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    * Israel *

    اسراییل ، فلسطین اشغالی


    Iran_Israel_Cartoon_Flag_Mana_Neyestani.jpg
    The record of human habitation in Israel is at least 10,000 years old. Efforts by Jews to establish a national state there began in the late 19th century. Britain supported Zionism and in 1923 assumed political responsibility for what was then Palestine. Migration of Jews there, which increased during the period of Nazi persecution, led to deteriorating relations with Arabs. In 1947 the UN voted to partition the region into separate Jewish and Arab states. The State of Israel was proclaimed in 1948, and Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq immediately declared war on it. Israel won this war as well as the 1967 Six-Day War, in which it occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and east Jerusalem. (Subsequent claims of Jerusalem as Israel's capital have not received wide international recognition.) (Wikipedia) - Israel This article is about the modern country. For other uses, see Israel (disambiguation).

    Coordinates: 31°N 35°E / 31°N 35°E / 31; 35

    State of Israel Official languages Demonym Government Legislature Independence from Mandatory Palestine under British administration Area Population Currency Time zone Date format Drives on the Calling code ISO 3166 code Internet TLD
    Flag Coat of Arms
    Anthem: "Hatikvah" (Hebrew) "The Hope"Sorry, your browser either has JavaScript disabled or does not have any supported player. You can download the clip or download a player to play the clip in your browser.
    Capital and largest city Jerusalem (disputed) 31°47′N 35°13′E / 31.783°N 35.217°E / 31.783; 35.217
    • Hebrew
    • Arabic
    Ethnic groups (2013)
    • 75.3% Jewish
    • 20.7% Arab
    Israeli
    Unitary parliamentary republic
     -  President Reuven Rivlin
     -  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
    Knesset
     -  Declared 14 May 1948 
     -  Recognition 1 May 1949 
     -  Total 20,770 / 22,072 (153rd) km2 8,019 / 8,522 sq mi
     -  Water (%) 2.12 (440 km2 / 170 mi2)
     -  2014 estimate 8,146,300 (96th)
     -  2008 census 7,412,200 (99th)
     -  Density 387.63/km2 (34th) 1,004.00/sq mi
    GDP (PPP) 2014 estimate
     -  Total $286.840 billion
     -  Per capita $35,658 (25th)
    GDP (nominal) 2014 estimate
     -  Total $305. 707 billion
     -  Per capita $38,004 (25th)
    Gini (2008) 39.2 medium · 66th
    HDI (2013)  0.888 very high · 19th
    Israeli new shekel (₪‎) (ILS)
    Israel Standard Time (UTC+2)
     -  Summer (DST) Israel Summer Time (UTC+3)
    • dd-mm-yyyy (CE)
    right
    +972
    IL
    .il

    Israel /ˈɪzreɪəl/, officially the State of Israel (Hebrew: מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, Medīnat Yisrā''el, IPA:  ( listen); Arabic: دولة إِسرائيل‎, Dawlat Isrāʼīl, IPA: ), is a country in Western Asia, situated at the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It shares land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan on the east, the Palestinian territories comprising the West Bank and Gaza Strip on the east and southwest, respectively, and Egypt and the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea to the south. It contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. Israel''s financial center is Tel Aviv, while Jerusalem is the country''s most populous city and its designated capital, although Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is not recognized internationally.

    On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly recommended the adoption and implementation of the Partition Plan for Mandatory Palestine. The end of the British Mandate for Palestine was set for midnight on 14 May 1948. That day, David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the Zionist Organization and president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared "the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel," which would start to function from the termination of the mandate. The borders of the new state were not specified. Neighboring Arab armies invaded the former Palestinian mandate on the next day and fought the Israeli forces. Israel has since fought several wars with neighboring Arab states, in the course of which it has occupied the West Bank, Sinai Peninsula (1956–1957, 1967–1982), part of South Lebanon (1982–2000), Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. It annexed portions of these territories, including East Jerusalem, but the border with the West Bank is disputed. Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and with Jordan, but efforts to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict have so far not resulted in peace.

    The population of Israel, as defined by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, was estimated in 2014 to be 8,146,300 people. It is the world''s only Jewish-majority state; 6,110,600 citizens, or 75.3% of Israelis, are Jewish. The country''s second largest group of citizens are designated as Arabs, with 1,686,000 people (including the Druze and most East Jerusalem Arabs). The great majority of Israeli Arabs are settled Muslims, with smaller but significant numbers of semi-settled Negev Bedouins; the rest are Christians and Druze. Other minorities include Maronites, Samaritans, Dom people, Black Hebrew Israelites, other Sub-Saharan Africans, Armenians, Circassians, Roma and others. Israel also hosts a significant population of non-citizen foreign workers and asylum seekers from Africa and Asia.

    In its Basic Laws, Israel defines itself as a Jewish and Democratic State. Israel is a representative democracy with a parliamentary system, proportional representation and universal suffrage. The Prime Minister serves as head of government and the Knesset serves as Israel''s legislative body. Israel is a developed country and an OECD member, with the 43rd-largest economy in the world by nominal gross domestic product as of 2012. The country has the highest standard of living in the Middle East and the fifth highest in Asia, and has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

    Contents

    EtymologyThe Merneptah Stele. While alternative translations exist, the majority of biblical archeologists translate a set of hieroglyphs as "Israel," representing the first instance of the name Israel in the historical record.

    Upon independence in 1948, the country formally adopted the name "State of Israel" (Medinat Yisrael) after other proposed historical and religious names including Eretz Israel ("the Land of Israel"), Zion, and Judea, were considered and rejected. In the early weeks of independence, the government chose the term "Israeli" to denote a citizen of Israel, with the formal announcement made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Moshe Sharett.

    The names Land of Israel and Children of Israel have historically been used to refer to the biblical Kingdom of Israel and the entire Jewish nation respectively. The name "Israel" in these phrases refers to the patriarch Jacob (Standard Yisraʾel, Isrāʾīl; Septuagint Greek: Ἰσραήλ Israēl; "struggle with God") who, according to the Hebrew Bible was given the name after he successfully wrestled with the angel of the Lord. Jacob''s twelve sons became the ancestors of the Israelites, also known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel or Children of Israel. Jacob and his sons had lived in Canaan but were forced by famine to go into Egypt for four generations until Moses, a great-great grandson of Jacob, led the Israelites back into Canaan during the "Exodus". The earliest archaeological artifact to mention the word "Israel" is the Merneptah Stele of ancient Egypt (dated to the late 13th century BCE).

    The area is also known as the Holy Land, being holy for all Abrahamic religions including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Bahá''í Faith. From 1920 the whole region was known as Palestine (under British Mandate) until the Israeli Declaration of Independence of 1948. Through the centuries, the territory was known by a variety of other names, including Judea, Samaria, Southern Syria, Syria Palaestina, Kingdom of Jerusalem, Iudaea Province, Coele-Syria, Retjenu, and Canaan.

    History Main article: History of Israel Further information: History of the Jews and Judaism in the Land of Israel Antiquity Main article: History of ancient Israel and Judah Further information: Israelites, Kingdom of Israel (united monarchy), Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) and Kingdom of JudahKingdom of Israel, 1020 BCE–930 BCE

    The notion of the "Land of Israel", known in Hebrew as Eretz Yisrael, has been important and sacred to the Jewish people since Biblical times. According to the Torah, God promised the land to the three Patriarchs of the Jewish people. On the basis of scripture, the period of the three Patriarchs has been placed somewhere in the early 2nd millennium BCE, and the first Kingdom of Israel was established around the 11th century BCE. Subsequent Israelite kingdoms and states ruled intermittently over the next four hundred years, and are known from various extra-biblical sources.

    The first record of the name Israel (as ysrỉꜣr) occurs in the Merneptah stele, erected for Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah c. 1209 BCE, "Israel is laid waste and his seed is not." This "Israel" was a cultural and probably political entity of the central highlands, well enough established to be perceived by the Egyptians as a possible challenge to their hegemony, but an ethnic group rather than an organised state; Ancestors of the Israelites may have included Semites native to Canaan and the Sea Peoples. McNutt says, "It is probably safe to assume that sometime during Iron Age I a population began to identify itself as ''Israelite''", differentiating itself from the Canaanites through such markers as the prohibition of intermarriage, an emphasis on family history and genealogy, and religion.

    Villages had populations of up to 300 or 400, which lived by farming and herding, and were largely self-sufficient; economic interchange was prevalent. Writing was known and available for recording, even in small sites. The archaeological evidence indicates a society of village-like centres, but with more limited resources and a small population. Modern scholars see Israel arising peacefully and internally from existing people in the highlands of Canaan.

    The Iron Age kingdom of Israel and kingdom of Judah (8th century BCE)

    Around 930 BCE, the kingdom split into a southern Kingdom of Judah and a northern Kingdom of Israel. From the middle of the 8th century BCE Israel came into increasing conflict with the expanding neo-Assyrian empire. Under Tiglath-Pileser III it first split Israel''s territory into several smaller units and then destroyed its capital, Samaria (722 BCE). An Israelite revolt (724–722 BCE) was crushed after the siege and capture of Samaria by the Assyrian king Sargon II. Sargon''s son, Sennacherib, tried and failed to conquer Judah. Assyrian records say he leveled 46 walled cities and besieged Jerusalem, leaving after receiving extensive tribute.

    In 586 BCE King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon conquered Judah. According to the Hebrew Bible, he destroyed Solomon''s Temple and exiled the Jews to Babylon. The defeat was also recorded by the Babylonians (see the Babylonian Chronicles).

