the southernmost point of the Negev Desert, where high temperatures in August can reach 46°C (114°F). The hot, dry desert wind called the hamsin can raise the high summer temperatures even higher, as well as fill the air with sand and dust. Temperatures in January, the coldest month, average 13°C (56°F) on the coastal plain and 16°C (60°F) in the southern desert.

Rainfall is lightest in the south, ranging from 3 centimeters (1 inch) per year south of the Dead Sea to 118 centimeters (44 inches) in the hills of Galilee. Most rain falls between October and April.


Located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, Israel occupies most of the region historically known as Palestine. A dramatic variety of physical landscapes are found within Israel's narrow borders, including the hills and mountains of Galilee, the Mediterranean coastal plains, the dry area of the Negev Desert, and the Dead Seathe lowest point on the surface of the earth. The country can be divided into four major regions: the coastal plain to the west, the upland areas in the central and northern parts of the country, the Great Rift Valley along its eastern border, and the Negev Desert to the south.

The Golan Heights, located to the northeast along the Israeli-Syrian border, is an upland region covering 1,710 square kilometers (660 square miles). Its major topographical sections are the Hermon Range to the north and the Golan plateau to the south. The West Bank (5,878 square kilometers/2,270 square miles) is the former Jordanian section of Palestine, whose major physical features are the hills of Judea and Samaria and the Jordan River Valley. The Gaza Strip is a narrow strip of land at the southern end of Israel's Mediterranean coast, adjacent to Egypt, with an area of only 363 square kilometers (140 square miles) and a maximum width of only 13 kilometers (8 miles).

Israel is situated along the border between the African Tectonic Plate and the Arabian Tectonic Plate. The border between these two plates forms part of the Great Rift Valley, the world's most extensive geological fault, which extends southward through eastern Africa as far south as Mozambique.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

Israel lies on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean coastline is almost entirely smooth. The southern tip of Israel borders the Gulf of Aqaba, a gulf of the Red Sea.The soft pink and red coral that line the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba give the Red Sea its name. Both the coral and the plentiful marine life in these waters make the City of Elat a popular diving and snorkeling center, and home to an extensive underwater observatory and aquarium.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Israel has no notable sea inlets or straits. The only indentation is at the mouth of the Kishon River, at the port city of Haifa. In the extreme south, Israel also has a short shoreline on the Gulf of Aqaba, an extension of the Red Sea.

Coastal Features

Israel's smooth coastline is dotted with many sandy beaches. These beach areas are bordered by agricultural land.


Israel's two major lakes (both called "seas") are the Sea of Galilee (also called Lake Tiberias, or the Kinneret) in the northeast, bordering the Golan Heights; and the Dead Sea to the south along the border with Jordan. The two bodies of water are connected by the Jordan River. The Sea of Galilee actually contains fresh water, the largest such body of water in the country. The Dead Sea is a large saltwater lake. It is the lowest spot on the surface of Earth. Its high salt and mineral content gives it a bright green hue and makes it extremely easy to float init is possible to "sit" on the surface of the lake and remain afloat.


The Jordan River, which makes up part of the border between Israel and Jordan, is the country's largest and best-known river, as well as its main source of water. Three of its sourcesthe Banyas, the Dan, and the Hasbanrise on Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights. Along its 322-kilometer (200-mile) course, the Jordan descends over 701 meters (2,300 feet) to the Dead Sea. While the river swells during the rainy season, for most of the year it is a small, muddy stream that can be forded easily at several points.

Most of Israel's other rivers are seasonal, drying up in the summer. Israel's major rivers are the Jordan; the Yarqon, which drains into the Mediterranean near Tel Aviv; and the Kishon, which enters the Mediterranean farther north, near Haifa. All rivers except the Jordan flow into the Mediterranean.


Descending eastward to the Dead Sea, the Judean Hills turn into the Judean Desert, a scenic wilderness. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the late 1940s where this desert meets the Dead Sea.

Where the Judean Hills end in the south, the Negev Desert begins. Although it comprises two-thirds of Israel's land area, it contains only a small percentage of the population. The Arava, an extremely dry stretch of desert between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, has an average annual rainfall of less than 2.5 centimeters (1 inch), and its summer temperatures are very high.


Israel's narrow coastal plain includes the Plain of Judea, south of Tel Aviv, and the Plain of Sharon, between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Israel's largest plains area is the fertile Esdraelon Plain, which extends southeast from the Mediterranean coast near Mount Carmel to the Jordan River valley, separating Galilee from Samaria. The Kishon River in the west and the Harod River in the east drain this region. The Valley of Jezreel lies at its eastern end, between Mount Gilboa and the Hill of Moreh, and the entire plain itself is often referred to as Jezreel.

The hills of Galilee are located in the northern part of the country. Farther south, two hilly regionsJudea and Samariamake up most of the West Bank and also extend into Israel proper. Nestled in these hills lie the cities of Jerusalem, Nābulus, and Hebron (Al Khalil).

Next to Israel's mountains are several valleys: the Hula, between the mountains of Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights; the Caper-naum, near the Sea of Galilee; and the Jezreel Valley, on the Esdraelon Plain, between Mount Gilboa and the Hill of Moreh. The Great Rift Valley runs from north to south along the border between Israel and Jordan. In this region it is known as the Jordan Valley.


The highest mountain in Israel (not counting the occupied territories) is Mount Meron in the mountains of Upper Galilee, which rises to 1,208 meters (3,963 feet); the peaks of Lower Galilee rise to only about half this height. To the southwest, at the edge of the coastal city of Haifa, is Mount Carmel, rising to 546 meters (1,790 feet). Topping all these elevations is that of Mitzpeh Shlagim in the Golan Heights, which rises to over 2,224 meters (9,297 feet). It is the second-highest peak of the Hermon Range, whose highest point, Mount Hermon, is in Syria.


Deep canyons are located at the edges of the Golan Plateau. Small caves can be found throughout the country, which have been used over the last three thousand years as dwellings, storage areas, and even churches. Sodom Cave, near the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, is a salt cave, a type of cave rarely found because it needs a very specific climate and geographic location in order for it to form.


The Golan Plateau in the Golan Heights extends south of the Hermon Range. It is over 60 kilometers (37 miles) long and at its highest area is over 1,200 meters (3,936 feet) above sea level.


There are no notable man-made features in Israel.



Gray, Shirley W. Israel. Minneapolis, MN: Compass Point Books, 2002.

Park, Ted. Israel. Austin, TX: Steadwell Books, 2000.

Richardson, Adele. Israel. Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 2000.

Web Sites

The Israeli Government's Official Web Site. (accessed April 24, 2003).

Israel News: Jerusalem Post Internet Edition. (acceseed April 24, 2003).

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The modern state of Israel was founded in 1948 and, in the early twenty-first century, has a population of over 6 million people. Of these 6 million, over 2 million (36.7 percent of the population) are children. However, the history of childhood in Israel, like the history of Israel itself, extends to earliest days of human civilization.

In the land of Israel, part of the ancient "fertile crescent," one can find some of the oldest evidence of agriculture and early signs of town life. The Biblical figures of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the forefathers of the Jewish people, lived in the area about 2000 b.ce. and later the twelve tribes of Israel settled the land. Judea prospered under King David and his successors between 1000 and 600 b.ce. After being conquered and dispersed by the Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks, Judea again became independent under the Hasmonean Jewish Kingdom from 165 to 63 b.ce. Then, within a century, the land was occupied by the Romans. Rome suppressed revolts in 70 and 135 c.e., and renamed Judea Palestine, after the Philistines who had inhabited the coastal land before the Hebrews arrived. The Romans dispersed Jews to all parts of the Roman Empire.

Arab invaders conquered the land in 636. Within a few centuries, Islam and the Arabic language became dominant and the Jewish community reduced to a minority. During the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, the country became a part of the Seljuk, Mamluk, and Ottoman empires, although the Christian Crusades provided a temporary break in the dominance of Islamic culture between 1098 and 1291.

As the Ottoman empire collapsed in World War I, Britain took control of the Palestine Mandate (comprising present-day Israel and Jordan). The Balfour Declaration in 1917 pledged support for a Jewish national homeland in that area, but the British gave 80 percent of the land to Emir Abdullah in 1921, and Jordan was created. Jewish immigration, which began in the late nineteenth century, swelled in the 1930s as Jews fled the rise of Nazism in Germany. After the turmoil of World War II, the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition what was left of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. In 1948, Britain withdrew from the country and Israel declared itself an independent state. The Arab world rejected the new state and Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia invaded, but were defeated by Israel. In separate armistices signed with the Arab nations in 1949, Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria (sometimes called the West Bank of the Jordan) and Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip, although neither granted Palestinian autonomy. Subsequent wars expanded Israeli territory but created recurrent tensions with Arab states and with the large Palestinian minority within Israel's borders.

Conditions for Childhood

Childhood in Israel has been shaped by several factors. From Jewish tradition came, among other things, a strong emphasis on education that was maintained even by secular Jews. Following the experiences of the Jewish people in Europe, where Jews had sometimes been seen as unduly passive victims of outside attacks, many Israeli leaders developed a desire to alter some aspects of the traditional socialization of children, particularly to create a greater emphasis on physical prowess and assertiveness. These qualities also fit the role of agriculture in Israel, with its demand for physical labor, and the need to maintain military service and preparedness. Childhood in Israel was also quite diverse, as Jewish immigrants not only from Europe but also from North Africa and the Middle East brought different customs and habits (including different levels of religious commitment) and as substantial Muslim and Christian minorities also coexisted. Finally, particularly amid mounting internal violence after 2000, fear and insecurity played a growing role in children's experience in both Jewish and Arab communities.


The Jewish faith does not claim that the Jews were the first to worship one God. The Jewish tradition is based on the law of the sons of Noah, the law that is the foundation of an universal ethical religion (including the worship of God; bans on murder, theft, incest and sex aberrations, eating "the limb of the living" or cruelty to animals, and blasphemy; and the establishment of justice, i.e., courts, judges, and a system of equity).

The ten commandments, an expansion of the above, were given by God at Mount Sinai to the Jewish people to guide them in their everyday life. Historically, Judaism never separated belief from performance, so in the Torah (the written law, or Bible, and the oral law, or Talmud) gives the Jew vision and purpose in life, a feeling of supremacy and special purpose in life for the superior mission he must accomplish. With the superior strength of Torah he overcomes failures during his lifetime. From this it can be seen that the Torah, rather than a history book, is the guidebook for life from which Jews must draw their power. A great sage of Judaism, Rabbi Hillel, who lived in the second century b.ce., put it very plainly to a convert who asked to be taught all the Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel told him: "Love your neighbor as yourself. All the rest is commentary. Go now and learn."

Childhood in Judaism is considered a period of joy and purity that should be valued. The Talmud describes childhood as "a garland of roses." For every Jewish boy, childhood lasts from birth to the age of thirteen years, but after his bar mitzvah at age thirteen he is considered a man. At this age he begins to be responsible for his own actions and obliged to perform and fulfill mitzvot (good deeds). For a Jewish girl the age of reason begins at the age of twelve years.

Childhood in Israel

The educational system was established in 1948 in the new state of Israel in order to serve the Jewish population returning to their homeland. The system focused on culture, language, and ideology in order to create a new and strong Jew. In this period the kibbutz movement, which focused on the group and not the family, was very important. Growing from socialist theories, the kibbutz downplayed the traditional family. Children lived by themselves in children's houses, grew up collectively, and had very little family life. Long seen as the most distinctive aspect of Israeli childhood, the kibbutz movement was designed to instill strong community values and to promote hard work and efficiency, particularly in commercial agriculture. Children socialized in the kibbutzim were found to have less individualism and emotional fervor than children raised in traditional families, but their combination of schooling and work activities helped build the Israeli economy in the nation's early decades. Growing urbanization and the spread of more individualistic and consumer-oriented values increasingly undermined the kibbutz movement. In the early twenty-first century only 2 percent of children live in kibbutzim and even on remaining kibbutzim, children often live with their parents and have an increasing array of consumer items such as televisions. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries Israeli society has changed from agriculture to high-tech industry and the kibbutz population has declined. The kibbutz childhood was an experiment that got the attention of many important researchers in child development in the twentieth century, but has been mostly abandoned as an idea in the twenty-first century. This change can be seen in the draft of soldiers to elite units. Years ago the best soldiers came from the kibbutz population, but in recent years the elite has shifted to the modern Orthodox population and the child of the kibbutz is no longer in demand.

Israeli society is mainly Western oriented with many contacts and relationships with the United States. This consumer-oriented society has influenced children growing up in Israel. Television, Burger King, and whatever is the hit in America will quickly be introduced to the Israeli child. Israeli children have been avid consumers of MTV and other Western fads and fashions. But even with that influence, childhood is not the same for every child. The religious Jewish child in a settlement or in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem (where children grow up without television at all) will live a life integrated with the history of Israel, a life different from that of a secular Jewish child in Tel Aviv living the life of Western civilization, which again is different from that of a child in a Druze village or an Arab village.

Child abuse, family violence, and school violence, while always a part of life, have only emerged as a concern in Israel in the 1990s.With massive immigration from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, rates of reported family violence have risen. The increasing internal conflict and terrorist action that started in 2000 has killed more than one thousand persons (including children, mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers). The experience will have long-term effects and psychological consequences on children growing up in Israel. Terror has been part of the scene in Israel for many years, but the latest period has brought the terror closer to home, with many more victims.

Research and clinical experience have shown that in Israel today four groups of children are at a disadvantage: children living in poverty (25 percent of the children in the Israeli population), the Arab minority, immigrant children, and disabled children. In these areas the government will need to focus in order to make childhood in Israel better for all children.


Aburbeh, Myriam, Ronit Ozeri, Ethel-Sherry Gordon, Nechama Stein, Esther Marciano, and Ziona Haklai. 2001. Health in Israel. 2001 Selected Data. Jerusalem: Ministry of Health.

Ben-Arieh, Asher, Yaffa Tzionit, and Zoe Beenstock-Rivlin. 2001. The State of the Child in Israel. A Statistical Abstract. Jerusalem: Israel National Council of the Child.

Efrat, Galia, Asher Ben-Arieh, John Gal, and Muhammed Haj Yahia. 1998. Young Children in Israel. Jerusalem: Israel National Council of the Child.

Joav Merrick

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26,650sq km (10,290sq mi)



capital (population):

Jerusalem (622,091)


Multiparty republic

ethnic groups:

Jewish 82%, Arab and others 18%


Hebrew and Arabic (both official)


Judaism 82%, Islam 14%, Christianity 2%, Druse and others 2%


New Israeli sheqel = 100 agorat

Republic in sw Asia. The State of Israel, a small nation in the e Mediterranean, can be divided into four geographical regions: a narrow, fertile coastal plain, site of Israel's main industrial cities, Haifa and Tel Aviv; the Judaeo-Galilean highlands; the Negev Desert, which occupies the s half of Israel, extending to Elat on the Gulf of Aqaba, and includes the city of Beersheba; in the e lies part of the Great Rift Valley, including the Sea of Galilee, the River Jordan, and the Dead Sea, the world's lowest point, at 396m (1302ft). Israeli-occupied territories are the Gaza Strip, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and the Golan Heights.

Climate and Vegetation

Israel has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry, summers and mild, rainy winters. Temperature and rainfall vary with elevation and proximity to the sea. The Dead Sea region has 70mm (2.5in) of rainfall a year, and temperatures rise to 49°C (120°F). Despite reforestation schemes, forests account for 6% of land use. Farmland covers c.20% of the land, with pasture making up another 40%. The arid Negev Desert is partly irrigated with water pumped from the Sea of Galilee.

History and Politics

Israel is part of a historic region which makes up most of the Biblical Holy Lands (for history pre-1947, see Palestine). In the late 19th century, Zionism began to agitate for a Jewish homeland. In 1947, the United Nations (UN) agreed to partition Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state, but Arabs rejected the plan. On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled. In the first of the Arab-Israeli Wars, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria invaded, but the Haganah successfully defended the state. An Israeli government was formed with Chaim Weizmann as president, and David Ben-Gurion as prime minister.

In 1949, Israel joined the United Nations and the capital transferred from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. In 1950, the Law of Return provided free citizenship for all immigrant Jews. Following Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal, Israel captured Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula. In 1957, Israel withdrew. In 1963, Ben-Gurion resigned, and Levi Eshkol became prime minister (1963–69). In 1967, Nasser blockaded Elat. Israel's defence minister Moshe Dayan launched a pre-emptive attack against Egypt and Syria. Within six days, Israel occupied the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Eshkol died in 1969, and Golda Meir became prime minister (1969–74). On October 6, 1973, (Yom Kippur), Egypt and Syria attacked Israeli positions in Sinai and the Golan Heights. Recovering from the initial surprise, Israeli troops launched a counter-offensive and retained its 1967 gains. Yitzhak Rabin's government (1974–77) is chiefly remembered for the daring rescue of Israeli hostages at Entebbe.

Menachem Begin (1977–83) succeeded Rabin. Begin encouraged Jewish settlement on the West Bank, and suppressed Palestinian uprisings. Following the Camp David Accord, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty (1979) in which Egypt recognized the Israeli state and regained Sinai. In 1982, Begin launched a strike against nuclear installations in Iraq and a full-scale invasion of Lebanon (1982–85) to counter the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1987, the Intifada began in Israeli-occupied territory. From 1989–92 Israel's population rose by 10%, due to the immigration of Falashas and Soviet Jews. Increasing Jewish settlement inflamed the popular uprising. During the Gulf War (1991) Israel was the target of Iraqi Scud missiles, but under US pressure, did not respond. In 1992, Rabin was re-elected and began ‘land-for-peace’ negotiations with the PLO. In 1993, Rabin and Yasir Arafat signed the Israeli-Palestinian Accord. In 1994, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) assumed limited autonomy over the West Bank town of Jericho and the Gaza Strip. On November 4, 1995, a Jewish extremist assassinated Rabin. Shimon Peres, Rabin's successor, continued the peace process. Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu narrowly defeated Peres in 1996 elections. Netanyahu, while vowing to maintain the peace process, favoured a more hardline policy and Jewish settlement on the West Bank intensified, despite US and UN disapproval.

In 1997, Israeli troops withdrew from Hebron, but further Jewish settlement on the West Bank threatened the process. The US-brokered Wye Accord (October 1998) saw Israel agree to redeploy troops on the West Bank, and the PLO promise to cancel anti-Israeli provisions in its charter. Opposition to the Accord led to fresh elections in May 1999, won by a Labour coalition, One Israel, led by Ehud Barak. In 2000, Barak withdrew Israeli troops from s Lebanon. His failure to secure peace led to further elections in which the Likud leader Ariel Sharon won a landslide victory. In September 2000, after the failure of peace talks, the Intifada renewed and the cycle of violence intensified.


Israel is a wealthy nation (2000 GDP per capita, US$18,900). Agriculture, which employs 4% of the workforce, is highly scientific. Manufactured goods are the leading export; products include chemicals, electronic and military equipment, and jewellery. Diamonds account for 23% of exports. About 66% of the workforce is employed in services. Tourism is also important.

