Article: Israel

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מדינת ישראל
Medīnat Yisrā'el
دولة إسرائيل
Dawlat Isrā'īl

State of Israel
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Flag Coat of arms
Motto: none
Anthem: Hatikvah
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Capital Jerusalem[1]
31°47′N 35°13′E
Largest city Jerusalem
Official language(s) Hebrew, Arabic
Government Parliamentary democracy
 - President Moshe Katsav
 - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Independence From the UK 
 - Declaration 14 May 1948 (05 Iyar 5708) 
Area  
 - Total 22,145 km² (149th)
  8,019 sq mi 
 - Water (%) ~2%
Population  
 - May 2006 est. 7,026,0001 (99th)
 - 1995 census 5,548,523
 - Density 304/km² (40th)
787/sq mi 
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $163.45 billion (53rd)
 - Per capita $23,416 (28th)
HDI (2003) 0.915 (23rd) â€“ high
Currency New Israeli sheqel (₪) (ILS)
Time zone IST (UTC+2)
 - Summer (DST) (UTC+3)
Internet TLD .il
Calling code +972
1Includes Israeli population living in the West Bank
For other meanings of the name, see Israel (disambiguation).

The State of Israel (Hebrew: מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל ; Medinat Yisra'el; Arabic: دَوْلَةْ إِسْرَائِيل‎, Dawlat Isrā'īl) is a country in Western Asia on the southeastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a parliamentary democracy and the world's only Jewish state.


Name

The name "Israel" is rooted in the Hebrew Bible, where Jacob is renamed Israel after wrestling with a mysterious adversary.[2] The biblical nation fathered by Jacob was then called "The Children of Israel" or the "Israelites". Citizens of the modern State of Israel are referred to, in English, as "Israelis".

In an interlinear, literal translation of Genesis 32:28, the first mention of the word "Israel" in the Bible reads as follows: "And-he-is-saying not Jacob he-shall-be-said further name-of-you but rather Israel that you-are-upright with Elohim and with mortals and-you-are-prevailing."[3] Thus one literal translation of ישראל, Israel, is "Upright (with) God" (ישר-אל; Ishr-al).

History

Main article: History of Israel

Historical roots

See also: Kingdom of Israel

The earliest known mention of the name 'Israel', probably referring to a group of people rather than to a place, is the Egyptian Merneptah Stele dated to about 1211 BCE. [4] For over 3,000 years, Jews have regarded the Land of Israel as their homeland, both as a Holy Land and as a Promised land. The land of Israel holds a special place in Jewish religious obligations, encompassing Judaism's most important sites — including the remains of the First and Second Temples, as well as the rites concerning those temples. [5] Starting around 1200 BCE, a series of Jewish kingdoms and states existed intermittently in the region for more than a millennium.

Under Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and (briefly) Sassanian rule, Jewish presence in the province dwindled due to mass expulsions. In particular, the failure of the Bar Kochba Revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE resulted in the large-scale expulsion of Jews. It was during this time that the Romans gave the name Syria Palaestina to the geographic area, in an attempt to erase Jewish ties to the land.[6] The Mishnah and Jerusalem Talmud, two of Judaism's most important religious texts, were composed in the region during this period. The Muslims conquered the land from the Byzantine Empire in 638 CE. The area was ruled by various Muslim states (interrupted by the rule of the Crusaders) before becoming part of the Ottoman Empire in 1517.

Zionism and Aliyah

Main articles: Zionism and Aliyah

The first wave of modern immigration to Israel, or Aliyah (עלייה) started in 1881 as Jews fled persecution, or followed the Socialist Zionist ideas of Moses Hess and others of "redemption of the soil". Jews bought land from Ottoman and individual Arab landholders. After Jews established agricultural settlements, tensions erupted between the Jews and Arabs.

Theodor Herzl (1860–1904), an Austrian Jew, founded the Zionist movement. In 1896, he published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), in which he called for the establishment of a national Jewish state. The following year he helped convene the first World Zionist Congress.