    In 538 BCE, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon and took over its empire. Cyrus issued a proclamation granting subjugated nations (including the people of Judah) religious freedom (for the original text see the Cyrus Cylinder). According to the Hebrew Bible 50,000 Judeans, led by Zerubabel, returned to Judah and rebuilt the temple. A second group of 5,000, led by Ezra and Nehemiah, returned to Judah in 456 BCE although non-Jews wrote to Cyrus to try to prevent their return.

    Classical periodTreasures, including the Menorah, carried in a Roman triumph after the 70 CE Siege of Jerusalem (original relief from the Arch of Titus, Rome).

    With successive Persian rule, the region, divided between Syria-Coele province and later the autonomous Yehud Medinata, was gradually developing back into urban society, largely dominated by Judeans. The Greek conquests largely skipped the region without any resistance or interest. Incorporated into Ptolemaic and finally Seleucid Empires, southern Levant was heavily hellenized, building the tensions between Judeans and Greeks. The conflict erupted in 167 BCE with the Maccabean Revolt, which succeeded in establishing an independent Hasmonean Kingdom in Judah, which later expanded over much of modern Israel, as the Seleucids gradually lost control in the region.

    The Roman Empire invaded the region in 63 BCE, first taking control of Syria, and then intervening in the Hasmonean civil war. The struggle between pro-Roman and pro-Parthian factions in Judea eventually led to the installation of Herod the Great and consolidation of the Herodian Kingdom as a vassal Judean state of Rome.

    Kfar Bar''am, an ancient Jewish village, abandoned some time between the 7th-13th centuries AD.

    With the decline of Herodians, Judea, transformed into a Roman province, became the site of a violent struggle of Jews against Greco-Romans, culminating in the Jewish-Roman Wars, ending in wide-scale destruction, expulsions, and genocide. Jewish presence in the region significantly dwindled after the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE. Nevertheless, there was a continuous small Jewish presence and Galilee became its religious center. The Mishnah and part of the Talmud, central Jewish texts, were composed during the 2nd to 4th centuries CE in Tiberias and Jerusalem. The region came to be populated predominantly by Greco-Romans on the coast and Samaritans in the hill-country. Christianity was gradually evolving over Roman paganism, when the area under Byzantine rule was transformed into Deocese of the East, as Palaestina Prima and Palaestina Secunda provinces. Through the 5th and 6th centuries, dramatic events of Samaritan Revolts reshaped the land, with massive destruction to Byzantine Christian and Samaritan societies and a resulting decrease of the population. After the Persian conquest and the installation of a short-lived Jewish Commonwealth in 614 CE, the Byzantine Empire reinstalled its rule in 625 CE, resulting in further decline and destruction.

    Middle Ages and caliphates Further information: Old Yishuv, Pre-Zionist Aliyah and History of the Jews and the CrusadesBeit Knesset Abuhav, is a 15th-century synagogue in Safed, Israel.

    In 635 CE, the region, including Jerusalem, was conquered by Arabs. It remained under Muslim control and predominately Muslim occupancy for the next 1300 years under various caliphates. Control of the region transferred between the Umayyads, Abbasids, and Crusaders throughout the next six centuries, before the area was conquered in 1260 by the Mamluk Sultanate.

    Siege and Capture of Jerusalem in 1099, where the Jews had participated in its defense

    In 1099, the Jews were among the rest of the population who tried in vain to defend Jerusalem against the Crusaders. When the city fell, a massacre of 6,000 Jews occurred when the synagogue they were seeking refuge in was set alight. Almost all perished. The Jews almost single-handedly defended Haifa against the crusaders, holding out in the besieged town for a whole month (June–July 1099) in fierce battles. At this time, a full thousand years after the fall of the Jewish state, there were Jewish communities all over the country. Fifty of them are known and include Jerusalem, Tiberias, Ramleh, Ashkelon, Caesarea, and Gaza.

    In 1165 Maimonides visited Jerusalem and prayed on the Temple Mount, in the "great, holy house". In 1141 Spanish poet, Yehuda Halevi, issued a call to the Jews to emigrate to the Land of Israel, a journey he undertook himself. In 1187 Ayyubid Sultan Saladin defeated the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin and took Jerusalem and most of Palestine. In time, Saladin issued a proclamation inviting all Jews to return and settle in Jerusalem, and according to Judah al-Harizi, they did: "From the day the Arabs took Jerusalem, the Israelites inhabited it." al-Harizi compared Saladins decree allowing Jews to re-establish themselves in Jerusalem to the one issued by the Persian Cyrus the Great over 1,600 years earlier.

    In 1211, the Jewish community in the country was strengthened by the arrival of a group headed by over 300 rabbis from France and England, among them Rabbi Samson ben Abraham of Sens. Nachmanides, the 13th-century Spanish rabbi and recognised leader of Jewry greatly praised the land of Israel and viewed its settlement as a positive commandment incumbent on all Jews. He wrote "If the gentiles wish to make peace, we shall make peace and leave them on clear terms; but as for the land, we shall not leave it in their hands, nor in the hands of any nation, not in any generation."

    In 1260, control passed to the Egyptian Mamluks. In 1266 the Mamluk Sultan Baybars converted the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron into an exclusive Islamic sanctuary and banned Christians and Jews from entering, which previously would be able to enter it for a fee. The ban remained in place until Israel took control of the building in 1967.

    In 1470, Isaac b. Meir Latif arrived from Ancona and counted 150 Jewish families in Jerusalem. Thanks to Joseph Saragossi who had arrived in the closing years of the 15th century, Safed and its environs had developed into the largest concentration of Jews in Palestine. With the help of the Sephardic immigration from Spain, the Jewish population had increased to 10,000 by the early 16th century.

    In 1516, the region was conquered by the Ottoman Empire; it remained under Turkish rule until the end of the First World War, when Britain defeated the Ottoman forces and set up a military administration across the former Ottoman Syria. In 1920 the territory was divided under the mandate system, and the area which included modern day Israel was named Mandatory Palestine.

    Zionism and the British mandate Further information: Zionism, Mandate for Palestine, Balfour Declaration and AliyahJews praying at the Western Wall, 1870s

    Since the Diaspora, some Jews have aspired to return to "Zion" and the "Land of Israel", though the amount of effort that should be spent towards such an aim was a matter of dispute. The hopes and yearnings of Jews living in exile were articulated in the Hebrew Bible, and are an important theme of the Jewish belief system. After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, some communities settled in Palestine. During the 16th century, Jewish communities struck roots in the Four Holy Cities—Jerusalem, Tiberias, Hebron, and Safed—and in 1697, Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid led a group of 1,500 Jews to Jerusalem. In the second half of the 18th century, Eastern European opponents of Hasidism, known as the Perushim, settled in Palestine.

    Theodor Herzl, visionary of the Jewish State

    The first wave of modern Jewish migration to Ottoman-ruled Palestine, known as the First Aliyah, began in 1881, as Jews fled pogroms in Eastern Europe. Although the Zionist movement already existed in practice, Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl is credited with founding political Zionism, a movement which sought to establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, by elevating the Jewish Question to the international plane. In 1896, Herzl published Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews), offering his vision of a future Jewish state; the following year he presided over the first World Zionist Congress.

    The Second Aliyah (1904–14), began after the Kishinev pogrom; some 40,000 Jews settled in Palestine, although nearly half of them left eventually. Both the first and second waves of migrants were mainly Orthodox Jews, although the Second Aliyah included socialist groups who established the kibbutz movement. During World War I, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to Baron Rothschild (Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild), a leader of the British Jewish community, that stated that Britain intended for the creation of a Jewish homeland within the Palestinian Mandate.

    The Jewish Legion, a group primarily of Zionist volunteers, assisted, in 1918, in the British conquest of Palestine. Arab opposition to British rule and Jewish immigration led to the 1920 Palestine riots and the formation of a Jewish militia known as the Haganah (meaning "The Defense" in Hebrew), from which the Irgun and Lehi, or Stern Gang, paramilitary groups later split off. In 1922, the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate over Palestine under terms similar to the Balfour Declaration. The population of the area at this time was predominantly Arab and Muslim, with Jews accounting for about 11%, Christians 9.5%.

    The Third (1919–1923) and Fourth Aliyahs (1924–1929) brought an additional 100,000 Jews to Palestine. Finally, the rise of Nazism and the increasing persecution of Jews in the 1930s led to the Fifth Aliyah, with an influx of a quarter of a million Jews. This was a major cause of the Arab revolt of 1936–1939 and led the British to introduce restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine with the White Paper of 1939. With countries around the world turning away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, a clandestine movement known as Aliyah Bet was organized to bring Jews to Palestine. By the end of World War II, the Jewish population of Palestine had increased to 33% of the total population.

    Independence and first years
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    Further information: Israeli Declaration of Independence

    After World War II, Britain found itself in fierce conflict with the Jewish community, as the Haganah joined Irgun and Lehi in an armed struggle against British rule. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors and refugees sought a new life far from their destroyed communities in Europe. The Yishuv attempted to bring these refugees to Palestine but many were turned away or rounded up and placed in detention camps in Atlit and Cyprus by the British. In 1947, the British government announced it would withdraw from Mandatory Palestine, stating it was unable to arrive at a solution acceptable to both Arabs and Jews.

    On 15 May 1947, the General Assembly of the newly formed United Nations resolved that a committee, United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), be created "to prepare for consideration at the next regular session of the Assembly a report on the question of Palestine". In the Report of the Committee dated 3 September 1947 to the UN General Assembly, the majority of the Committee in Chapter VI proposed a plan to replace the British Mandate with "an independent Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem ... the last to be under an International Trusteeship System". On 29 November 1947, the General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the adoption and implementation of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union as Resolution 181 (II). The Plan attached to the resolution was essentially that proposed by the majority of the Committee in the Report of 3 September 1947.

