The hope of two thousands years
To be a free people in our own land
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.
Note: This page discusses the modern incarnation of Israel. For ancient Israel, see The Bible.
The undisputed world champion in geopolitical buzz per square kilometer of dirt (now that the Cold War is over at least).
Israel (Hebrew: יִשְׂרָאֵל, Yīsrāʾēl; Arabic: إِسْرَائِيل, ʾIsrāʾīl), also known as the State of Israel (Hebrew: מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, Medīnat Yisrā'el; Arabic: دولة إِسرائيل, Dawlat ʾIsrāʾīl) is a Western Asian country whose constituents primarily comprise Jews, but also has a minority Arab population.
In terms of the modern Jewish history in the area, there has always been a small Jewish presence in the area that is modern-day Israel (centered around the Four Holy Cities: Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed, and Tiberias) since the various Biblical upheavals that destroyed several Jewish kingdoms (Babylonians, Assyrians, Romans, etc.) and scattered its population across Europe, Asia, and Africa. However, in the mid-19th century, after centuries of anti-Semitic persecution and pogroms throughout Europe (but particularly the Russian Empire), a Jewish movement called Zionism steadily evolved with the aim of ensuring the Jewish people would have a homeland where they could be protected from the anti-Semitic 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. 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 Ottoman-controlled Palestine with Jewish refugees (thoug there was a scheme for a possible settlement in Uganda that was briefly considered, weirdly enough) as well as to keep the Jewish traditions, culture, and language alive (the language, Hebrew, was dead as a language of everyday 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 The Protocols of the Elders of Zion which was seized upon by antisemites as "proof" that the Jews were secretly planning to take over the world. This is a charge continued to this day in antisemitic circles and nations around the world, and indeed is taught as fact in the schools of several nations.
World War I 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. It should be mentioned here that even while WWI still was being fought the British and French reached the secret Sykes–Picot Agreement where they would divide the Middle East as loot between themselves, abandoning earlier support promising Arabs in the region recognition of Arab independence. Note the secret part meant the British in particular were essentially lying through their their teeth to the same Arabs they had encouraged to revolt against the Ottoman Empire.
Perhaps more importantly for Zionists 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 Palestinian Arabsnote were respected. All in all it seemed that things were looking pretty good.
Unsurprisingly things were not that simple.
The past half-century of Jewish interest in the area had perturbed many Arabs, 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 Palestine with large numbers of mostly European Jews in the 1920s caused serious concern among the Arabs. Compounding the problems with Zionist colonization was a (well-justified) sense of betrayal felt by many Arabs over the fact the British promised them independence during WWI 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 Arabs 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 response to these riots and the feeling among 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.
World War II 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 Ashkenazi Jews for centuries. Now Zionism, once seen as a pointless pipe dream by many European Jews, seemed to be an utmost necessity to survive.
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 soon-to-be Muslim states-states which, being only recently made 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 World War II, 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 insurgents and British troops in retaliation, 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 Arabs 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 antisemitic 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 be 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 an Arab 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. Their fears of a war between the Jewish immigrants and native Arabs were already realized, with the Jewish insurgency rolling right into a civil war before the British even withdrew. The day that Israel declared independence, based on the 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 with 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. To make things more complicated, 800,000–1,000,000 Jews either left willingly, what Zionist organizations termed aliyah, or were expelled from their homes in Arab countries. The majority of Israel's Jewish population is descended from these Jews and other Mizrachi, or "Oriental," Jewish populations that had arrived earlier. To make matters even more complicated, there is still a substantial Arab minority in Israel, making up 10-15% of the population—and many of them are Christians, rather than Muslims, especially in cities that are significant to Christianity, such as Nazareth. While they are citizens of Israel, their status relative to Jewish citizens is subject of much debate.
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 neighbors 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. In 2020, Israel established diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.
In short, it's a pretty messy situation all round.
It should also be noted that Israel has plenty of conflicts and issues that have nothing to do with the Arab–Israeli Conflict, or (like disputes between the government of Israel and Bedouin tribes in the Negev, or accusations by Israeli Arabs that they are treated like second-class citizens) are only tangentially related to it. In particular, there are increasing disagreements between secular and Ultra-Orthodox Jews, over the latter being excused from serving in the army and who often are supported by government allowances to allow them to study the Torah and the Talmud (the previous ruling coalition in the Israeli Knesset revolved around ending these exemptions, leading to many Ultra-Orthodox Jews both inside Israel and in the Diaspora to protest), and between religious but non-Orthodox Jews and the Israeli Rabbinate which only includes extremely Orthodox Jews, and who gets to decide who counts as a Jew for religious matters (although not for the Right of Return), and who sets the rules for the Kotel (aka the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism). There are also racial and ethnic tensions between Ashkenazi (aka "European," although many of them wouldn't identify like that), Sephardic and Mizrachi (aka "Middle Eastern," although it's more complicated than that), and Beta Israel (Ethiopian) Jews. Israel has a significant population of Filipinos and Chinese people who moved there for work; unfortunately, if they're fired their right to stay in the country is terminated and their children (even those born in Israel) are often not considered eligible for Israeli citizenship. Finally, Israel, as the most stable nation in the region (not that that's saying much), has attracted a significant population of people who have fled mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, who the international community generally considers refugees but whom the Israeli government considers "economic infiltrators" (aka illegal immigrants), who are currently in limbo (Israel has allowed them to stay but not to work legally, and there have been increasing pushes to lock them up at a facility in the middle of the Negev desert).
