Yitzhak Rabin

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Posted by kaori 03/08/2009 @ 22:07

Tags : yitzhak rabin, former israeli politicians, israel, middle east, world

News headlines
It's all in the first 30 seconds - Ha'aretz
Neither of the two friendliest pairings in the history of Israeli-American relations - Rabin-Clinton and Sharon-Bush - got off to a very smooth start. Yitzhak Rabin was not exactly wowed when he met Clinton before he was elected president....
KOH LAY CHIN: Enough with blame shifting, one-upmanship - New Straits Times
PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were shaking hands, and the crowds burst into joyful cheers. I didn't know it then, but it was the first ever public handshake between the two, and it was the mark of hope for peace...
US officials: ME envoy Mitchell preparing for Syria visit - Jerusalem Post
Syria claims that in peace talks between Assad's father, former president Hafez Assad, and then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Rabin pledged that the Golan would be ceded in any future agreement. Israeli officials since then denied the pledge,...
What NCIS Tells Us About Obama and Netanyahu - Huffington Post
She is Shimon Peres or Yitzhak Rabin or even Ehud Olmert. American leaders like doing business with these leaders, and their own faith in the American-Israeli partnership is reinforced when they are dealing with people across the table with whom they...
Peres, the optimist - Jewish Telegraphic Agency
He had become prime minister following the assassination in November 1995 of Yitzhak Rabin, and Netanyahu was one of the people Rabin supporters fingered for fueling the hateful rhetoric that, they said, inspired the slaying of Rabin....
Biden, Kerry offer support, tough love for Israel - Boston Globe
We admire Israel for the heroism of giants like Yitzhak Rabin who as a young man risked his life in war, then as an older man, gave his life for peace. And we admire Israel for the closeness of a community where one family's anguish over a single...
Torture foes twist the truth: Ticking time bomb scenarios are real - New York Daily News
Yitzhak Rabin, Nobel Peace laureate. (The fact that Waxman died in the rescue raid compounds the tragedy but changes nothing of Rabin's moral calculus.) That moral calculus is important. Even John McCain says that in ticking time bomb scenarios you "do...
Abominable incitement - Ha'aretz
After the signing of the Oslo Accords, the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Hashavua waged an incitement campaign against the prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. The paper repeatedly considered whether Rabin should die. Hashavua's editor was Asher Zuckerman,...
Condoleezza Rice to Speak in Washington Sunday - PR Newswire (press release)
Rice, the National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State in the last administration, is coming to Washington as part of JPDS-NC's fourth annual Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Lecture, named for the late Israeli prime minister. Rice will appear at JPDS,...
Rice urges taking on challenges - Washington Times
On Sunday evening, Miss Rice spoke at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue as part of the school's fourth annual Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Lecture. This year's lecture, "Perspectives on Peace and War," featured a conversation between Miss Rice and Leon...

Yitzhak Rabin

Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton, and Yasser Arafat during the Oslo Accords on 13 September 1993

Yitzhak Rabin (help·info) (Hebrew: יִצְחָק רַבִּין ‎) (1 March 1922–4 November 1995) was an Israeli politician and general. He was the fifth Prime Minister of Israel, serving two terms in office, 1974–1977 and 1992 until his assassination in 1995. In 1994, Rabin won the Nobel Peace Prize together with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. He was assassinated by right-wing Israeli radical Yigal Amir, who was opposed to Rabin's signing of the Oslo Accords. Rabin was the first native-born prime minister of Israel, the only prime minister to be assassinated and the second to die in office after Levi Eshkol.

Yitzhak Rabin was born in Jerusalem in 1922 to Nehemiah and Rosa, two pioneers of the Third Aliyah. Nehemiah Rubitzov, born in a small Ukrainian town in 1886, lost his father when he was a child and worked to support his family from a young age. At the age of 18, he emigrated to the United States, where he joined the Poale Zion party and changed his surname to Rabin. In 1917, he went to the British Mandate of Palestine with a group of volunteers from the Jewish Legion. Rabin's mother, Rosa Cohen, was born in 1890 in Mohilev in Belarus. Her father, a rabbi, opposed the Zionism movement, but sent Rosa to a Christian high school for girls in Homel, enabling her to acquire a broad general education. Early on, Rosa took an interest in political and social causes. In 1919, she sailed to the region on the S.S. Ruslan, the bellwether of the Third Aliyah. After working on a kibbutz on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, she moved to Jerusalem.

Rabin grew up in Tel Aviv, where the family relocated when he was one year old. In 1940, he graduated with distinction from the Kadoori Agricultural High School and hoped to be an irrigation engineer. However, apart from several courses in military strategy in the United Kingdom later on, he never pursued a degree.

Rabin married Leah Rabin (née Schlossberg) during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Leah Rabin was working at the time as a reporter for a Palmach newspaper. They had two children, Dalia and Yuval. Rabin was non-religious, with Dennis Ross remarking that Ross had never met a more secular Jew in Israel.

In 1941, during his practical training at kibbutz Ramat Yohanan, Rabin joined the Palmach section of the Haganah, under the influence of Yigal Allon. The first operation he participated in was assisting the allied invasion of Lebanon, then held by Vichy French forces (the same operation where Moshe Dayan lost his eye) in June-July 1941. After the end of the war the relationship between the Palmach and the British authorities became strained, especially with respect to the treatment of Jewish immigration. In October 1945 Rabin was in charge of planning and later successfully executing an operation for the liberation of interned immigrants from the Atlit detainee camp for Jewish illegal immigrants. In the Black Shabbat, a massive British operation against the leaders of the Jewish Establishment in the Land of Israel, Rabin was arrested and detained for five months. After his release he became the commander of the second Palmach battalion and rose to the position of Chief Operations Officer of the Palmach in October 1947.