    The Jewish Agency, which was the recognized representative of the Jewish community, accepted the plan, but the Arab League and Arab Higher Committee of Palestine rejected it. On 1 December 1947, the Arab Higher Committee proclaimed a three-day strike, and Arab bands began attacking Jewish targets. The Jews were initially on the defensive as civil war broke out, but gradually moved onto the offensive. The Palestinian Arab economy collapsed and 250,000 Palestinian-Arabs fled or were expelled.

    David Ben-Gurion proclaiming Israeli independence on 14 May 1948, below a portrait of Theodor Herzl

    On 14 May 1948, the day before the expiration of the British Mandate, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, declared "the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel". The only reference in the text of the Declaration to the borders of the new state is the use of the term, Eretz-Israel.

    An example of Israel''s first visas from 1948

    The following day, the armies of four Arab countries—Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq—entered what had been British Mandatory Palestine, launching the 1948 Arab–Israeli War; Saudi Arabia sent a military contingent to operate under Egyptian command; Yemen declared war but did not take military action. In the introduction to the cablegram from the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States to the UN Secretary-General of 15 May 1948, the Arab League gave reasons for its intervention, "On the occasion of the intervention of Arab States in Palestine to restore law and order and to prevent disturbances prevailing in Palestine from spreading into their territories and to check further bloodshed". After a year of fighting, a ceasefire was declared and temporary borders, known as the Green Line, were established. Jordan annexed what became known as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. The United Nations estimated that more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled during the conflict from what would become Israel.

    Kibbutznikiyot (female Kibbutz members), during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The Kibbutzim, or collective farming communities, played a pivotal role in establishing the new state.

    Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations by majority vote on 11 May 1949. In the early years of the state, the Labor Zionist movement led by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion dominated Israeli politics. One such policy, the One Million Plan, led to an an influx of Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab and Muslim lands, many of whom faced persecution and expulsion from their original countries. Consequently, the population of Israel rose from 800,000 to two million between 1948 and 1958. During this period, food, clothes and furniture had to be rationed in what became known as the Austerity Period. Between 1948 and 1970, approximately 1,150,000 Jewish refugees relocated to Israel. Some arrived as refugees with no possessions and were housed in temporary camps known as ma''abarot; by 1952, over 200,000 immigrants were living in these tent cities. The need to solve the crisis led Ben-Gurion to sign a reparations agreement with West Germany that triggered mass protests by Jews angered at the idea that Israel could accept monetary compensation for the Holocaust.

    The immigrants came to Israel for differing reasons. Some believed in the Zionist ideology, while others moved to escape persecution. There were others that did it for the promise of a better life in Israel and a small number that were expelled from their homelands, such as British and French Jews in Egypt after the Suez Crisis. According to Tom Segev, the refugees were often treated differently according to where they were from. Jews of European descent were considered critical to the strengthening and peopling of Israel, so they were generally allowed to enter Israel first and thus were given abandoned Arab houses to live in. On the other hand, Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries were viewed by many Ashkenazi Jews as lazy, poor, culturally and religiously backward, and a threat to established communal life in Israel and remained in transit camps for longer periods of time. During the 1950s, the standard of living gap between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews widened so much that tensions developed between the two groups. This tension first moved to hostility during the Wadi Salib riots in 1959; other instances of domestic turmoil would occur over the following decades.

    Immigration to Israel during the late 1940s and early 1950s was aided by the Israeli Immigration Department and the non-government sponsored Organization for Illegal Immigration, called Mossad le-aliyah bet. Both groups facilitated regular immigration logistics like arranging transportation, but the latter also engaged in clandestine operations in countries, particularly in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, where the lives of Jews were believed to be in danger and exit from those places was difficult. The Organization for Illegal Immigration continued to take part in immigration efforts until its disbanding in 1953.

    In the 1950s, Israel was frequently attacked by Palestinian fedayeen, mainly from the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip, leading to several Israeli counter-raids. In 1950 Egypt closed the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping and tensions mounted as armed clashes took place along Israel''s borders. In 1956, Israel joined a secret alliance with Great Britain and France aimed at regaining control of the Suez Canal, which the Egyptians had nationalized (see the Suez Crisis). Israel overran the Sinai Peninsula but was pressured to withdraw by the United Nations in return for guarantees of Israeli shipping rights in the Red Sea and the Canal.

    In the early 1960s, Israel captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and brought him to Israel for trial. The trial had a major impact on public awareness of the Holocaust. Eichmann remains the only person executed after conviction by an Israeli civilian court.

    Further conflict and peace treaties Further information: Arab–Israeli conflict and Peace process in the Israeli–Palestinian conflictTerritory held by Israel:   before the Six-Day War   after the war The Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt in 1982.

    Since 1964, Arab countries, concerned over Israeli plans to divert waters of the Jordan River into the coastal plain, had been trying to divert the headwaters to deprive Israel of water resources, provoking tensions between Israel on the one hand, and Syria and Lebanon on the other.

    Arab nationalists led by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser refused to recognize Israel, and called for its destruction. By 1966, Israeli-Arab relations had deteriorated to the point of actual battles taking place between Israeli and Arab forces. In 1967, Egypt expelled UN peacekeepers, stationed in the Sinai Peninsula since 1957, and announced a partial blockade of Israel''s access to the Red Sea. In May 1967 a number of Arab states began to mobilize their forces. Israel saw these actions as a casus belli. On 5 June 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. In a Six-Day War, Israeli military superiority was clearly demonstrated against their more numerous Arab foes. Israel succeeded in capturing the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Jerusalem''s boundaries were enlarged, incorporating East Jerusalem, and the 1949 Green Line became the administrative boundary between Israel and the occupied territories.

    Following the war, Israel faced much internal resistance from the Palestinians and Egyptian hostilities in the Sinai. Most important among the various Palestinian and Arab groups was the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), established in 1964, which initially committed itself to "armed struggle as the only way to liberate the homeland". In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Palestinian groups launched a wave of attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world, including a massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. The Israeli government responded with an assassination campaign against the organizers of the massacre, a bombing and a raid on the PLO headquarters in Lebanon.

    On 6 October 1973, as Jews were observing Yom Kippur, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a surprise attack against Israeli forces in the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights. The war ended on 26 October with Israel successfully repelling Egyptian and Syrian forces but having suffered over 2,500 soldiers killed in a war which collectively took between 10-35,000 lives in just 20 days. An internal inquiry exonerated the government of responsibility for failures before and during the war, but public anger forced Prime Minister Golda Meir to resign.

    In July 1976 Israeli commandos carried out a rescue mission which succeeded in rescuing 102 hostages who were being held by Palestinian guerillas at Entebbe International Airport close to Kampala, Uganda.

    Operation Gazelle, Israel''s ground maneuver, encircles the Egyptian Third Army, October 1973

    The 1977 Knesset elections marked a major turning point in Israeli political history as Menachem Begin''s Likud party took control from the Labor Party. Later that year, Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat made a trip to Israel and spoke before the Knesset in what was the first recognition of Israel by an Arab head of state. In the two years that followed, Sadat and Begin signed the Camp David Accords (1978) and the Israel–Egypt Peace Treaty (1979). Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and agreed to enter negotiations over an autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

    On 11 March 1978, a PLO guerilla raid from Lebanon led to the Coastal Road Massacre, in which 38 Israeli civilians were killed and 71 injured. Israel responded by launching an invasion of southern Lebanon to destroy the PLO bases south of the Litani River. Most PLO fighters withdrew, but Israel was able to secure southern Lebanon until a UN force and the Lebanese army could take over. The PLO soon resumed its policy of attacks against Israel. In the next few years, the PLO infiltrated the south and kept up a sporadic shelling across the border. Israel carried out numerous retaliatory attacks by air and on the ground.

    Meanwhile, Begin''s government provided incentives for Israelis to settle in the occupied West Bank, increasing friction with the Palestinians in that area. The Basic Law: Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel, passed in 1980, was believed by some to reaffirm Israel''s 1967 annexation of Jerusalem by government decree, and reignited international controversy over the status of the city. No Israeli legislation has defined the territory of Israel and no act specifically included East Jerusalem therein. The position of the majority of UN member states is reflected in numerous resolutions declaring that actions taken by Israel to settle its citizens in the West Bank, and impose its laws and administration on East Jerusalem, are illegal and have no validity. In 1981 Israel annexed the Golan Heights, although annexation was not recognized internationally.

    On 7 June 1981, the Israeli air force destroyed Iraq''s sole nuclear reactor, which was under construction just outside Baghdad. Following a series of PLO attacks in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon that year to destroy the bases from which the PLO launched attacks and missiles into northern Israel. In the first six days of fighting, the Israelis destroyed the military forces of the PLO in Lebanon and decisively defeated the Syrians. An Israeli government inquiry – the Kahan Commission – would later hold Begin, Sharon and several Israeli generals as indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre. In 1985, Israel responded to a Palestinian terrorist attack in Cyprus by bombing the PLO headquarters in Tunis. Israel withdrew from most of Lebanon in 1986, but maintained a borderland buffer zone in southern Lebanon until 2000.

    Israel''s ethnic diversity expanded in the 1980s and 1990s due to immigration. Several waves of Ethiopian Jews immigrated to Israel in the 1980s and 1990s and between 1990 and 1994, Russian immigration to Israel increased Israel''s population by twelve percent.

