Area: 8,109 sq. miles
Religion: Jewish 80%, Muslim 16%, Christian 2%, other 2%
Language: Hebrew and Arabic
The creation of Israel in 1948 was motivated by the idea of Zionism—a belief that Jews throughout the world should return to their biblical homeland.
From 1948 to 1996 over 2.5 million Jews moved to Israel. The majority of these immigrants came from three areas. The first group was Jews from central Europe (particularly Poland and Romania) who had evaded the Nazis and their fascist allies. The second group was Jews fleeing persecution in Arab lands, most notably Morocco and Iraqi. The final group was made up of Jews from the ex-Soviet Union. This last group was so large that it came to form its own subculture within Israel.
The land on which these Jewish immigrants settled was taken from the Palestinians who were forced to relocate to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israeli Jews and Palestinians Arabs have fought one another over land and religion ever since.
(Despite decades of hostility between Jews and Palestinians, they are both considered Semitic people whose ancestors shared a common language and lived in close proximity to each other.)
One of the greatest points of conflict for Jews and Palestinians is the city of Jerusalem. Jews, Muslims, and Christians all consider Jerusalem to be sacred. For Jews it is capital of ancient Israel and the site of Herod’s Temple. Muslims believe that Mohammed ascended to heaven from the Dome of the Rock which is also located in Jerusalem. Finally, Christians believe that Jesus was crucified and resurrected in the city. Both Jews and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital, though neither claim is internationally recognized.
Since its formation, Israel has been the target of constant foreign attacks. Consequently, it has developed one of the world’s most formidable militaries. Israel is, in some ways, a present-day Sparta—a nation of soldiers. Each young man must serve at least 3 years in the Israeli military. For women, the military requires is at least two years of service.
Israel’s economy is also far more advanced than any other in the region. About half of all the country’s produce comes from large communal farms known as “Kibbutz.” And Israel’s diamond industry accounts for nearly a quarter of all exports.