Political map

Physical map


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Beginning with the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, there was a great influx of Jewish immigrants into Palestine, and this migration was intensified with the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. Refugees from persecutions and the aftermath of two world wars brought the rich folklore of Europe into the new homeland. Stories of the Hasidimthe miracle-working mystical rabbis and their followersexisted side by side with legends of the Angel of Death, or the golem created by Rabbi Loew of Prague. As in the United States, mystical groups in Israel have kept alive the study of Kabbalah. The 1990s showed a resurgence of the study of Jewish mysticism, when celebrities such as Madonna and Roseanne announced their studies publicly.

Beyond the legends of miracles and occult phenomena that have a basically mystical purpose, speculation on the afterlife is alien to the general trend of Judaism and there has been little basis for studies of Spiritualism and psychical research. Since the 1960s, however, there has been a growing interest in parapsychology in Israel, given added topical interest by the furious controversies over the phenomena of Uri Geller, who encountered great opposition from scientists and psychologists who were convinced that he was a fraud. More information on Uri Geller's current activity can be found at his website:

Enlightened scientific interest in parapsychology in Israel owes much to Professor H. S. Bergman, who was a great friend of the famous psychic Eileen Garrett, founder of the Parapsychology Foundation in the United States. With the cooperation of Bergman, F. S. Rothschild, Heinz C. Berendt and others, the Israel Parapsychology Society was formed. In 1965, Garrett visited the group in Jerusalem for the opening of the Parapsychology Foundation Library. Berendt published the first Hebrew-language book on parapsychology, ParapsychologyThe World Beyond (Jerusalem, 1966).

In 1968 the Israel Society for Parapsychology was founded in Tel Aviv under the chairmanship of Margot Klausner. The society has organized lectures and courses on a wide range of subjects, such as clairvoyance, telepathy, reincarnation, dowsing, spiritual healing, meditation, and astrology. It also publishes a journal, Mysterious Worlds, and maintains a library of more than 1,200 volumes. The last known address of Israel Parapsychology Society is c/o Mr. Gilad Livneh, 28 Hapalmach St., 92542 Jerusalem, Israel.

In response to the explosion of interest of parapsychology and in opposition of extreme religious activism, beginning with the assassination of Israel's Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin, the Israeli Atheists Society was founded on November 7, 1996. This organization views atheism as the only way for Israel to reach humanistic civilization and to survive as a nation.


Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

The Israeli Atheists Society Introduction. June 20, 2000.

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Israel (in the Bible)

Israel (Ĭz´rēəl, Ĭz´rāəl) [as understood by Hebrews,=he strives with God], according to the book of Genesis, name given to Jacob as eponymous ancestor of the Hebrews, the chosen people of God. In the story, Jacob finds himself struggling with a being who, by the end of the narrative, is sometimes taken to be revealed as God. The story highlights the theme of Jacob's conflict and alienation from people (Isaac, Laban, and Esau) and God. The struggle marks a critical stage in the psychological development of Jacob.

The 12 tribes of Israel were named for 10 sons of Jacob (Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, and Benjamin) and the two sons of Jacob's son Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh); the 13th tribe, Levi (the third of Jacob's sons), was set apart and had no one portion of land of its own. A break in the Hebrew kingdom was precipitated by Rehoboam, a son of Solomon. An independent southern kingdom, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin as well as a portion of the Levites, was called Judah; the northern kingdom, which consisted of the rest of what had been the larger Hebrew nation, was called Israel.

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Culture Name



Identification. According to the Bible, Israel is the name given by God to Jacob. The modern country of Israel includes two distinct nationalities, the Palestinian and the Jewish. Each nationality is inextricable from its religious identity. The Palestinians are Arabs whose traditions are founded in Muslim culture; the Jews define their culture in large part around their religion as well. Each group identifies as part of a larger, international religious and cultural community, and each has a history in the region that goes back to ancient times.

Location and Geography. Israel is in the Middle East on the Mediterranean Sea, bordering Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank. Its total area is 8,019 square miles (20,770 square kilometers), slightly smaller than New Jersey. The Negev Desert covers the south of the country. Mountains rise in the central region from the low coastal plain along the Mediterranean. The Jordan River stretches 200 miles (322 kilometers) from Syria in the north, emptying into the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea (technically a lake) is, at 1,312 feet (400 meters) below sea level, the lowest inland sea on earth.

Demography. Israel's population in 2000 was 5,842,454. This includes an estimated 171,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, 20,000 in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, 6,500 in the Gaza Strip, and 172,000 in East Jerusalem. The population is roughly 80 percent Jewish; of the total population, 32.1 percent were born in Europe or America; 20.8 percent in Israel; 14.6 percent in Africa; and 12.6 percent in Asia. Most of the 20 percent who are not Jewish are Arab.

Linguistic Affiliation. Hebrew is the nation's official language. The modern Hebrew language was designed by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, a Lithuanian Jew who moved to Palestine in the 1880s. Previously, biblical Hebrew had been the language of prayer, whereas the vernacular of most Jews was Yiddish (Ladino for Spanish and Portuguese Jews). David Ben-Gurion's vision of a national language, which would allow Jews from different parts of the world to communicate with each other, was an important element of the Zionist movement. Arabic is the official language of the Arab minority. English is studied in school and is the most commonly spoken foreign language. Immigrants from various countries also bring their languages with them, and Spanish, Italian, African dialects, and especially Russian are often heard.

Symbolism. The flag consists of a blue six-pointed star on a white background, with a horizontal blue stripe above and one below. The star, called a Magen David, or Shield of David, is a symbol of the Jewish faith.

The Israeli national anthem, Hatikva , is over one hundred years old. Its melody is of unknown origin, although some believe it comes from an Eastern European fold song. Its lyrics are explicitly Zionist, extolling the return of the Jews to their holy land. The song was banned from the airwaves during the British mandate, and it continues to be somewhat controversial today; there has been some debate as to whether its Zionist message is still valid.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. There is archaeological evidence of settlements in Israel dating from nine thousand to eleven thousand years ago. It is thought that the first people of the kingdom of Israel migrated from Mesopotamia. Much of the history of ancient Israel is laid out in the Bible. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt from about 1750 to 1280 b.c.e., when Moses led the Jewish people in Exodus. They wandered in the desert for forty years. Moses died, and Joshua took the helm and led the people into the land of Canaan, or the Promised Land. The epoch that followed was known as the period of the judges, when Israel was ruled by judges and priests. Saul became the first king of Israel in 1020 b.c.e. He was succeeded by his rival, David, in 1004. Under David's rule, Jerusalem became the capital. Solomon ascended to the throne in 965 b.c.e., and ruled for nearly forty years, during which time the First Temple was built. In 925 the kingdom split into two parts, Israel and Judah. In 721 Israel was conquered by Assyria, and in 586 it was taken over by Babylonia. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Jews were exiled to Babylon.

In 538 Babylon was conquered by the king of Persia, who allowed the Jews to return to their homeland, where they rebuilt the Temple and began what became known as the Second Jewish State. In 322 b.c.e., Alexander the Great defeated the Persians and took control of Israel. Between 322 and 160 b.c., the land of Israel changed hands several times under various Greek and Syrian rulers. In 160 Judas Maccabee led a rebellion that allowed the Jews to reclaim Jerusalem, a victory that Jews still celebrate in the festival of Hanukkah. Judah became an independent state in 141 b.c.e

Herod conquered Judah in 37 b.c.e. In 19 b.c.e., under his rule, the Temple was again rebuilt. The First Revolt against Rome occurred in 66 c.e.; however, Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70 c.e. The Temple was destroyed, and the majority of the Jews were dispersed throughout the world.

Byzantines ruled the area from 313 to 635, although toward the end of this period, from 614 to 629, the Jews ruled Jerusalem under Persian jurisdiction. The years 622 to 632 saw the founding of Islam by Muhammad. In 638 Arab Muslims conquered Jerusalem, where their rule lasted until the Turkish conquest in 1078. The First Crusaders took the city in 1099. In 1187 Saladin, the Kurdish ruler of Egypt, conquered Jerusalem. In 1516 the land of Israel, known at this time as Palestine, was taken over by the Ottoman Turks, who ruled for four hundred years. In 1799 Napoleon unsuccessfully attempted to take the territory, but did not succeed.

The first modern Jewish settlement in Palestine was established in 1870, and was followed at the end of the nineteenth century by others, as Jews fled pogroms in Russia and Poland. In 1897 the First Zionist Conference was held in Basel, Switzerland, and under the initiative of the Hungarian Jew Theodor Herzl, the Zionist movement began its mission to create a Jewish homeland in the territory from which the Jews had been expelled nearly two thousand years earlier.

The Balfour Declaration, issued by Britain in 1917, expressed support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The British used a 1920 mandate from the League of Nations as license to rule the area for the ensuing decades, during which time they kept control by feeding the animosity between Palestinian Arabs and Jewish settlers. The British also restricted Jewish immigration to the region, even by Jews who were experiencing persecution at the hands of the Russians, and later the Nazis. The Arabs attempted unsuccessfully to revolt against the British from 1936 to 1938; tensions between Arabs and Jews also escalated, and there were several anti-Jewish riots.

From the time Hitler came to power in 1933 until the beginning of World War II in 1939, a large number of German Jews managed to immigrate to Palestine despite British restrictions, fleeing the increasingly oppressive regime. Between 1939 and 1945 more than six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, a horror that gave new impetus to the movement to form a Jewish state and that caused European nations to recognize the legitimacy of such a claim.

In Palestine, a truce with the British lasted through World War II, but when the war ended, violence again increased, both between Jews and Arabs and against the British. In 1947 the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The Palestinians rejected this plan.

On 14 May 1948, when Israel proclaimed its independence, the declaration was met by an invasion on behalf of the Palestinians by the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. The war that followed lasted until the Arab defeat in January 1949. A mass immigration of Jews from Europe and Arab countries took place over the first few years after the state's founding, and the economy grew. While some Palestinians chose to take up Israeli citizenship, many others immigrated to the primarily Arab West Bank and Gaza Strip, or sought refuge in other Arab nations.

When Egypt took control of the Suez Canal from France and Britain in 1956, Israel, fearing the increase in power of their unfriendly neighbor, staged an attack in Egypt's Sinai Desert. Several days later, Britain and France joined the offensive. The United Nations sent peacekeepers, who stayed in the region until 1967. When they pulled out, Egypt sent its military back into the Sinai, obstructing the southern Israeli port of Eilat. Israel responded by attacking on 5 June. Syria, Jordan, and Iraq came to Egypt's defense, but all four nations were defeated. The Six-Day War, as it came to be known, won Israel not just the Sinai but the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights as well. It also resulted in a Jewish occupation of the West Bank and a reunited Jerusalem. (The city had been partitioned earlier between the Jews and the Arabs.)

The Arab League vowed that the situation would not rest and proceeded to put Israel in a state of siege. Arab terrorists highjacked Israeli airplanes. They also killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The following year, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Egypt and Syria mounted a surprise attack on Israel at the Suez and the Golan Heights. Israel managed to defeat the two armies, but the resulting situation was far from stable. In 1977 Egyptian president Anwar Sadat went to Jerusalem to talk with Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, and in the following year U.S. president Jimmy Carter helped to broker the Camp David Accords. Sadat and Begin shared the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts at reconciliation, and an official peace treaty was signed in 1979 in Paris.

In 1982 Israel agreed to give up the Sinai, but it also invaded Lebanon, to leave its northern settlements less vulnerable to Palestinian attacks. However, by 1985, Israel had limited its presence to a security strip along the border.

The Palestinian uprising called the Intifadah began in 1987. Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli soldiers occupying the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; the Israelis retaliated, and the violence escalated, ultimately resulting in hundreds of deaths. Israel proposed a peace initiative in 1989. This same year saw the beginning of a mass immigration by Soviet Jews.

The first peace talks between Israel and Palestinian Arabs, represented by Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), were held in Madrid in October 1991. The resulting agreement gave the Palestinians responsibility for the Gaza Strip and Jericho.

In 1993 another round of peace talks, between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat, resulted in further compromise, including Israel handing over most of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). By moving in this direction, the agreements presumed eventual statehood for the Palestinians. Other deals included resolving the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the status of Jerusalem. Arafat was to confiscate illegal arms from Palestinians, and both sides were to protect and preserve access to holy sites. These agreements, known as the Oslo Accords (after the city where the first secret rounds of talks were held), were seen as momentous steps in the peace process, and concluded at Camp David with a historic handshake between Arafat and Rabin.

Israel went on to sign a peace agreement with Jordan in 1994, and to begin talks with Syria as well. However, despite progress at the upper echelons, violence continued. In 1995 Israeli prime minister Rabin was assassinated at a peace rally in Tel Aviv. The killer was an ultraconservative Jew who was angered by what he saw as Rabin's overly conciliatory stance toward the Palestinians.

In October 1998 a conference at the Wye River in Maryland resulted in an agreement by the PLO to get rid of its terrorist groups, to confiscate illegal weapons, and to imprison their own terrorists, in exchange for more land on the West Bank. The meetings also resulted in the creation of a U.S.-Palestinian-Israeli committee, to convene several times a month to prevent terrorism and assess the state of affairs. These meetings had some degree of success, and the incremental progress appeared promising. In September 2000, violence again broke out. The fragile peace established by the Oslo Accords crumbled. By the end of November more than 280 people had been killed, most of them Palestinian, with no end to the conflict in sight.

National Identity. National identity for Israelis is to a large extent bound up with their identity as Jews. For the more devout, national identity takes on a spiritual element, in which the observance of religious ritual becomes an expression of national pride. However, there are also a large number of secular Jews in Israel, for whom Judaism is more a cultural and ethnic identity than a spiritual practice. Many Palestinians living in Israel do not identify as Israelis at all, but rather with the displaced Palestinian nation (and with the rest of the Arab world as well). Much of their national identity is also based on both religious and cultural elements of the Muslim faith.

Ethnic Relations. Relations between Jews and Arabs are extremely antagonistic. Each side sees the other as the aggressor. Palestinians resent the fact that the Jews took over their homeland, and that they have exercised their far superior military technology to maintain it, whereas the Jews feel that they are making a claim to land that is rightfully theirs, and from which they have been exiled for thousands of years. Palestinians have often resorted to terrorist action, which further aggravates the situation. Atrocities have been committed on both sides of the divide, and there is little sign of reconciliation in the near future.

Relations within the Jewish community itself also have been problematic. Many of the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox oppose any compromise with the Palestinians and want the state to follow a more strictly religious line. They do not consider more Reform or Conservative Jews Jewish, because these more liberal branches do not strictly follow all the religious laws.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Ninety percent of Israel's population is urban. Jerusalem is the capital and largest city, with a population of 602,100. It is in the center of the country, straddling the border between Israel and the West Bank. The city has been continuously settled for more than three thousand years and is home to many sites of historical and religious significance for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. These include the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, among others. The Old City is divided into quarters: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian. Outside the walls of this oldest district, the city sprawls in neighborhoods containing residential zones, parks, museums, and government buildings.

Tel Aviv is a more modern city, and the commercial and industrial capital of the country. It is in fact a combination of two cities, Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Jaffa's history dates back to biblical times, whereas Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 by European Jewish immigrants. The third-largest city in the country is Haifa, in the north. It is the country's main port and also is an industrial center.

Israel's architecture is diverse, spanning many centuries and styles. There is a good deal of Islamic architecture, most of which dates from 1250 to 1517. Today most Israelis live in modern high-rise apartments, which are overseen by committees elected by the inhabitants of the building. Some Jewish settlers in Palestinian territory, and many Palestinians themselves, live in shacks, unfinished houses, or other modest dwellings.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Falafel , ground chickpeas mixed with onions and spices formed into balls and fried, are served in pita bread as a sandwich. Other popular dishes include tabuleh (a salad of bulgar wheat and chopped vegetables), hummus (chickpea paste), grilled meats, and eggplant. Cumin, mint, garlic, onion, and black pepper are used for flavoring. Baklava is a popular dessert of Arabic origin and consists of flaky dough layered with honey and nuts. Coffee is often prepared in the Turkish style, extremely strong and thick and served in small cups.

Jews are bound by a set of dietary laws called kashrut , which, among other restrictions, forbid the consumption of pork and shellfish, as well as the consumption of both meat and milk products at the same meal. Not all Israelis observe these rules, but many restaurants do.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Food plays an important role in nearly all Jewish celebrations. The Sabbath, observed on Saturday, is ushered in on Friday evening with a family meal including an egg bread called challah. At the Jewish New Year the challah is baked in a circle, symbolizing the cyclical nature of life. Apples and honey also are eaten, symbolizing the wish for a sweet new year. Hamentaschen are traditionally served at Purim, the celebration of Queen Esther's triumph over the evil Haman, who was trying to annihilate the Jewish people. These are cookies filled with lekvar (prune preserves) and baked in the shape of a triangle. Some believe hamentaschen symbolizes the tricornered hat of Haman; others think it is his pockets, and still others think it represents his ears, which were clipped as a sign of shame. During Passover, Jews abstain from eating all leavened foods (bread, pasta, etc.). Instead they eat matzoh ,a flat, crackerlike bread. This is in memory of the Exodus from Israel, when the Jews could not wait for their bread to rise, and so carried it on their backs to bake in the sun. Passover also is observed with a ritual meal called a seder. Four glasses of wine, representing God's four promises to Israel ("I will bring you out of Egypt;" "I will deliver you;" "I will redeem you;" and "I will take you to be my people"), are drunk throughout the evening. Other symbolic foods at the occasion include boiled eggs (symbolizing new life) and charosis (a mixture of apples and walnuts, representing the mortar the Jews used as slaves). On Shavuot in the late spring, dairy-based treats are served. Because cooking is forbidden on the Sabbath, a traditional Saturday meal is cholent , a thick stew that is left in the oven to simmer overnight.

Basic Economy. Israel's economy was originally based on a socialist model, in which the Histadrut trade union was the most powerful organization, controlling most of agriculture, industry, and health care. However, in the past few decades, Histadrut's power has been diluted as the country has adopted more capitalist policies. The economy today is based largely on advanced technology. Its high-tech firms play an important role in the global economy, and foreign investment in these firms is abundant. Despite its limited natural resources, the country has become nearly self-sufficient in food production (with the exception of grains). Still, agriculture accounts for only 2 percent of the GDP and employs roughly 2 percent of the labor force. Services account for 81 percent and industry for 17 percent. The Israeli economy grew significantly during the 1990s, thanks to an influx of skilled immigrants and growth in the technology sector. While 2000 was the most financially successful year in Israel's history, gains in prosperity, and particularly foreign investments, feel somewhat tenuous after the recent outbreaks of violence.

Land Tenure and Property. Some land is privately owned and some is public property. Israel also has a system of kibbutzim (singular: kibbutz ), cooperative farms in which property is collectively owned. Residents share chores, and instead of a salary receive housing, medical care, education, and other necessities. There are also moshav , farming communities in which each family owns its own house and is responsible for its own land, but in which other functions, such as selling their products, are done collectively.

Commercial Activities. Israel produces a variety of agricultural goods, including meat and dairy products, vegetables, citrus, and other fruits. Computer industries and technology account for a large amount of the nation's commercial activity. Tourism is another important sector. Israel draws roughly two million tourists each year, with its historical and religious sites as well as resorts and health spas near the Dead Sea.