    The First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule, broke out in 1987, with waves of uncoordinated demonstrations and violence occurring in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Over the following six years, the Intifada became more organised and included economic and cultural measures aimed at disrupting the Israeli occupation. More than a thousand people were killed in the violence. Responding to continuing PLO guerilla raids into northern Israel, Israel launched another punitive raid into southern Lebanon in 1988. Amid rising tensions over the Kuwait crisis, Israeli border guards fired into a rioting Palestinian crowd near the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. 20 people were killed and some 150 injured. During the 1991 Gulf War, the PLO supported Saddam Hussein and Iraqi Scud missile attacks against Israel. Despite public outrage, Israel heeded US calls to refrain from hitting back and did not participate in that war.

    Bill Clinton watches Jordan''s King Hussein (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (right) sign the Israel–Jordan peace treaty

    In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin became Prime Minister following an election in which his party called for compromise with Israel''s neighbors. The following year, Shimon Peres on behalf of Israel, and Mahmoud Abbas for the PLO, signed the Oslo Accords, which gave the Palestinian National Authority the right to govern parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The PLO also recognized Israel''s right to exist and pledged an end to terrorism. In 1994, the Israel–Jordan Treaty of Peace was signed, making Jordan the second Arab country to normalize relations with Israel. Arab public support for the Accords was damaged by the continuation of Israeli settlements and checkpoints, and the deterioration of economic conditions. Israeli public support for the Accords waned as Israel was struck by Palestinian suicide attacks. Finally, while leaving a peace rally in November 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a far-right-wing Jew who opposed the Accords.

    At the end of the 1990s, Israel, under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, withdrew from Hebron, and signed the Wye River Memorandum, giving greater control to the Palestinian National Authority. Ehud Barak, elected Prime Minister in 1999, began the new millennium by withdrawing forces from Southern Lebanon and conducting negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and U.S. President Bill Clinton at the 2000 Camp David Summit. During the summit, Barak offered a plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but Yasser Arafat rejected it. After the collapse of the talks and a controversial visit by Likud leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, the Second Intifada began, which was allegedly pre-planned by Yasser Arafat. Sharon became prime minister in a 2001 special election. During his tenure, Sharon carried out his plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and also spearheaded the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier, defeating the Intifada.

    In July 2006, a Hezbollah artillery assault on Israel''s northern border communities and a cross-border abduction of two Israeli soldiers precipitated the month-long Second Lebanon War. On 6 September 2007, Israeli Air Force destroyed a nuclear reactor in Syria. In May 2008, Israel confirmed it had been discussing a peace treaty with Syria for a year, with Turkey as a go-between. However, at the end of the year, Israel entered another conflict as a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel collapsed. The Gaza War lasted three weeks and ended after Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire. Hamas announced its own ceasefire, with its own conditions of complete withdrawal and opening of border crossings. Despite neither the rocket launchings nor Israeli retaliatory strikes having completely stopped, the fragile ceasefire remained in order. In what it said was a response to more than a hundred Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israeli cities, Israel began an operation in Gaza on 14 November 2012, lasting eight days. Israel started another operation in Gaza following an escalation of rocket attacks by Hamas in July 2014.

    Geography and climate Main articles: Geography of Israel and Wildlife of IsraelA satellite image of Israel

    Israel is at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, bounded by Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank to the east, and Egypt and the Gaza strip to the southwest. It lies between latitudes 29° and 34° N, and longitudes 34° and 36° E.

    The sovereign territory of Israel, excluding all territories captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, is approximately 20,770 square kilometers (8,019 sq mi) in area, of which two percent is water. However Israel is so narrow that the exclusive economic zone in the Mediterranean is double the land area of the country. The total area under Israeli law, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, is 22,072 square kilometers (8,522 sq mi), and the total area under Israeli control, including the military-controlled and partially Palestinian-governed territory of the West Bank, is 27,799 square kilometers (10,733 sq mi). Despite its small size, Israel is home to a variety of geographic features, from the Negev desert in the south to the inland fertile Jezreel Valley, mountain ranges of the Galilee, Carmel and toward the Golan in the north. The Israeli Coastal Plain on the shores of the Mediterranean is home to 57 percent of the nation''s population. East of the central highlands lies the Jordan Rift Valley, which forms a small part of the 6,500-kilometer (4,039 mi) Great Rift Valley.

    Ramon Crater, a unique type of crater that can be found only in Israel and the Sinai peninsulaThe Sea of Galilee and Tiberias.

    The Jordan River runs along the Jordan Rift Valley, from Mount Hermon through the Hulah Valley and the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the surface of the Earth. Further south is the Arabah, ending with the Gulf of Eilat, part of the Red Sea. Unique to Israel and the Sinai Peninsula are makhteshim, or erosion cirques. The largest makhtesh in the world is Ramon Crater in the Negev, which measures 40 by 8 kilometers (25 by 5 mi). A report on the environmental status of the Mediterranean basin states that Israel has the largest number of plant species per square meter of all the countries in the basin.

    Temperatures in Israel vary widely, especially during the winter. The more mountainous regions can be windy, cold, and sometimes snowy; Jerusalem usually receives at least one snowfall each year. Meanwhile, coastal cities, such as Tel Aviv and Haifa, have a typical Mediterranean climate with cool, rainy winters and long, hot summers. The area of Beersheba and the Northern Negev has a semi-arid climate with hot summers, cool winters and fewer rainy days than the Mediterranean climate. The Southern Negev and the Arava areas have desert climate with very hot and dry summers, and mild winters with few days of rain. The highest temperature in the continent of Asia (53.7 °C or 128.7 °F) was recorded in 1942 at Tirat Zvi kibbutz in the northern Jordan river valley.

    From May to September, rain in Israel is rare. With scarce water resources, Israel has developed various water-saving technologies, including drip irrigation. Israelis also take advantage of the considerable sunlight available for solar energy, making Israel the leading nation in solar energy use per capita (practically every house uses solar panels for water heating).

    Four different phytogeographic regions exist in Israel, due to the country''s location between the temperate and the tropical zones, bordering the Mediterranean Sea in the west and the desert in the east. For this reason the flora and fauna of Israel is extremely diverse. There are 2,867 known species of plants found in Israel. Of these, at least 253 species are introduced and non-native. There are 380 Israeli nature reserves.

    Politics
    The neutrality of this section is disputed. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please do not remove this message until the dispute is resolved. (September 2014)
    Main articles: Politics of Israel and Israeli system of government See also: Criticism of the Israeli governmentThe Knesset chamber, home to the Israeli parliament

    Israel operates under a parliamentary system as a democratic republic with universal suffrage. A member of parliament supported by a parliamentary majority becomes the prime minister—usually this is the chair of the largest party. The prime minister is the head of government and head of the cabinet. Israel is governed by a 120-member parliament, known as the Knesset. Membership of the Knesset is based on proportional representation of political parties, with a 2% electoral threshold, which in practice has resulted in coalition governments.

    Parliamentary elections are scheduled every four years, but unstable coalitions or a no-confidence vote by the Knesset can dissolve a government earlier. The Basic Laws of Israel function as an uncodified constitution. In 2003, the Knesset began to draft an official constitution based on these laws. The president of Israel is head of state, with limited and largely ceremonial duties.

    Media

    In 2014, Israel proper was ranked 96th of 180 according to Reporters Without Borders'' Press Freedom Index, 2nd below Kuwait (at 91) in the Middle East and North Africa region. The 2013 Freedom in the World annual survey and report by U.S.-based Freedom House, which attempts to measure the degree of democracy and political freedom in every nation, ranked Israel as the Middle East and North Africa''s only free country.

    Legal system Main article: Israeli judicial systemSupreme Court of Israel, Givat Ram, Jerusalem

    Israel has a three-tier court system. At the lowest level are magistrate courts, situated in most cities across the country. Above them are district courts, serving both as appellate courts and courts of first instance; they are situated in five of Israel''s six districts. The third and highest tier is the Supreme Court, located in Jerusalem; it serves a dual role as the highest court of appeals and the High Court of Justice. In the latter role, the Supreme Court rules as a court of first instance, allowing individuals, both citizens and non-citizens, to petition against the decisions of state authorities. Although Israel supports the goals of the International Criminal Court, it has not ratified the Rome Statute, citing concerns about the ability of the court to remain free from political impartiality.

    Israel''s legal system combines three legal traditions: English common law, civil law, and Jewish law. It is based on the principle of stare decisis (precedent) and is an adversarial system, where the parties in the suit bring evidence before the court. Court cases are decided by professional judges rather than juries. Marriage and divorce are under the jurisdiction of the religious courts: Jewish, Muslim, Druze, and Christian. A committee of Knesset members, Supreme Court justices, and Israeli Bar members carries out the election of judges. Administration of Israel''s courts (both the "General" courts and the Labor Courts) is carried by the Administration of Courts, situated in Jerusalem. Both General and Labor courts are paperless courts: the storage of court files, as well as court decisions, are conducted electronically. Israel''s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty seeks to defend human rights and liberties in Israel.

    Administrative divisions Main article: Districts of Israel

    The State of Israel is divided into six main administrative districts, known as mehozot (מחוזות; singular: mahoz) – Center, Haifa, Jerusalem, North, Southern, and Tel Aviv Districts, as well as the Judea and Samaria Area in the West Bank. All of the Judea and Samaria Area and parts of the Jerusalem and North districts are not recognized internationally as part of Israel. Districts are further divided into fifteen sub-districts known as nafot (נפות; singular: nafa), which are themselves partitioned into fifty natural regions.

