Israel, State of (Medinat Yisrael, in Hebrew)
ISRAEL, STATE OF (Medinat Yisrael, in Hebrew)
Middle East land bordered by the Mediterranean on the west, Lebanon on the north, Syria and Jordan on the east, the Red Sea on the south, and Egypt on the southwest. The country's length is 270 miles (435 km) from north to south; at its widest it is 67 miles (108 km). On 15 May 1948, a few hours before the expiration of the British mandate, the creation of the State of Israel was proclaimed by David Ben-Gurion, who read its "Declaration of Independence." This decision was made after the United Nations had passed, on 29 November 1947, Resolution 181, recommending the partition of Palestine into two independent states, one Jewish and the other Arab, and after Great Britain had announced its decision to turn its mandate over Palestine back to the United Nations. The declaration sparked clashes between Jewish and Arab Palestinians, leading to the first of the five Arab-Israel wars, in which the armies of neighboring Arab states entered the former mandate lands. Four armistice agreements in 1949 were negotiated between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, though no peace treaties were signed. Arab Palestinians fled the country in great numbers; though there are no official figures, the United Nations estimated that over 700,000 Palestinians—over half the Arab population of Mandatory Palestine—became refugees.
The State of Israel, recognized by the principal world powers, has been rejected since its beginnings by the Palestinians, who had lived in this land for centuries, and by the ensemble of neighboring Arab countries. Following the Arab-Israel War of 1967, Israel occupied territory equal to more than three times its previous area; the new territories included the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, part of the West Bank, some of the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. UN Security Council Resolution 242 called for Israel's withdrawal from the newly occupied territories, which has yet to be negotiated, and which remains at the center of negotiations for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Between 1948 and the 1990s, more than 2 million Jews migrated to Israel, many fleeing persecution in their own countries. There was a massive migration of Jews from the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and 1990s, and Soviet Jews became the largest ethnic group in Israel in the twenty-first century. In 2003 the population of Israel was 6.7 million. The Arab community represented 19 percent of the population; of these, 77 percent were Muslim, 13 percent Christian, and 10 percent Druze.