The establishment of Zionism led to the Second Aliyah (1904–1914) with the influx of around 40,000 Jews. In 1917, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur J. Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration that "view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people". In 1920, Palestine became a League of Nations mandate administered by Britain.

Jewish immigration resumed in third (1919–1923) and fourth (1924–1929) waves after World War I. Arab riots in Palestine of 1929 killed 133 Jews, including 67 in Hebron.

The rise of Nazism in 1933 led to a fifth wave of Aliyah. The Jews in the region increased from 11% of the population in 1922 to 30% by 1940. 28% of the land was already bought and owned by Zionist organizations plus additional private land owned by Jews. The southern half of the country is the barren and mostly empty Negev desert.The subsequent Holocaust in Europe led to additional immigration from other parts of Europe. By the end of World War II, the number of Jews in Palestine was approximately 600,000.

In 1939, the British introduced a White Paper of 1939, which limited Jewish immigration over the course of the war to 75,000 and restricted purchase of land by Jews, perhaps in response to the Great Arab Uprising (1936-1939). The White Paper was seen as a betrayal by the Jewish community and Zionists, who perceived it as being in conflict with the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The Arabs were not entirely satisfied either, as they wanted Jewish immigration halted completely. However, the White Paper guided British policy until the end of the term of their Mandate. As a result, many Jews fleeing to Palestine to avoid Nazi persecution and the Holocaust were intercepted and returned to Europe. Two specific examples of this policy involved the ships Struma and Exodus. [1] These attempts by Jews to circumvent the blockade and flee Europe became known as Aliya Beth.

See also: Jewish refugees and 1922 Text: League of Nations Palestine Mandate

Jewish Underground groups

Main article: British Mandate of Palestine

As tensions grew between the Jewish and Arab populations, and with little apparent support from the British Mandate authorities, the Jewish community began to rely on itself for defense.

Arab nationalists, opposed to the Balfour declaration, the mandate, and the Jewish National Home, instigated riots and pogroms against Jews in Jerusalem, Hebron, Jaffa, and Haifa. As a result of the 1921 Arab attacks, the Haganah was formed to protect Jewish settlements. The Haganah was mostly defensive in nature, which among other things caused several members to split off and form the militant group Irgun (initially known as Hagana Bet) in 1931. The Irgun adhered to a much more active approach, which included attacks and initiation of armed actions against the British, the most notorious being the King David Hotel bombing, which killed 91 people. Haganah on the other hand often preferred restraint. A further split occurred when Avraham Stern left the Irgun to form Lehi, (also known as the Stern Gang) which was much more extreme in its methods. Unlike the Irgun, they refused any co-operation with the British during World War II and even attempted to work with the Nazis to secure European Jewry's immigration to Israel.

These groups had an enormous impact on events and procedures in the period preceding the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, such as Aliya Beth-the clandestine immigration from Europe, the forming of the Israel Defense Forces, and the withdrawal of the British, as well as to a great degree forming the foundation of the political parties which exist in Israel today.

Establishment of the State

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Ben Gurion pronounces the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv.
Main article: Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel

In 1947, following increasing levels of violence together with unsuccessful efforts to reconcile the Jewish and Arab populations, the British government decided to withdraw from the Palestine Mandate. The UN General Assembly approved the 1947 UN Partition Plan dividing the territory into two states, with the Jewish area consisting of roughly 55% of the land, and the Arab area roughly 45%. Jerusalem was planned to be an international region administered by the UN to avoid conflict over its status.

Immediately following the adoption of the Partition Plan by the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947, David Ben-Gurion tentatively accepted the partition, while the Arab League rejected it. Attacks on civilians chiefly by Arabs but also by Israelis soon turned into widespread fighting between Arabs and Jews, this civil war being the first "phase" of the 1948 War of Independence.

The State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948, one day before the expiry of the Palestine Mandate.