    District Main city Sub-district Population
    North Nazareth Acre, Karmiel, Kiryat Shmona, Nazareth, Nazareth Illit, Qatsrin, Safed, Tiberias 1,242,100
    Haifa Haifa Haifa, Hadera 880,000
    Center Ramla Herzliya, Kfar Saba, Modi''in, Netanya, Petah Tikva, Ra''anana, Ramla, Rehovot, Rishon LeZion 1,770,200
    Tel Aviv Tel Aviv Bat Yam, Bnei Brak, Giv''atayim, Holon, Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv 1,227,000
    Jerusalem Jerusalem Jerusalem, Mevaseret Zion 910,300 (Including approximately 200,000 Israeli settlers and 208,000 Palestinians.)
    South Beersheba Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheba, Eilat, Kiryat Gat, Sderot 1,053,600
    Judea and Samaria (West Bank) Ariel Ariel, Beitar Illit, Ma''ale Adumim, Modi''in Illit 375,000 Israeli citizens‏‏

    For statistical purposes, the country is divided into three metropolitan areas: Tel Aviv metropolitan area (population 3,206,400), Haifa metropolitan area (population 1,021,000), and Beer Sheva metropolitan area (population 559,700). Israel''s largest municipality, both in population and area, is Jerusalem with 773,800 residents in an area of 126 square kilometres (49 sq mi) (in 2009). Israeli government statistics on Jerusalem include the population and area of East Jerusalem, which is widely recognized as part of the Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation. Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Rishon LeZion rank as Israel''s next most populous cities, with populations of 393,900, 265,600, and 227,600 respectively.

    Israeli-occupied territories Main article: Israeli-occupied territoriesMap of Israel showing the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights

    In 1967, as a result of the Six-Day War, Israel took control of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. Israel also took control of the Sinai Peninsula, but returned it to Egypt as part of the 1979 Israel–Egypt Peace Treaty. Between 1982 and 2000, Israel occupied part of southern Lebanon, in what was known as the Security Zone.

    Following Israel''s capture of these territories and until this day, settlements (Jewish civilian communities) and military installations were built within each of them. Israel applied civilian law to the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, incorporating them into its sovereign territory and granting their inhabitants permanent residency status and the choice to apply for citizenship. In contrast, the West Bank has remained under military occupation, and Palestinians in this area cannot become citizens. The Gaza Strip is independent of Israel with no Israeli military or civilian presence, but Israel continues to maintain control of its airspace and waters. The UN Security Council has declared the annexation of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem to be "null and void" and continues to view the territories as occupied. The International Court of Justice, principal judicial organ of the United Nations, asserted, in its 2004 advisory opinion on the legality of the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier, that the lands captured by Israel in the Six-Day War, including East Jerusalem, are occupied territory.

    The status of East Jerusalem in any future peace settlement has at times been a difficult hurdle in negotiations between Israeli governments and representatives of the Palestinians, as Israel views it as its sovereign territory, as well as part of its capital. Most negotiations relating to the territories have been on the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which emphasises "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war", and calls on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories in return for normalization of relations with Arab states, a principle known as "Land for peace".

    The West Bank was annexed by Jordan in 1950, following the Arab rejection of the UN decision to create two states in Palestine. Only Britain recognized this annexation and Jordan has since ceded its claim to the territory to the PLO. The West Bank was occupied by Israel in 1967 during the Six-Day War. The population are mainly Palestinians, including refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. From their occupation in 1967 until 1993, the Palestinians living in these territories were under Israeli military administration. Since the Israel–PLO letters of recognition, most of the Palestinian population and cities have been under the internal jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, and only partial Israeli military control, although Israel has on several occasions redeployed its troops and reinstated full military administration during periods of unrest. In response to increasing attacks as part of the Second Intifada, the Israeli government started to construct the Israeli West Bank barrier. When completed, approximately 13% of the Barrier will be constructed on the Green Line or in Israel with 87% inside the West Bank.

    The Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt from 1948 to 1967 and then by Israel after 1967. In 2005, as part of Israel''s unilateral disengagement plan, Israel removed all of its settlers and forces from the territory. Israel does not consider the Gaza Strip to be occupied territory and declared it a "foreign territory". That view has been disputed by numerous international humanitarian organizations and various bodies of the United Nations. Following June 2007, when Hamas assumed power in the Gaza Strip, Israel tightened its control of the Gaza crossings along its border, as well as by sea and air, and prevented persons from entering and exiting the area except for isolated cases it deemed humanitarian. Gaza has a border with Egypt and an agreement between Israel, the European Union and the PA governed how border crossing would take place (it was monitored by European observers). Egypt adhered to this agreement under Mubarak and prevented access to Gaza until April 2011 when it announced it was opening its border with Gaza.

    Foreign relations Main article: Foreign relations of Israel  Diplomatic relations   Diplomatic relations suspended   Former diplomatic relations   No diplomatic relations, but former trade relations   No diplomatic relationsThe Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem

    Israel maintains diplomatic relations with 157 countries and has 100 diplomatic missions around the world. Only three members of the Arab League have normalized relations with Israel: Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties in 1979 and 1994, respectively, and Mauritania opted for full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1999. Despite the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, Israel is still widely considered an enemy country among Egyptians. Under Israeli law, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Yemen are enemy countries and Israeli citizens may not visit them without permission from the Ministry of the Interior.

    The Soviet Union and the United States were the first two countries to recognize the State of Israel, having declared recognition roughly simultaneously. The United States regards Israel as its "most reliable partner in the Middle East," based on "common democratic values, religious affinities, and security interests". The United States has provided $68 billion in military assistance and $32 billion in grants to Israel since 1967, under the Foreign Assistance Act (period beginning 1962), more than any other country for that period until 2003. Their bilateral relations are multidimensional and the United States is the principal proponent of the Arab-Israeli peace process. The United States and Israeli views differ on some issues, such as the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, and settlements.

    India established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992 and has fostered a strong military, technological and cultural partnership with the country since then. According to an international opinion survey conducted in 2009 on behalf of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, India is the most pro-Israel country in the world. India is the largest customer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest military partner of India after the Russian Federation. India is also the third-largest Asian economic partner of Israel and the two countries have military as well as extensive space technology ties. India became the top source market for Israel from Asia in 2010 with 41,000 tourist arrivals in that year.

    Germany''s strong ties with Israel include cooperation on scientific and educational endeavors and the two states remain strong economic and military partners. Under the reparations agreement, by 2007 Germany had paid 25 billion euros in reparations to the Israeli state and individual Israeli holocaust survivors. The UK has kept full diplomatic relations with Israel since its formation having had two visits from heads of state in 2007. Relations between the two countries were also made stronger by former prime minister Tony Blair''s efforts for a two state resolution. The UK is seen as having a "natural" relationship with Israel on account of the British Mandate for Palestine. Iran had diplomatic relations with Israel under the Pahlavi dynasty but withdrew its recognition of Israel during the Islamic Revolution.

    The Indian Air Force''s A-50EI, equipped with the Israeli EL/W-2090 airborne radar. India is Israel''s largest Asian economic partner.

    Although Turkey and Israel did not establish full diplomatic relations until 1991, Turkey has cooperated with the State since its recognition of Israel in 1949. Turkey''s ties to the other Muslim-majority nations in the region have at times resulted in pressure from Arab and Muslim states to temper its relationship with Israel. Relations between Turkey and Israel took a downturn after the Gaza War and Israel''s raid of the Gaza flotilla. IHH, which organized the flotilla, is a Turkish charity that has been challenged on ties to Hamas and Al-Qaeda.

    Relation between Israel and Greece have improved since 1995 due to the decline of Israeli-Turkish relations. The two countries have a defense cooperation agreement and in 2010, the Israeli Air Force hosted Greece’s Hellenic Air Force in a joint exercise at the Uvda base. The joint Cyprus-Israel oil and gas explorations centered on the Leviathan gas field are also an important factor for Greece, given its strong links with Cyprus. Israel is the second largest importer of Greek products in the Middle East. In 2010, the Greek Prime minister George Papandreou made an official visit to Israel after many years, in order to improve bilateral relations between the two countries.

    Israel and Cyprus have a number of bilateral agreements and many official visits have taken place between the two countries. The countries have ties on energy, agricultural, military and tourism matters. The prospects of joint exploitation of oil and gas fields off Cyprus, as well as cooperation in the world''s longest sub-sea electric power cable has strengthened relations between the countries.

    Azerbaijan is one of the few majority Muslim countries to develop bilateral strategic and economic relations with Israel. The relationship includes cooperation in trade and security matters and cultural and educational exchanges. Azerbaijan supplies Israel with a substantial amount of its oil needs, and Israel has helped modernize the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan. In the spring of 2012, the two countries reportedly concluded an arms deal worth $1.6 billion. In 2005, Azerbaijan was Israel''s fifth largest trading partner.

    In Africa, Ethiopia is Israel''s main and closest ally in the continent due to common political, religious and security interests. Israel provides expertise to Ethiopia on irrigation projects and thousands of Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) live in Israel.

    As a result of the 2009 Gaza War, Mauritania, Qatar, Bolivia, and Venezuela suspended political and economic ties with Israel.

    Israel is included in the European Union''s European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) which aims at bringing the EU and its neighbours closer.

    International humanitarian efforts

    Israel has a history of providing emergency aid and humanitarian response teams to disasters across the world. For the past 26 years, Israel has sent out 15 aid missions to countries struck by natural disasters. In Haiti, immediately following the devastating 2010 earthquake, Israel was the first country to set up a field hospital. Israel sent over 200 medical doctors and personnel to start treating injured Haitians at the scene. At the end of its humanitarian mission, the Israeli delegation treated more than 1,110 patients, conducted 319 successful surgeries, delivered 16 births and rescued or assisted in the rescue of 4 individuals. Despite radiation concerns, Israel was one of the first countries to send a medical delegation to Japan following the devastating earthquake and tsunami disaster. Israel sent a medical team and set up a field clinic in tsunami-stricken city of Kurihara, which included a pediatric ward, surgical ward, maternity and gynecological wards and intensive care unit. Overall, medical care was given to more than 2,300 people in afflicted areas, and 220 were saved from certain death.

