Note: This page discusses the modern incarnation of Israel. For ancient Israel, see The Bible and Useful Notes on the Ancient Near East. The undisputed world champion in geopolitical buzz per square kilometer of dirt (now that the Cold war is over at least). Israel is a Middle Eastern country whose population consists primarily of Jews and secondarily of native Arabs who are descendants of the families that remained after the 1948 Nakba (the Catastrophe in Arabic), although other ethnic communities are also present. In terms of the modern Jewish history in the area, there has been a tiny Jewish presence in the area that is modern-day Israel since Biblical times. However in the mid 19th century, after centuries of antisemetic persecution and pogroms throughout Europe (but particularly the Russian Empire) a Jewish movement steadily evolved, with the aim of ensuring the Jewish people would have a homeland where they could be protected from the antisemtic violence and discrimination. This idea of finally solving "the Jewish question" was met with significant support by politicians and intellectuals in the more "liberal" (relatively speaking) western nations such as Britain, where both members of the aristocracy and government officials (including future British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who himself was of Jewish descent) spoke in support of the idea, and aided in the early planning of a possible mass migration of Jews to Palestine, which was then under the ownership of the Ottoman Empire, and thus a slow trickle of Jewish immigration to Palestine began. In 1897, the early cause for providing the Jews with a homeland coalesced into the Zionist Movement, led by the World Zionist Council which had been founded by Jewish intellectuals Theodor Herzl and Nathan Birnbaum, partly in response to the infamous Dreyfus Affair, with the official aim of peacefully settling Palestine with Jewish refugees (though there was briefly considered a possible settlement in Uganda weirdly enough) as well as to keep the Jewish traditions, culture, and language alive (the language, Hebrew, was dead as a language of every day speech, and was revitalized with the founding of the Zionist state). However, as they were unable to get the permission of the Ottoman empire to do this on a large scale, they were initially able to only continue and support the small scale immigration. However, the situation in Europe would only get worse, with the aforementioned Dreyfus affair being eclipsed by Russia's brutal new government sponsored pogroms in 1903, during which the Russian secret police created the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion which seized upon the Zionist movement as "proof" that the Jews were secretly planning to take over the world. A charge that continues to this day in antisemitic circles and nations around the world. World War 1 changed all of this. By 1918, the Ottoman Turkish empire had lost control of its territory in Palestine to the French (who had a mandate over what is now Syria and Lebanon) and Palestine to the British who took control as mandated by the League of Nations. More importantly was a declaration by the British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour in 1917, known as the Balfour Declaration, which promised to allow larger scale Jewish settlement in Palestine. This was a major breakthrough for the Zionist movement, as not only had a previously hostile ruler of Palestine been removed, but the nation which supplanted it was both Liberal towards the Jews (relatively speaking) and had also promised to let them settle, so long as it was peaceful and that the native Palestinians were respected. All in all it seemed that things were looking pretty good. Unfortunately things were not that simple. The past half century of Jewish interest in the area has perturbed many Palestinians, who believed this was the precursor to a full on Jewish takeover of their land. This fear had only been compounded by the growth of the Zionist movement and the threat Arab nationalists perceived this to be to their homeland, families and children. The Zionist plan of colonizing Palesting with large numbers of European Jews in the 1920s caused serious concern amongst the Palestinians. Compounding the problems with Zionist colonization, was a sense of betrayal felt by many Palestinians over the fact the British promised them independence during WW 1 yet now seemed to be betraying them in favor of the Jews. In 1920 anti Jewish rioting broke out in Jerusalem, in response to the Jewish immigrants, during which enraged Palestinians attacked Jewish areas in Jerusalem, causing massive devastation to Jewish property and murdering several Jews. The Haganah was formed, who would later become the core of the IDF, in repsonse to these riots and the feeling amongst the Jewish community that the British mandate authorities were taking insufficient action to prevent them. These tensions irritated Britain, which had had plenty of experience of just how hellish religious and political sectarianism could get in Ireland, India, and other Imperial territories, and thus desired any Jewish immigration to be as low key and slow as possible, as to not alienate Muslim allies and partners, nor cause a major civil war related headache in the territory. Eventually, tensions grew even worse and were exacerbated by economic and social problems, causing a full blown war to break out in the 1936 Arab uprising, Britain crushed the rebellion, though massive distrust and bitterness still festered. The British authorities began to put limits on Jewish immigration. During the 1930s however, a new threat to the Jews emerged in the form of a new political movement known as Fascism which was sweeping central Europe, with Antisemitism being almost always a key component in this movement, and more significant was the appearance of a bizarrely mustachioed Austrian Corporal who had come to power in Germany. Due to this increasingly terrifying political reality for Jews in Europe, many of the wealthier ones fled to Palestine. You can probably guess what happened next. World war 2 and the Holocaust resulted in the murder of two thirds of the Jews in Europe, and the utter extermination of nearly every Jewish community which had sheltered European Jews for centuries. Now Zionism, once seen as a pointless pipe