Israel is a country in West Asia. It is located on the southeastern coast of the Mediterranean, neighbored by Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, and Egypt to the south. The West Bank and Gaza are located to the east and southeast respectively.
Israel calls itself the Jewish State, and around four out of every five citizens are Jewish. It is the only country in the world with a Jewish majority.
The State of Israel came in to existence on May 14, 1948, in a region that had been controlled by the British for almost three decades. A year-and-a-half before Israel declared independence the United Nations voted, in principle, to divide the land that was then known as Palestine in to two: a Jewish state and an Islamic state.
The ancient-modern connection in Israeli identity
The Jewish connection to the modern State of Israel is underpinned by a long-running fondness for the “Holy Land” where it is located. The land has maintained a special place in the hearts of the Jewish People ever since, despite long periods when few Jews lived there.
The thinkers who popularized the idea of a modern Jewish State in the late 1900s emphasized the connection between the Jewish past and present. One of the most influential, Theodor Herzl, wrote a novel sharing a vision of what he hoped the Jewish State may look like, and called his book “The Old-New Land.”
Israel: economy and population
The country’s economic center is Tel Aviv. Ethnically, Israel is very varied. There are Jewish people from many different backgrounds, as well as a sizeable as a non-Jewish population that includes Muslims, Christians and Druze.
The Jewish citizens mostly speak Hebrew as a first language, while the mother tongue of others tends to be Arabic. Within the Jewish population, there are families that trace their heritage to Russia and Europe, often known as Ashkenazim; and families who moved in the past few generations from the Muslim world, often known as Mizrahim. There are other smaller groups, including Ethiopian and Indian Jews.
Israel has the 31st largest economy in the world according to nominal GDP. It has the 12th highest life expectancy globally — and the highest in the Middle East. According to the 2018 United Nations World Happiness Report, Israel ranks number five in the world for healthy longevity and 11th in the world for overall happiness.
Israel is a democracy, where every adult citizen has the right to vote in elections for the parliament. Unlike in India, the US, the UK and many other countries, in Israel the entire state is considered one electoral district, and seats in parliament are allocated based on each faction’s share of the national vote. The parliament — the 120-seat Knesset — consists of one chamber.
The Prime Minister leads the government. There is a President, who is chosen by parliamentarians for a largely-ceremonial role.
Geography and Climate
Israel is small — just 470 km north-to-south and 85 miles east-to-west at its widest point. But despite this, it has a lot of geographical diversity. The climate and appearance of the Negev desert is radically different to that of the hill regions of northern and central Israel or the Great Rift Valley. There is a total of 2,867 species of plants, and some 380 nature reserves in Israel.
The Mediterranean coast is home to 57% of the country’s population — and the hub of Israel’s famous high-tech scene.
The Jordan River, described in the Bible as “well-watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord,” is important in Judaism and Christianity, and the area near its banks is burial place of many of the venerable companions to the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
The river flows from Mount Hermon to the Dead Sea, which is the lowest spot on Earth — a unique body of water where people float, due to its very salty composition.
Temperatures vary greatly in Israel. This gap widens in the winter. Mountainous areas are more prone to cold and winds, but coastal cities such as Tel Aviv and Haifa have mild climates. The city of Beersheba, and the surrounding areas in the the Negev desert, is semi-arid with little rainfall.
Between May and September there is hardly any precipitation nationally, which creates hardship in terms of water supply, but has also spurred innovation. Due to limited water resources, Israel has been spurred to develop lots of water-saving tech.