    Israel''s humanitarian efforts officially began in 1958, with the establishment of MASHAV, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Agency for International Development Cooperation. MASHAV has provided humanitarian aid to over 140 countries, trained thousands in capacity building skills, distributed food to poverty-stricken countries, built medical treatment facilities and provided medical training across the world. There are additional Israeli humanitarian and emergency response that are work with the Israel government, including IsraAid, The Fast Israeli Rescue and Search Team (FIRST), Israeli Flying Aid (IFA), Save a Child''s Heart (SACH) and LATET.

    Military Main articles: Israel Defense Forces and Israeli security forces Further information: List of wars involving Israel, IDF military operations and Israel and weapons of mass destructionIAI Lavi, military technology demonstrator

    Israel has the one of the highest ratios of defense spending to GDP of all developed countries, only topped by Oman and Saudi Arabia. The Israel Defense Forces is the sole military wing of the Israeli security forces, and is headed by its Chief of General Staff, the Ramatkal, subordinate to the Cabinet. The IDF consist of the army, air force and navy. It was founded during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War by consolidating paramilitary organizations—chiefly the Haganah—that preceded the establishment of the state. The IDF also draws upon the resources of the Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman), which works with the Mossad and Shabak. The Israel Defense Forces have been involved in several major wars and border conflicts in its short history, making it one of the most battle-trained armed forces in the world.

    Most Israelis are drafted into the military at the age of 18. Men serve three years and women two to three years. Following mandatory service, Israeli men join the reserve forces and usually do up to several weeks of reserve duty every year until their forties. Most women are exempt from reserve duty. Arab citizens of Israel (except the Druze) and those engaged in full-time religious studies are exempt from military service, although the exemption of yeshiva students has been a source of contention in Israeli society for many years. An alternative for those who receive exemptions on various grounds is Sherut Leumi, or national service, which involves a program of service in hospitals, schools and other social welfare frameworks. As a result of its conscription program, the IDF maintains approximately 176,500 active troops and an additional 445,000 reservists.

    Merkava tanks have been operated since 1979. This Mk 4 Merkava is equipped with the Trophy active protection system.

    The nation''s military relies heavily on high-tech weapons systems designed and manufactured in Israel as well as some foreign imports. Since 1967, the United States has been a particularly notable foreign contributor of military aid to Israel: the US is expected to provide the country with $3.15 billion per year from 2013–2018. The Arrow missile is one of the world''s few operational anti-ballistic missile systems. Israel''s Iron Dome anti-missile air defense system gained worldwide acclaim after intercepting hundreds of Qassam, 122 mm Grad and Fajr-5 artillery rockets fire by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip.

    Since the Yom Kippur War, Israel has developed a network of reconnaissance satellites. The success of the Ofeq program has made Israel one of seven countries capable of launching such satellites. Since its establishment, Israel has spent a significant portion of its gross domestic product on defense. In 1984, for example, the country spent 24% of its GDP on defense. By 2006, that figure had dropped to 7.3%.

    Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons as well as chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. Israel has not signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and maintains a policy of deliberate ambiguity toward its nuclear capabilities. Since the Gulf War in 1991, when Israel was attacked by Iraqi Scud missiles, all homes in Israel are required to have a reinforced security room, Merkhav Mugan, impermeable to chemical and biological substances.

    Israel is consistently rated very low in the Global Peace Index, ranking 145th out of 153 nations for peacefulness in 2011.

    Israel is one of the world''s largest arms exporters, reaching the world''s 4th largest arms-exporter in 2007. The majority of Israel''s arms exports are unreported for security reasons.

    Economy Main article: Economy of IsraelIsraeli new shekel banknotes and coinsGraphical depiction of Israel''s product exports in 28 color-coded categories.

    Israel is considered one of the most advanced countries in Southwest Asia in economic and industrial development. In 2010, it joined the OECD. The country is ranked 3rd in the region and 38th worldwide on the World Bank''s Ease of Doing Business Index as well as in the World Economic Forum''s Global Competitiveness Report. It has the second-largest number of startup companies in the world (after the United States) and the largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies outside North America.

    In 2010, Israel ranked 17th among the world''s most economically developed nations, according to IMD''s World Competitiveness Yearbook. The Israeli economy was ranked as the world''s most durable economy in the face of crises, and was also ranked first in the rate of research and development center investments.

    The Bank of Israel was ranked first among central banks for its efficient functioning, up from 8th place in 2009. Israel was also ranked as the worldwide leader in its supply of skilled manpower. The Bank of Israel holds $78 billion of foreign-exchange reserves.

    Despite limited natural resources, intensive development of the agricultural and industrial sectors over the past decades has made Israel largely self-sufficient in food production, apart from grains and beef. Imports to Israel, totaling $77.59 billion in 2012, include raw materials, military equipment, investment goods, rough diamonds, fuels, grain, consumer goods. Leading exports include electronics, software, computerized systems, communications technology, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, fruits, chemicals, military technology, and cut diamonds; in 2012, Israeli exports reached $64.74 billion.

    Tel Aviv is a technological and economic hub.

    Israel is a leading country in the development of solar energy. Israel is a global leader in water conservation and geothermal energy, and its development of cutting-edge technologies in software, communications and the life sciences have evoked comparisons with Silicon Valley. According to the OECD, Israel is also ranked 1st in the world in expenditure on Research and Development (R&D) as a percentage of GDP. Intel and Microsoft built their first overseas research and development centers in Israel, and other high-tech multi-national corporations, such as IBM, Google, Apple, HP, Cisco Systems, and Motorola, have opened R&D facilities in the country.

    Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) in Jerusalem, one of Israel''s largest Venture Capital firms.

    In July 2007, American business magnate and investor Warren Buffett''s holding company Berkshire Hathaway bought an Israeli company, Iscar, its first non-U.S. acquisition, for $4 billion. Since the 1970s, Israel has received military aid from the United States, as well as economic assistance in the form of loan guarantees, which now account for roughly half of Israel''s external debt. Israel has one of the lowest external debts in the developed world, and is a net lender in terms of net external debt (the total value of assets vs. liabilities in debt instruments owed abroad), which in June 2012 stood at a surplus of US$60 billion.

    Days of working time in Israel are Sunday through Thursday (for a five-day workweek), or Friday (for a six-day workweek). In observance of Shabbat, in places where Friday is a work day and the majority of population is Jewish, Friday is a "short day", usually lasting till 14:00 in the winter, or 16:00 in the summer. Several proposals have been raised to adjust the work week with the majority of the world, and make Sunday a non-working day, while extending working time of other days, and/or replacing Friday with Sunday as a work day.

    Science and technology Main articles: Science and technology in Israel, List of Israeli universities and colleges and Israel Space AgencyThe particle accelerator at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot

    Israel has nine public universities that are subsidized by the state. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel''s second-oldest university after the Technion, houses the National Library of Israel, the world''s largest repository of Judaica and Hebraica. The Technion, the Hebrew University, and the Weizmann Institute consistently ranked among world''s 100 top universities by the prestigious ARWU academic ranking. Other major universities in the country include Tel Aviv University (TAU), Bar-Ilan University, the University of Haifa, The Open University, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Ariel University, in the West Bank, is the newest university institution, upgraded from college status, and the first in over thirty years. Israel''s seven research universities (excluding the Open University) are consistently ranked among top 500 in the world. Israel has produced six Nobel Prize-winning scientists since 2002 and has been frequently ranked as one of the countries with the highest ratios of scientific papers per capita in the world.

    The world''s largest solar parabolic dish at the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center.

    Israel has embraced solar energy; its engineers are on the cutting edge of solar energy technology and its solar companies work on projects around the world. Over 90% of Israeli homes use solar energy for hot water, the highest per capita in the world. According to government figures, the country saves 8% of its electricity consumption per year because of its solar energy use in heating. The high annual incident solar irradiance at its geographic latitude creates ideal conditions for what is an internationally renowned solar research and development industry in the Negev Desert.

    Dan Shechtman, a materials science professor from the Technion, one of six Israelis to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in under a decade.

    Israel is one of the world''s technological leaders in water technology. In 2011, its water technology industry was worth around $2 billion a year with annual exports of products and services in the tens of millions of dollars. The ongoing shortage of water in the country has spurred innovation in water conservation techniques, and a substantial agricultural modernization, drip irrigation, was invented in Israel. Israel is also at the technological forefront of desalination and water recycling. The Ashkelon seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) plant, the largest in the world, was voted ''Desalination Plant of the Year'' in the Global Water Awards in 2006. Israel hosts an annual Water Technology Exhibition and Conference (WaTec) that attracts thousands of people from across the world. By the end of 2013, 85 percent of the country''s water consumption will be from reverse osmosis. As a result of innovations in reverse osmosis technology, Israel is set to become a net exporter of water in the coming years.

    Israel has led the world in stem-cell research papers per capita since 2000. In addition, Israeli universities are among 100 top world universities in mathematics (Hebrew University, TAU and Technion), physics (TAU, Hebrew University and Weizmann Institute of Science), chemistry (Technion and Weizmann Institute of Science), computer science (Weizmann Institute of Science, Technion, Hebrew University, TAU and BIU) and economics (Hebrew University and TAU).

    Shavit space launch vehicle, which carry Israel''s Ofeq satellites into space.