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War Rabin directed Israeli operations in Jerusalem and fought the Egyptian army in the Negev. During the beginning of the war he was the commander of the Harel Brigade which fought on the road to Jerusalem from the coastal plain, including the Israeli "Burma Road", as well as many battles in Jerusalem, such as securing the southern side of the city by recapturing kibbutz Ramat Rachel. During the First truce he participated in the altercation between the IDF and the Irgun on the beach of Tel Aviv as part of the Altalena Affair. In the following period he was the deputy commander of Operation Danny during which the cities of Ramle and Lydda were captured, as well as the major airport in Lydda. This was the largest scale operation until then and it involved four IDF brigades. He was then Chief of Operations for the Southern Front and participated in the major battles ending the fighting there, including Operation Yoav and Operation Horev.

In the beginning of 1949 he was a member of the Israeli delegation to the armistice talks with Egypt that were held on the island of Rhodes. The result of the negotiations were the 1949 Armistice Agreements which ended the official hostilities of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Following the demobilization at the end of the war he was the most senior (former) member of the Palmach that remained in the IDF.

In 1964 he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) by Levi Eshkol who replaced David Ben Gurion and, like him, served as Prime-Minister and Defence Minister. Since Eshkol did not have much military experience, Rabin had a relatively free hand. Under his command, the IDF achieved victory over Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the Six-Day War in 1967. After the Old City of Jerusalem was captured by the IDF, Rabin was among the first to visit the Old City, and delivered a famous speech on Mount Scopus, at the Hebrew University. In the days leading up to the war, it was reported that Rabin suffered a nervous breakdown and was unable to function. After this short hiatus, he resumed full command over the IDF.

Following his retirement from the IDF he became ambassador to the United States beginning in 1968, serving for five years. In this period the US became the major weapon supplier of Israel and in particular he managed to get the embargo on the F-4 Phantom fighter jets lifted. During the 1973 Yom Kippur war he served in no official capacity and in the elections held at the end of 1973 he was elected to the Knesset as a member of the Alignment. He was appointed Israeli Minister of Labour in March 1974 in Golda Meir's short-lived government.

Following Golda Meir's resignation on April 1974, Rabin was elected party leader, after he defeated Shimon Peres. The rivalry between these two labor leaders remained fierce and they competed several times in the next two decades for the leadership role. Rabin succeeded Golda Meir as Prime Minister of Israel on 3 June 1974. This was a coalition government, including Ratz, the Independent Liberals, Progress and Development and the Arab List for Bedouins and Villagers. This arrangement, with a bare parliamentary majority, held for a few months and was one of the few periods in Israel's history where the religious parties were not part of the coalition. The National Religious Party joined the coalition on 30 October 1974 and Ratz left on the 6 November.

In foreign policy, the major development at the beginning of Rabin's term was the Sinai Interim Agreement between Israel and Egypt, signed on September 1, 1975. Both countries declared that the conflict between them and in the Middle East shall not be resolved by military force but by peaceful means . This agreement followed Henry Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy and a threatened ‘reassessment’ of the United States’ regional policy and its relations with Israel. Rabin notes it was,”an innocent-sounding term that heralded one of the worst periods in American-Israeli relations.” The agreement was an important step towards the Camp David Accords of 1978 and the peace treaty with Egypt signed in 1979.

Operation Entebbe was perhaps the most dramatic event during Rabin's first term of office. On his orders, the IDF performed a long-range undercover raid to rescue passengers of an airliner that had been hijacked by militants belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine's Wadie Haddad faction and the German Revolutionary Cells (RZ), and had been brought to Idi Amin's Uganda. The operation was generally considered a tremendous success, and its spectacular character has made it the subject of much continued comment and study.

Towards the end of 1976 his coalition government with the religious parties suffered a crisis: a motion of no confidence had been brought by Agudat Israel over a breach of the Sabbath on an Israeli Air Force base when four F-15 jets were delivered from the US and the National Religious Party had abstained. Rabin dissolved his government and decided on new elections, which were to be held in May 1977. Meanwhile two unfortunate developments from his perspective occurred: following the March 1977 meeting between U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Rabin, Rabin publicly announced that the U.S. supported the Israeli idea of defensible borders. Carter then issued a clarification. A "fallout" in U.S./Israeli relations ensued. It is thought that the fallout contributed to the Israeli Labor Party defeat in the May 1977 elections . The second development was the revelation that his wife, Leah, continued to hold a US dollar account from the days that Rabin was ambassador to the United States. According to Israeli currency regulations at the time, it was illegal for citizens to maintain foreign bank accounts without prior authorization. In the wake of this disclosure, Rabin handed in his resignation from the party leadership and candidacy for prime minister, an act that earned him praise as a responsible person and a man of integrity.

Following his resignation and Labor Party defeat at the elections, Likud's Menachem Begin was elected in 1977. Until 1984 Rabin was a member of Knesset and sat on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. From 1984 to 1990, he served as Minister of Defense in several national unity governments led by prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres.

When Rabin came to office, Israeli troops were still deep in Lebanon. Rabin ordered their withdrawal to a "Security Zone" on the Lebanese side of the border. The South Lebanon Army was active in this zone, along with the Israeli Defence Forces.