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,note as it contains many holy sites. However, most Israeli business is conducted in Tel Aviv due to being safer and more politically stable than the capital Jerusalem.
You might be familiar with the Desert Eagle, go-to massive pistol for all occasions. Israel is also noted for its unique culture, being a mix of Jewish traditions from Europe, the Middle East, the Americas, and Africa, as well as non-Jewish European, American, and Arab culture.note
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.
- Arab–Israeli Conflict
- Israelis with Infrared Missiles: The Israeli Defense Force, the national military of Israel. All Jewish citizens are expected to serve, except for Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox Jews), although the current ruling coalition is working to remove this exemption. Haredim are welcome to volunteer to join the IDF, and there is a battalion that exists specifically to accommodate their religious needs. Doing this is still considered controversial in the Haredi community (which worries that it will encourage Haredi men to secularize and abandon Judaism). In addition to Jews, Druze (an Arab religious minority) and Circassian (a Caucasian/Central Asian Muslim minority) men are also drafted automatically. Other Israeli Arabs can and do volunteer, mostly Bedouins from the Negev desert and occasionally Arab Christians, although this is still fairly rare.
- Israeli Political System — Israel has a Westminister-style parliamentary democracy with universal suffrage and—significantly—a party-list direct-proportional system based on that of The Netherlands, with a very low threshold. This explains why their government often seems crazy: coalitions can live or die if as little as 2.5% of the vote swings to one party instead of another.
- There have been calls to raise the threshold, but also objections to doing it—mostly by members of the three current Arab parties and their allies who worry they wouldn't be able to make it in unless they combined, which, given that their ideologies have no similarities aside from the fact that all three are non-Zionist—Hadash is Communist/Socialist, Balad is secular Arab nationalist, and the UAL is Islamist—is unfeasible.
- Israel upped the threshold to 3.25% in 2014, forcing the Arab parties into the Joint List.
- The Common Law — Another legacy of the Mandate period (and of the judiciary being dominated in its initial years by Jews of Anglo-American descent), Israel follows, to a certain extent, the same general legal system as the UK, the US, and the members of The Commonwealth of Nations; however, its legal system is also heavily influenced by Civil Law practices (such as the lack of a jury and a tendency for codification). Another two exceptions are personal law (mostly marriage, divorce, and inheritance), where Israel follows the Ottoman tradition of allowing the laws of the person's religion to apply.note note and real estate law, where it follows Ottoman laws. It is also one of only three countries in the world (the others are New Zealand and the UK) with an uncodified constitution.
- Law of Return — Anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent (who has not converted away from Judaism) or who has converted to Judaism has the right to immigrate to Israel, be naturalized, and become a full citizen.
- David Ben-Gurion
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- While the Jews and the various Arab groups (Palestinian Israelis, Bedouins, Druze, Maronites, Copts, etc.) are well known, and the African refugee/economic infiltrator issue gets some press, Israel is also home to some smaller minorities: Asian guest workers (generally Chinese and Filipinos) who may or may not be living in the country legally, Samaritans (an ethnoreligious group related to Jews but with some ritual deviations that are split between Israel and the West Bank), African Hebrew Israelites (a group of mostly African Americans and their descendants who claim to be descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes and for whom there was a bit of a kerfuffle when they tried to emigrate under the Law of Return), Armenians, Circassians, Romani and Dom, Assyrians, and Finns (generally from communities that immigrated to Israel during its rule by the Ottomans or before), non-Jewish Russians and Ukranians (generally spouses or relatives of Jews from the former Soviet Union), and Vietnamese people (mostly refugees from the Vietnam War and their descendants).
- A tendency to go barefoot (as Kibbutzniks do) or in open-toed sandals known as Biblical sandals. Definitely justified by the country's hot climate, but what makes it unusual is that Israelis tend to wear these sandals even abroad. The reason is that they see the sandals as a sign of succession with ancient Jews and as something that distinguishes a Jew from a non-Jew.
Israel and Israelis in Fiction (Outside the context of the Arab–Israeli Conflict)
- Masada is book-ended by footage of Israeli soldiers swearing their oath on the historical site in (then-)modern day.
- Moishe Sharoff, telecommunications mogul who had a cameo as one of the heads of Quantum in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace.
- Legion, the Israeli son of Professor X.
- And Sabra, of the Israel Super Soldiers. (It's implied there are others, but they've never been seen.)
- Ziva David, of NCIS. A Mossad agent who soon transfers to NCIS.
- The Simpsons go to Israel in one episode, though there are very few countries they haven't been to at this point. Notable in that Homer was able to get all religions in the holy land to agree on one thing: that they hated him. He also suffers from a bout of Jerusalem Syndrome, a real phenomena that overtakes people in the Holy Land.
- Asterix also visited the country in the album Asterix and the Black Gold, which - in the context of the story- happened only a few years before the birth of Christ. This is lampshaded when he and Obelix spent the night in a stable in Bethlehem.
The Israeli flag
Emblem of Israel
The Israeli national anthem
- Unitary parliamentary republic
- President: Isaac Herzog
- Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu
- Knesset Speaker: Mickey Levy
- Chief Justice: Esther Hayut
- Capital and largest city: Jerusalem
- Population: 9,341,060
- Area: 20,770–22,072 km² (8,019–8,522 sq mi) (150th)
- Currency: Israeli new shekel (₪) (ILS)
- ISO-3166-1 Code: IL
- Country calling code: 972
- Highest point: Mount Hermon (2236 m/7,336 ft) (117th)
- Lowest point: Dead Sea (−428 m/−1,404 ft) (1st; lowestnote )