Major Industries. Israel has a variety of industries, including food processing, textiles, diamond cutting and polishing, metal products, military equipment, high-technology electronics, and tourism.

Trade. The main exports are machinery and equipment, software, cut diamonds, textiles, and agricultural products. These go primarily to the United States, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, the Benelux countries, and Japan. Israel imports raw materials, military equipment, rough diamonds, fuel, and consumer goods from the United States, the Benelux countries, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Division of Labor. Palestinian Israelis generally do not have access to as good an education as Israeli Jews and therefore are more likely to occupy less skilled and poorly paid positions. Immigrants as well, even highly educated ones, often are forced to take jobs of a low status, and many are unemployed.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Israel is not highly stratified economically; most people have a similarly comfortable standard of living. However, the majority of the poor are Palestinian. Recent immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe also tend to be at a disadvantage economically.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Among Israeli Jews, clothing is often an indication of religious or political affiliation. Men wear yarmulkes , or skullcaps, for prayer; more observant men wear them at all times. Conservative Jewish men can be distinguished by their black hats, whereas liberal Jews wear white crocheted caps. In the strictest Orthodox communities, men dress all in black and wear peyes , long sidelocks. Women keep their heads covered; traditionally, after marriage, they shave their heads and wear wigs. Secular or less conservative Jews, who comprise the majority of the population, wear Western-style clothes. Many Arabs wear traditional Muslim dress, which for men is a turban or other headdress and long robes, and for women is a long robe that covers the head and the entire body.

Political Life

Government. Israel is a parliamentary democracy, divided into six administrative districts. There is no formal constitution; instead, there is the Declaration of Establishment, from 1948, the Basic Laws of the parliament ( Knesset ), and the Israel citizenship law. The head of government is the prime minister, elected by popular vote for a four-year term. The 120 members of the Knesset also are elected for four years. The Knesset selects the president, who serves as chief of state.

Leadership and Political Officials. There about twelve political parties represented in the Knesset, ranging from the far right wing to the far left, and many in between. The most powerful of the conservative parties is the fairly centrist Likud . The Labor Party is the liberal party with the most clout, and the one Palestinian Israelis tend to support. The Palestinian Liberation Organization, headed by Yassar Arafat, is the main political representation of Palestinians seeking the formation of a separate state. There also are several militant and terrorist organizations with this same objective, including Hamas and Hezbollah.

Social Problems and Control. The legal system is a combination of English common law and British mandate regulations. For personal matters, Jews, Muslims, and Christians are subject to separate jurisdictions.

The role of the police force is sometimes virtually interchangeable with that the armyfor example, in the case of the border guards in the West Bank. The Palestinian National Authority has its own police and security forces, which have a record of human rights abuses. Palestinian civilians have a reputation for violence against Israeli soldiers and law-enforcement officers, who in turn have a reputation for responding brutally.

Military Activity. The military consists of the Israel Defense Forces (ground, naval, and air troops), the Pioneer Fighting Youth, the Frontier Guard, and Chen (composed of women). All citizens, men and women, are required to serve in the armed forces. For unmarried women, two years of active duty are required (not in combat); for men, a minimum of four years. Military expenditures total $8.7 billion annually, 9.4 percent of the GDP.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Social welfare programs include pensions for the elderly, maternity insurance, workers' compensation, and allowances for large families. The government also provides assistance for recent immigrants, although these programs have been criticized for helping well-off immigrants at the expense of poorer native-born Israelis.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

A number of nongovernmental Jewish organizations make considerable economic contributions to Israel, such as the international World Zionist Organization, which supports the immigration of Jews to Israel from around the world. Synagogues in the United States and Europe also send aid and sponsor tree-planting drives. Israel also has a system of "national institutions," which are not part of the government but function alongside it in the realms of social welfare services, education, and culture.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Women are well represented in many fields, both traditional (teaching, nursing, child care), and nontraditional (law, politics, the military). Israel even elected a female prime minister, Golda Meir, who served from 1969 to 1974. Some strides toward equality have been reversed; while it used to be a hallmark of kibbutzim that labor was divided without respect to gender, today women are more likely to be found in the kitchen and in child care facilities. Women, like men, are required to serve in the armed forces, and during the war for independence fought in the front lines alongside men. Today women are not permitted combat. Instead they are mostly confined to adminstration and education, and usually do not achieve high-ranking positions.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. In the Orthodox tradition, women and men live very separate lives. Women are considered inferior, and are excluded from many traditional activities. However, most of Israeli society is more progressive, and women are generally accorded equal status to men, both legally and socially. (The main exception to this is the divorce law.)

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Traditionally, in both Arab and Jewish societies, marriages were often arranged, but that is uncommon nowadays. However, there are powerful social taboos against intermarriage, and it is illegal for a Jew to marry a non-Jew in Israel. Those wishing to do so must go abroad for the ceremony. Even within the Jewish community, it is unusual for a very observant Jew to marry someone secular. Divorce is legal, but Orthodox Jewish law applies. According to this statute, men have the power to prevent their ex-wives from remarrying. If the woman enters into another relationship, the courts refuse to recognize it, and any children from such a union are considered illegitimate and themselves cannot marry in the State of Israel.

Domestic Unit. The most common family unit consists of a nuclear family. In more traditional families, grandparents are sometimes included in this. In the original kibbutz system, the living arrangements were different. Husband and wife lived in separate quarters from their children, who were housed with the other young people. Some kibbutzim still operate in this way, but it is now more common for children to live with their parents, although their days are still spent separately.


Infant Care. Babies are generally adored and showered with affection. The extended family plays an important role in helping to raise the baby, but the mother generally takes primary responsibility. Jewish boys are circumcised eight days after birth in a religious ceremony called a bris.

Child Rearing and Education. In most of Israeli society, children are raised in the setting of a nuclear family. However, collective child care is common, especially for mothers who work outside the home. In kibbutzim, they stay separately from their parents, and usually see them only at night or on weekends. Children are generally indulged and are not strictly disciplined.

In the Arab tradition, boys and girls are raised separately. They have different responsibilities at home, where girls are expected to help much more with domestic chores. The schools are also usually gender-segregated.

Education is mandatory from the ages five through fifteen. The state runs both religious and nonreligious schools; 70 percent of children attend the nonreligious ones. There is a separate education system for Arab children, where the language of instruction is Arabic. The quality of education in these schools is often lower due to a relative unavailability of teachers and poor resources, and they have at times been subject to closings due to violence and political instability. Arab schools receive some funding from the government, as well as from religious institutions. There are three types of high schools: academic, vocational, and agricultural.

Higher Education. Israel has seven universities. Entrance standards are high, and students must pass a national exam before being admitted. The oldest and most prestigious of these is Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which also has one of the strongest medical schools in the Middle East. Ben-Gurion University, in Beersheba, specializes in natural conservation, and Technion in Haifa focuses on science and engineering. The Weizmann Institute in Rehovot supports postgraduate study. There also are vocational, agricultural, and teacher training institutes. Yeshivot are religious academies (generally not open to women) that train future rabbis and Jewish scholars.


Israelis are very informal in social interactions. Their standards would, in many other countries, be considered rude. For example, store clerks do not act at all solicitous or even acknowledge a customer's presence until the customer approaches. "Please" and "thank you" are not uttered lightly. Despite this apparent brusqueness, touching and eye contact are common in social interactions.

Religious etiquette dictates that women dress conservatively when visiting holy sites (shorts are not acceptable for either gender) and that men cover their heads with a yarmulke.

Arabs are physically affectionate people, but in Arab society, men and women are often separated socially and there is less physical contact between men and women in public. It is customary to remove one's shoes before entering an Arab household.


Religious Beliefs. Judaism is the official religion. Eighty percent of the population are Jewish, 15 percent are Muslim, and 4 percent are Christian or Druze. Jews believe in the Hebrew Bible, or Tenakh, which corresponds to the Christian Old Testament. The most sacred text is the Torah, or the five books of Moses. The Bible is seen as both historical record and religious law. Different communities follow the Holy Book with varying degrees of literalness. The strictest are the ultra-Orthodox, who believe that the Scriptures were physically handed down from God. There are also Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist congregations, who interpret the law more leniently, and who allow women more of a role in the religion. There also are different sects of Judaism, such as the Hasidim and the Lubbavicher.

There are five pillars of faith that Muslims follow. They are: a declaration of faith in Allah; praying five times a day; giving alms to the poor; fasting from sunrise to sundown during the holy month of Ramadan; and making a pilgrimage at some point in one's life to the holy city of Mecca.

Religious Practitioners. Rabbis are the religious leaders of the Jewish community. They are ordained in Jewish law, and often are scholars in addition to delivering sermons and offering spiritual guidance. The Chief Rabbinate is a body of rabbis who make the religious laws to which Israeli Jews are subject.

The main religious figures in the Muslim community are muezzins, who are scholars of the Koran and sound the call to prayer from mosques.

Rituals and Holy Places. Jews worship in synagogues. In the most traditional, men sit in the front and women in the back, separated by a partition, or in a balcony. There are a number of places in Israel, in Jerusalem in particular, that have religious significance to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. The Dome of the Rock is an ancient Muslim shrine. Christians often make pilgrimages to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, also in Jerusalem. The Wailing Wall, the remains of the Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 c.e., is a sacred spot for Jews. There is a separate section of the wall for men and women. People often write their prayers on pieces of paper and slip them in cracks between the stones. The Jewish New Year, called Rosh Hashana, falls in September or October. Jews attend synagogue for two days and listen to readings from the Torah. The ten days following Rosh Hashana are known as the Days of Awe, a period of reflection and penitence. This culminates in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the holiest day of the year. Jews fast from sundown to sundown and attend synagogue, where they repent for their sins and ask God to be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year. Sukkot, the harvest festival, is later in the fall. Hanukkah, which falls in December, is an eight-day holiday celebrating the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks in c.e. 165. Purim, in the spring, celebrates Queen Esther's outsmarting Haman, who wished to kill the Jewish people. Passover, which falls later in the spring, remembers Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt.

The bar mitzvah (for boys) or bat mitzvah (for girls) is an important coming-of-age ceremony in Judaism. Children study for years to prepare for the event that occurs when they turn thirteen. They are called to read from the Torah before the congregation; the service is followed by a party with food and dancing.

Death and the Afterlife. Judaism focuses more on the here and now, rather than the concept of an afterlife. A death is followed by a mourning period of seven days, a process called sitting shiva , during which friends and relatives pay visits to the family of the deceased and bring food. Mourners dress in black, sit on low stools, and recite prayers. Another traditional practice is for mourners to tear their clothes; today they generally rip only the lapel of their shirts. When visiting a Jewish cemetery, it is customary to place a stone on the gravestone in memory of the deceased.

Medicine and Health Care

Israel has a well-developed health care system. It has one of the highest ratios of doctors to general population in the world. Since independence, sanitation has improved, and the rate of infectious diseases has decreased. Histadrut, the labor federation, runs Kupat Cholim, or Sick Fund, which provides health care to members through regional hospitals and local clinics. The Ministry of Health provides for those who do not receive care from a sick fund. In general, Jews receive better health care than Arabs. The life expectancy is longer for Jews, and the infant mortality rate is significantly lower.

Secular Celebrations

Noted here are the more secular Israeli holidays, but virtually all celebrations and commemorative occasions have some religious significance. The dates of these holidays vary from year to year, because the Jewish calendar does not correspond to the Gregorian: Holocaust Memorial Day, April/May; Memorial Day, April/May; Independence Day, April/May; Jerusalem Day, May/June; National Day (Palestinian), November.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The government founded the magazine Ariel to promote literary endeavors. The publication now has a web page as well. There is a national drama company, Habima, as well as dance troupes, a national orchestra, and museums and galleries, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Literature. Israel has a varied literary scene. Many of its writers have come to the country from abroad, including Zbigniew Herbert from Poland, Vasko Popa from Yugoslavia, and Robert Friend from the United States. The Israeli writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon, a German who immigrated to Israel in 1913, won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1966. The poet Arnon Levy, who was born in Jerusalem, has also gained international recognition, as has Yehuda Amichai, whose verses have been translated into a variety of languages. Amos Oz is perhaps the best-known Israeli writer internationally. Both his novels and his nonfiction have been translated into a number of languages.

Graphic Arts. Contemporary painting and sculpture are alive and well in Israel. The Israeli style is highly influenced by European art, but much of it deals explicitly with Jewish themes and issues. Israeli artists who have gained international acclaim include the painters Ya'akov Agam, Menashe Kadishman, Avigdor Arikha, and the sculptors Dany Karavan and Ygael Tumarkin.

Ritual Jewish art includes beautifully crafted menorahs (candelabra), wine cups, candlesticks, tallilot (prayer shawls), and other ceremonial objects.

Performance Arts. Israel has a well-known philharmonic orchestra. The country has produced such classical music stars as violinist Yitzhak Perlman and pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim. The Leonard Bernstein International Music Competition in Jerusalem gives annual awards in classical music. Pop music and rock and roll also have a large following, particularly in Tel Aviv, where local stars such as Ofra Haza, Ilanit, and Shalom Hanoch perform to enthusiastic audiences. Klezmer , a form of Jewish music that originated in Eastern Europe during the seventeenth century, is a raucous blend of drums, violins, clarinets, keyboards, and tambourines that is common at wedding celebrations.

The Israel Ballet Company is world-famous. There are several modern dance troupes as well, most notably Inbal, Batsheeva, and Bat Dor. Israeli choreographer Ohad Nahrin is well known in the dance world. Israel also has a lively tradition of folk dances, which are performed by professional troupes and at occasions such as weddings. The hora , a circle dance, is one of the most commonly performed.

Theater also is popular in Israel. Jewish theater is traditionally highly melodramatic, although many contemporary productions adopt many Western theatrical conventions and social issues. There are companies that stage productions in Russian and English as well as in Hebrew and Arabic. The film industry, also thriving, is best known for its documentaries, including Yaakov Gross's Pioneers of Zion , produced in 1995, and Toward Jerusalem , Ruth Beckermann's 1992 production.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The country's scientific and technological progress has been aided in recent years by an influx of well-educated immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Israeli scientists have made contributions in electronics, nuclear and solar power, and computer hardware and software, as well as in weapons-related technology. Cutting-edge firms have developed wireless and cellular telephone technology, as well as new applications for the Internet.


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Eleanor Stanford

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Israel Name given in the Old Testament to Jacob and to the nation that the Hebrews founded in Canaan. Jacob was renamed Israel after he had wrestled with the mysterious ‘man’ who was either an angel or God Himself (Genesis 32: 28). As a geographical name, Israel at first applied to the whole territory of Canaan captured or occupied by the Hebrews after the Exodus from Egypt. This territory united as a kingdom under David in the early 10th century bc, with its capital at Jerusalem. Following the death of David's son, Solomon, the ten northern tribes seceded and the name Israel thereafter applied to the kingdom they founded in n Palestine; the remaining two tribes held the southern kingdom of Judah.

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Israel the Hebrew nation or people. According to tradition they are descended from the patriarch Jacob (also named Israel), whose twelve sons became founders of the twelve tribes. Also called children of Israel.

Israel was also used as the name of the northern kingdom of the Hebrews (c.930–721 bc), formed after the reign of Solomon, whose inhabitants were carried away to captivity in Babylon.

The name comes from Hebrew Yiśrā'ēl ‘he that strives with God’, from the story of Jacob's wrestling at Penuel with a man by whom he was given an angelic blessing, in Genesis 32:28, ‘Thy name shall be no more Jacob, but Israel.’

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Israel. 1. Name given to the patriarch Jacob after he wrestled with an angel (Genesis 32. 28–9).2. Name used for the descendants of Jacob, and so for all the Jewish people, in full: bene Israel, sons of Israel.3. The Northern Kingdom of the Jews. With the division of the kingdom during the reign of Rehoboam (c.930 BCE), the Southern Kingdom, which remained faithful to the House of David, was known as Judah, while the Northern Kingdom was called Israel. It included the territory of all the tribes except Judah and Benjamin. It was eventually captured by the Assyrians in 721 BCE, and its people were scattered.4. The Jewish homeland established in 1948.

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Of Israel's estimated population of 5.2 million, about 82 percent are Jews and 18 percent are non-Jews. Of the non-Jews, 76 percent are Muslims, 15 percent are Arab Christians, and 9 percent are Druzes or members of other ethnic groups. The state of Israel, however, also occupies by force large portions of a disputed territory known as Palestine. This territory is claimed by the Arab Palestinians as their homeland. There are 4.5 million Palestinians in the world. Although not counted in Israel's population, about 2 million live in Israel and the occupied territories.

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Israel in OE. in g. pl. Israela folc, ME. israel folk; — ecclL. (Gr.) Isrāēl — Heb. yisrā’ēl ‘he that striveth with God’, name conferred on the patriarch Jacob (Gen. 32: 28).
So Israelite XIV. — late L. Isrāēlīta — Gr. Isrāēlī́tēs — Heb. yisrā'ēlī.

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This entry consists of the following articles:

Israel: Overview
Israel: Military and Politics
Israel: Overview of Political Parties
Israel: Political Parties

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Israel •hangnail • treenail • hobnail •doornail • toenail • thumbnail •fingernail •handrail, landrail •cantrail • guard rail • Israel • contrail •monorail • abseil • headsail • resale •skysail • wassail • topsail • foresail •wholesale • lugsail • wagtail •tattletale • fantail • bangtail •rat's-tail • telltale •detail, retail •pigtail • bristletail • pintail •ringtail, springtail •fishtail • ponytail • hightail • bobtail •cocktail • cottontail •foxtail, oxtail •horsetail • folktale • swallowtail •dovetail • shirt tail • travail

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The Biblical name of the people of God and of its eponymous ancestor who was also called Jacob. By way of introduction, this article first explains the origin, meaning, and usage of the name; then in the following sections it treats of the religion of ancient Israel and the biblical history of Israel. For information on the Catholic Church in the modern state of Israel, see the separate essay following.

1. Introduction

The Bible insists that the name Israel was conferred on the Patriarch jacob by God, yet there are divergent accounts of its bestowal on him and various theories regarding its meaning. Besides being used to designate the Patriarch, it is more frequently employed as a collective title for his blood or spiritual descendants, the "children of Israel," the "house of Israel."

Origin and Meaning of the Name. There were two different traditions in Israel regarding the origin of its name. That they were ancient can be seen in the fact that they are already combined in Hosea 12.45. According to one account (Gn 32.2231) the name Israel was bestowed on Jacob at Phanuel, near the Jaboc, east of the Jordan; according to the other account (Gn 35.915) God changed Jacob's name to Israel after the Patriarch had left Phanuel and returned to bethel. The first account ventures a folk etymology, whereas the second offers no conjecture on the origin or meaning of the name. The first account is boldly anthropomorphic; it depicts Jacob wrestling with God or the angel of the lord and stresses the Patriarch's victory (as also in Hos 12.5).

Traditionally this mysterious passage has been interpreted as signifying the conversion of Jacob, a spiritual victory over his natural tendency to self-reliance rooted in his native cunning and great strength (cf. Gn 29.23,10), and the birth of his trust in God, grounded in the omniscience and omnipotence of God. It has been suggested that Israelite tradition used a pre-Israelite myth of a struggle between a river spirit and a man to dramatize the inner conflict that raged within the Patriarch. Although there is little probability to this theory, inspiration would not forbid the use or adaptation of such a pagan myth to dramatize the interior struggle between exuberant self-reliance and humble, trustful submission to God's plan, a contest between a man who represents his nation and God.