When the first Intifada broke out, Rabin adopted harsh measures to stop the demonstrations, even authorizing the use of "Force, might and beatings," on the demonstrators. Rabin the "bone breaker" was used as an International image. The combination of the failure of the "Iron Fist" policy, Israel's deteriorating international image and Jordan cutting legal and administrative ties to the West Bank with the U.S.'s recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people forced Rabin to seek an end to the violence though negotiation and dialogue with the PLO.

In 1990 to 1992, Rabin again served as a Knesset member and sat on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

In 1992 Rabin was elected as chairman of the Labor Party, winning against Shimon Peres. In the elections that year his party, strongly focusing on the popularity of its leader, managed to win a clear victory over the Likud of incumbent Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. However the left-wing bloc in the Knesset only won an overall narrow majority, facilitated by the disqualification of small nationalist parties that did not manage to pass the electoral threshold. Rabin formed the first Labor-led government in fifteen years, supported by a coalition with Meretz, a left wing party, and Shas, a Mizrahi ultra-orthodox religious party.

Rabin played a leading role in the signing of the Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian National Authority and granted it partial control over parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Prior to the signing of the accords, Rabin received a letter from PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat renouncing violence and officially recognizing Israel, and on the same day, 9 September 1993, Rabin sent Arafat a letter officially recognizing the PLO. During this term of office, Rabin also oversaw the signing of the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace in 1994.

For his role in the creation of the Oslo Accords, Rabin was awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres. The Accords greatly divided Israeli society, with some seeing Rabin as a hero for advancing the cause of peace and some seeing him as a traitor for giving away land rightfully belonging to Israel. Many Israelis on the right wing often blame him for Jewish deaths in terror attacks, attributing them to the Oslo agreements.

On 4 November 1995 Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a radical right-wing Orthodox Jew who opposed the signing of the Oslo Accords and believed he was saving the country from a dire fate. The shooting took place in the evening as Rabin was leaving a mass rally in Tel Aviv in support of the Oslo process. Rabin was rushed to the nearby Ichilov Hospital, where he died on the operating table of blood loss and a punctured lung.

After an emergency cabinet meeting, Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres was appointed as acting Israeli prime minister.

The assassination of Rabin came as a great shock to the Israeli public. Hundreds of thousands of grieving Israelis thronged the square where Rabin was assassinated to mourn his death. Young people, in particular, turned out in large numbers, lighting memorial candles and singing peace songs. Rabin's funeral was attended by many world leaders, among them US president Bill Clinton, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and King Hussein of Jordan. Bill Clinton delivered an eulogy whose memorable final words were in Hebrew - "Shalom, Haver" (Hebrew: שלום חבר‎, lit. Goodbye, Friend).

Before leaving the stage on the night of the assassination, Rabin had been singing Shir LaShalom (literally Song for Peace), along with Israeli singer Miri Aloni. After he died, a sheet of paper with the lyrics was found in his pocket, stained with blood.

The square where he was assassinated, Kikar Malkhei Yisrael (Kings of Israel Square), was renamed Rabin Square. Streets and public institutions have been named after him all over the country. After his assassination, Rabin was hailed as a national symbol and came to embody the Israeli peace camp ethos, despite his military career and hawkish views earlier in life. He is buried on Mount Herzl. In November 2000, his wife Leah died and was buried alongside him.

As with many political assassinations, there is much debate regarding the background of Rabin's assassination. There are a number of conspiracy theories related to the assassination of Rabin.

After Rabin's assassination, his daughter Dalia Rabin-Pelossof entered into politics and was elected to the Knesset in 1999 as part of the Centre Party. In 2001, she served as Israel's Deputy Minister of Defense.

In 1995 the Israeli Postal Authority issued a commemorative Rabin stamp. In 2005, there were 14 neighborhoods; 24 streets and boulevards, two bridges; 36 schools and educational campuses; 11 gardens and groves; 7 parks; 13 memorials; a youth hostel in Jerusalem; a promenade in Binyamina; two complexes of government offices; three community centers; one highway and two synagogues named after Rabin.

Reggae singer Alpha Blondy has recorded a single named 'Yitzhak Rabin' in memory of the Israeli prime minister.

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Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

Site of the rally before the assassination: Rabin Square and Tel Aviv City Hall during the day.

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin took place on November 4, 1995, at 21:30, at the end of a rally in support of the Oslo Accords at the Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv.

After the rally, Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister and defense minister, walked down the city hall steps towards the open door of his car. Three shots were fired towards Rabin, who had chosen to not wear a bulletproof vest when asked to before the rally.

The assassin was Yigal Amir, a former Hesder student and Orthodox far-right law student at Bar-Ilan University, who had strenuously opposed Rabin's peace initiative and especially the signing of the Oslo Accords. He was subdued and arrested immediately with the murder weapon, a Beretta 84F .380 ACP caliber semi-automatic pistol. He also shot and slightly wounded Yoram Rubin, a security guard, with a third bullet that missed Rabin. Incidentally, Rubin was also a geography student at Bar-Ilan University at the time.

In Rabin's pocket was a blood-stained sheet of paper with the words to Shir Lashalom ("Song to Peace"), which ironically dwells on the impossibility of bringing a dead person back to life and therefore the need for peace.

The assassination of Rabin was a shock to the Israeli public. Rallies and memorials took place near Kings of Israel Square—later renamed Rabin Square in his honor—as well as near Rabin's home, the Knesset building, and the home of the assassin. Many other streets and public buildings around the country were named for Rabin as well.

