A parliamentary democracy and an explicitly Jewish state, Israel is a Middle Eastern nation covering an area of approximately 8,019 square miles. It is bordered to the west by the Mediterranean Sea; to the north by Lebanon; to the east by Jordan; and to the southwest by Egypt. Its population consists of some 7.3 million inhabitants -- including 5.415 million Jews (76 percent) and 1.425 million Arabs (20 percent). The remaining 4 percent are classified as “others,” mostly non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, or people whose Jewish status has not yet been verified by the Interior Ministry. The literacy rate in Israel is 95 percent, and the per capita Gross Domestic Product is $22,200.
The word “Israel” means “he who has wrestled with God” and refers to the prophet Jacob‘s famous wrestling match with the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. Modern-day Israel came into existence through a circuitous course. In the 1920s the British and French, in one of their final acts as victors in World War I, created the states -- Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq -- that now define the Middle East out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire of their defeated Turkish adversary.
The British had promised the stateless Jewish Zionists that they could establish a “national home” in the large portion of what remained of the area, which was known as the Palestine Mandate. In 1921 the British separated 80 percent of the Mandate, east of the Jordan River, and created the Arab kingdom of “Transjordan” for the Arabian monarch King Abdullah (whose tribe was Hashemite, while the vast majority of his new subjects were Palestinian Arabs). What was left of the original Palestine Mandate -- between the west bank of the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea -- had been settled by Arabs and Jews. Jews had lived in the area continuously for 3,700 years, even after the Romans destroyed their state in Judea in AD 70. Arabs, largely nomadic, became the dominant local population for the first time in the 7th Century AD as a result of the Muslim invasions.
In 1948, at the request of the Jews who were living in the Palestine Mandate, the United Nations voted to partition the remaining 20 percent of the original Mandate to make a Jewish homeland possible. Under the partition plan, the Arabs were given the area today known as the West Bank. The Jews were allotted three slivers of disconnected land along the Mediterranean Sea and the Sinai desert. They were also given access to their holy city of Jerusalem, but as an island cut off from the slivers, surrounded by Arab land and under international control. Sixty percent of the land allotted to the Jews was the Negev desert.
At the moment of Israel’s birth, Palestinian Arabs lived on roughly 90 percent of the original Palestine Mandate -- in Transjordan (now Jordan) and in the UN partition area. In the new state of Israel itself, 800,000 Arabs lived alongside 1.2 million Jews.
The RESOURCES column located on the right side of this page contains links to articles, essays, books, and videos that explore such topics as:
- how Israel came into existence, and why it is a legitimate state, contrary to the claims of much of the Arab world and the Arab lobby.
- the nature of the Zionist movement, begun in the 19th century, for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland;
- the origins and history of the ongoing conflicts and wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors, many of whom remain formally at war with the Jewish state;
- the causes of, and the continuing significance of, the Arab-Israeli "Six Day War" in 1967;
- the text and meaning of U.N. Resolution 242, drafted by the United Nations Security Council to guide the actions of both the Arabs and Israelis in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, and which has been invoked as the centerpiece of negotiation efforts in virtually all Mideast peace initiatives ever since;
- the results of Israel's 2005 decision to dismantle its settlements in Gaza and to relocate all Israelis who had been living in that region -- in hopes of fostering a peaceful coexistence with Palestinians;
- the causes, events, and legacy of the 2006 conflict between Israel and its Hamas and Hezbollah adversaries, in Gaza and Lebanon;
- the causes, events, and legacy of Operation Cast Lead, the Israel-Gaza War of 2008-2009;
- the Goldstone Report, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, which accused Israel of having committed “war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity” during Operation Cast Lead;
- the notion -- put forth by critics of Israel -- that Israel should restrict the severity of its military response to attacks by terrorist entities;
- how the international media demonize Israel and condemn its efforts to scale back the threat it faces from Arab terrorism;
- the reasons why a majority of the world's political leaders, NGOs, and populations at large tend to judge Israel with unique severity, compared to their judgments of the Palestinians;
- the many peace initiatives that have been proposed in hopes of bringing the Arab-Israeli conflict to an end.
- the fact that, contrary to Arab propaganda portraying Israel as a "Nazi state," Palestinians who reside in Israel enjoy more freedom, education, economic opportunity, and civil-rights protections than comparable Arab populations anywhere in the Arab world;
- the origins and history of the Palestinian people and the land called Palestine;
- the predominant values and worldviews of the Palestinian people;
- the amount, and the effects, of international foreign aid to the Palestinians;
- how the Palestinians' current economic hardships are chiefly the result of their own corrupt leadership and their commitment to terrorism to solve disputes with Israel;
- the Communist roots of Palestinian terrorism;
- the Nazi roots of Palestinian nationalism;
- how the policies of the Obama administration have compromised Israel's naional security;
- and the importance and implications of U.S. aid to Israel