The actual derivation and meaning of yiśrāēl (Israel) is still uncertain. It is clear that the name is theophoric, a compound of a verb and the proper noun ēl [see el (god)]. If the verbal component is the root śry, the name means "God contends," or perhaps (from a related root) "God is strong, sovereign, He rules." If the verbal root is śrr or yśr (both of which occur in Arabic but not in Hebrew), the name would mean, respectively, "God shines forth" or "God heals."

Use of the Name. The name Israel is often used as a mere substitute for the personal name Jacob. It is frequent also in the phrase, "the sons [or children] of Israel" (benê yiśrāēl ), which is used of the immediate sons of Jacob in Ex 1.1, but which, along with such terms as the "seed of Israel," the "house of Israel," and the "assembly of Israel," is used very frequently of the more distant descendants of Jacob also.

The name Israel (alone) is applied to the immediate family of Jacob in Gn 34.7. Prior to the secession of the northern tribes and again after the restoration of the people of the southern kingdom, Israel designated the entire people of God. But during the period of the existence of the Northern Kingdom, Israel signified that kingdom in contradistinction to the Southern Kingdom, which was called Judah. In postexilic times, Israel was occasionally used to designate the laity in contrast to the priests, the levitical orders, and the Temple servants (1 Chr 9.2; Ezr6.16; Neh 11.3). As used by St. Paul, the term is complex. It may signify the elect of the new dispensation, the "Israel of God" (Gal 6.19), or the unconverted Jews, "Israel according to the flesh" (1 Cor 10.18).

Bibliography: r. de vaux, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928) 4:73031. Encyclopedia Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 108687.

[j. a. pierce]

2. Religion of Ancient Israel

An investigation will be made here of Israel's convictions and practice with respect to God. Of the many possible approaches to this consideration, this section will adopt the historical. Accordingly, Israelite religion will first be seen as it is described in the earliest literary sources that treat it as a contemporary phenomenon. Second, an examination will be made of the formative history of this religion according to the available sources. In turn, its subsequent development within Israelite history will be pursued; and finally, with a consideration of the influence of the Exile, the changes effected in the emergence of judaism will be noted.

Early Israelite Religion. As can be seen in the references of the classical prophets of the 8th century b.c., the external forms of Israelite worship differed little from

the native Canaanite forms from which they had doubtless been principally drawn. Animal sacrifice was normative (Is 1.11; Am 5.4); there was also the offering of incense and cereal sacrifices (Is 1.13; Am 5.22). Festivals were kept at ancient shrines such as Gialgal and Bethel (Hos 4.15; Am 4.4; 5.45) on the occasion of Sabbaths, feast days, and new moons (Is 1.1314; Hos 2.13; Am8.45). Tithes were paid for the support of these sanctuaries (Am 5.4), and sacred banquets were eaten there (Am2.8).

The motivation of this cult, however, differed sharply from that of the natural religions of the Gentiles, whose cult practices reflected and sought to control the annual cycle of nature and its seasons. Israel's God could not be controlled; rather, it was He who controlled the destiny of all peoples (Am 1.32.6; 9.7) as Creator of all things (Am 4.13; 5.89; 9.56) and as present, not immanent, in nature as its Lord and Master (Am 9.24). This God had revealed Himself and His moral will to Israel through His saving deeds (literally "justices": Mi 6.5). He revealed Himself as a loving God by calling Israel out of the slavery of Egypt (Hos 11.5; Am 3.1) and by settling it in the land of Canaan; this, the donation of the land of promise as Israel's inheritance, rather than the chthonic deities of paganism, was the source of the fertility of the soil (Hos 2.10; Am 2.910), which in turn was subject to yahweh's continual historical intervention (Am 4.610). Above all, Yahweh had given to Israel the gift of Himself, a continuing closeness revealed through prophecy (Hos 6.5; Am 2.11), whereby He might be known as He is, a God of righteousness and justice and love (Hos2.2021; 4.12) who truly spoke to Israel. True Israelite religion, therefore, was to "know" this God by living His law (torah, "instruction") as He had made it known in salvation history (Hos 4.6). Yahweh's holiness was thus a constant challenge to the emulation of His people; His kingship implied a way of life to be pursued and a constant rebuke to moral shortcomings (Is 6.5).

The prophetic minimizing of the cultic expression of religion never (even in Am 5.2527) amounted to an out-right rejection of it in principle, but displayed a concern for the distinctively moral and social character of Israelite religion (Hos 6.6). The Prophets rebuked the priesthood, not for offering sacrifice, but for dereliction in their duty to inculcate Yahweh's moral torah (Hos 4.46; 5.12; Mi3.11). Without this, no cult could ever be truly Israelite, directed to the God who had gratuitously chosen Israel to this end. It then became no different from the Gentile rites that it resembled and, in popular practice, all too frequently imitated: sacrifice on high places and under sacred trees (Is 1.29; Hos 4.13), the use of idols [Is 2.8; Hos2.15; 8.5; 10.5; Mi 1.7; see idolatry (in the bible)], fertility rites (Hos 2.7; 3.1; 4.14; 7.14), divination (Is 2.6; Hos 4.12; Mi 3.58), and the like.

The "ethical monotheism" of the Prophets of the 8th century was no new discovery of theirs superimposed on a folk religion of ritual and sacrifice. It was, rather, the most primitive tradition of Israelite religion, a tradition, however, that had become clouded through lack of instruction and guidance on the part of Israel's civil and religious leadership (Is 1.26; 5.13; 10.1; Hos 4.46). The election by Yahweh (see election, divine), in which Israel so passionately believed and which it could abuse as a false guarantee of security, was accepted by the Prophets implicitly; they found in it all the moral imperatives that they preached (Am 3.2). The moral God of the Prophets was the Yahweh of Israel's cult, whose living presence isaiah experienced in the Jerusalem Temple (Is6.113). Prophetic teaching nowhere opposes any of the priestly torah of the Mosaic Law; Hos 4.16 implies a systematic summary of the moral code like that of the Decalogue, and Hos 8.12 refers even to a written torah (see commandments, ten).

Formative History of Israelite Religion. The Prophets themselves ascribe the origins of Israelite religion to the Mosaic age and make frequent reference to

the Exodus traditions (Hos 9.10; 11.1, 5; Am 2.911; 3.1;4.10). They presume a knowledge of the kerygmatic interpretation (see kerygma) of Israel's history that both the pentateuch and the deuteronomists record.

Covenant Relationship. The basis of this traditional faith was Israel's experience of divine election and covenant. see covenant (in the bible). Contrary to the Canaanite conception of covenant (see Jgs 8.33; 9.46: cult in exchange for the protection of a chosen deity) and to the patriarchal conception faithfully represented by Gns 28.2022, the Mosaic covenant signified an act of grace by which Yahweh chose Israel out of love (Dt 7.78), imposing on it a law of reciprocal love (Dt 6.5) as the condition of His continued protection and beneficence (Dt7.916). Though it is the Deuteronomic theologians, following the Prophets, who have evolved the theological language of the covenant, the distinctive concept itself (law founded on history; covenant an act of beneficence; reciprocal fealty) has been convincingly related, in the studies of G. Mendenhall (and after him W. Baltzer, W. Beyerlin), to the treaty forms of the ancient Near East current in the time of moses. The covenant explains Israelite Law, but the covenant relation itself is less legal than familial; its guiding norm is not legal justice but reciprocal loyalty (esed, "steadfast love," pietas: the norm of the brotherbond between David and Jonathan, 1 Sm 20.8; see also 18.3). Through the covenant, Israel was constituted Yahweh's family (Am 3.1); Yahweh became the father (Dt 32.6; Hos 11.1; Jer 3.19) of many brethren. Hence the duty of loving God above all (Dt 6.5) is only the vertical dimension of a covenant love that is familial: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lv 19.18). The prescriptions of the Law spelled out the obligations of esed to God and neighbor (see Hos 6.6; 3.4, where "knowledge of God" and "fidelity" parallel esed; see also Mi 6.8). Yahweh is the "faithful God who keeps covenant and esed with those who love him and keep his commandments" (Dt 7.8).

Mosaic Law. The Law of Moses, as presented in the kerygma, has the formality of covenant duty and disregards specific origins or earlier intents of the individual prescriptions. The ancient feasts and observances of the past, whatever their original meaning, have been related to the covenantal history of Israel. Similarly, the ancient dietary customs and purificatory practices have been interpreted as outward manifestations of the holiness that must characterize a people consecrated to God. It would be impossible to isolate the oldest Mosaic nucleus of the

Law from the unities discernible in the Pentateuch and Deuteronomy, since all of these presuppose progressive development and more recent formulation and collection. The form-critical studies of the Mosaic Law by A. Alt and M. Noth, among others, however, have perhaps made a more decisive contribution toward establishing its earliest dimensions. Israel's apodictic Law is substantially without parallel in the ancient Near East. This distinctively Israelitic form itself argues for the prophetic origin (and succession; see Dt 18.1518) that Biblical tradition ascribes to Moses (Ex 33.711; etc.). The casuistic law, which had its origin in judicial decisions, often parallels other ancient Near Eastern law codes; however, this is the result of an independent application of common legal principles that owes little if anything to the influence of the legislations of the more advanced cultures that surrounded Israel (see law, ancient near-eastern; law, mosaic; holiness, law of).

Israel, the Product of its Religion. It is less correct to say that Israelite religion came out of Israel than that Israel itself was the product of its religion. It was a common religion with its central sanctuary at shechem (possibly a proto-Israelite center from patriarchal times; see Gn 34; 48.22; Jos 24) or Shiloh (1 Sm 1.3; Jer 7.12) that provided the first unity of the federation of tribes whose historical and ethnic complexity can still be perceived behind the traditions that have combined to make up the united history of Israel. Acceptance of the common covenant-God in rites such as the one described in Joshua 24.128 continually introduced new elements into the religious federation and assured the preservation and recasting of the Mosaic traditions. Israel's wars were religious wars, as is attested alike by the historical narratives and the ancient poetry preserved in them (e.g., Gn 49.2226; Ex 15.21; Dt 33.2629; Jgs 5.131). Israel's religion, with its unique conception of God and His relation to man, made this people unassimilable to either Canaanite or Philistine, and thus eventually brought it to nationhood. Even then, the constitutive influence of its religion continued to prevent Israel from ever becoming in reality "like all the nations" (1 Sm 8.5).

Relationship to Patriarchal Religion. The relation of Mosaic Yahwism to the religion of the Patriarchs is not easy to determine (see patriarchs, biblical). While the patriarchal stories preserved in the Pentateuch have retained a remarkably accurate historical contact with the social and cultural milieu they presuppose, their continuity is artificial; popular tradition had inevitably assimilated patriarchal theology to that of the later Israel. The Prophets knew the patriarchal stories (see Is 1.10; Hos 11.8; 12.214; Am 5.11), but they made no effort to find Israelite origins in the Patriarchs; for them, as for the Deuteronomic historians, Israel's history began with the Mosaic age. The Pentateuchal traditions, however, saw in the patriarchal history partly a remote preparation for the Mosaic covenant, partly an additional proof of Yahweh's goodness in giving Israel a land in which its earliest ancestors had dwelt merely as pilgrims and strangers (Gn 23.3; etc.). The tradition of the patriarchal "covenant" [in reality, as represented in Gn 15.711, 1721 (J), etc., an unconditioned promise on the part of God] has not been simply imagined after the analogy of the covenant of Sinai. It is a distinct tradition whose omission by the preexilic Prophets may well have been calculated; with its character of unconditioned promise it was hardly the emphasis needed in dealing with a people all too prone to take election for granted and to ignore covenant duties. Historically, covenant with the tribal God, "the God of the Fathers" (cf. God of Abraham, God of Isaac: Gn 28.13; 31.53; Shield of Abraham: Gn 15.1; Mighty One of Jacob, Shepherd, Rock of Israel; Gn 49.24; etc.), corresponds to the cultural background predicated of the Patriarchs; and their worship of the Deity under the name of el (El Shaddai: Gn 17.1; 35.11, etc.; El Elyon: Gn 14.1920; El Bethel: Gn 35.7; El Ro'i: Gn 16.13; El Olam: Gn 21.33; etc.) authentically reflects the Canaan of patriarchal times, as has been confirmed by the Ugaritic tablets, which contain some of the same titles (see ugarit; ugaritic-canaanite religion). Though Israelite

religion and Law have their proper beginnings with Moses, there must have been some real continuity with the patriarchal religion. A new religious movement rarely emerges that has not taken account of and built on prior beliefs.

Subsequent Development. The religion of Israel that began in historical events was also strongly affected by them in its subsequent development. There was a progressive revelation and an unfolding of doctrine that produced various theologies.

In the Period of the Kingdom. With the coming of Israel to nationhood and its adoption of kingship, the equilibrium between religion and people was disturbed and new postures were called forth. The covenant idea itself with its law was now challenged by the existence of a state possessed of a royal bureaucracy and ruled by kingly decrees; in any case, some of the ancient law was now manifestly inadequate in the face of changes that time had brought in culture and polity. Israelite religion responded to this threat to its existence through prophecy, which not only spoke with its own voice, but also influenced other currents of religious thought that offered partly alternative responses. The mixed reaction to monarchy discernible in the source material of the book of Samuel [1 Sm 8.422; 10.1724; 12.125 with9.110.16; see samuel, book(s) of] found echoes throughout Israelite history (contrast the idealized picture of the age of the Judges in the book of Ruth with the promonarchical supplement to the book of Judges in Judges ch. 1721; see judges, book of; ruth, book of). On both sides the reaction was a religious one: on the one hand a reluctance to abandon a distinctive theocratic polity and to incur the concomitant danger of assimilation to the ways of "all the nations" from which Israel had been called, and on the other a discernment of Yahweh's guiding hand and will in the inevitable course of human events, a progressivism equally clear in the Israelitic tradition.

Work of the Prophets. Prophecy with its living word of God provided a religious direction for monarchic Israel that is unparalleled in any other ancient people and maintained the covenant ideal imperturbably in the face of institutions that should otherwise have brought about its eventual extinction. It remained always, however, a religious force that adopted no programmatic approach to Israelite society. It stood aloof from such reactionary movements as that of the Rechabites (see 2 Kgs 10.1516; Jer 35.119); its frequent evocation of the

(partly idealized) nomadic past (Jer 2.23; Hos 2.16; etc.) was not to support a movement of return to a more primitive economy, but like the prophetic references to paradisaic peace (Is 11.69; Hos 2.20), it held up the image of a vanished age of Israelitic purity (Jer 2.21; Hos 2.17; Am6.25; a viewpoint not shared by Ezekiel ch. 16 and 20). Prophecy was always harsh in its criticism of the monarchy, but it did not seek its abolition. In general, prophetic religion was indifferent, even serenely indifferent, to human institutions and spoke beyond these institutions to the popular conscience.

Development of Older Laws. Another manifestation of the vitality of Israelite religion can be seen in the development and adaptation of its legal tradition. The Deuteronomic law code (Dt 1226), which also shows evidence of prophetic influence, was elaborated probably in a circle of Levitical priests (a Deuteronomic term) and probably in northern Israel sometime before the capture of Samaria by the Assyrians in 721 b.c. It is in part a recasting of earlier laws (cf. Ex 21.211 with Dt 15.1218) and in part legislation peculiar to itself; the latter too, however, may contain ancient legal formulations. It is noteworthy for its law of the single sanctuary (Dt 12.1314), supporting the ancient amphictyonic principle, a law that influenced the reforms of the Judahite Kings Hezekiah (2 Kgs 18.37) and especially Josiah (2 Kgs 22.323.27; the "book of the law" featured in this narrative is usually taken to have been Deuteronomy). Deuteronomy's humanitarian tone and provisions (e.g., Dt 14.2729; 15.711) and its theme of covenant love as the spirit of observance of law thoroughly wedded the best in the prophetic and the legal traditions and also inspired the postexilic Deuteronomic history with its prophetic judgment on Israel's history under the covenant and the kings. A parallel legal development was the legislation of the Pentateuchal Priestly writers, which was codified and elaborated during the Exile by a school of

Sadocite priests that had some relationship to the prophetic activity of ezekiel. Like the Deuteronomic, this priestly school also redacted the Mosaic traditions of the covenantal history and brought the Pentateuch to substantially its final form.

Influence of the Liturgy. Another dimension of priestly religion in which many Israelites found their most satisfying relation to God and to one another was the liturgy. The truly spiritual and productive influence of the liturgy is reflected in many ancient Psalms (see psalms, book of), and modern scholarship tends to detect liturgical influence in many other parts of the Old Testament, including the prophetical (Is 6.14; Hab 2.20; Zep 1.7; Zec 2.17). The liturgy became one of the mainstays of the postexilic religion. It obviously meant much to Ezekiel and the postexilic Prophets. It was central in the thought of the Biblical chronicler, and for a pious Jew such as the late writer Ben Sirach (see sirach, book of), it concretized all of Israel's religious heritage (Sirach 45.2325; 50.121).

Development of Eschatological Ideas. Israelite religion likewise developed with respect to its doctrine on the destiny of the nation. Doubtless an eschatology of some kind was a part of Israelite religion from the beginning [see eschatology (in the bible)]; election itself, when taken in the context of a total divine purpose (cf. Am 3.7), implies an eschatological idea. The cult undoubtedly made its contribution to the development of the idea, dwelling on such themes as that of the glorification of Jerusalem [Is 2.23; 4.26; Mi 4.14; Ps 47 (48).24] and the universal kingship of Yahweh [Ps 92 (93); 96 (97); 98 (99); etc.]. The early Prophets actually exploited this eschatological idea when they insisted that Israel stood under the coming judgment of God. However, whereas the preexilic Prophets had to oppose an uncritical expectation of divine intervention for good, the Prophets of the Exile and postexilic period could indulge Israel's hopes of salvation, especially in view of the doctrine of redemption through suffering, first enunciated by preexilic Prophets (e.g., Hos 2.1622) and applied to the exilic situation especially by Deutero-Isaiah (Is ch. 4155; see isaiah, book of). Never, however, did prophetic eschatology become an unqualified assurance of salvation as it did in some of the post-Biblical apocalyptic writings. The restoration of Israel would still be a deed of God's grace, done for His own name's sake (Ez 36.32). By it Israel would be made a sign to the nations (Ez 34.2931; 37.28) and a means whereby they might find the God of their own salvation (Is 45.6, 14; 49.2223).