    Israel had a modern electric car infrastructure involving a countrywide network of recharging stations to facilitate the charging and exchange of car batteries. It was thought that this would have lowered Israel''s oil dependency and lowered the fuel costs of hundreds of Israel''s motorists that use cars powered only by electric batteries. The Israeli model was being studied by several countries and being implemented in Denmark and Australia. However, Israel''s trailblazing electric car company Better Place shut down in 2013.

    The Israeli Space Agency coordinates all Israeli space research programs with scientific and commercial goals. In 2012 Israel was ranked ninth in the world by the Futron''s Space Competitiveness Index. Israel is one of only seven countries that both build their own satellites and launch their own launchers. The Shavit is a space launch vehicle produced by Israel to launch small satellites into low earth orbit. It was first launched in 1988, making Israel the eighth nation to have a space launch capability. Shavit rockets are launched from the spaceport at the Palmachim Airbase by the Israeli Space Agency. Since 1988 Israel Aerospace Industries have indigenously designed and built at least 13 commercial, research and spy satellites. Some of Israel''s satellites are ranked among the world''s most advanced space systems. In 2003, Ilan Ramon became Israel''s first astronaut, serving as payload specialist of STS-107, the fatal mission of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

    Transport Main article: Transport in IsraelDuty Free at Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv

    Israel has 18,096 kilometers (11,244 mi) of paved roads, and 2.4 million motor vehicles. The number of motor vehicles per 1,000 persons was 324, relatively low with respect to developed countries. Israel has 5,715 buses on scheduled routes, operated by several carriers, the largest of which is Egged, serving most of the country. Railways stretch across 949 kilometers (590 mi) and are operated solely by government-owned Israel Railways (All figures are for 2008). Following major investments beginning in the early to mid-1990s, the number of train passengers per year has grown from 2.5 million in 1990, to 35 million in 2008; railways are also used to transport 6.8 million tons of cargo, per year.

    Israel is served by two international airports, Ben Gurion International Airport, the country''s main hub for international air travel near Tel Aviv-Yafo, Ovda Airport in the south, as well as several small domestic airports. Ben Gurion, Israel''s largest airport, handled over 12.1 million passengers in 2010.

    On the Mediterranean coast, Haifa Port is the country''s oldest and largest port, while Ashdod Port is one of the few deep water ports in the world built on the open sea. In addition to these, the smaller Port of Eilat is situated on the Red Sea, and is used mainly for trading with Far East countries.

    Tourism Main article: Tourism in Israel

    Tourism, especially religious tourism, is an important industry in Israel, with the country''s temperate climate, beaches, archaeological, other historical and biblical sites, and unique geography also drawing tourists. Israel''s security problems have taken their toll on the industry, but the number of incoming tourists is on the rebound. In 2013, a record of 3.54 million tourists visited Israel with the most popular site of attraction being the Western Wall with 68% of tourists visiting there. Israel has the highest number of museums per capita in the world.

    Demographics Main article: Demographics of IsraelPercentage changes of the main religious groups in the years 1949–2008

    In early 2014, Israel''s population was an estimated 8.2 million people, of whom 6,135,000 are Jews. Arab citizens of Israel comprise 20.7% of the country''s total population. Over the last decade, large numbers of migrant workers from Romania, Thailand, China, Africa and South America have settled in Israel. Exact figures are unknown, as many of them are living in the country illegally, but estimates run in the region of 203,000. By June 2012, approximately 60,000 African migrants had entered Israel. About 92% of Israelis live in urban areas.

    Retention of Israel''s population since 1948 is about even or greater, when compared to other countries with mass immigration. Emigration from Israel (yerida) to other countries, primarily the United States and Canada, is described by demographers as modest, but is often cited by Israeli government ministries as a major threat to Israel''s future.

    In 2009, over 300,000 Israeli citizens lived in West Bank settlements such as Ma''ale Adumim and Ariel, and communities that predated the establishment of the State but were re-established after the Six-Day War, in cities such as Hebron and Gush Etzion. 20,000 Israelis live in Golan Heights settlements. In 2011, there were 250,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem. The total number of Israeli settlers is over 500,000 (6.5% of the Israeli population). Approximately 7,800 Israelis lived in settlements in the Gaza Strip, until they were evacuated by the government as part of its 2005 disengagement plan.

    Israel was established as a homeland for the Jewish people and is often referred to as a Jewish state. The country''s Law of Return grants all Jews and those of Jewish lineage the right to Israeli citizenship. Over three quarters, or 75.5%, of the population are Jews from a diversity of Jewish backgrounds. Around 4% of Israelis (300,000), ethnically defined as "others", are Russian-descendants of Jewish origin or family who are not Jewish according to rabbinical law, but were eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. Approximately 73% of Israeli Jews are Israeli-born, 18.4% are immigrants from Europe and the Americas, and 8.6% are immigrants from Asia and Africa (including the Arab World). Jews from Europe and the former Soviet Union and their Israeli-born descendants, including Ashkenazi Jews, constitute approximately 50% of Jewish Israelis. Jews who left or fled Arab and Muslim countries and their descendants, including both Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews, form most of the rest of the Jewish population. Jewish intermarriage rates run at over 35% and recent studies suggest that the percentage of Israelis descended from both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews increases by 0.5 percent every year, with over 25% of school children now originating from both communities.

     Largest cities or towns of Israel Israel Central Bureau of StatisticsRank Name District Pop.
    JerusalemTel Aviv 1 Jerusalem Jerusalem 796,200* HaifaRishon LeZion
    2 Tel Aviv Tel Aviv 404,500
    3 Haifa Haifa 269,300
    4 Rishon LeZion Central 231,700
    5 Ashdod Southern 211,400
    6 Petah Tikva Central 210,800
    7 Beersheba Southern 195,800
    8 Netanya Central 188,200
    9 Holon Tel Aviv 182,000
    10 Bnei Brak Tel Aviv 161,100

     * This number includes occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank areas.

    Language Main article: Languages of IsraelRoad sign in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.

    Israel has two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic. Hebrew is the primary language of the state and is spoken by the majority of the population, and Arabic is spoken by the Arab minority. Many Israelis communicate reasonably well in English, as many television programs are broadcast in this language and English is taught from the early grades in elementary school. As a country of immigrants, many languages can be heard on the streets. Due to mass immigration from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia (some 130,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel), Russian and Amharic are widely spoken. More than one million Russian-speaking immigrants arrived in Israel from the former Soviet Union states between 1990 and 2004. French is spoken by around 700,000 Israelis, mostly originating from France and North Africa (see Maghrebi Jews).

    Religion Main article: Religion in IsraelThe Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall, Jerusalem.Hurva Synagogue, Jerusalem.The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, venerated by Christians as the site of the Burial of Jesus.International Bahá''í Archives building, Haifa.

    Israel and the Palestinian territories comprise the major part of the Holy Land, a region of significant importances to all Abrahamic religions – Jews, Christians, Muslims and Baha''is.

    The religious affiliation of Israeli Jews varies widely: a social survey for those over the age of 20 indicates that 55% say they are "traditional", while 20% consider themselves "secular Jews", 17% define themselves as "Religious Zionists"; 8% define themselves as "Haredi Jews". While the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim, represented only 5% of Israel''s population in 1990, they are expected to represent more than one-fifth of Israel''s Jewish population by 2028.

    Making up 16% of the population, Muslims constitute Israel''s largest religious minority. About 2% of the population are Christian and 1.5% are Druze. The Christian population primarily comprises Palestinian Christians, but also includes post-Soviet immigrants and the Foreign Laborers of multinational origins and followers of Messianic Judaism, considered by most Christians and Jews to be a form of Christianity. Members of many other religious groups, including Buddhists and Hindus, maintain a presence in Israel, albeit in small numbers. Out of more than one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union in Israel, about 300,000 are considered not Jewish by the Orthodox rabbinate.

    The city of Jerusalem is of special importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians as it is the home of sites that are pivotal to their religious beliefs, such as the Israeli-controlled Old City that incorporates the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

    Other locations of religious importance in Israel are Nazareth (holy in Christianity as the site of the Annunciation of Mary), Tiberias and Safed (two of the Four Holy Cities in Judaism), the White Mosque in Ramla (holy in Islam as the shrine of the prophet Saleh), and the Church of Saint George in Lod (holy in Christianity and Islam as the tomb of Saint George or Al Khidr).

    A number of other religious landmarks are located in the West Bank, among them Joseph''s Tomb in Nablus, the birthplace of Jesus and Rachel''s Tomb in Bethlehem, and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

    The administrative center of the Bahá''í Faith and the Shrine of the Báb are located at the Bahá''í World Centre in Haifa and the leader of the faith is buried in Acre. Apart from maintenance staff, there is no Bahá''í community in Israel, although it is a destination for pilgrimages. Bahá''í staff in Israel do not teach their faith to Israelis following strict policy.

    Education Main article: Education in IsraelBrain Research Center at Bar-Ilan University

    Israel has a school life expectancy of 15.5 years and a literacy rate of 97.1% according to the United Nations. The State Education Law, passed in 1953, established five types of schools: state secular, state religious, ultra orthodox, communal settlement schools, and Arab schools. The public secular is the largest school group, and is attended by the majority of Jewish and non-Arab pupils in Israel. Most Arabs send their children to schools where Arabic is the language of instruction.

    Education is compulsory in Israel for children between the ages of three and eighteen. Schooling is divided into three tiers – primary school (grades 1–6), middle school (grades 7–9), and high school (grades 10–12) – culminating with Bagrut matriculation exams. Proficiency in core subjects such as mathematics, the Hebrew language, Hebrew and general literature, the English language, history, Biblical scripture and civics is necessary to receive a Bagrut certificate. In Arab, Christian and Druze schools, the exam on Biblical studies is replaced by an exam on Muslim, Christian or Druze heritage. Christian Arabs are one of the most educated groups in Israel. Maariv have describe the Christian Arabs sectors as "the most successful in education system", since Christian Arabs fared the best in terms of education in comparison to any other group receiving an education in Israel.