War of Independence and migration

Main article: 1948 Arab-Israeli War
See also: Jewish refugees, Palestinian refugee, Palestinian exodus, and Arab-Israeli conflict

Following the State of Israel's establishment, the armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq joined the fighting and began the second phase of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. From the north, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, were all but stopped relatively close to the borders. Jordanian forces, invading from the east, captured East Jerusalem and laid siege on the city's west. However, forces of the Haganah successfully stopped most invading forces, and Irgun forces halted Egyptian encroachment from the south. At the beginning of June, the UN declared a one-month cease fire during which the Israel Defense Forces were officially formed. After numerous months of war, a cease fire was declared in 1949 and temporary borders, known as the Green Line, were instituted. Israel had gained an additional 26% of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan River. Jordan, for its part, held the large mountainous areas of Judea and Samaria, which became known as the West Bank. Egypt took control of a small strip of land along the coast, which became known as the Gaza Strip.

During and after the war, then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion set about establishing order by dismantling the Palmach and underground organizations like the Irgun and Lehi. Those two groups were classified as terror organizations after the murder of a Swedish diplomat.

Large numbers of the Arab population fled or were driven out of the newly-created Jewish State. (Estimates of the final refugee count range from 600,000 to 900,000 with the official United Nations count at 711,000.[7]) The continuing conflict between Israel and the Arab world resulted in a lasting displacement that persists to this day.

Immigration of Holocaust survivors and Jewish refugees from Arab lands doubled Israel's population within a year of independence. Over the following decade approximately 600,000 Mizrahi Jews, who fled or were expelled from surrounding Arab countries and Iran, migrated to Israel.

1950s and 1960s

Between 1954 and 1955, under Moshe Sharett as prime minister, the Lavon Affair, a failed attempt to bomb targets in Egypt, caused political disgrace in Israel. Compounding this, in 1956, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, much to the chagrin of the United Kingdom and France. Following this and a series of Fedayeen attacks, Israel created a secret military alliance with those two European powers and declared war on Egypt. After the Suez Crisis, the three collaborators faced international condemnation, and Israel was forced to withdraw its forces from the Sinai Peninsula.

In 1955, Ben-Gurion once again became prime minister and served as such until his final resignation in 1963. After Ben-Gurion's resignation, Levi Eshkol was appointed to the post.

In 1961, the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who had been largely responsible for the Final Solution, was captured and brought to trial in Israel. Eichmann became the only person ever sentenced to death by the Israeli courts.

On the political field, tensions once again arose between Israel and her neighbors in May 1967. Syria, Jordan, and Egypt had been hinting at war, and Egypt expelled UN Peacekeeping Forces from the Gaza Strip. When Egypt closed the strategic Straits of Tiran to Israeli vessels, Israel deemed it a casus belli for pre-emptively attacking Egypt on June 5. After the ensuing Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the Jewish State emerged triumphant. Israel had defeated the armies of three large Arab states and decimated their air forces. Territorially, Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, and Golan Heights. The Green Line of 1949 became the administrative boundary between Israel and her Occupied Territories, also called Disputed Territories. However, Israel has spread its administrative domain to East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The Sinai was later returned to Egypt following the signing of a peace treaty.

In 1967 Israeli aircraft attacked the USS Liberty, killing 34 American servicemen. American and Israeli investigations into the incident concluded that the attack was a tragic accident involving confusion over the identity of the Liberty.

In 1969 Golda Meir, Israel's first and to date only female prime minister was elected.

See also: Positions on Jerusalem, Jerusalem Law, Golan Heights, and Israeli-occupied territories

1970s

Between 1968 and 1972, a period known as the War of Attrition, numerous scuffles erupted along the border between Israel and Syria and Egypt. Furthermore, in the early-1970s, Palestinian terror groups embarked on an unprecedented wave of attacks against Israel and Jewish targets in other countries. The climax of this wave occurred at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, when, in the Munich massacre, Palestinian terrorists held hostage and killed members of the Israeli delegation. Israel responded with Operation Wrath of God, in which agents of Mossad assassinated most of those who were involved in the massacre.