Development of Royal Messianism. One aspect of this salvation expectation, though by no means its only or exclusive aspect, is the Old Testament doctrine of royal messianism, the belief that Yahweh's universal domination would be effected through a Davidic king, the Lord's anointed (Heb. māšîa ; Aramaic mešîā ; hence English Messiah). This belief, rising from the promise given to David through prophecy [2 Sm 7.416; Ps 88 (89).35, 1937], strongly influenced the authors of the royal Psalms [Ps 2; 71 (72); 88 (89); 109 (110)] and some of the Prophets, notably Isaiah (Is 7.1017; 9.27, etc.; see also such passages as Mi 4.145.3 and the additions to Hos 3.5; Am 9.1112; etc.). It affected in varying degrees the thinking also of the Deuteronomic writers, the Chronicler, and other theologians of the Old Testament. It may be questioned whether in any part of the Old Testament the concept of a Messiah ever became, as it did in later Judaism, applied to a once-for-all ideal king in the pattern of David; generally speaking, the messianic hope of the Old Testament is fixed on the promise of the perpetuity of a dynasty. After the Exile royal messianism inspired the thoughts of the Prophets Haggai (Hg2.2123) and Zechariah (Zec 6.914), but with the passing away of the monarchy and the increasing authority of the high priesthood, it tended to disappear, though it was later revived in Judaism under apocalyptic influence. The same apocalyptic influence contributed to a rethinking of eschatology, placing it in an end time beyond history and reinterpreting in these terms other soteriological figures such as the Servant of Yahweh (see suffering servant, songs of the) and the son of man.

Postexilic Judaism. The Babylonian Exile was the final formative event of magnitude in the history of pre-Christian Israel. Not only did it shatter the unity of land, people, and religion that had characterized the preexilic faith; it also altered the direction of personal religion by focusing attention on new unities that had to be as operative outside Palestine as within the land of promise. Though exilic Prophets had looked for a restoration of Israel and Judah as a single nation (Ez 37.1523, etc.), this hope was never realized as a political fact; nor did the exiles who returned from Babylon (probably relatively few in number) assimilate with the remnants of the Israelite population that had not passed through the experience of the Exile (Ezr 4.15). The Israelite religion that reemerged in Palestine was that which had been formed by Judahite exiles in Babylonia. It became the normative, shared by the far greater number of Jews who henceforth would make up the diaspora.

Development of Personal Religion. This religion evidenced a new personalism, dictated by the changed conditions of the Exile and its aftermath, and already anticipated by jeremiah (Jer 31.2930) and Ezekiel (Ez 18.230). It is not true that personal religion had been impossible before the Exile or that the individual had simply been submerged in the people; the evidence of innumerable Psalms and other records of personal piety (e.g., the "confessions" of Jer 11.1812.6; 15.1021, etc.) disproves this. Nevertheless, the new emphases in Judaism gave rise to a different kind of personal religion. The synagogue replaced the temple for the great majority of Jews; assemblies for the reading of the Law with instruction by the scribe [see scribes (in the bible)], and the later rabbi, like that described in Nehemiah chapter 9, became the norm of Jewish observance rather than the cultic rites that could be attended by the few in Jerusalem. The prophetic doctrine of the remnant of Israel, the true Israel of faith that was expected to be the residue of Yahweh's destructive judgment (Is 1.2427; 10.1723), such as Jeremiah had hoped to find in the return from the Exile (Jer 24.17), was now applied to the postexilic community by Trito-Isaiah (Is ch. 5666) and the other postexilic Prophets to distinguish the faithful from the faithless by the standard of obedience to the Law. The faithful were seen as the ănāwîm of the Prophets, that is, the "poor," the "humble," originally the economically dispossessed, who could rely on Yahweh alone (Am 2.67, etc.), now simply those who were wholeheartedly devoted to Yahweh as evidenced by their adherence to His Law, and thus separated from the unrighteous who ignored the Law (the "fools" of the later Wisdom literature) [see wisdom (in the bible)].

Emphasis on the Law. The disappearance of prophecy contributed to the establishment of the Law as God's final and definitive revelation to Israel. As time drew on, the lack of prophecy was still keenly felt, but more and more the era of revelation was recognized as closed, and the reappearance of prophecy itself was expected merely as a means of solving problems of interpretation of law and custom (1 Mc 4.46). The covenant norm of esed itself became synonymous with obedience to the Law; hence the hasidaeans (Hebrew ăsîdîm, the pious), the strict observers of the Law (1 Mc 2.42), who were the forerunners of the pharisees (the separated). As the late Biblical literature can testify, this legal religion could be a truly spiritual experience far removed from a soulless legalism.

Development of Doctrine. The tradition of Judaism, like that of the earlier Israel, laid far greater stress on moral performance and ethical conviction than on doctrinal formulation. It was a religion lived in the heart rather than the head, a fact not always appreciated by Christians, who are apt to find its attitude to doctrine vague and inadequate. Faith was first and foremost a complete reliance on God rather than the source of specific affirmations about the divine nature. Nevertheless, doctrine also developed in the postexilic Judaism. The Pharisees maintained a progressive attitude toward both law and doctrine, mitigating and adjusting the former in consideration of changed conditions and supplying for inadequacies in the latter, even with the help of non-Israelite forms of thought. Thus by recourse to the Greek idea of the immortality of the soul, an attempt is made in Wis 3.19 to solve the problem of the future life, which was never really faced before in the Old Testament, and a parallel solution is offered in 2 Mc 12.3945 by testifying to a developing doctrine of personal resurrection (an idea fore-shadowed in Ez 37.114 and Dn 12.13). The book of Daniel likewise shows the increasing interest of postexilic Judaism in angels and the spirit world (see angels, 1). These works are Pharisaical in spirit; by contrast, the Sadducean Sirach (see sadducees) ignores all such ideas and is content to stand on the earlier content of Old Testament revelation (Sir 24.2329). Characteristically, too, it is in Wis 13.19; 14.1221 that such doctrinal themes are continued and developed as the "theoretical" monotheism of the Deutero-Isaiah (Is 44.920, etc.), which considerably influenced the doctrine of the Priestly creation narrative (Gn 1.12.4a).

Development of Wisdom Literature. The Wisdom literature, which in substance is postexilic, is instructive in showing how varied were the currents of Jewish thought and in warning against a tendency to oversimplify the complex vitality of Judaism as it extended down into New Testament times. The Wisdom literature, moreover, is a valuable source of information on the religion of Israel as a way of life lived by its contemporaries. Laws that may be harsh in formulation may also be mild as interpreted in life. A wife who, theoretically, was the chattel of her husband might also be, in reality, his cherished partner in life (Prv 31.1031; Eccl 9.9; Sir 26.14, 1318; etc.). From this literature and from the entire Old Testament as the record of Israel's religion, there emerges a history of faith and progress that is Israel's heritage to the New Testament and to the world. Not chiefly in its inadequacies, but rather in its ability to provide a fruitful and positive interpretation of life, has the religion of Israel found a fulfillment in the New Testament.

See Also: feasts, religious; god; prophetism (in the bible); sacrifice, iii (in israel); worship (in the bible)

Bibliography: r. de vaux, Ancient Israel, Its Life and Institutions, tr. j. mchugh (New York 1961), especially 271517. j. p.e. pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture, 4 v. in 2 (New York 192640; repr. 1959). w. f. albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore 1946; 4th ed. 1956); From the Stone Age to Christianity (2d ed. New York 1957). w. eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, tr. j. a. baker (London 1961) v.1. g. von rad, Old Testament Theology, tr. d. m. g. stalker, 2 v. (New York 1962) v.1. g. e. mendenhall, "Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition," The Biblical Archaeologist 17 (1954) 5076. a. alt, "Die Ursprünge des israelitischen Rechts," Kleine Schriften zur Geschichte des Volkes Israel (Munich 1953) 1:278332; "Der Gott der Väter," ibid. 1:178. m. noth, Die Gesetze im Pentateuch (Halle 1940). s. o. mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel's Worship, tr. d. r. ap-thomas, 2 v. (Nashville 1962). j. w. gaspar, Social Ideas in the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament (Washington 1947).

[b. vawter]

3. History of Israel

Israel as a nation with its own government and its own territory is considered to have existed from c. 1200 b.c. to a.d. 70. The brief historical summation that follows will cover this period, although, at the beginning, some historical evaluation of the Israelite traditions that extended Israel's history back to its origins in Abraham's migration into Palestine (c. 19th century b.c.) must be given also. After the formative periods of the Exodus from Egypt and the conquest and settlement of the land of Canaan, Israel's history may be reviewed during the following main periods: the united monarchy (c. 1000 to c. 922 b.c.), the separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah (c. 922 to 587), and the postexilic period (538 b.c. to a.d.70).


The ancient oral and liturgical traditions of the Israelite people were the foundations upon which they built the theologically centered summation of their origins, as it is now extant in the first seven books of the Bible. It was a popular, religious summation, not a history of Israel's origin in the modern sense. It was a unique type of literature that combined authentic, historical memories with profound theological insights into God's activity in bringing Israel into existence, an activity not subject to the historian's judgment. It was therefore salvation his tory (heilsgeschichte). Recent archeological discoveries have established, however, that the theological interpretation found in this sacred history did not nullify a basically accurate sketch of the Patriarchal age, the period of the Exodus from Egypt, and the settlement of the Israelite tribes in palestine.

Patriarchal Age. The Book of genesis relates episodes from the lives of the three Patriarchs, abraham isaac, and jacob, the ancestors from whom the Israelites and some of their neighboring nations originated. At the beginning of the 20th century, historical critics had almost completely discounted that any authentic historical memories were reported in these Patriarchal narratives. They held that the earliest document, the yahwist, at the basis of these narratives, was not written down until almost 1,000 years after the events it described. It could not have given any accurate account of the events through which the Patriarchs lived and by which the Israelite people were formed and their faith awakened.

Such a negative attitude has recently been shown to have been wholly erroneous. An extensive comparison between names in Genesis and Northern Mesopotamian names, now known from extra-Biblical sources of the 1st half of the 2d millennium b.c., has established that the names Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Haran, Nahor, Serug, Benjamin, etc., were common, or of a common form, during the general period ascribed by Genesis to the Patriarch's wanderings and in the general area whence Abraham and his seminomadic group migrated, a fact not true of the later period in Palestine when the Yahwistic traditions were definitively written down. The Genesis description of Patriarchal life and wanderings, including the places where they temporarily settled on the central Palestinian ridge, fits accurately into what is now known about the tribes of ass nomads, which were in the process of becoming sedentary during the major part of the 2d millennium b.c. Even journeys of such nomads to Egypt and their quasi settlement there on the fringe of the "sown" are well exemplified during this period from non-Biblical sources. Finally, many of the customs and institutions found in Genesis are now known not to have been those of Israel and judah in the later monarchical period but ones found in sources from the mid-2d millennium b.c. from Nuzi and Mari, sources that were themselves records of more ancient customs that were prevalent in the general northern Mesopotamian region.

The honest historian should therefore conclude that Israel's remembrances of its origins, although not to be classified as history by intent and plan, were nevertheless rooted in history. Israel's traditions evoked a response of faith from those who believed in the God who chose the Patriarchs, which is not contradicted by what is now known of Near-Eastern history during the Middle Bronze (c. 2250 to c. 1500 b.c.) and Late Bronze Ages (c. 1500 to c. 1200 b.c.).

The Exodus. Israel's remembrance of its originally happy and then bitter sojourn in Egypt was so strong that it could not possibly have been legend. There would have been no reason to emphasize an inglorious period of servitude in a saga of a nation's origins. Probably not all the tribes descended to Egypt or remained there for such a long period as is ordinarily thought. The Rachel tribes, Joseph and benjamin, elements of the Levi tribe, and sections of Judah and simeon, probably entered Egypt during the Hyksos period and dwelt for a long period on the northeastern fringe of the Egyptian Delta, "in the land of Gesen." There they were able to continue their traditional raising of sheep and goats (Gn 47.34).

Once this minority group began to be numerous and after Egyptian nationalism had reasserted itself against the Hyksos dynasty, as happens so often in human history, the nationalists began to persecute and enslave the growing minority group and eventually forced them to leave. The memory of this escape from Egyptian oppression remained throughout Israelite history the foremost example of God's saving protection for Israel, a theological conception that goes beyond mere human history [see exodus, book of].

Desert Wandering. The exact details of the desert journey of the Israelites and its stages have been lost in the liturgical and religious accounts of God's great saving act found in the Bible. The ancient traditional site of Mt. horeb or sinai has recently been called into doubt, so that some scholars map out a completely different route than the commonly accepted one; but the reasons for identifying Mt. Sinai with a mountain in the southern part of the Sinai peninsula still remain credible. The quasi settlement of the exiting Israelite tribes around Kadesh in southern Palestine is of more certain historicity. Here the nomadic tribes took a long step forward in their process of settlement. They learned more advanced social customs from the Madianites (Exodus ch. 18) and made some attempts to move more deeply into the ridge land of Palestine from the south, joining forces with neighboring tribes such as the sons of Caleb and the Kenites. Their experience with Yahweh at the time of their pilgrimage to Sinai became, however, the central magnet, the centripetal force, that made tribes of varying background cling together until they finally established a theocratic nation.

This process was directed by God's spokesmen and representatives, such as moses, joshua (Son of Nun), the judges, and King david. Recently, historical criticism has returned to a more positive view concerning the historicity of Moses and has rescued him from being a legendary figure. There are no strong reasons for doubting that he was the leader of the Exodus, the organizer of Israel's basic religio-civil laws, and the inspired teacher of their faith.

Date of Exodus. When the formative egress from Egypt took place is still a disputed question. The arguments for dating the Exodus in the 15th century b.c. are being more and more discounted, while those indicating the 13th century are gaining probability and adherents. Some of the reasons for the latter theory are: the pharaohs of the Nineteenth Dynasty (13th century b.c.) resided in the Delta, where they carried on extensive building programs (cf. Ex 1.1114); the kingdoms of the edomites moabites, and Ammonites are now known not to have existed before the 13th century, yet Israel's journey in the Transjordan supposes their existence; archeology shows a distinct retrogression in arts and crafts in Palestine at the beginning of the iron age in the last half of the 13th century, which would indicate the displacement of a higher civilization by nomadic tribes, such as were the Israelites; excavations at Bethel and Lachish date a destruction of these cities in the last half of the 13th century, and, finally, the stele of Mer-ne-Ptah (1223 to 1211 b.c.) names Israel as a defeated foe but classifies them as a people and not as a country, i.e., they were not yet sedentary. The Exodus took place, then, about the mid-13th century b.c. during the latter part of the reign of Ramses II.

The Conquest and Settlement. The Book of josh ua simplified drastically the details of Israel's complex and slow conquest and settlement of the land later known by its name. The Book of judges indicates that the tribes of Judah and Simeon, along with allied, non-Israelite tribes, gradually conquered southern Palestine from the south and perhaps also from the east, over a rather long period that was not completed until David took jerusa lem and some upland Philistine cities in the beginning of the 10th century b.c. The Book of numbers and the Book of joshua recount that the main body of the Rachel tribes led by Moses and Joshua followed the Transjordanian pastoral route past Edom, Moab, and Ammon to penetrate Palestine from the east through the valley of the jordan, a constant gateway throughout history to Palestinian agricultural regions for invading Bedouin.

Time of Joshua. Although religious tradition attributed to the great hero Joshua, the successor of Moses as God's charismatic leader, many of Israel's victories that were not his or that took place after his time, he still remains the predominant leader in the conquest of central Palestine and not a mere creation of etiological legends [see etiology (in the bible)]. An initial victory at jeri cho followed by that at Bethel would have opened up for the Israelite tribes the main central ridge, which was sparsely settled at this time by seminomadic tribes similar, and probably related, to the main body of the Israelites. Other Israelite tribes, of long residence in the pastoral regions of northern Palestine, would have joined with their brothers, just arrived from the desert and their experience with Yahweh, to form at Shechem a greater Israelite federation by the acceptance of the Sinaitic covenant. This seems to be the historical background of Joshua's renewal of the covenant with Yahweh described in Jos 8.3035 and chapter 24. Such a strong federation of nomadic tribes would have led some smaller enclaves, such as the Horites of Gibeon, to join with them in peaceful alliance (Joshua chapter 9), while the Canaanite city-states became alarmed and tried unsuccessfully to impede the growth of the Israelite federation at the battles of Gibeon (Joshua chapter 10) and the waters of Merom (Joshua chapter 11). Yet, at Joshua's death the Israelite amphictyony had really gained a strong foothold only in the hill region of Palestine. Much remained to be conquered from the three centers of strength, Judah and Simeon in the south, the Joseph tribes in the central region on both sides of the Jordan, and the northern tribes in Galilee. These Israelite islands were cut off from each other by Canaanite strongholds, such as Jerusalem and Beth-Shan, along with other cities of the Plain of Jezreel. Another, and eventually more serious, obstacle to Israelite expansion than the Canaanite population was the philistines, who had settled along the southern and central Palestinian coast shortly after the Israelites had established control of their pastures and vineyards located in the highlands.

Time of the Judges. The period that followed the original partial conquest saw Israel fighting constantly, now in one region, now in another, to maintain and expand its hold on the hill territory against three archenemies, the settled Canaanites, the aggressive and iron-armed Philistines, and the raiding camel nomads, called Madianites and Amalekites, who envied Israel's advance toward better food and stability. The repeated battles for existence brought leaders to the fore, who throughout the 12th and 11th centuries b.c. were scarcely able to maintain Israel's hold on the land given to it by Yahweh but who gradually strengthened Israel's sense of national unity. The main victory was the one at Taanach, by which control of the valley of Jezreel was won and a bridge was formed uniting the Joseph tribes with those of Galilee. Judah and Simeon remained in a somewhat cut-off position in the south, a division that was one of the causes for the later schism between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Near the end of this period of the Judges the Philistines won a great victory over Israel at Aphek (c. 1050). The central symbol of Israel's religious and national unity, the ark of the covenant, was captured, and its sanctuary at Shiloh was destroyed. The Israelites had come to a crossroads: to maintain their very existence they had to have a central leader around whom all the tribes could rally against the Philistines. Israel had to have a king.


The forces threatening Israel's existence led to a popular demand for a nāgîd, a martial, charismatic leader who would direct Israel's army against its foes. This desire was reluctantly implemented by samuel when he anointed Saul as nāgîd (c. 1020 b.c.) and eventually led to the union of all the Israelite tribes under one melek, king, during the reigns of kings David and solomon.

Institution. Two varying accounts of the institution of the monarchy are juxtaposed in the First Book of sam uel. The first account (1 Sm 9.110.16; 11.115) describes how Yahweh Himself guided the secret election of Saul as king of Israel, how Saul defeated the Ammonites, and how the people acclaimed him as king. The other account (1 Sm 8.122; 10.1727; 12.125) shows Samuel first resisting the popular demand for a king and acceding to it only because of a divine command (8.7,22). After Saul's election by lot, Samuel proclaimed the dire consequences of government by a human king (8.1118) and in a menacing farewell discourse gave up his judgeship in the very act of exercising his role as prophet, i.e., spokesman for God (ch. 12). Both traditions are ancient, and from different points of view (to which all history is invariably subject in varying degrees) they transmit the essential factsthe need for centralized political and military control to defend against outside pressure and a nostalgic reluctance to give up the freedom of amphictyonic rule with its closer, more intimate ties with the ultimate nāgîd, God.