The funeral of Rabin took place on November 6, the day after the assassination, at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, where Rabin was buried. Hundreds of world leaders, including about 80 heads of state, attended the funeral. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Spanish Prime Minister and European Council President-in-Office Felipe González Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chretien, acting Israeli Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, President of the United States Bill Clinton, King Hussein of Jordan, Rabin's granddaughter Noa Ben-Artzi Filosof, former director-general of the prime minister's office Shimon Sheves, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, director of the Prime Minister's Bureau Eitan Haber, and President of Israel Ezer Weizman.

Yigal Amir's act was and to some extent still is a great source of embarrassment to the religious Jewish community, initially leading to a wave of soul-searching and denial (such as through the Yitzhak Rabin assassination conspiracy theories).

A national memorial day for Rabin is set on the date of his death according to the Hebrew calendar.

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Yitzhak Rabin assassination conspiracy theories

Yitzhak Rabin assassination conspiracy theories arose almost immediately following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, on November 4, 1995. The gunman Yigal Amir, a Jewish Israeli student, was apprehended within seconds by other people in the crowd. Rabin died later on the operating table of Ichilov Hospital. Amir confessed to the assassination of Rabin.

The matter has been reported as clear cut in the media, and the Shamgar national inquiry commission and the court all drew the same conclusion that Amir was guilty of murder. Yet, some inconsistencies in the evidence have been alleged, both in the medical records and in the inquiry testimony. These allegations and other suspicions have been included in occasional left-wing, and more prevalent right-wing conspiracy theories.

A number of conspiracy theories have made some or all of the following claims. Others have been strident in opposing these conclusions.

The most common criticism of the conspiracy theories simply refutes and relativizes claims made in the conspiracy theories or by the conpiracy theorists and points out that the theories are detached from Israeli political culture, social relations and historic events.

Right-wing activists also claim that the mostly Israeli right-wing conspiracy supporters embarrass the Israeli right by supporting fringe theories for which no proof exists. The conspiracy theorists, according to this criticism, move the debate away from the responsibility of what they call the "perpetrators of the Oslo crimes". These right-wing critics conclude that the right-wing conspiracy theorists serve the goals of the Israeli left.

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Israel

Flag of Israel

Israel (Hebrew: יִשְׂרָאֵל‎, Yisra'el; Arabic: إِسْرَائِيلُ‎, Isrā'īl) officially the State of Israel ( מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל (help·info), Medinat Yisra'el; Arabic: دَوْلَةُ إِسْرَائِيلَ‎, Dawlat Isrā'īl), is a country in the Middle East located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan in the east, and Egypt on the southwest, and contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. Also adjacent are the West Bank to the east and Gaza Strip to the southwest. Israel is the world's only Jewish state, with a population of about 7.37 million, of whom about 5.57 million are Jewish. It is also home to other ethnic groups, including most numerously Arab citizens of Israel, as well as many religious groups including Muslims, Christians, Druze, Samaritans and others.

The modern state of Israel has its roots in the Biblical Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael), a concept central to Judaism since ancient times, and the heartland of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Following the birth of Zionism in 1897 and its acceptance by the British Balfour Declaration, the League of Nations adopted the British Mandate of Palestine after World War I, which was "in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine..." In 1947, following years of communal strife, the United Nations voted to approve the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab; this immediately caused a civil war. On May 14, 1948 the Israeli declaration of independence and the simultaneous British withdrawal instigated a war with the surrounding Arab states, which refused to accept the partition plan. The Israelis were subsequently victorious in a series of wars confirming their independence and expanding the borders of the Jewish state beyond those in the UN Partition Plan. Since then, Israel has been in conflict with many of the neighboring Arab countries, resulting in several major wars and decades of violence that continue to this day. Since its foundation, Israel's boundaries and the State's right to exist have been subject to dispute, especially among its Arab neighbors and their many Palestinian refugees. Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, though efforts for a long-lasting peace with the Palestinians have so far been unsuccessful.

Israel is a representative democracy with a parliamentary system and universal suffrage. The Prime Minister serves as head of government and the Knesset serves as Israel's legislative body. In terms of nominal gross domestic product, the nation's economy is estimated as being the 44th-largest in the world. Israel ranks highest among Middle Eastern countries on the bases of human development, freedom of the press, and economic competitiveness. Jerusalem is the country's capital, seat of government, and largest city, while Israel's main financial center is Tel Aviv.

Over the past three thousand years, the name "Israel" has meant in common and religious usage both the Land of Israel and the entire Jewish nation. According to the Bible, Jacob is renamed Israel after successfully wrestling with an angel of God.

The earliest archaeological artifact to mention "Israel" (other than as a personal name) is the Merneptah Stele of ancient Egypt (dated the late 13th century BCE), where it refers to the people of the land. The modern country was named Medinat Yisrael, or the State of Israel, after other proposed names, including Eretz Israel ("the Land of Israel"), Zion, and Judea, were 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 Land of Israel, known in Hebrew as Eretz Yisrael, has been sacred to the Jewish people since Biblical times. According to the Torah, the Land of Israel was promised to the three Patriarchs of the Jewish people, by God, as their homeland; scholars have placed this period in the early 2nd millennium BCE. According to the traditional view, around the 11th century BCE, the first of a series of Israelite kingdoms and states established rule over the region; these Israelite kingdoms and states ruled intermittently for the following one thousand years. The sites holiest to Judaism are located within Israel.