Finally, on October 6, 1973, on the Jewish fast day of Yom Kippur, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a surprise attack against Israel. However, despite early successes against an unprepared Israeli army, Egypt and Syria failed to accomplish their goal of regaining the territories lost in 1967. Yet after the war, a number of years of relative calm ensued, which fostered the environment in which Israel and Egypt could make peace.

In 1974, Yitzhak Rabin, with Meir's resignation, became Israel's fifth prime minister. Then, in the 1977 Knesset elections, the Ma'arach, the ruling party since 1948, created a storm by leaving the government. The new Likud party, led by Menachem Begin, became the new ruling party.

Then, in November of that year, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, making a historic visit to the Jewish State, spoke before the Knesset — the first recognition of Israel by its Arab neighbors. Following the visit, the two nations conducted negotiations which led to the signing of the Camp David Accords. In March 1979, Begin and Sadat signed the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty in Washington, DC. As laid out in the treaty, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and evacuated the settlements established there during the 1970s. It was also agreed to lend autonomy to Palestinians across the Green Line.

See also: War of Attrition, Munich Massacre, Yom Kippur War, Anwar Sadat, and Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty

1980s

On July 7, 1981, the Israeli Air Force bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osiraq in an attempt to foil Iraqi efforts at producing an atomic bomb.

In 1982, Israel launched an attack against Lebanon, which had been embroiled in the Lebanese Civil War since 1975. The official reason for the attack was to defend Israel's northernmost settlements from terrorist attacks, which had been occurring frequently. However, after establishing a forty-kilometer barrier zone, the IDF continued northward and even captured the capital, Beirut. Israeli forces expelled Palestinian Liberation Organization forces from the country, forcing the organization to relocate to Tunis. Unable to deal with the stress of the ongoing war, Prime Minister Begin resigned from his post in 1983 and was replaced by Yitzhak Shamir. Though Israel withdrew from most of Lebanon in 1986, a buffer zone was maintained until May 2000 when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon.

The rest of the 1980s were spent constantly shifting from the right, led by Yitzhak Shamir, to the left under Shimon Peres. Peres, for example, was prime minister from 1984, but handed the position over to Shamir in 1986. The First Intifadah then broke out in 1987 and was accompanied by waves of violence in the Occupied Territories. Following the outbreak, Shamir once again was elected prime minister, in 1988.

See also: 1982 Lebanon War, Lebanese Civil War, and PLO

1990s

During the Gulf War, Israel was hit by a number of Iraqi missiles, which killed two Israeli citizens, even though Israel was not a member of the coalition and was not involved in the fighting.

The early 1990s were marked by a beginning of a massive immigration of Soviet Jews, who, according to the Law of Return, were entitled to become Israeli citizens upon arrival. About 380,000 arrived in 1990-91 alone. Although initially favouring the right, the new immigrants became the target of an aggressive election campaign by Labor, which blamed their employment and housing problems on the ruling Likud. As a result, in the 1992 elections the immigrants voted en masse for Labor, letting the left achieve a 61:59 majority in the 1992 Knesset elections.

Following the elections, Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister, forming a left-wing government coalition. During the election campaign his Labor party promised Israelis a significant improvement in personal security and achievement of a comprehensive peace with the Arabs "within 6 to 9 months" after the elections. By the end of 1993 the government abandoned the framework of Madrid and signed the Oslo Accords with the PLO. In 1994, Jordan became the second of Israel's neighbours to make peace with it.

The initial wide public support for the Oslo Accords began to wane as Israel was struck by an unprecedented wave of terrorist attacks supported by the militant Hamas group, which opposed the accords. Public support slipped even further. On November 4, 1995, a Jewish nationalist militant named Yigal Amir assassinated Rabin.