    In 2003, over half of all Israeli twelfth graders earned a matriculation certificate. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University are ranked among the world''s top 100 universities by Times Higher Education magazine. Israel ranks third in the world in the number of academic degrees per capita (20 percent of the population).

    Culture Main article: Culture of Israel

    Israel''s diverse culture stems from the diversity of the population: Jews from diaspora communities around the world have brought their cultural and religious traditions back with them, creating a melting pot of Jewish customs and beliefs. Israel is the only country in the world where life revolves around the Hebrew calendar. Work and school holidays are determined by the Jewish holidays, and the official day of rest is Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Israel''s substantial Arab minority has also left its imprint on Israeli culture in such spheres as architecture, music, and cuisine.

    Literature Main article: Israeli literatureAmos Oz''s works have been translated into 36 languages, more than any other Israeli writer.

    Israeli literature is primarily poetry and prose written in Hebrew, as part of the renaissance of Hebrew as a spoken language since the mid-19th century, although a small body of literature is published in other languages, such as English. By law, two copies of all printed matter published in Israel must be deposited in the National Library of Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2001, the law was amended to include audio and video recordings, and other non-print media. In 2011, 86 percent of the 6,302 books transferred to the library were in Hebrew.

    The Hebrew Book Week is held each June and features book fairs, public readings, and appearances by Israeli authors around the country. During the week, Israel''s top literary award, the Sapir Prize, is presented.

    In 1966, Shmuel Yosef Agnon shared the Nobel Prize in Literature with German Jewish author Nelly Sachs. Leading Israeli poets have been Yehuda Amichai, Nathan Alterman and Rachel Bluwstein. Internationally famous contemporary Israeli novelists include Amos Oz, Etgar Keret and David Grossman. The Israeli-Arab satirist Sayed Kashua (who writes in Hebrew) is also internationally known.

    Israel has also been the home of two leading Palestinian poets and writers: Emile Habibi, whose novel The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist, and other writings, won him the Israel prize for Arabic literature; and Mahmoud Darwish, considered by many to be "the Palestinian national poet." Darwish was born and raised in northern Israel, but lived his adult life abroad after joining the Palestine Liberation Organization.

    Music and dance Main article: Music of Israel

    Israeli music contains musical influences from all over the world; Sephardic music, Hasidic melodies, Belly dancing music, Greek music, jazz, and pop rock are all part of the music scene.

    Celebrated Israeli ballerinas, Valery and Galina Panov, who founded the Ballet Panov, in Ashdod.

    The nation''s canonical folk songs, known as "Songs of the Land of Israel," deal with the experiences of the pioneers in building the Jewish homeland. The Hora circle dance introduced by early Jewish settlers was originally popular in the Kibbutzim and outlying communities. It became a symbol of the Zionist reconstruction and of the ability to experience joy amidst austerity. It now plays a significant role in modern Israeli folk dancing and is regularly performed at weddings and other celebrations, and in group dances throughout Israel.

    Modern dance in Israel is a flourishing field, and several Israeli choreographers such as Ohad Naharin, Rami Beer, Barak Marshall and many others, are considered to be among the most versatile and original international creators working today. Famous Israeli companies include the Batsheva Dance Company and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company.

    Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta

    Among Israel''s world-renowned orchestras is the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which has been in operation for over seventy years and today performs more than two hundred concerts each year. Israel has also produced many musicians of note, some achieving international stardom. Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Ofra Haza are among the internationally acclaimed musicians born in Israel.

    Israel has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest nearly every year since 1973, winning the competition three times and hosting it twice. Eilat has hosted its own international music festival, the Red Sea Jazz Festival, every summer since 1987.

    Israel is home to many Palestinian musicians, including internationally acclaimed oud and violin virtuoso Taiseer Elias, singer Amal Murkus, and brothers Samir and Wissam Joubran. Israeli Arab musicians have achieved fame beyond Israel''s borders: Elias and Murkus frequently play to audiences in Europe and America, and oud player Darwish Darwish (Prof. Elias''s student) was awarded first prize in the all-Arab oud contest in Egypt in 2003. The Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance has an advanced degree program, headed by Taiseer Elias, in Arabic music.

    Cinema and theatre Main articles: Cinema of Israel and Theatre of IsraelHabima Theatre, in Tel Aviv

    Ten Israeli films have been final nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards since the establishment of Israel. The 2009 movie Ajami was the third consecutive nomination of an Israeli film. Continuing the strong theatrical traditions of the Yiddish theatre in Eastern Europe, Israel maintains a vibrant theatre scene. Founded in 1918, Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv is Israel''s oldest repertory theater company and national theater. Palestinian Israeli filmmakers have made a number of films dealing with the Arab-Israel conflict and the status of Palestinians within Israel, such as Mohammed Bakri''s 2002 film Jenin, Jenin and The Syrian Bride.

    Museums Main article: List of Israeli museumsShrine of the Book, repository of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem

    The Israel Museum in Jerusalem is one of Israel''s most important cultural institutions and houses the Dead Sea scrolls, along with an extensive collection of Judaica and European art. Israel''s national Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, is the world central archive of Holocaust-related information. Beth Hatefutsoth (the Diaspora Museum), on the campus of Tel Aviv University, is an interactive museum devoted to the history of Jewish communities around the world.

    Apart from the major museums in large cities, there are high-quality artspaces in many towns and kibbutzim. Mishkan Le''Omanut on Kibbutz Ein Harod Meuhad is the largest art museum in the north of the country.

    Several Israeli museums are devoted to Islamic culture, including the Rockefeller Museum and the L. A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art, both in Jerusalem. The Rockefeller specializes in archaeological remains from the Ottoman and other periods of Middle East history. It is also the home of the first hominid fossil skull found in Western Asia called Galilee Man. A cast of the skull is on display at the Israel Museum.

    Cuisine Main article: Israeli cuisineSufganiyot served on Hanukkah

    Israeli cuisine includes local dishes as well as dishes brought to the country by Jewish immigrants from the diaspora. Since the establishment of the State in 1948, and particularly since the late 1970s, an Israeli fusion cuisine has developed. Most Israeli food is kosher and cooked in accordance with the Jewish Halakha. As most of its population is either Jewish or Muslim, pork is very rarely consumed in Israel.

    Israeli cuisine has adopted, and continues to adapt, elements of various styles of Jewish cuisine, particularly the Mizrahi, Sephardic, and Ashkenazi styles of cooking, along with Moroccan Jewish, Iraqi Jewish, Ethiopian Jewish, Indian Jewish, Iranian Jewish and Yemeni Jewish influences. It incorporates many foods traditionally eaten in the Arab, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, such as falafel, hummus, shakshouka, couscous, and za''atar, which have become common ingredients in Israeli cuisine. Schnitzel, pizza, hamburgers, French fries, rice and salad are also very common in Israel.

    Sports Main article: Sports in IsraelRamat Gan Stadium, Israel''s largest stadium

    The Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style event for Jewish athletes and Israeli athletes, was inaugurated in the 1930s, and has been held every four years since then. In 1964 Israel hosted and won the Asian Nations Cup; in 1970 the Israel national football team managed to qualify to the FIFA World Cup, which is still considered the biggest achievement of Israeli football.

    The 1974 Asian Games held in Tehran, were the last Asian Games in which Israel participated, and was plagued by the Arab countries which refused to compete with Israel, and Israel since ceased competing in Asian competitions. Israel was excluded from the 1978 Asian Games due to security and expense involved if they were to participate. In 1994, UEFA agreed to admit Israel and all Israeli sporting organizations now compete in Europe.

    The most popular spectator sports in Israel are association football and basketball. The Israeli Premier League is the country''s premier football league, and the Israeli Basketball Super League is the premier basketball league. Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem are the largest sports clubs. Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv have competed in the UEFA Champions League and Hapoel Tel Aviv reached the UEFA Cup quarter-finals. Maccabi Tel Aviv B.C. has won the European championship in basketball six times. Israeli tennis champion Shahar Pe''er ranked 11th in the world on 31 January 2011.

    Boris Gelfand, chess Grandmaster

    Chess is a leading sport in Israel and is enjoyed by people of all ages. There are many Israeli grandmasters and Israeli chess players have won a number of youth world championships. Israel stages an annual international championship and hosted the World Team Chess Championship in 2005. The Ministry of Education and the World Chess Federation agreed upon a project of teaching chess within Israeli schools, and it has been introduced into the curriculum of some schools. The city of Beersheba has become a national chess center, with the game being taught in the city''s kindergartens. Owing partly to Soviet immigration, it is home to the largest number of chess grandmasters of any city in the world. The Israeli chess team won the silver medal at the 2008 Chess Olympiad and the bronze, coming in third among 148 teams, at the 2010 Olympiad. Israeli grandmaster Boris Gelfand won the Chess World Cup in 2009 and the 2011 Candidates Tournament for the right to challenge the world champion. He only lost the World Chess Championship 2012 to reigning world champion Anand after a speed-chess tie breaker.

    Krav Maga, a martial art developed by Jewish ghetto defenders during the struggle against fascism in Europe, is used by the Israeli security forces and police. Its effectiveness and practical approach to self-defense, have won it widespread admiration and adherence round the world.

    To date, Israel has won seven Olympic medals since its first win in 1992, including a gold medal in windsurfing at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Israel has won over 100 gold medals in the Paralympic Games and is ranked about 15th in the all-time medal count. The 1968 Summer Paralympics were hosted by Israel.

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