dream by many European Jews, now seemed to be an utmost necessity to survival. During the War, Britain had persisted in trying to keep tensions to a minimum by minimizing the influx of Jews to Palestine, especially now that this had become a major ideological issue for many Muslim states, states which, being either current or recent colonies of Allied powers, could easily be persuaded to make common cause with the Axis should they be provoked. However, this then caused active Jewish resistance to British rule, either by way of illegally bringing more Jews into Palestine, or actively attacking British soldiers and officials (with some like the Lehi having started attacking British soldiers and bases during WW2, even attempting to ally with Hitler to drive the British out). This developed into a rather brutal guerrilla war, with the expected atrocities committed by both Jewish insurgency and British retaliations, further dividing the Jewish immigrants and Britain. However, by this point Britain's empire was being steadily disassembled, and Arab oil was vital to Britain and its interests, so Britain continued trying to keep some semblance of balance between the Palestinians and the Jews while drawing up plans for British withdrawal and not wanting to get involved in any resulting war. They also made passionate moral arguments (with varying degrees of sincerity) against the mass immigration - surely, they said, if the Jews left Europe, then the anti-semitic argument that they could not co exist with Gentiles was as good as granted? The British were also extremely annoyed by other nations essentially dumping their refugees on the British Empire - President Truman, for instance, issued only 100,000 visas for European Jews, whilst encouraging 300,000 to go to Palestine. This resulted in many Jews escaping Europe to either be interned or even forcibly deported after attempting to illegally enter Palestine. Needless to say, this was a PR nightmare for Britain, and resulted in the UN stepping in to effectively order Britain to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, a demand now supported by both the US and the Soviet Union. Despite extreme reluctance, Britain eventually agreed to the UN's demands, and in 1948 pulled out, only for their fears of a war between the Jewish immigrants the Arab states to be realized almost instantly. The day that Israel declared independence, based on a United Nations plan that was rejected by Palestinians and Arab states, war was declared by seven Arab states. Palestinians were expelled from the areas they lived in in accordance of Plan Dalet or ordered to leave by their leaders, depending on who you ask. By 1949 the war had finished in Israel's favor, but with massive tensions with the Arab world, and serious issues regarding the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees still simmering. 800,000–1,000,000 Jews either left willingly, what zionist organizations termed aliyah, or were expelled from their homes in Arab countries. Since then, the "Arab-Israeli Conflict" has continued without any significant improvement as all sides got increasingly more radical and aggressive due to the underlying religious and political tensions that had built up since the 1920s. To this day Israel remains at odds with most of its neighbours and the UN, despite the fact that the UN decision gave Israel a significant portion of mandate Palestine that Zionists were not in ownership of (see Plan Dalet). As an interesting aside, technically Israel has only ever successfully made peace with two Arab nations (Jordan and Egypt), and thus is still at war with at least five of them, making the "Arab-Israeli Conflict" one of the longest wars in history, although that's not the usual usage of that term. Some of the main complaints against Israel lie in its continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, denying right of return to the Palestinian refugees mentioned above, building settlements that are illegal by international law * and a variety of human rights violations on Palestinian civilians. In short, it's a pretty messy situation all round. We shall leave it at that. On less inflammatory aspects; Israel is known for having one of the best education systems in Asia and for a thriving computer and science industry. It is one of the most economically and technologically advanced countries in the Middle East, despite having only been founded relatively recently. What definitely helped is the ton of aid it received and continues to receive from West Europe, especially but not limited to, from Germany, the United States, and others. Compounding this effect is the large influx of intellectuals from foreign nations, particularly those who fled Nazi persecution, the more recent surge of immigrants from former communist states (which, in contrast to Cold War-era propaganda, are very well educated), the studious nature of Jewish culture, and Israel's particular defense needs (the current Israeli high-tech boom was spurred by veterans of one fighter plane project). Israel is a popular tourist destination, especially for Abrahamic religious tourists *, as it contains many holy sites.However, most Israeli business is conducted in Tel Aviv. Famous Israeli things include the Desert Eagle and its unique cultural practices, which are partly inherited from Jewish traditions in Europe and the Middle East*. Although Israel definitely sits on the Asian continent, it participates in a fair number of European institutions for varying reasons. Israel can participate in the Eurovision Song Contest because it is within the European Broadcasting Area (along with most of North Africa and some of Central Asia), it participates in the European Football Championship, and it is a member of the Western European and Others group in the United Nations. This is all partly because Europeans consider it culturally European and partly because the aforementioned tensions with the Arab world making it unlikely to say the least that Israel would be allowed in their equivalent.
Prominent artists:Useful Notes
The white and blue design of the flag was inspired by the tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl, specifically the version used by the Ashkenazi Jews from western Europe. At the center is the Magen David, a six-pointed star and for centuries the symbol of Jews worldwide.