The type of kingship Saul exercised very likely resembled that of the kings of the recently established kingdoms of Ammon, Moab, and Edom rather than the allied tyrannies of the Philistines and the princelings of the Canaanite city-states. It was a national monarchy joining together under one warlord previously federated tribes. Much of the king's hold over these clans depended upon his success in battle and his loyalty to the basic religious elan that united Israel's disparate tribal loyalties. Thus, after Saul's initial victories over the Ammonites, the Amalekites, and the Philistines in the hill country and his repulse of Philistine attempts to invade Israelite highland strongholds via the narrow valleys leading eastward from the coast, he inevitably lost popular favor for his dynasty by the disastrous confrontation of Philistine chariots on the plain below Mt. Gilboa c. 1000 b.c. There he and his oldest sons died. Israel's collapse before Philistia seemed irremediable. Only another nāgîd, wiser and more popular than Saul, more loyal to the Yahwistic religion, and better versed in Philistine warfare could save Israel. Such a man was already upon the scene, and he gradually won over to himself the loyalty of all IsraelDavid, son of Jesse, of the tribe of Judah.

Reign of David. The ancient traditions recount the rise of David (r. c. 1000c. 961) to prominence as a valiant warrior in Saul's militia, the jealousy of Saul that eventually led to David's life as the exiled leader of an outlaw band, and David's adventures as the prince of Ziklag in the employ of the Philistine ruler of Gath. These traditions have the form of popular sagas and are of different and variant origin, but they agree essentially in their picture of David as a very talented warrior and troubadour who could so charm the populace as to create violent jealousy in the unstable Saul. The loyalty he inspired in his small band of marauders and his partial friendship with certain Philistines gave him freedom to develop his power in the south, where he protected the established towns by his raids against pillaging nomads.

After Saul's death, David reigned as king in Hebron for about seven years and emerged, after Abner and Ishbaal were killed, as the only hero who could possibly save Israel from Philistine oppression. When the elders of the northern tribes had submitted to him and accepted him as the king of Israel, he wisely moved the capital to jerusalem, which had been conquered by his own army of loyal mercenaries, was not connected with tribal traditions, and was centrally located on the border between the southern and northern tribes. It became his own city, David's city, and he soon made it the central sanctuary for all Israel by bringing to it the ark of the covenant. He thus established a strong focus of unity for the northern and southern elements of Israel, although his reign always remained a divided one. He was separately the king of Israel (the north) and the king of Judah (the south) but never the king of a completely unified nation that had loyalties only to him.

By his victories over the Philistines, of which very little is known, and by his subjection of the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, and aramaeans of central Syria and the Damascus area, David secured Israel from all its surrounding enemies. He thereby established a small empire whose extent was never matched under any other Israelite king. He organized the liturgy around the ark by favoring the survivors of the high-priestly clan of eli, which Saul had almost exterminated.

One problem he never solved was the dynastic succession to his throne. His sons were at odds with him and each other. Absalom rebelled against him with the aid of some of David's formerly strongest supporters and of the Benjaminites who were in favor of Saul's line. After this revolt was suppressed by his loyal mercenaries, David had to deal with another rebellion by the Benjaminites. When he was near death, his oldest remaining son, Adonijah, attempted to overthrow his favored son Solomon by claiming the kingship. David was finally forced to have Solomon anointed king while he was still alive.

The history of David in the Bible is mainly that of Jerusalem and his own family's vicissitudes. It is not a chronicle of his political and military achievements. But from the point of view of salvation history it laid down a theme that would be almost as strong throughout the remainder of Israelite history as the original Mosaic covenant and legislation, God's new covenant with Zion and the Davidic dynasty. Henceforth Yahweh would never completely desert Jerusalem or David's house. He would correct and punish, but He would never entirely reject His chosen and anointed leader, His messiah. This theme was to control the national perspectives and hopes of Israel especially after the absorption of the northern tribes by Assyria in the last quarter of the 8th century.

Reign of Solomon. The successes of David were consolidated and organized by Solomon (c. 961c. 922 b.c.), who was fortunate to reign in a period when the great powers, Egypt and Assyria, were at their weakest, when the Sidonians were interested in maritime expansion and trade, and when the Aramaeans had not completely recovered from David's victories. Solomon and his kingdom were thus at peace, a peace ensured by the chariot army and garrisons that he established at great expense throughout his kingdom, of which the excavations at Megiddo have provided noteworthy evidence. He freely engaged in all kinds of commercial endeavors with the surrounding countries, allying himself with Hiram of Tyre in the production of metals and other trade and taking advantage of and exploiting the newly established camel trade over the vast wastelands of Arabia.

His building program included, besides the Jerusalem temple and royal palace, many fortified cities such as Gezer and Hazor, a fact confirmed by recent excavations. The phoenicians aided him with artisans and material, but the main body of his workers were enslaved Canaanites and other neighboring peoples, and even Israelites themselves were drafted into forced labor battalions in alarming numbers.

Solomon continued his father's attempts to break down tribal barriers in order to concentrate Israel around the throne. Twelve governmental units were established over which the king appointed prefects whose main duty was to collect enough tribute from each unit to provide for the royal court for a month each year. From even a rough estimate of this tribute the magnitude of Solomon's court and the terrible burden of taxation on the people are clearly apparent. The seeds of rebellion had been sown by such extravagance and economic imbalance.

Yet the 70 years during which David and Solomon ruled the united kingdoms were prosperous and fruitful for the Israelite people. They increased immensely, perhaps even doubled in the period. New towns and cities were founded. Arts and crafts were perfected. Literacy and literature became no longer an extreme rarity relegated only to a few scribes. The hebrew language, so glorious already in its oral transmission, entered its golden age as a written language in both prose and poetry. The economic oppression and draining of the still tribally oriented people, especially of the north, however, were factors too explosive to allow for a peaceful transmission of power to the next Davidic king. Add to the burden of maintaining the royal court the weakening of the pristine, centralizing Yahwism by syncretistic religious practices encouraged by Solomon's foreign harem and by his commerce with neighboring nations and one can easily see why the northerners shouted in the adamant face of Rehoboam, King of Judah (c. 922c. 915), "What portion have we in David?" (1 Kgs 12.16).


Jeroboam I, King of Israel (c. 922c. 901), led the northern tribes into a political and religious schism that lasted until the Assyrian destruction and colonization of the Northern Kingdom in the last quarter of the 8th century. After that, for another century and a half, the less important Southern Kingdom (Judah) carried on Israelite history until its destruction by the Babylonians in 587 b.c.

The Separate Kingdoms. Under the influence of prophetism (1 Kgs 12.2124), hostilities between the two kingdoms were kept minimal, but Israel's enemies, especially the resurgent Egypt and Aram (Damascus), took military advantage of the breakup of the Solomonic empire. Early in Rehoboam's reign Shishak I, the founder of the 22nd Egyptian Dynasty (c. 935c. 725), drastically reduced Judah's boundaries to its highland region and levied a heavy tribute that emptied Jerusalem's coffers. He must also have secured freedom for his commercial enterprises along the caravan route that led through Israel's western territory. (A stele of Shishak has been unearthed at Mageddo, the city guarding the main north-south caravan route over Mt. carmel.) Hostilities between Israel and Judah continued during the short reign of Rehoboam's son Abijah (c. 915c. 913). In the reign of Asa, King of Judah (c. 913c. 873), Baasha (c. 900c. 877) of Israel conquered Rama in a part of Benjamin previously occupied by Judah as a buffer region just north of Jerusalem and caused Asa to appeal to Damascus for aid. Henceforth Israel would have to contend constantly with Damascene incursions in Galilee and Gilead.

The Northern Kingdom in the meantime had already given evidence of a problem that would sap its strength throughout its existenceits dynastic instability. Baasha had usurped the throne by murdering Jeroboam's son Nadab in the second year of his reign (c. 901c. 900); but Baasa's dynasty lasted only into the second year of the reign of his son Elah (c. 877c. 876), who was murdered by Zimri. Zimri in turn was killed within a week. A civil war then broke out in Israel, and only after four years did one of the strongest of Israel's kings, Omri, secure his throne (1 Kgs 16.22).

Omri. King Omri (c. 876c. 869) changed Israel's capital from Tirzah to the city of Samaria, thus orientating his economic outlook toward the prosperous land of the Phoenicians. He cemented relations with Phoenicia by marrying his son Ahab to a Sidonian, Princess Jezebel, and thereby gained an important ally against the continuing harassment of the Aramaeans. In Transjordan Omri retook Medeba and won tribute from the Moabites, as attested by the mesha inscription. He made such an impact among the neighboring nations by strengthening Israel that even after his dynasty's violent end the Assyrians continued to refer to Israel as the House of Omri.

Ahab. Omri's son Ahab (c. 869c. 850) continued to follow a policy of useful alliances by concluding a pact with Asa's son Jehoshaphat of Judah (c. 873c. 849) and by the marriage of his daughter (or sister) Athalia to Jehoshaphat's son Jehoram (r. c. 849c. 842). Continued commercial ties with Phoenicia aided the economy, and the Moabite tribute remained a source of income. Only the Damascenes caused trouble, but they were eventually defeated by Ahab near the Sea of Galilee (1 Kgs 20.2234). An alliance was made between the two states to confront the Assyrian advance under Shalmaneser III into Syria. At the battle of Karkor (853 b.c.) Shalmaneser won a victory against a coalition of 11 kings, among whom were numbered those of Israel and Damascus; but it was so indecisive that he withdrew to Assyria. After the Assyrian threat was over, Israel, in league with Judah, again tried to win back from Damascus the former Israelite territory around Ramoth in Gilead, but it was defeated when Ahab was killed in battle.

The gravest threat to Yahwism arose at this time as a consequence of Jezebel's propaganda for Baal worship. The details of prophetic reaction to the resulting syncretism are found in the sagas of elijah and elisha recorded in the Books of kings.

Ahab's son Joram of Israel (c. 849c. 842), brother and successor of the short-lived Ahaziah (c. 850c. 849), allied his kingdom with Judah and Edom in an attempt to reconquer the rebellious King Mesha of Moab, but the coalition, after an initial victory, was repelled, and Moab remained independent. Relations with the Aramaeans remained fluid: Israel was allied with them against the threat of Assyria, but whenever the Assyrians retreated, the two countries renewed their rivalry. Judah during this period was very much involved with Israel's campaigns and lost control of much of its southern sphere of influence after the disastrous defeat by Mesha.

Jehu Dynasty. The Omri dynasty and its Queen Mother Jezebel, an ardent devotee of Baal, were slaughtered by a military uprising led by a certain Jehu (2 Kgs9.110.11) and abetted by Elisha and his brother Prophets, who were reacting to the favoritism shown to Baal worship under the Omrides. Jehu (c. 842c. 815) became the founder of the last strong dynasty of Israel. He tried, it seems, to destroy the Davidic dynasty and take control of Judah, for, when he wiped out the Omrides, he killed also Jehoshaphat's grandson Ahaziah, who was king of Judah for only one year (c. 842). But he never succeeded in this, either because soon after his usurpation he was hardpressed by Hazael of Damascus (2 Kgs 10.3233), who conquered Transjordan as far as the Arnon, or because Athalia, the Queen Mother of Ahaziah of Judah, quickly seized power by murdering all his sons except an infant one. The pressure from Damascus became even more intense under Jehu's son Joahaz (c. 815c. 801), and Israel lost much of its territory and most of its army (2 Kgs 13.7). However, Damascus' strength was greatly curtailed by an Assyrian siege of that city in 802, and Joahaz's son Jehoash (c. 801c. 786) was able to win back the Israelite territories taken by Hazael, a reconquest brought to completion under Jehoash's son, the great King Jeroboam II (2 Kgs 14.2527).

Jehoash and Amaziah of Judah. In Judah, after Athalia's short reign (c. 842c. 837), the only remaining son of Ahaziah, Jehoash, enjoyed a long but rather disastrous rule (c. 837c. 800), which was plagued by Aramaean invasions and was ended by his assassination when he was still in his forties. He fostered, however, a popular reaction to the Baal worship that had been introduced in Jerusalem by Athalia. He reformed the appropriation of temple revenues to insure that the priests would not become rich to the detriment of the necessary repairs of the temple's buildings and furniture (2 Kgs 12.517).

The son of Jehoash of Judah, Amaziah (c. 800c. 783), began his reign well by a victory over the Edomites, which reopened for him the lucrative commerce with arabia; but he antagonized Jehoash of Israel, who conquered the Judean army at Beth-Shemesh and sacked Jerusalem, thus disturbing the long peace between the fraternal kingdoms. The crisis led to Amaziah's murder, the result of a palace rebellion (2 Kgs 14.19).

Jeroboam II of Israel and Azariah of Judah. A period of peaceful prosperity followed for both kingdoms during the long reigns of Jeroboam II (c. 786c. 746) in Israel and of Azariah (known also as Ozia or Uzziah; c. 783c. 742) in Judah. Since Damascus and Assyria were impotent at the time, Jeroboam was able to regain the fullest expanse of Israel and to enrich his country by commercial enterprises. Not all the populace benefited by this prosperity; the Books of amos and hosea bear witness to the extravagant luxury of the rich and the miserable poverty of the poor during Jeroboam's rule.

The prosperity in Judah was more evenly distributed but not so equitably as to prevent the recriminations against the rich, as described in the Books of isaiah and micah, dating from shortly after this period. Azariah continued his father's policy of controlling and exploiting the southern caravan routes from Arabia and may even have dominated the commercial routes passing through Philistia (2 Chr 26.68). After having become a leper (2 Kgs 15.5) he ruled for eight years (c. 750c. 742) through his son Joatham (who reigned c. 750c. 735) before he died. Extra-Biblical evidence (see J.B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 28283) attests that a Syrian coalition was led by Azariah (c. 743) against the reawakening power of Assyria under Tilglath-Pileser III. The Jehu dynasty had passed from history with the assassination of Jeroboam's son Zechariah (c. 746c. 745) by the usurper Shallum only six months after he had ascended the throne. Assyria was on the march, and the whole Palestinian and Syrian coastland was threatened.

The Fall of Samaria. Tiglath-Pileser III (called also Pul, the name he took when he became King of Babylon), by victories over Urartu, had freed his armies for campaigns in Syria. Menahem of Israel (c. 745c. 738), who had killed Shallum a month after the latter's seizure of the throne, was forced to pay tribute to Tiglath-Pileser in 738.

Aramaean-Israelite Revolt. After Menahem's son Pekahiah (c. 738c. 737) was killed by an anti-Assyrian faction led by Pekah (c. 737c. 732), it was not long before Pul reacted to the Israelite revolt that, in the meantime, Pekah had strengthened by making an alliance with Rezin, King of Damascus. While Israel and Damascus were trying to force Judah, now ruled by Ahaz (c. 735c. 715), into their anti-Assyrian coalition by threatening to replace him by Ben Tabeel, the Assyrians were busy in the north, giving the final blows to Urartu. It was in these circumstances (c. 735) that the Prophet Isaiah encouraged Ahaz to trust in Yahweh alone (Is 7.116), but Ahaz appealed to Tiglath-Pileser for help and sent him a vassal's tribute. In 734 the Assyrians marched on Philistia to cut off any aid that might come to the coalition from Egypt, conquering a good part of Galilee as they passed through it. They then turned on Damascus, took it in 732, and in the same thrust captured Israel's possessions in the Transjordan. The kingdom of Israel was thus reduced to the small highland area around Samaria, while a large part of the Israelite population of the occupied territories was deported and their land given to colonists from other regions of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians had found a practical plan for deterring the repetition of a vassal's rebellion [see deportation (in the bible).]

Last Days of Samaria. Israel's misfortune led to another palace revolution. Hosea assassinated Pekah, quickly sent tribute to the Assyrians, and was thus allowed to reign (c. 732724) as a vassal king over a very reduced kingdom. Ahaz made his vassalage official by submitting to the Assyrians at Damascus and thus rendered any move that Judah might attempt against Assyria an act of rebellion. At the same time the Assyrian religious cult was forced upon Judah, and Yahwism was endangered (2 Kgs 16.34, 1018).

The next Assyrian King, Shalmaneser V, in the course of a campaign against Tyre (725), invaded Samaria and laid siege to its capital. King Hosea, who had vainly hoped to receive military aid from the King of Sais in the Egyptian Delta and had refused to give his annual tax to Assyria, was taken prisoner by Shalmaneser. But the city of Samaria withstood the siege for almost three years. A few months before Shalmaneser died (Dec. 721) it fell to the Assyrians and was destroyed. Sargon II of Assyria, who boasted of this conquest in his inscriptions because it took place in his accession year, deported most of the remaining inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom to northern Mesopotamia. Thus Israel disappeared from history. Its deported people lost their identity in foreign lands. The people who remained in the land were mixed with the new colonists, and many of them succumbed to the new religions formed by the amalgamation of various pagan creeds with an already watered-down Yahwism. Those who remained true to Yahweh were the ancestors of the later samaritans. The history of the Israelite people and their religion was henceforth to continue in Judah alone.

Judah until Its Fall. Since the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib, King of Assyria, is certainly to be dated in 701, and since it occurred in the 14th year of Ahaz's son Hezekiah, King of Judah (2 Kgs 18.13), the date c. 715 for the beginning of Hezekiah's reign seems better than that indicated by the synchronism afforded by 2 Kgs 18.12, 910. Hezekiah had a long reign (until c. 687) in a period that saw the greatest extent (even into Egypt) of the Assyrian empire. That the tiny kingdom of Judah was not completely absorbed by the mammoth empire, as Israel had been absorbed, remains one of history's tantalizing problems. Sacred history has given an answer that transcends the historian's purview: Judah was saved because of a religious and, hence, also a national revival that procured for it Yahweh's protection. Whatever his judgment of this theological interpretation, the historian must admit that Judah could not have had a national renewal without a preceding religious renewal.

Hezekiah. During the first half of Hezekiah's reign the times were generally propitious for his reform. Assyria had temporary troubles at home, and except for the campaign of the Assyrian army against Ashdod in 712 (Is 20.1), Palestine was left in peace until Sennacherib's invasion of Judah in 701. The reform, which wiped away the Assyrian cultic importations, was motivated by the pure Yahwism preached by Isaiah and Micah. It then, apparently for the first time, attempted to destroy all local sanctuaries, even those dedicated to Yahweh, and to make the temple in Jerusalem the sole focus of the orthodox cult. The vital school of religious thinkers behind the attempt, probably never successful in Hezekiah's reign, remained dormant under the long and idolatrous reign of the weak Manasseh, to reappear in its full vigor under King Josiah of Judah.

The campaign of Sennacherib (705683) as recounted in the Bible may be a telescoping to two separate Assyrian expeditions, one in 701, the other quite some time later. This would explain the appearance on the scene of the Egyptian King Taharqo (the Theraca of 2 Kgs 19.9), who did not begin his reign until c. 685. Another possible explanation is that in 701, after Sennacherib had quickly reduced to rubble most of Judah and while he was just about to crush some stubborn fortified cities (Lachish and Libna) more essential to his coastal campaign than Jerusalem, an Egyptian army, anachronistically said to have been under the command of Taharqo (who was only nine years old at the time), advanced from the south. It was in these circumstances that a plague broke out in the Assyrian army, and Sennacherib was forced to return home, leaving Judah devastated and Jerusalem "like a shed in a melon patch" (Is 1.8). The silence in the Assyrian royal records about such a setback is understandable, given the general success of the campaign and the relative unimportance of Jerusalem as an obstacle to an Assyrian invasion of Egypt.

Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah. Under Hezekiah's son Manasseh (c. 687c. 642) a ravaged Judah returned to its vassal status, paying tribute to Esarhaddon in 673 and to Ashurbanipal in 668. The religious reform was suppressed and God's spokesmen, the Prophets, lay hidden. The next king, Amon (c. 642c. 640), was murdered by his own officials, but another group started a counterrevolution and gained control of the small kingdom for Amon's son josiah when he was still a boy. Josiah reigned (c. 640609) until his tragic death in the battle of Mageddo, when he vainly tried to prevent the Egyptian army under Neco from invading Syria.

Under Josiah a religious reform, with which the Bible is almost exclusively concerned, accompanied and abetted a national resurgence that was possible because of Assyria's entrance into a fatal decline. As the Judean political and military reorganization progressed, the reform expelled from the land all foreign influences, religious and cultural. The discovery in Josiah's 18th year of at least the legislative parts of the Book of deuteronomy (2 Kgs 22.323.24) gave added impetus and purpose to the renewal and led to the suppression of local sanctuaries and the concentration of priests in Jerusalem. Although the reform was shortlived, it expressed a religious fervor that was to survive the ruin of Jerusalem and the Exile and be developed and formulated in the homiletical sections of Deuteronomy and the doctrines of the Book of jeremiah.

When the cities of Asshur and nineveh were destroyed in quick succession (614 and 612) by the medes and chaldeans, the Judeans rejoiced to see their old archenemy Assyria humbled. Josiah was so eager to hasten the total destruction of the remaining Assyrian forces that he tried to impede the Egyptian pharaoh Neco from marching to their aid, and he was killed in 609 at the pass of Mageddo (2 Kgs 23.2930).

Last Kings of Judah. After the death of Josiah the anti-Egyptian faction in Judah set his second-oldest son Shallum on the throne under the name of Jehoahaz. But after a reign of only threee months he was deposed by the Egyptians and taken a prisoner into Egypt.

The Egyptians then installed, as their puppet king of Judah, Josiah's oldest son Eliakim, who took the throne name of Jehoiakim. Despite the enormous tribute that Judah had to pay Pharaoh Neco, Jehoiakim received no substantial military aid from Egypt when the Chaldean King of Babylon, nebuchadnezzar, invaded Palestine in 603, and he was forced to become a vassal of Babylon. But three years later, egged on by Egypt, he threw off the Babylonian yoke. In 598 Nebuchadnezzar set out to punish his rebellious vassal in Judah. Jehoiakim, however, died on Dec. 8, 598 b.c., shortly before the Babylonian army encamped before Jerusalem.

As the only way to save the city, his son and successor, Jehoiachin, known previously as Conia, after a reign of only three months and ten days, offered himself, his family, his whole court, and most of the nobles as prisoners (March 16, 597 b.c.). This was the first deportation of Judeans to Babylon.

On the shaky throne of Jerusalem Nebuchadnezzar set Jehoiakim's younger brother Mattaniah, who took the throne name of Zedekiah. Although his nephew Jehoiachin received a somewhat liberal captivity in Babylon, so that he survived to carry on the Davidic line, Zedekiah ultimately brought a tragic end both to himself and to his kingdom. Against the pleadings of Jeremiah, who continually counseled him to submit to Babylon, Zedekiah followed the popular, stubborn nationalism in more than once seeking help from Egypt to start a rebellion. In 589 Nebuchadnezzar marched. He laid siege to Jerusalem in January 588, sent detachments to storm other Judean strongholds, and at the approach of the Egyptian king Apries (588568) stirred up the false hopes of the fanatic defenders by sending most of his sieging forces against the Egyptians. But Egypt proved false once more: they withdrew across the sands, and Jerusalem remained alone the focus of Babylonian fury. In August 587 a breach was made from the north, and Zedekiah fled southward down the Kidron Valley; but he was captured, blinded, and imprisoned. Jerusalem was laid waste by fire, and most of the people of Judah who escaped the sword were deported as slaves.

With their temple destroyed, their last two kings held captive, their towns and country smoldering ruins, the people of God bitterly faced exile and oblivion. Yahweh had rejected His own. Yet already in Babylon a man of visions, ezekiel, had seen God's glory coming from His Temple to hover over His faithful and purified remnant, to give them new hope, and to lead them back to their home.


With the reduction of the kingdom of Judah to a province of the Babylonian empire, the history of what was left of God's holy people Israel reached a crisis. A thorough break with Israel's past, spelling the end of the theocratic amphictyony and monarchy, was mysteriously and sacrally changed into a renewal of the past and a resurgence of the sole rule of the one God over the Judean remnant of Israel. This dynamic rejuvenation germinated among the higher classes of the people who had been deported to Babylon, and it kept on developing after its most fervent devotees had returned to Palestine. During the Persian period it emerged as the social reality now known as Judaism, a reality so durable that it was to defy every attempt to exterminate it in the periods of Greek and Roman hegemony and, in fact, in every period up to the present day.

The Exile. First of all, it is clear that much of Judah's population remained in Palestine even after a third deportation in 582, but they were a disheartened lot, leaderless, harassed by the Edomites who occupied southern Judah, still plagued by religious syncretism, and only capable of lamenting bitterly over the ruins of Jerusalem. The sole hopeful note in their situation was that Babylon had not mongrelized them by settling foreign colonists in their midst, as Assyria had done to Samaria. However, the future of Yahwism rested rather with those exiles in Babylon who would rather have forgotten their right hand than Jerusalem and all it meant for them [Ps 136 (137).5]. In a quite liberal captivity the deportees kept a semblance of their traditional social structure ruled by the elders, priests, and Levites. Even more importantly, however, their Prophets were allowed free reign to preach their gospel of a new Israel, a new Jerusalem, and a new covenant and law written in the hearts of Yahweh's people (Ez 36.2627; Is ch. 4055). The religious revival borrowed almost nothing from the Babylonian culture and cult. It was a revival that defies rational explanation. God had chastized His people, had led them out into the desert again, had spoken tenderly to them through His Prophets (Hos 2.16), and had raised up for them a new school of holy men, the scribes, who kept rehearsing for them the sacred lessons of their past. When cyrus, King of Persia, gave the most enthusiastic of them leave to go to Palestine in 538, it was truly "a holy nation" and "a kingdom of priests" (Ex 19.6) who lifted their packs and followed the Lord Himself as He led them toward zion.

Persian Period. The literary and chronological problems arising from the disarranged and lacunary sources for this era (see ezra, book of; nehemiah, book of) make it difficult to give an accurate account of its various phases. The summary that follows, therefore, claims merely plausibility for the sequence of events and their dates.

Restoration of the Temple. The exiles did not return in one great caravan; they kept coming back after 538 in separate groups and at various times. Sheshbazzar, apparently a son of Jehoiachin, the king of Judah who had been deported in 598, led the first group. Their hopes of rebuilding the temple were soon frustrated by the necessity of providing food and lodging for themselves in a depopulated and desolate land and by the opposition of the Samaritans, who considered Jerusalem under their control. The first resettlers succeeded only in leveling the temple area and arranging the foundations of the temple.

Another Davidic prince, Zerubbabel, succeeded where his uncle had failed. Encouraged by the prophetic utterances recorded in the Books of haggai and Zechariah and, perhaps, by the loosening of Persian control of Palestine while the king of Persia, darius i, was securing his throne, the Judeans, under the leadership of Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua, son of Josedec, began again in 520 to rebuild the temple. Against the Samaritans' objections, they were allowed, by an appeal to the original edict of Cyrus, to continue until they completed the reconstruction in 515. It was more than 20 years since the first group of the deported had returned. The glorious hopes of Deutero-Isaiah (Is ch. 4055) had not materialized, but at least the temple had been restored. More than half a century would pass before a new religious reform led by ezra would pave the way for a political renewal under nehemiah that would culminate in the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls.

Reform of Ezra. According to the literary analysis of R. de Vaux (Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. L. Pirot et al., 4:76465), the collation or telescoping of Ezra's record of his religious reform with Nehemiah's memoirs by the Chronicler (who was not Ezra) is the basis for the confusion presently recognized in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. (For opposing opinions, see A. van Hoonacker and W. F. Albright in bibliography.) This opinion holds that in the 7th year of Artaxerxes I (458), Ezra, a secretary in charge of Jewish affairs in the Persian court, came, armed with a royal decree, to reorganize the Judean community in accordance with the law of Israel's God, in which he was an expert. He read the Law of Moses (not the whole pentateuch, of course, but more than just the Priestly code) to the assembled people, which they accepted by celebrating the rites of the feast of booths (Tabernacles). The law thus became the official constitution for the hieratic society. The outcome of Ezra's severe strictures on marriages with non-Jews is unknown, for his report ends abruptly. These strictures certainly caused a great commotion among the faithful and in all probability were not very effective, as is evidenced by Nehemiah's grappling with the same problem. Ezra's commission was temporary, and he probably returned to his duties in Babylon when it expired.

Reform of Nehemiah. Ezra's religious reform gave birth to a national resurgence that had as its primary object the rebuilding of Jerusalem's fortified walls. A first attempt was thwarted by the Samaritans (Ez 4.822), who, by going beyond Artaxerxes' command that the work of fortification should merely be interrupted until a further decision be made, destroyed what had been accomplished (Neh 1.3; 2.3). Nehemiah, a high official in the Persian court, heard of these events and won from Artaxerxes a commission to repair Jerusalem's battlements. Soon after he arrived in Judea (445), he received a further commission as temporary governor of the Judean enclave (Neh 5.14). He stood firm against the threats and connivances of the Samaritans and their Judean collaborators and completed the basic fortifications within a few months. He then proceeded to populate the city (Neh 11.1) and regulate its social institutions (Neh ch. 5). He returned to the Persian court in 433 but was again present in Judea some years later, when he was forced to reconfirm his reform by having the community solemnly accept the obligations of God's law (Neh ch. 10).

After Nehemiah's time until the Greek conquest, i.e., for about a century (until 333), hardly anything is known of the Judean ethnarchy. Thanks to the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, Judea had become a land ruled by its own sacred law and thus enjoyed a certain autonomy and even the power to coin its own money.

The Greek Period. Before the victory of Alexander the Great at Issus (333), Greek influences had already spread into Palestine, but soon after it the whole of the Near East began to take on a Hellenistic appearance.

Domination by the Ptolemies. After the confusion following Alexander's death, Judea became a liberally controlled border land of the kingdom of the Ptolemies until they lost control of Palestine in 198 at the battle of Paneion. Under this rule during the 3d century b.c. the Jewish diaspora grew, especially in alexandria, to whose Greek-speaking Jews the translation of the Hebrew Bible called the septuagint is usually attributed. In Palestine Jerusalem was allowed to retain its ethnarchic autonomy throughout the conflicts between the Seleucid Dynasty and the Ptolemies, which are alluded to in Daniel ch. 11. When Antiochus III finally succeeded in winning control of Palestine it was not long before the relatively peaceful existence in Jerusalem was disturbed by Seleucus IV and his brother antiochus iv epiphanes.

Maccabean Period. The history of the maccabees recorded in the Books of the Maccabees recounts the direst threat to the existence of God's people since the Babylonian deportation. Antiochus IV attempted to strengthen his hold on Palestine by destroying the core of Jewish unity, dedication to Yahweh's laws, by a thorough process of Hellenization. He attacked Judaism by forbidding the practice of fundamental Jewish customs, such as their dietary laws and circumcision, and by forcing them to idolatry.

The reaction was noble in its loyalty to Yahweh and its fierce bravery. Judas Maccabee led a guerrilla war that succeeded in repelling the Greek forces sent against his rebellion and in gaining enough victories to cleanse and rededicate the temple in 165 b.c., which had been desecrated by Antiochus in 168. After the death of Judas, his brothers Jonathan and Simon continued hostilities against the Seleucids, who were involved in a dynastic struggle. By playing one claimant for the Antiochean throne against the other, the Judean leaders were successful in winning Jewish independence. The hasmonaeans (the dynasty begun by Simon's son, John Hyrcanus) thenceforth ruled in Jerusalem until the Romans conquered Palestine.

The Roman Period. The Jewish sects of pharisees and sadducees, as well as the essenes and the qumran community, originated in the troubled Maccabean period and continued their bitter rivalry during the 1st century b.c. It was a land divided and ravaged by civil war between the two claimants to the royal high-priesthood of the Hasmonaean dynasty, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus, supported, respectively, by the Sadducees and the Pharisees, that the Roman General Pompey found when he marched on Jerusalem in 63. He demanded tribute from Judea and took from the rule of Hyrcanus, whom he allowed to serve as high priest, all the coastland conquered by the Hasmonaeans. An Idumean, Antipater, who had been continually aiding Hyrcanus's cause, during the civil wars that followed Caesar's rise to power and his assassination was quite adroit at staying in the favor of whoever gained control of the Roman Empire. His son herod the great finally succeeded in having the Roman Senate recognize him as King of Judea. In 37 Herod laid siege and took Jerusalem with Roman aid, killed Antigonus, the last Hasmonaean, and began his long rule, which was to last until 4 b.c.

Herod, like his father, cleverly changed policies to fit the changes in Roman politics. After the battle of Actium (31 b.c.) he submitted to Augustus and won a good deal of independence for the internal control of his kingdom, which was expanded to almost the extent it had under the most powerful Hasmonaean, Alexander Jannaeus. Of all his building programs, that of the reconstruction of the temple was the most important in Jewish eyes; but this half-Jew never won the support of his people, because of his fostering of emperor worship, his cruelty to his own family, and the opposition of the Pharisees.

After his death the Romans disregarded his disposition of his kingdom by dividing it between three of his sons, the Tetrarchs herod antipas, Archelaus, and Philip. In a.d. 6 Archelaus was deposed by the Romans on a complaint from the Jews, and the regions of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea were placed under the direct control of Roman procurators except for the period from 41 to 44, when Herod Agrippa (see agrippa i and ii) was allowed an internal control of Samaria and Judea. The increasing tyranny of the procurators, e.g., of Pontius pilate, despite the benign rule of Porcius festus, finally led to a Jewish rebellion in 66. It was put down with merciless efficiency in the campaigns of Vespasian and Titus between 67 and 70. Jerusalem with its holy temple was captured and destroyed in April of the year 70, and thus the political history of Israel ended. Its sacred history continued in that of Christianity and in the post-Biblical history of the jews.

Bibliography: r. de vaux, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928) 4:72977; "Les Patriarches hébreux et l'histoire," Revue biblique 72 (1965) 528. r. de vaux, Ancient Israel, Its Life and Institutions, tr. j. mchugh (New York 1961) f. schmidtke, Lexikon für theologie, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 5:80309. a. alt and e. kutsch, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 3:93644. w. f. albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (2d ed. Baltimore 1957); Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore 1946; 4th ed. 1956); The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra (New York 1963). m. noth, The History of Israel, tr. p. r. ackroyd (2d ed. New York 1960). a. van hoonacker, "La Succession chronologique: Néhémie-Esdras," Revue biblique 32 (1923) 48194; 33 (1924) 3364. j. bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia 1959). f. f. bruce, Israel and the Nations: From the Exodus to the Fall of the Second Temple (Grand Rapids 1963). l. johnston, A History of Israel (New York 1964). w. foerster, From the Exile to Christ: A Historical Introduction to Palestinian Judaism, tr. g. e. harris (Philadelphia 1964).

[j. e. fallon/

l. f. hartman]

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ISRAEL (Heb. יִשְׂרָאֵל).

(1) The name of honor given to *Jacob after his mysterious struggle with the angel, "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob but Israel, for thou hast striven [sarita from the root sarah, שרה] with God [El, אֵל] and with men and hast prevailed" (Gen. 32:28, 29). The explanation of the name is not etymological, and was probably not meant to be. More likely, the name literally means "El-is-Just/ Straight/ Upright." It may be noted that the name occurs in Ugaritic as a proper name, and is spelled with shin. Despite the apparent prohibition contained in this verse against the subsequent use of the name Jacob, in the following scriptural narrative the names Jacob and Israel are both used indiscriminately with regard to the father and his sons (cf. Gen. 49:2 and 46:5): "and the sons of Israel carried Jacob their father." The discrepancy between Genesis 32:28–29 and the subsequent use of the name is due to different sources. The Talmud specifically states that both names may be employed; Israel, however, shall be of greater importance (Ber. 13a).

(2) When the immediate descendants of Jacob, "the children [benei, "sons"] of Israel" (Ex. 1:1), grew into a people, they were called "the people of the children of Israel" (idem, 1:9), and henceforth, until the division of the kingdom under *Rehoboam, "Israel" or "the children of Israel" were the only designations for what is now known as the Jewish people. If the "Israel" mentioned in the inscription of Merne-ptah (king of Egypt, c. 1225 b.c.e.) is to be identified with Israel and not, as some have suggested, with Jezreel, it is the earliest known use of the name outside the Bible.

(3) With the division of the kingdom during the reign of Rehoboam, the Southern Kingdom, consisting of the two tribes which remained loyal to the House of David, Judah, and Benjamin, took the name Judah; the Northern Kingdom, consisting of the 10 defecting tribes, was called the Kingdom of Israel (cf. i and ii Kings with regard to the respective kings, and Amos 2:4, 2:6).

(4) After the Kingdom of Israel fell in 721 b.c.e., only the southern Kingdom of Judah remained, the inhabitants of which were referred to as "Judahites" (Yehudim), from which derives the alternative name "Jew." Thus Esther 2:5 reads "There was a certain Yehudi in Shushan, whose name was Mordecai … a Benjamite," Yehudi being his people and Benjamin his tribe. The designation becomes reinforced by the fact that under Roman rule the land was designated as the province of Judea. Nevertheless, the name Israel continues to be used in the Bible in the books written after the end of the Northern Kingdom as well as in rabbinic literature, especially in the aggadah, to denote the Jewish people as a whole, and continues in the post-talmudic period.

(5) The term "Ereẓ Israel" ("Land of Israel") to denote the country of the people of Israel is first used in the Mishnah.

(6) Although the name Israelites was revived in some Western countries in the 19th century to designate the Jews, it is of little historical or theological significance, and is primarily due to the pejorative association which the word Jew had acquired in literature.

(7) The word Israel is also used to designate a Jew who is neither a *kohen nor a *levite.

(8) When the Jewish state was established, the decision was taken to call it the State of Israel. Since 1948, therefore, Israel has become a national connotation and Jew a religious one. The term Israeli applies to all citizens of the state, irrespective of religion.

(9) Mention should also be made of the native Indian Jews, who call themselves *Bene Israel, and of the Ethiopian Jews who call themselves *Beta Israel.


E. Sachsse, in: zaw, 34 (1914), 1–16; idem, in: Zeitschrift für Semitistik, 4 (1925), 63–9; W. Casperi, ibid., 3 (1924), 194–211; W.F. Albright, in: jbl, 46 (1927), 156–68; S. Feist, in: mgwj, 73 (1929), 317–20; M. Naor, in: zaw, 49 (1931), 317–21; R. Marcus, in: jbl, 60 (1941) 141–50; G.A. Dannel, Studies in the Name Israel in the Old Testament (1946); em, 3 (1958), 938–43.