Public dismay with the assassination created a backlash against Oslo opponents and significantly boosted the chances of Shimon Peres, Rabin's successor and Oslo architect, to win the upcoming 1996 elections. However, a new wave of suicide bombings combined with Arafat's statements extolling the terrorist mastermind Yahya Ayyash, made the public mood swing once again and in May 1996 Peres narrowly lost to his challenger from Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Although seen as a hardliner opposing the Oslo Accords, Netanyahu withdrew from Hebron and signed the Wye River Memorandum giving wider control to the Palestinian National Authority. During Netanyahu's tenure, Israel experienced a lull in terrorist activity, but his government fell in 1999. Labor's Ehud Barak beat Netanyahu by a wide margin in the 1999 elections and succeeded him as prime minister.

2000s

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Information may change rapidly as the event progresses.

Barak initiated a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. This process was intended to frustrate Hezbollah attacks on Israel by forcing them to cross Israel's border. The Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Yassir Arafat once again conducted negotiations with President Clinton at the July 2000 Camp David summit. However, the talks failed. Barak offered to form a Palestinian State initially on 73% of the West Bank and 100% of the Gaza Strip. In 10 to 25 years the West Bank area would expand to 90% (94% excluding greater Jerusalem). [2] [3]

After the collapse of the talks, Palestinian officials began a second uprising, known as the Al-Aqsa Intifadah just after the leader of the opposition Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The failure of the talks and the outbreak of a new war caused many Israelis on both the right and left to turn away from Barak and also discredited the peace movement.

Ariel Sharon became the new prime minister in March 2001 and was consequently re-elected, along with his Likud in the Knesset elections of 2003. Sharon initiated a plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip. This disengagement was executed between August and September 2005.

Israel also is building a West Bank Barrier to defend the country from terror attacks. The barrier, which is planned to measure 681 kilometers, meanders past the Green Line and effectively annexes 9.5% of the West Bank.[8] The barrier has been met with some criticism from the international community and numerous protest demonstrations by the Israeli left, though due to its importance for national security, it continues to be supported by a majority of the Israeli public.

After Ariel Sharon suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke, the powers of the office were passed to Ehud Olmert, who was designated the "Acting" Prime Minister. On April 14, 2006, Olmert was elected Prime Minister after his party, Kadima, Hebrew for "forward," won the most seats in the 2006 legislative elections.

On June 28, 2006, after Hamas militants crossed the border from the Gaza Strip and captured an Israeli soldier, Israel began Operation Summer Rains which consisted of heavy bombardment of Hamas targets as well as bridges, roads and the only power station in Gaza. Israel has also deployed troops into the territory. Israel’s critics have accused it of disproportionate use of force and collective punishment of innocent civilians and not giving diplomacy a chance. Israel argues that they have no other option to get their soldier back and put an end to the rocket attacks into Israel.

On July 12, Hezbollah militants captured 2 Israeli soldiers, sparking the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. Hezbollah has since declared "open war" on Israel. As a result Israel has exercised a strong retaliatory front including strikes on Lebanese bridges, power plants, and army bases. Hundreds of civilians have died from Israeli shelling and airstrikes in Lebanon, while a smaller number of Israeli civilians have been killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel. Both Hamas and Hezbollah have stated that they will only release the soldiers in a prisoner exchange with Israel; however, Israel has said that they will not engage in any prisoner exchanges and will only end the conflicts if they agree to suspend all rocket attacks into Israel and unconditionally release the soldiers.

Geography

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Map of Israel
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Relief map of Israel
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Beach of Tel Aviv at sundown
Main article: Geography of Israel

Israel is bordered by Lebanon in the north, Syria and Jordan in the east, and Egypt in the south-west. It has coastlines on the Mediterranean in the west and the Gulf of Eilat (also known as the Gulf of Aqaba) in the south.

During the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel captured the West Bank from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, Gaza Strip (which was under Egyptian occupation), and Sinai from Egypt. It withdrew all troops and settlers from Sinai by 1982 and from the Gaza Strip by September 12, 2005. The future status of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights remains to be determined.