Between the time of the Israelite kingdoms and the 7th-century Muslim conquests, the Land of Israel fell under Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Sassanian, and Byzantine rule. Jewish presence in the region dwindled after the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE and the resultant large-scale expulsion of Jews. In 628/9, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius conducted a massacre and expulsion of the Jews, at which point the Jewish population probably reached its lowest point. Nevertheless, a continuous Jewish presence in the Land of Israel remained. Although the main Jewish population shifted from the Judea region to the Galilee, the Mishnah and part of the Talmud, among Judaism's most important religious texts, were composed in Israel during this period. The Land of Israel was captured from the Byzantine Empire around 636 CE during the initial Muslim conquests. Control of the region transferred between the Umayyads, Abbasids, and Crusaders over the next six centuries, before falling in the hands of the Mamluk Sultanate, in 1260. In 1516, the Land of Israel became a part of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the region until the 20th century.

Jews living in the Diaspora have long aspired to return to Zion and the Land of Israel. That hope and yearning was articulated in the Bible, and is a central theme in the Jewish prayer book. Beginning in the 12th century, Catholic persecution of Jews led to a steady stream leaving Europe to settle in the Holy Land, increasing in numbers after Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. During the 16th century large communities struck roots in the Four Holy Cities, and in the second half of the 18th century, entire Hasidic communities from eastern Europe settled in the Holy Land.

The first large wave of modern immigration, known as the First Aliyah (Hebrew: עלייה), began in 1881, as Jews fled pogroms in Eastern Europe. While the Zionist movement already existed in theory, 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 Jewish State), offering his vision of a future state; the following year he presided over the first World Zionist Congress.

The Second Aliyah (1904–1914), began after the Kishinev pogrom. Some 40,000 Jews settled in Palestine. Both the first and second waves of migrants were mainly Orthodox Jews, but those in the Second Aliyah included socialist pioneers who established the kibbutz movement. During World War I, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued what became known as the Balfour Declaration, which "view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people". At the request of Edwin Samuel Montagu and Lord Curzon, a line was also inserted stating "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country". The Jewish Legion, a group of battalions composed primarily of Zionist volunteers, assisted in the British conquest of Palestine. Arab opposition to the plan led to the 1920 Palestine riots and the formation of the Jewish organization known as the Haganah (meaning "The Defense" in Hebrew), from which the Irgun and Lehi split off.

In 1922, the League of Nations granted the United Kingdom a mandate over Palestine under terms similar to the Balfour Declaration. The population of the area at this time was predominantly Muslim Arab, while the largest urban area in the region, Jerusalem, was predominantly Jewish.

The third (1919–1923) and Fourth Aliyah (1924–1929) brought 100,000 Jews to Palestine. From 1921 the British subjected Jewish immigration to quotas and most of the territory slated for the Jewish state was allocated to Transjordan.

The rise of Nazism in the 1930s led to the Fifth Aliyah, with an influx of a quarter of a million Jews. This caused the Arab revolt of 1936–1939 and led the British to cap immigration 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, Jews accounted for 33% of the population of Palestine, up from 11% in 1922.

After 1945 the United Kingdom became embroiled in an increasingly violent conflict with the Jews. In 1947, the British government withdrew from commitment to the Mandate of Palestine, stating it was unable to arrive at a solution acceptable to both Arabs and Jews. The newly created United Nations approved the UN Partition Plan (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181) on November 29, 1947, dividing the country into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. Jerusalem was to be designated an international city — a corpus separatum — administered by the UN to avoid conflict over its status. The Jewish community accepted the plan, but the Arab League and Arab Higher Committee rejected it. On December 1, 1947 the Arab Higher Committee proclaimed a 3-day strike, and Arab bands began attacking Jewish targets. Civil war began with the Jews initially on the defensive but gradually moving into offence. The Palestinian-Arab economy collapsed and 250,000 Palestinian-Arabs fled or were expelled.

On May 14, 1948, the day before the end of the British Mandate, the Jewish Agency proclaimed independence, naming the country Israel. The following day five Arab countries — Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq — invaded Israel, launching the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Morocco, Sudan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia also sent troops to assist the invaders. 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 and East Jerusalem, and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations on May 11, 1949. During the conflict 711,000 Arabs, according to UN estimates, or about 80% of the previous Arab population, fled the country. The fate of the Palestinian refugees today is a major point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the early years of the state, the Labor Zionist movement led by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion dominated Israeli politics. These years were marked by mass immigration of Holocaust survivors and an influx of Jews persecuted in Arab lands. The population of Israel rose from 800,000 to two million between 1948 and 1958. Most 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 of Israel "doing business" with Germany.

During the 1950s, Israel was frequently attacked by Palestinian fedayeen, mainly from the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip. In 1956, Israel joined a secret alliance with The United Kingdom and France aimed at recapturing the Suez Canal, which the Egyptians had nationalized (see the Suez Crisis). Despite capturing the Sinai Peninsula, Israel was forced to retreat due to pressure from the United States and the Soviet Union in return for guarantees of Israeli shipping rights in the Red Sea and the Canal.

At the start of the following decade, Israel captured Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Final Solution hiding in Argentina, and brought him to trial. The trial had a major impact on public awareness of the Holocaust, and to date Eichmann remains the only person executed by Israel, although John Demjanjuk was sentenced to die before his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of Israel.

Arab countries over the years refused to regard Israel as having a right to exist, and Arab nationalists led by Nasser called for the destruction of the state. In 1967, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan massed troops close to Israeli borders, expelled UN peacekeepers and blocked Israel's access to the Red Sea. Israel saw these actions as a casus belli for a pre-emptive strike that launched the Six-Day War, Israel achieved a decisive victory in which it captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights. The 1949 Green Line became the administrative boundary between Israel and the occupied territories. Jerusalem's boundaries were enlarged, incorporating East Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Law, passed in 1980, reaffirmed this measure and reignited international controversy over the status of Jerusalem.