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]

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ISRAEL , family of rabbis, scholars, and emissaries in Jerusalem and Rhodes. moses (d. 1740) was an emissary of the Safed and Jerusalem communities from about 1680 to 1740. In 1710–13 he visited Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco on behalf of Safed and during his travels wrote several responsa. His return trip in 1714 took him to Rhodes where he was elected rabbi. In 1727 the Jews of Constantinople asked Moses to go on a mission in their behalf, and he spent five years in Italy, Holland, and France. While in Italy, he discussed halakhic issues with Jewish scholars there, such as R. Isaac *Lampronti and R. Raphael *Meldola. On completion of his mission he returned to his rabbinical post at Rhodes and spent the last years of his life preparing his responsa for publication. (Part 1 appeared in 1734, part 2 in 1735, and part 3 posthumously in 1742, all in Constantinople under the title, Masat Moshe). In 1737 or 1738 Moses moved from Rhodes to Alexandria, Egypt, where he died. His exegetical writings were printed under the title of Appei Moshe (Leghorn, 1828). His son, abraham ben moses (c. 1708–1785), served as rabbi in Canea, Crete, from 1743 to 1755. In 1751 he visited Western European countries, together with R. Mordecai Rubio, on behalf of Jerusalem. In Hamburg, he met R. Jonathan *Eybeschuetz and gave him a letter justifying his stand on the amulets issue. He was later appointed rabbi of Alexandria, where he served until 1766; from there he moved to Leghorn, where he lived for six years, after which he became rabbi of Ancona. Here, in 1775, he welcomed R. Ḥayyim Joseph David *Azulai. He left two sons, moses, who took his place as rabbi of Alexandria, and Ḥayyim rafael, who published his father's works: Imrot Tehorot (Leghorn, 1786), a book on Even ha-Ezer; and Beit Avraham (ibid., 1786), on the Ḥoshen Mishpat, to which was appended Ma'amar ha-Melekh, on the principle of *Dina de-Malkhuta Dina. elijah ben moses (c. 1710–1784), born in Jerusalem, grew up in Rhodes, returning to Jerusalem in 1744. In 1763 he went as an emissary to Western Europe, passing through Italy, France, and Holland. During the course of his mission he wrote many responsa. He returned to Rhodes, and in 1772 was appointed rabbi in Alexandria. Elijah was succeeded there by his son, jedidiah solomon who published his father's works: Kol Eliyahu (2 parts, Leghorn, 1792–1807), responsa; Ara de-Yisrael (ibid. 1806), religious laws, alphabetically arranged, printed with his derashot, Shenei Eliyahu; Mahaneh Yisrael (ibid., 1807); Kisse Eliyahu (Salonika, 1811), novellae on the Shulḥan Arukh; Aderet Eliyahu (Leghorn, 1828), on the Sefer Miẓvot Gadol of R. *Moses of Coucy; and Ugat Eliyahu (ibid., 1830), responsa.


Frumkin-Rivlin, 3 (1929), 29–31; S. Markus, Toledot ha-Rabbanim le-Mishpaḥat Israel-Rodos (1935); Rosanes, Togarmah, 5 (1938), 73–4; M.D. Gaon, Yehudei ha Mizraḥ be-Ereẓ Yisrael, 2 (1937), 294ff.; Yaari, in: Sinai, 25 (1949), 149–63; Yaari, Sheluḥei, index.

[Avraham Yaari]

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Compiled from the October 2007 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:

State of Israel



Area: 20,330 sq. km. (7,850 sq. mi.) including Jerusalem; about the size of New Jersey.

Cities: Capital—Jerusalem. Israel proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital in 1950. The United States, like nearly all other countries, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv. Other cities—Tel Aviv, Haifa.

Terrain: Plains, mountains, desert, and coast.

Climate: Temperate, except in desert areas.


Population: (2007 est.) 6.43 million.

Annual population growth rate: (2007 est.) 1.2%.

Ethnic groups: Jews 76.2%; Arabs 19.5%; other 4.3%.

Religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Druze.

Languages: Hebrew (official), Arabic (official), English, Russian.

Education: Years compulsory—11. Literacy—96.9% (female 95.6%; male 98.3%).

Health: Infant mortality rate (2005 est.)—7.03/1,000 births. Life expectancy at birth—79.32 years; female 81.55 years, male 77.21 years.

Work force: (2.68 million; Central Bureau for Statistics, 2004) Agriculture—2.1%; manufacturing—16.2%; electricity and water supply—0.8%; construction—5.4%; trade and repair of motor vehicles—3.6%; accommodation services and restaurants—4.3%; transport, storage, and communication—6.5%; banking, insurance, and finance—3.3%; business activities—13.4%; public administration—4.7%; education—12.7%; health, welfare, and social services—10.7%; community, social, and personal services—4.6%; services for households by domestic personnel—1.6%.


Type: Parliamentary democracy.

Independence: May 14, 1948.

Constitution: None; however, the Declaration of Establishment (1948), the Basic Laws of the parliament (the Knesset), and the Israeli citizenship law fill many of the functions of a constitution.

Government branches: Executive—president (chief of state); prime minister (head of government). Legislative—unicameral Knesset. Judicial—Supreme Court.

Political parties: Labor, Likud, Kadima, and various other secular and religious parties, including some wholly or predominantly supported by Israel's Arab citizens. A total of 12 parties are represented in the 17th Knesset, elected March 2006.

Suffrage: Universal at 18.


GDP: (2006 est.) $170.3 billion.

Annual growth rate: (2006) 4.8%.

Per capita GDP: (2006) $26,800.

Currency: Shekel (4.13 shekels = 1 U.S. dollar; 2007 est.).

Natural resources: Copper, phosphate, bromide, potash, clay, sand, sulfur, bitumen, manganese.

Agriculture: Products—citrus and other fruits, vegetables, beef, dairy, and poultry products.

Industry: Types—high-technology projects (including aviation, communications, computer-aided design and manufactures, medical electronics, fiber optics), wood and paper products, potash and phosphates, food, beverages, tobacco, caustic soda, cement, construction, plastics, chemical products, diamond cutting and polishing, metal products, textiles, and footwear.

Trade: Exports (2006 est.)—$42.86 billion. Exports include polished diamonds, electronic communication, medical and scientific equipment, chemicals and chemical products, electronic components and computers, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, rubber, plastics, and textiles. Imports (excluding defense imports, 2006 est.)—$47.8 billion: raw materials, diamonds, energy ships and airplanes, machinery, equipment, land transportation equipment for investment, and consumer goods. Major partners—U.S., U.K., Germany; exports—U.S., Belgium, Hong Kong; imports—U.S., Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, U.K.


Of the approximately 6.43 million Israelis in 2007, about 76% were counted as Jewish, though some of those are not considered Jewish under Orthodox Jewish law. Since 1989, nearly a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union have arrived in Israel, making this the largest wave of immigration since independence. In addition, an estimated 105,000 members of the Ethiopian Jewish community have immigrated to Israel, 14,000 of them during the dramatic May 1991 Operation Solomon airlift. 32.9% of Israelis were born outside of Israel.

The three broad Jewish groupings are the Ashkenazim, or Jews who trace their ancestry to western, central, and eastern Europe; the Sephardim, who trace their origin to Spain, Portugal, southern Europe, and North Africa; and Eastern or Oriental Jews, who descend from ancient communities in Islamic lands. Of the non-Jewish population, about 68% are Muslims, about 9% are Christian, and about 7% are Druze.

Education is compulsory from age 6 to 16 and is free up to age 18. The school system is organized into kindergartens, 6-year primary schools, 3-year junior secondary schools, and 3-year senior secondary schools, after which a comprehensive examination is offered for university admissions. There are seven university-level institutions in Israel, a number of regional colleges, and an Open University program.

With a population drawn from more than 100 countries on 5 continents, Israeli society is rich in cultural diversity and artistic creativity. The arts are actively encouraged and supported by the government. The Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra performs throughout the country and frequently tours abroad. The Jerusalem Symphony and the New Israel Opera also tour frequently, as do other musical ensembles. Almost every municipality has a chamber orchestra or ensemble, many boasting the talents of gifted performers from the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Israel has several professional ballet and modern dance companies, and folk dancing, which draws upon the cultural heritage of many immigrant groups, continues to be very popular. There is great public interest in the theater; the repertoire covers the entire range of classical and contemporary drama in translation as well as plays by Israeli authors. Of the three major repertory companies, the most famous, Habimah, was founded in 1917.

Active artist colonies thrive in Safed, Jaffa, and Ein Hod, and Israeli painters and sculptors exhibit works worldwide. Israel boasts more than 120 museums, including the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls along with an extensive collection of regional archaeological artifacts, art, and Jewish religious and folk exhibits. Israelis are avid newspaper readers, with more than 90% of Israeli adults reading a newspaper at least once a week. Major daily papers are in Hebrew; others are in Arabic, English, French, Polish, Yiddish, Russian, Hungarian, and German.


The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was preceded by more than 50 years of efforts to establish a sovereign nation as a homeland for Jews. These efforts were initiated by Theodore Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement, and were 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.

In the years following World War I, Palestine became a British Mandate and Jewish immigration steadily increased, as did violence between Palestine's Jewish and Arab communities. Mounting British efforts to restrict this immigration were countered by international support for Jewish national aspirations following the near-extermination of European Jewry by the Nazis during World War II. This support led to the 1947 UN partition plan, which would have divided Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem under UN administration.

On May 14, 1948, soon after the British quit Palestine, the State of Israel was proclaimed and was immediately invaded by armies from neighboring Arab states, which rejected the UN partition plan. This conflict, Israel's War of Independence, was concluded by armistice agreements between Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria in 1949 and resulted in a 50% increase in Israeli territory.

In 1956, French, British, and Israeli forces engaged Egypt in response to its nationalization of the Suez Canal and blockade of the Straits of Tiran. Israeli forces withdrew in March 1957, after the United Nations established the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) in the Gaza Strip and Sinai. This war resulted in no territorial shifts and was followed by several years of terrorist incidents and retaliatory acts across Israel's borders.

In June 1967, Israeli forces struck targets in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in response to Egyptian President Nasser's ordered withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from the Sinai Peninsula and the buildup of Arab armies along Israel's borders. After 6 days, all parties agreed to a cease-fire, under which Israel retained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, the formerly Jordanian-controlled West Bank of the Jordan River, and East Jerusalem. On November 22, 1967, the Security Council adopted Resolution 242, the “land for peace” formula, which called for 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.

The following years were marked by continuing violence across the Suez Canal, punctuated by the 1969-70 war of attrition. On October 6, 1973— Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement), the armies of Syria and Egypt launched an attack against Israel. Although the Egyptians and Syrians initially made significant advances, Israel was able to push the invading armies back beyond the 1967 cease-fire lines by the time the United States and the Soviet Union helped bring an end to the fighting. In the UN Security Council, the United States supported Resolution 338, which reaffirmed Resolution 242 as the framework for peace and called for peace negotiations between the parties.

In the years that followed, sporadic clashes continued along the cease-fire lines but guided by the U.S., Egypt, and Israel continued negotiations. In November 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made a historic visit to Jerusalem, which opened the door for the 1978 Israeli-Egyptian peace summit convened at Camp David by President Carter. These negotiations led to a 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, pursuant to which Israel withdrew from the Sinai in 1982, signed by President Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menahem Begin of Israel.

In the years following the 1948 war, Israel's border with Lebanon was quiet relative to its borders with other neighbors. After the expulsion of Palestinian fighters from Jordan in 1970 and their influx into southern Lebanon, however, hostilities along Israel's northern border increased and Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon. After passage of Security Council Resolution 425, calling for Israeli withdrawal and the creation of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon peace-keeping force (UNIFIL), Israel with-drew its troops.

In June 1982, following a series of cross-border terrorist attacks and the attempted assassination of the Israeli Ambassador to the U.K., Israel invaded Lebanon to fight the forces of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO withdrew its forces from Lebanon in August 1982. Israel, having failed to finalize an agreement with Lebanon, withdrew most of its troops in June 1985 save for a residual force which remained in southern Lebanon to act as a buffer against attacks on northern Israel. These remaining forces were completely withdrawn in May 2000 behind a UN-brokered delineation of the Israel-Lebanon border (the Blue Line). Hezbollah forces in Southern Lebanon continued to attack Israeli positions south of the Blue Line in the Sheba Farms/Har Dov area of the Golan Heights.

The victory of the U.S.-led coalition in the Persian Gulf War of 1991 opened new possibilities for regional peace. In October 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union convened the Madrid Conference, in which Israeli, Lebanese, Jordanian, Syrian, and Palestinian leaders laid the foundations for ongoing negotiations designed to bring peace and economic development to the region. Within this framework, Israel and the PLO signed a Declaration of Principles on September 13, 1993, which established an ambitious set of objectives relating to a transfer of authority from Israel to an interim Palestinian authority. Israel and the PLO subsequently signed the Gaza-Jericho Agreement on May 4, 1994, and the Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities on August 29, 1994, which began the process of transferring authority from Israel to the Palestinians.

On October 26, 1994, Israel and Jordan signed a historic peace treaty, witnessed by President Clinton. This was followed by Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and PLO Chairman Arafat's signing of the historic Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on September 28, 1995. This accord, which incorporated and superseded previous agreements, broadened Palestinian self-government and provided for cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians in several areas.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, by a right-wing Jewish radical, bringing the increasingly bitter national debate over the peace process to a climax. Subsequent Israeli governments continued to negotiate with the PLO resulting in additional agreements, including the Wye River and the Sharm el-Sheikh memoranda. However, a summit hosted by President Clinton at Camp David in July 2000 to address permanent status issues—including the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, final security arrangements, borders, and relations and cooperation with neighboring states—failed to produce an agreement.

Following the failed talks, wide-spread violence broke out in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza in September 2000. In April 2001 the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact Finding Committee, commissioned by the October 2000 Middle East Peace Summit and chaired by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, submitted its report, which recommended an immediate end to the violence followed by confidence-building measures and a resumption of security cooperation and peace negotiations. Building on the Mitchell report, In April 2003, the Quartet (the U.S., UN, European Union (EU), and the Russian Federation) announced the “roadmap,” a performance-based plan to bring about two states, Israel and a democratic, viable Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

Despite the promising developments of spring 2003, violence continued and in September 2003 the first Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), resigned after failing to win true authority to restore law and order, fight terror, and reform Palestinian institutions. In response to the deadlock, in the winter of 2003-2004 Prime Minister Sharon put forward his Gaza disengagement initiative, proposing the withdrawal of Israeli settlements from Gaza as well as parts of the northern West Bank. President Bush endorsed this initiative in an exchange of letters with Prime Minister Sharon on April 14, 2004, viewing Gaza disengagement as an opportunity to move towards implementation of the two-state vision and begin the development of Palestinian institutions. In a meeting in May 2004 the Quartet endorsed the initiative, which was approved by the Knesset in October 2004.

The run-up to disengagement saw a flurry of diplomatic activity, including the February 2005 announcement of Lieutenant General William Ward as U.S. Security Coordinator; the March 2005 Sharon-Abbas summit in Sharm el-Sheikh; the return of Egyptian and Jordanian ambassadors to Israel; and the May 2005 appointment of former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn as Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement to work for a revitalization of the Palestinian economy after disengagement. Wolfensohn's direct involvement spurred Israeli-Palestinian agreement on the Gaza ‘crossings” at Karni and Erez, on the demolition of settler homes, water, electricity, and communications infrastructure issues, as well as other issues related to the Palestinian economy.

On August 15, 2005, Israel began implementing its disengagement from the Gaza Strip, and the Israeli Defense Forces completed their withdrawal, including the dismantling of 17 settlements, on September 12. After broad recognition for Prime Minister Sharon's accomplishment at that fall's UN General Assembly, international attention quickly turned to efforts to strengthen Palestinian governance and the economy in Gaza. The United States brokered a landmark Agreement on Movement and Access between the parties in November 2005 to facilitate further progress on Palestinian economic issues. However, the terrorist organization Hamas—building on popular support for its “resistance” to Israeli occupation and a commitment to clean up the notorious corruption of the Palestinian Authority (PA)—took a majority in the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections, with Hamas leader Ismail Haniya as Prime Minister. The Israeli leadership pledged not to work with a Palestinian government in which Hamas had a role.

Shortly following Hamas’ PLC victory, the Quartet—comprised of the United States, European Union, United Nations. and Russia—outlined three basic principles the Hamas-led PA must meet in order for the U.S. and the international community to reengage with the PA: renounce violence and terror, recognize Israel, and respect previous agreements, including the roadmap. The Hamas-led PA government rejected these principles, resulting in a Quartet statement of “grave concern” on March 30, 2006 and the suspension of U.S. assistance to the PA, complete prohibition on U.S. Government contacts with the PA, and prohibition of unlicensed transactions with the PA government. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under the leadership of PLO Chairman and PA President Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen), by contrast, remained consistently committed to the Quartet principles.

Despite several negotiated cease-fires between Hamas and Fatah, violent clashes in the Gaza Strip—and to a lesser extent in the West Bank—were commonplace between December 2006 and February 2007 and resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries. In an attempt to end the intra-Palestinian violence, the King of Saudi Arabia invited Palestinian rivals to Mecca, and on February 9, 2007, Abbas and Hamas leader Haniya agreed to the formation of a Palestinian national unity government and a cessation of violence. Hamas’ rejectionist policies and violent behavior continued despite the formation of the national unity government.

In June 2007, Hamas effectively orchestrated a violent coup in Gaza. Hamas also launched scores of Qas-sam rockets into southern Israel in an attempt to involve Israel in the Hamas-Fatah conflict. On June 14, Palestinian Authority President Mahoud Abbas exercised his lawful authority by declaring a state of emergency, dissolving the national unity government, and replacing it with a new government with Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister.

The new Palestinian Authority government under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad has no elements controlled by Hamas or any other terrorist group. The new government is dedicated to peace and the Quartet principles and has been embraced politically and financially by the international community, including Israel.


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.

Israel is divided into six districts, administration of which is coordinated by the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Defense is responsible for the administration of the occupied territories.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 2/1/2008

The Prime Minister automatically assumes any ministerial position vacated until the official appointment of another minister.

Pres.: Shimon PERES

Prime Min.: Ehud OLMERT

Dep. Prime Min.: Tzipora “Tzip” LIVNI

Vice Prime Min.: Haim RAMON

Min. of Agriculture & Rural Development: Shalom SIMHON

Min. of Communications: Ariel ATIAS

Min. of Defense: Ehud BARAK

Min. for Development of the Negev & Galilee: Yaacov EDRI

Min. of Education: Yael “Yuli” TAMIR

Min. of Environment: Gideon EZRA

Min. of Finance: Roni BAR-ON

Min. of Foreign Affairs: Tzipora “Tzipi” LIVNI

Min. of Health: Yaacov BEN YIZRI

Min. of Housing & Construction: Zeev BOIM

Min. of Immigrant Absorption: Yaacov EDRI

Min. of Industry, Trade, & Labor: Eliyahu YISHAI

Min. of Interior: Meir SHEETRIT

Min. of Internal (Public) Security: Avraham DICHTER

Min. of Justice: Daniel FRIEDMANN

Min. of National Infrastructures: Binyamin BEN ELIEZER