The total area of the sovereign territory of Israel — excluding all territories captured by Israel in 1967 — is 20,770 km² or 8,019 mi²; (1% water). The total area under Israeli law — including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights — is 22,145 km² or 8,550 mi²; with a little less than one per cent being water. The total area under Israeli control — including the military-controlled and Palestinian-governed territory of the West Bank — is 28,023 km² or 10,820 mi² (~1% water).

Metropolitan areas

See also: Districts of Israel and List of cities in Israel

As of 2004, The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics defines three metropolitan areas: Tel Aviv (population 2,933,300), Haifa (population 980,600) and Jerusalem (population 706,368).

Government

More information on politics and government of Israel can be found at the Politics and government of Israel series.

Israel is a democratic republic with universal suffrage that operates under the parliamentary system.

Legislature

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The Knesset building, Israel's parliament

Israel's unicameral legislative branch is a 120-member parliament known as the Knesset. Membership in the Knesset is allocated to parties based on their proportion of the vote, via a proportional representation voting system. Elections to the Knesset are normally held every four years, but the Knesset can decide to dissolve itself ahead of time by a simple majority, known as a vote of no-confidence. Twelve parties currently hold seats.

See also: List of political parties in Israel

Executive

The President of Israel is Head of State, serving as a largely ceremonial figurehead. The President selects the leader of the majority party or ruling coalition in the Knesset as the Prime Minister, who serves as head of government.[9]

Constitution and legal system

Israel has not completed a written constitution. Its government functions according to the laws of the Knesset, especially the "Basic Laws of Israel" (currently there are 14). These are slated to become the foundation of a future official constitution. In mid-2003, the Knesset's Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee began drafting an official constitution. The effort is still underway as of early 2006. [10]

Israel's legal system mixes influences from Anglo-American, Continental and Jewish law, as well as the declaration of the State of Israel.

As in Anglo-American law, the Israeli legal system is based on the principle of stare decisis (precedent). It is an adversarial system, not an inquisitorial one, in the sense that the parties (for example, plaintiff and defendant) are the ones that bring the evidence before the court. The court does not conduct any independent investigation on the case.

As in Continental legal systems, the jury system was not adopted in Israel. Court cases are decided by professional judges. Additional Continental Law influences can be found in the fact that several major Israeli statutes (such as the Contract Law) are based on Civil Law principles. Israeli statute body is not comprised of Codes, but of individual statutes. However, a Civil Code draft has been completed recently, and is planned to become a bill.

Religious tribunals (Jewish, Sharia'a, Druze and Christian) have exclusive jurisdiction on annulment of marriages.

Judiciary

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Frontal view of The Supreme Court building

Israel's Judiciary branch is made of a three-tier system of courts. At the lowest level are Magistrate Courts, situated in most cities. Above them are District Courts, serving both as appellate courts and as courts of first instance, situated in five cities: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Be'er Sheva and Nazareth.

At the top of the judicial pyramid is the Supreme Court of Israel seated in Jerusalem. The current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is Aharon Barak. The Supreme Court serves a dual role as the highest court of appeals and as the body for a separate institution known as the High Court of Justice (HCOJ). The HCOJ has the unique responsibility of addressing petitions presented to the Court by individual citizens. The respondents to these petitions are usually governmental agencies (including the Israel Defense Forces). The result of such petitions, which are decided by the HCOJ, may be an instruction by the HCOJ to the relevant Governmental agency to act in a manner prescribed by the HCOJ.

A committee composed of Knesset members, Supreme Court Justices, and Israeli Bar members carries out the election of judges. The Courts Law requires judges to retire at the age of seventy. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, with the approval of the Minister of Justice, appoints registrars to all courts.

Military

Main article: Israeli Security Forces

Israel's military consists of a unified Israel Defense Forces (IDF), known in Hebrew by the acronym Tzahal (צה"ל). Historically, there have been no separate Israeli military services. The Navy and Air Force are subordinate to the Army. There are other paramilitary agencies that deal with different aspects of Israel's security (such as Magav and Shin Bet). The IDF was based on paramilitary underground armies, chiefly Haganah.