The failure of the Arab states in the 1967 war led to the rise of Arab non-state actors in the conflict, most importantly the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) which was committed to what it called "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 targets around the world, including a massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Israel responded with Operation Wrath of God, in which those responsible for the Munich massacre were tracked down and assassinated. From 1969 to 1970, Israel fought the War of Attrition against Egypt.

On October 6, 1973, Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a surprise attack against Israel. The war ended on October 26 with Israel successfully repelling Egyptian and Syrian forces but suffering great losses. An internal inquiry exonerated the government of responsibility for the war, but public anger forced Prime Minister Golda Meir to resign.

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 Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords and the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and agreed to enter negotiations over an autonomy for Palestinians across the Green Line, a plan which was never implemented. Begin's government encouraged Israelis to settle in the West Bank, leading to friction with the Palestinians in those areas.

On June 7, 1981, Israel heavily bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in Operation Opera, disabling it. Israeli intelligence had suspected Iraq was intending to use it for weapons development. In 1982, Israel intervened in the Lebanese Civil War to destroy the bases from which the Palestine Liberation Organization launched attacks and missiles at northern Israel. That move developed into the First Lebanon War. Israel withdrew from most of Lebanon in 1986, but maintained a borderland buffer zone until 2000. The First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule, broke out in 1987 with waves of violence occurring in the occupied territories. Over the following six years, more than a thousand people were killed in the ensuing violence, much of which was internal Palestinian violence. During the 1991 Gulf War, the PLO and many Palestinians supported Saddam Hussein and Iraqi missile attacks against Israel.

In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin became Prime Minister following an election in which his party promoted compromise with Israel's neighbors. The following year, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, on behalf of Israel and the PLO, signed the Oslo Accords, which gave the Palestinian National Authority the right to self-govern parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A declared intent was recognition of Israel's right to exist and 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 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, continuation of settlements, and checkpoints, and the deterioration of economic conditions. Israeli public support for the Accords waned as Israel was struck by Palestinian suicide attacks. While leaving a peace rally in November 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a far-right-wing Jew who opposed the Accords. The country was shocked.

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 July 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, the Second Intifada began.

Ariel Sharon became the new 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. In January 2006, after Ariel Sharon suffered a severe stroke which left him in a coma, the powers of office were transferred to Ehud Olmert.

In July 2006, a Hezbollah artillery assault on Israel's northern border communities and a cross border abduction of two Israeli soldiers sparked the Second Lebanon War. The clashes were brought to an end a month later by a ceasefire (United Nations Resolution 1701) brokered by the United Nations Security Council.

On November 27, 2007, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to negotiate on all issues and strive for an agreement by the end of 2008. On September 6, 2007, the Israeli Air Force launched Operation Orchard in Syria, bombing what it suspected to be a nuclear site. In April 2008, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad told a Qatari newspaper that Syria and Israel had been discussing a peace treaty for a year, with Turkey as a go-between. This was confirmed by Israel in May 2008.

In late December 2008, a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel collapsed after rockets were fired from the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip. Israel responded by launching Operation Cast Lead with a series of airstrikes. On 3 January 2009, Israeli Troops entered Gaza marking the start of a ground offensive. On Saturday, January 17, Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire, conditional on elimination of further rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, and began withdrawing over the next several days. Hamas later announced its own ceasefire, with its own conditions of complete withdrawal and opening of border crossings. A reduced level of mortar fire originating in Gaza continues, though Israel has so far not taken this as a breach of the ceasefire.

Israel is located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, bounded by Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan to the east, and Egypt to the southwest. 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. The total area under Israeli law, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, is 22,072 square kilometers (8,522 sq mi).

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 mountain ranges of the Galilee, Carmel, and the Golan in the north. The Israeli Coastal Plain on the shores of the Mediterranean is home to seventy 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 (4,040-mi) Great Rift Valley. 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 kilometers by 8 kilometers (25 mi 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; Mount Hermon's peak is covered with snow most of the year and 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 highest temperature in the continent of Asia (53.7 °C or 129 °F) was recorded in 1942 at Tirat Zvi kibbutz in the northern parts of the Jordan-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.

Israel operates under a parliamentary system as a democratic country with universal suffrage. The President of Israel is the head of state, but his duties are largely ceremonial. A Parliament Member supported by a majority in parliament becomes the Prime Minister, usually the chairman 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 in the Knesset is based on proportional representation of political parties, with a 2% electoral threshold, which commonly results in coalition governments. Parliamentary elections are scheduled every four years, but unstable coalitions or a no-confidence vote by the Knesset often dissolves governments earlier. "The average life span of an Israeli government is 22 months. The peace process, the role of religion in the state, and political scandals have caused coalitions to break apart or produced early elections." The Basic Laws of Israel function as an unwritten constitution. In 2003, the Knesset began to draft an official constitution based on these laws.

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 in Israel is the Supreme Court, seated 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 decisions of state authorities. Israel is not a member of the International Criminal Court as it fears the court would be biased against it due to political pressure. Israel's legal system combines 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.

Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty seeks to defend human rights and liberties in Israel. Israel is the only country in the region ranked "Free" by Freedom House based on the level of civil and political rights; the "Israeli Occupied Territories/Palestinian Authority" was ranked "Not Free." Similarly, Reporters Without Borders rated Israel 50th out of 168 countries in terms of freedom of the press and highest among Southwest Asian countries. Nevertheless, groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have often disapproved of Israel's human rights record in regards to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel's civil liberties also allow for self-criticism, from groups such as B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization.

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. Districts are further divided into fifteen sub-districts known as nafot (נפות; singular: nafa), which are themselves partitioned into fifty natural regions. For statistical purposes, the country is divided into three metropolitan areas: Tel Aviv and Gush Dan (population 3,150,000), Haifa (population 996,000), and Beersheba (population 531,600). Israel's largest city, both in population and area, is Jerusalem with 732,100 residents in an area of 126 square kilometers (49 sq mi). Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Rishon LeZion rank as Israel's next most populous cities, with populations of 384,600, 267,000, and 222,300 respectively.

In 1967, as a result of the Six-Day War, Israel gained control of the West Bank, 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.

Following Israel's capture of these territories, settlements consisting of Israeli citizens were established within each of them. Israel has applied civilian law to the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, incorporating them into its territory and offering their inhabitants Israeli citizenship. In contrast, the West Bank has remained under military occupation, and is widely seen — by Israel, the Palestinians, and the international community alike — as the site of a future Palestinian state. Most negotiations relating to the territories have been on the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which 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 1948, following the Arab rejection of the UN decision to create two states in Palestine. Only Britain recognized this annexation and Jordan has since renounced its claim to the territory. The West Bank was occupied by Israel in 1967. The population are mainly Arab 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, which opponents note is partially built within the West Bank.

The Gaza strip was occupied by Egypt from 1948-1967 and then by Israel from 1967-2005. In 2005, as part of Israel's unilateral disengagement plan, Israel removed all of its residents and forces from the territory. However, Israel still controls Gaza's airspace and sea access and has on occasion sent troops into the area.. Gaza has a border with Egypt and an agreement between Israel, the EU, the PA and Egypt governed how border crossing would take place (it was monitored by European observers), However there have been problems in implementing it resulting in the border crossing being closed much of the time. Inner control of Gaza is in the hands of the Hamas government.

Israel maintains diplomatic relations with 161 countries and has 94 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. Two other members of the Arab League, Morocco and Tunisia, which had some diplomatic relations with Israel, severed them at the start of the Second Intifada in 2000. Since 2003, ties with Morocco have been improved, and Israel's foreign minister has visited the country. Under Israeli law, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Yemen are enemy countries and Israeli citizens may not visit them without permission from the Ministry of the Interior. Since 1995, Israel has been a member of the Mediterranean Dialogue, which fosters cooperation between seven countries in the Mediterranean Basin and the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Foreign relations with United States, Turkey, Germany, the United Kingdom and India are among Israel's strongest. The United States was the first country to recognize the State of Israel, followed by the Soviet Union. The United States may regard Israel as its primary ally in the Middle East, based on "common democratic values, religious affinities, and security interests". Their bilateral relations are multidimensional and the United States is the principal proponent of the Arab-Israeli peace process. U.S. and Israeli views differ on some issues, such as the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, and settlements. 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 states to temper its relationship with Israel. Germany's strong ties with Israel include cooperation on scientific and educational endeavors and the two states remain strong economic and military partners. India established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992 and has fostered a strong military and cultural partnership with the country since then. The UK has kept full diplomatic relations with Israel since its formation having had two visits from heads of state in 2007. It also has a strong trade relationship, Israel being the 23rd largest market. 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 of Palestine. Iran had diplomatic relations with Israel under the Pahlavi dynasty but withdrew its recognition of Israel during the Iranian Revolution.

The Israel Defense Forces consists of the Israeli Army, Israeli Air Force and Israeli Sea Corps. It was founded during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War out of 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 involvement of the Israel Defense Forces in major wars and border conflicts has made it one of the most battle-trained armed forces in the world.

The majority of Israelis are drafted into the military at the age of eighteen. Men serve three years and women serve two years. Following compulsory service, Israeli men join the reserve forces and do 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 168,000 active troops and an additional 408,000 reservists.

The nation's military relies heavily on high-tech weapons systems designed and manufactured in Israel as well as some foreign imports. The United States is a particularly notable foreign contributor; they are expected to provide the country with $30 billion in military aid between 2008 and 2017. The Israeli- and U.S.-designed Arrow missile is one of the world's only operational anti-ballistic missile systems. 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. The country has also developed its own main battle tank, the Merkava. 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. Today, that figure has dropped to 7.3%.

Israel has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and maintains a policy of deliberate ambiguity toward its nuclear capabilities, though it is widely regarded as possessing nuclear weapons. After the Gulf War in 1991, when Israel was attacked by Iraqi Scud missiles, a law was passed requiring all apartments and homes in Israel to have a mamad, a reinforced security room impermeable to chemical and biological substances.

Israel is considered one of the most advanced countries in Southwest Asia in economic and industrial development. The country has been ranked highest in the region 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 2007, Israel had the 44th-highest gross domestic product and 22nd-highest gross domestic product per capita (at purchasing power parity) at US$232.7 billion and US$33,299, respectively. In 2007, Israel was invited to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which promotes cooperation between countries that adhere to democratic principles and operate free market economies.