The IDF is one of the best funded military forces in the Middle East and ranks among the most battle-trained armed forces in the world, having been involved in five major wars and numerous border conflicts. In terms of personnel, the IDF's main resource is the training quality of its soldiers and expert institutions, rather than sheer numbers of soldiers. It also relies heavily on high-tech weapons systems, some developed and manufactured in Israel for its specific needs, and others imported (largely from the United States).

Most Israelis (males and females) are drafted into the military at age 18. Exceptions are Israeli Arabs, those who cannot serve due to injury or disability, women who declare themselves married, or those who are religiously observant. Compulsory service is three years for men, and 2 years for women. Circassians and Bedouin also actively enlist in the IDF. Since 1956, Druze men have been conscripted in the same way as Jewish men, at the request of the Druze community. Men studying full-time in religious institutions can get a deferment from conscription. Most Haredi Jews extend these deferments until they are too old to be conscripted, a practice that has fueled much controversy in Israel.

Following compulsory service, Israeli men become part of the IDF reserve forces, and are usually required to serve several weeks every year as reservists until their 40s.

The International Atomic Energy Agency believes Israel to be a state possessing nuclear weapons. The government has never confirmed nor denied this assertion. Israel has not ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and is not a signatory to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC).

See also: Israel and weapons of mass destruction

Economy

Main article: Economy of Israel

Israel has a technologically advanced market economy with substantial government participation. It depends on imports of fossil fuels (crude oil, natural gas, and coal), grains, beef, raw materials, and military equipment. Despite limited natural resources, Israel has intensively developed its agricultural and industrial sectors over the past 20 years. Israel is largely self-sufficient in food production except for grains and beef. Diamonds, high technology, military equipment, software, pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals, and agricultural products (fruits, vegetables and flowers) are leading exports. Israel usually posts sizable current account deficits, which are covered by large transfer payments from abroad and by foreign loans (although some economists would say the deficit is a sign of Israel's advancing markets). Israel possesses extensive facilities for oil refining, diamond polishing, and semiconductor fabrication.

Roughly half of the government's external debt is owed to the United States, which is its major source of economic and military aid. A relatively large fraction of Israel's external debt is held by individual investors, via the Israel Bonds program. The combination of American loan guarantees and direct sales to individual investors, allow the state to borrow at competitive and sometimes below-market rates.

The influx of Jewish immigrants from the former USSR topped 750,000 during the period 1989–1999, bringing the population of Israel from the former Soviet Union to one million, one-sixth of the total population, and adding scientific and professional expertise of substantial value for the economy's future. The influx, coupled with the opening of new markets at the end of the Cold War, energized Israel's economy, which grew rapidly in the early 1990s. But growth began slowing in 1996 when the government imposed tighter fiscal and monetary policies and the immigration bonus petered out. Those policies brought inflation down to record low levels in 1999.

High technology industries have taken a pre-eminent role in the economy, particularly in the last decade. Israel’s limited natural resources and strong emphasis on education have also played key roles in directing industry towards high technology fields. As a result of the country’s success in developing cutting edge technologies in software, communications and the life sciences, Israel is frequently referred to as a second Silicon Valley. Israel (as of 2004) receives more venture capital investment than any country of Europe, and has the largest VC/GDP rate in the world, seven times that of the United States. Outside the U.S. and Canada, Israel has the largest number of NASDAQ listed companies.

Israel produces more scientific papers per capita than any other nation - 109 per 10,000 people.[11] It also boasts one of the highest per capita rates of patents filed. Twenty-four percent of Israel's workforce holds university degrees - ranking third in the industrialized world, after the U.S. and Netherlands - and 12 percent hold advanced degrees.[12]

Another leading industry is tourism, which benefits from the plethora of important historical sites for Judaism and Christianity and from Israel’s warm climate and access to water resources. The important diamond industry has been affected by changing industry conditions and shifts of certain industry activities to the Far East.