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. Other major imports to Israel, totaling US$47.8 billion in 2006, include fossil fuels, raw materials, and military equipment. Leading exports include fruits, vegetables, pharmaceuticals, software, chemicals, military technology, and diamonds; in 2006, Israeli exports reached US$42.86 billion. 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. Intel and Microsoft built their first overseas research and development centers in Israel, and other high-tech multi-national corporations, such as IBM, Cisco Systems, and Motorola, have opened facilities in the country. In July 2007, U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway bought an Israeli company Iscar, its first non-U.S. acquisition, for $4 billion. Since the 1970s, Israel has received economic aid from the United States, whose loans account for the bulk of Israel's external debt. In 2007, the United States approved another 30 Billion dollars in aid to Israel over the next ten years.

Tourism, especially religious tourism, is another important industry in Israel, with the country's temperate climate, beaches, archaeological and historical 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.

Israel has the highest school life expectancy in Southwest Asia, and is tied with Japan for second-highest school life expectancy on the Asian continent (after South Korea). Israel similarly has the highest literacy rate in Southwest Asia, 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, Bible, Hebrew language, Hebrew and general literature, English, history, 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 in Islam, Christianity or Druze heritage. In 2003, over half of all Israeli twelfth graders earned a matriculation certificate.

Israel's eight public universities are subsidized by the state. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel's oldest university, houses the Jewish National and University Library, the world's largest repository of books on Jewish subjects. In 2006, the Hebrew University was ranked 60th and 119th in two surveys of the world's top universities. Other major universities in the country include the Technion, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel Aviv University, Bar-Ilan University, the University of Haifa, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Israel's seven research universities (excluding the Open University) have been ranked in the top 500 in the world. Israel ranks third in the world in the number of citizens who hold university degrees (20 percent of the population). During the 1990s, an influx of a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union (forty percent of whom were university graduates) helped boost Israel's high-tech sector. Israel has produced four Nobel Prize-winning scientists and publishes among the most scientific papers per capita of any country in the world. In 2003, Ilan Ramon became Israel's first astronaut, serving as payload specialist of STS-107, the fatal mission of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

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 the Ministry of National Infrastructures, the country saves an estimated 2 million barrels of oil a year because of its solar energy use. 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.

As of 2008, Israel's population is 7.28 million. Of those, over 260,000 Israeli citizens lived in the 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. 18,000 Israelis live in the Golan Heights. In 2006, 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 has two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic. Hebrew is the primary language of the state and spoken by the majority of the population. Arabic is spoken by the Arab minority and Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab lands. Most Israelis can communicate reasonably well in English, as many television programs are in English and many schools begin to teach English in the early grades. As a country of immigrants, dozens of languages can be heard on the streets of Israel. A large influx of people from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia have made Russian and Amharic widely spoken in Israel. Between 1990 and 1994, the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union increased Israel's population by twelve percent. Over the last decade, immigration flows have also included significant numbers of workers from countries such as Romania, Thailand, China, and a number of countries in Africa and South America; gauging precise numbers is difficult because of the presence of "undocumented" immigrants, but estimates run in the region of 200,000. 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.

Making up 16.2% of the population, Muslims constitute Israel's largest religious minority. About 2% of the population are Christian and 1.5% are Druze. Members of many other religious groups, including Buddhists and Hindus, maintain a presence in Israel, albeit in small numbers. The Christian population includes both Arab Christians and Messianic Jews.

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 Western Wall, the Temple Mount, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Other landmarks of religious importance are located in the West Bank, among them 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.

Israel's diverse culture stems from the diversity of the population: Jews from around the world have brought their cultural and religious traditions 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.

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 Arabic and English. By law, two copies of all printed matter published in Israel must be deposited in the Jewish National and University Library at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2001, the law was amended to include audio and video recordings, and other non-print media. In 2006, 85 percent of the 8,000 books transferred to the library were in Hebrew. The Hebrew Book Week (He: שבוע הספר) 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.

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

Continuing the strong theatrical traditions of the Yiddish theater 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.

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, houses the world's largest 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.

Sports and physical fitness have not always been paramount in Jewish culture. Athletic prowess, which was prized by the ancient Greeks, was looked down upon as an unwelcome intrusion of Hellenistic values. Maimonides, who was both a rabbi and a physician, emphasized the importance of physical activity and keeping the body in shape. This approach received a boost in the 19th century from the physical culture campaign of Max Nordau, and in the early 20th century when the Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Abraham Isaac Kook, declared that "the body serves the soul, and only a healthy body can ensure a healthy soul".

The Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style event for Jewish athletes, was inaugurated in the 1930s, and has been held every four years since then. The most popular spectator sports in Israel today are association football and basketball. In 1964 Israel hosted and won the Asian Nations Cup.

In the Seventies Israel was excluded from the 1978 Asian Games following the organizers' refusal to invite the country as a result of pressure by participating middle eastern countries. The exclusion led Israel to shift from Asia to Europe and cease competing in Asian competitions. In 1994, UEFA agreed to admit Israel and all Israeli sporting organizations now compete in Europe. Ligat ha'Al is the country's premier soccer league, and Ligat HaAl is the premier basketball league. Maccabi Tel Aviv B.C. has won the European championship in basketball five times.

Beersheba has become a national chess center and home to many chess champions from the former Soviet Union. The city hosted the World Team Chess Championship in 2005, and chess is taught in the city's kindergartens. In 2007, an Israeli tied for second place in the World Chess Championship.

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.

For dependent and other territories, see Dependent territory.

1 Partly or significantly in Europe.  2 The Republic of China (Taiwan) is not officially recognized by the United Nations; see Political status of Taiwan. 3 Partly or significantly in Africa.  4 Partly or wholly reckoned in Oceania.

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