As Israel has liberalized its economy and reduced taxes and spending, the gap between the rich and poor has grown. As of 2005, 20.5% of Israeli families (and 34% of Israeli children) are living below the poverty line, though around 40% of those are lifted above the poverty line through transfer payments.[citation needed]

Israel's GDP per capita, as of 28 July 2005, was $20,551.20 per person (42nd in the world). Israel's overall productivity was $54,510.40, and the amount of patents granted was 74/1,000,000 people.

Population

Demographics

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Israeli Bedouin soldiers chat with Arab civilians in Galilee, 1978
Main articles: Demographics of Israel and Languages of Israel

According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, as of May 2006, of Israel's 7 million people, 77% were Jews, 18.5% Arabs, and 4.3% "others".[13] Among Jews, 68% were Sabras (Israeli-born), mostly second- or third-generation Israelis, and the rest are olim — 22% from Europe and the Americas, and 10% from Asia and Africa, including the Arab countries. [14]

Israel has two official languages; Hebrew and Arabic. Hebrew is the major and primary language of the state and is spoken by the majority of the population. Arabic is spoken by the Arab minority and by some members of the Mizrahi Jewish community. English is studied in school and is spoken by the majority of the population as a second language. Other languages spoken in Israel include Russian, Yiddish, Ladino, Amharic, Romanian, Polish and French. American and European popular television shows are commonly presented. Newspapers can be found in all languages listed above as well as others, such as Persian.

As of 2004, 224,200 Israeli citizens lived in the West Bank in numerous Israeli settlements, (including towns such as Ma'ale Adummim and Ariel, and a handful of communities that were present long before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and were re-established after the Six-Day War such as Hebron and Gush Etzion). Around 180,000 Israelis lived in East Jerusalem, [15] which came under Israeli law following its capture from Jordan during the Six-Day War. About 8,500 Israelis lived in settlements built in the Gaza Strip, prior to their forcible removal by the government in the summer of 2005 as part of Israel's unilateral disengagement plan.

Culture of Israel

Main article: Culture of Israel
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The first stamps, designed before the new state adopted its name, featured ancient Jewish coins and the text "Hebrew mail" in Hebrew and Arabic languages

Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem are cultural centers, known for art museums, and many towns and kibbutzim have smaller high-quality museums. Israeli music is very versatile and combines elements of both western and eastern music. It tends to be very eclectic and contains a wide variety of influences from the Diaspora and more modern cultural importation: Hassidic songs, Asian and Arab pop, especially by Yemenite singers, and israeli hip hop or heavy metal. Folk dancing, which draws upon the cultural heritage of many immigrant groups, is popular. There is also flourishing modern dance.

See also: Archaeology of Israel, Israel Antiquities Authority, Music of Israel, List of Israeli musical artists, Science and technology in Israel, Hatikvah, and Kibbutz

Religion in Israel

Main article: Religion in Israel
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Young Haredi men on Purim in Jerusalem.

According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, at the end of 2004, 76.2% of Israelis were Jews by religion (Judaism), 16.1% were Muslims, 2.1% Christian, 1.6% Druze and the remaining 3.9% (including Russian immigrants and some ethnic Jews) were not classified by religion. [13]

Roughly 12% of Israeli Jews defined as haredim (ultra-orthodox religious); an additional 9% are "religious"; 35% consider themselves "traditionalists" (not strictly adhering to Jewish Halakha); and 43% are "secular" (termed "hiloni"). Among the seculars, 53% believe in God. However, 78% of all Israelis participate in a Passover seder. [16]

Israelis tend not to align themselves with a movement of Judaism (such as Reform Judaism or Conservative Judaism) but instead tend to define their religious affiliation by degree of their religious practice.

Among Arab Israelis, 82.6% were Muslim, 8.8% were Christian and 8.4% were Druze. [13]

See also: Holidays and events in Israel

The Baha'i world centre, which includes the Universal House of Justice, in Haifa attracts pilgrimage from all over the world. [17] Apart from a few hundred staff, Baha'is do not live in Israel.