Map Courtesy CIA World Factbook
The State of Israel is a country in the Middle East on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. A parliamentary democracy, it is the world's only Jewish state. Israel was the birthplace of Judaism in the 17th century BCE and of Christianity at the beginning of the 1st century CE. Israel is one of the Biblical names of Jacob. The population of Israel is predominantly Jewish with a large non-Jewish minority, mostly comprising Muslim, Christian, and Druze Arabs. The territory controlled by Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, borders the states of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt (listed clockwise from north to south). Israel shares the coastlines of the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aqaba (also known as Gulf of Eilat), and the Dead Sea.
For over 3,000 years , the Land of Israel has been the homeland to the Jews , both as a Holy Land and as a Promised Land. As a result, the Land of Israel holds a special place in Jewish religious obligations and Judaism's most important sites, including the remains of the Second Temple. The importance of the Land of Israel is not limited to Judaism, it is also the place where Christianity was born, and contains many locations of great spiritual significance in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Starting around 1200 BCE, a series of Jewish kingdoms and states existed intermittently in the region for over a millennium until the failure of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire resulted in widescale expulsion of Jews from the Land of Israel. After crushing Bar Kokhba's revolt in 135, Emperor Hadrian renamed Provincia Judaea to Provincia Syria Palaestina, a Greek name derived from Philistine.
The Muslim Caliphate conquered the land from the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantines) in 638 CE and attracted Arab settlers. After a brief period of prosperity under the Umayyad Caliphate, the territory was subject to waves of invasions and changes of control, including rule by the Seljuks,
Fatimids, and European Crusaders, before becoming part of the Ottoman Empire from 1517 until 1918. Throughout the centuries the size of Jewish population in the land fluctuated. In the early 19th century, about 10,000 Jews lived in the area that is today's Israel alongside several hundred thousand Arabs. Towards the end of the century the number of Jews increased, though they were still a small minority.
In 1937, following the Great Arab Revolt, the partition plan proposed by the Peel Commission was rejected by the Palestinian Arab leadership, but accepted tentatively by Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion. As a result, in 1939, the British gave in to Arab pressure because of support needed for World War II, abandoned the idea of a Jewish national homeland, and abandoned partition and negotiations in favour of the unilaterally-imposed White Paper of 1939, which capped Jewish immigration, and subjected it to review under further agreement with the Arabs. Its other stated policy was to establish a system under which both Jews and Arabs were to share one government.
In 1947, following increasing levels of violence by militant groups, alongside unsuccessful efforts to reconcile the Jewish and Arab populations, the British government decided to withdraw from the Palestine Mandate. Fulfillment of the 1947 UN Partition Plan would have divided the mandated territory into two states, Jewish and Arab, giving about half the land area to each state. Under this plan, Jerusalem was intended to be an international region under UN administration to avoid conflict over its status. Immediately following the adoption of the Partition Plan by the United Nations General Assembly, the Palestinian Arab leadership rejected the plan to create the as-yet-unnamed Jewish state and launched a guerilla war. Over the next 15 months Israel captured an additional 26% of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan river and annexed it to the new state. Jordan captured about 21% of the Mandate territory (which became known as the West Bank). Jerusalem was divided into a western part annexed by Israel and an eastern part annexed by Jordan. Jordan's annexation of those territories in 1950 was recognized only by the United Kingdom and Pakistan, while Israel's annexation of part of Jerusalem became a matter of contention. The Gaza Strip was captured by Egypt and came under its control, but Egypt did not annex it.
After the war, 14-25% (depending on the estimate) of the Arab population remained in Israel; the rest fled or were expelled during the war. The continuing conflict between Israel and the Arab world resulted in a lasting displacement that persists to this day. Immigration of Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab lands doubled Israel's population within one year of independence. Over the following decade approximately 600,000 Mizrahi Jews, who fled or were expelled from surrounding Arab countries, came to Israel, along with Jews from Iran and Europe. Israel's Jewish population continued to grow at a very high rate for some years, fed by further waves of Jewish immigration, most notably recently following the collapse of the USSR.
On May 23rd, 1967, Egypt again cut off the Straits of Tiran (Israel's main shipping route to Asia and other major places of trade) to Israeli shipping, and also blockaded the port of Eilat. Egypt ordered United Nations peacekeeping forces to leave the Sinai, and in their place, Egyptian tanks and troops were concentrated on the border with Israel. In accordance with international law (United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, (Geneva: UN Publications 1958, pp. 132-134.), Israel considered the blockade of its port a casus belli, and launched an attack on Egypt, especially the Egyptian Air Force. Hostilities came to include Jordan (after Jordan reluctantly chose to dismiss Israeli appeals for neutrality and undertook shelling of Tel Aviv in adherence to its defense treaty with Egypt), Syria, and the Iraqi Air Force. This was the Six-Day War (June 5 - 10, 1967), during which Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. In 1978 Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt under the Camp David Accords, and in 1981 Israel annexed East Jerusalem. The status of the West Bank and Gaza, populated mostly by Palestinians with some Israeli settlers, is also undecided and has been the focus of several unsuccessful peace conferences.
In the years since 1948, Israel and the United Nations have often suffered an adversarial relationship. The UN General Assembly passed the non-binding Resolution 194 in December 1948, granting a conditional "right of return" to Palestinian refugees - however, the resolution only refers to "refugees", arguably implying that it was intended for both Arab and Jewish refugee populations. UN Security Council Resolution 242 (November 1967), calls for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" (Six-Day war); and UN Security Council Resolution 446 (March 1979), declared settlements on the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights to be illegal. While most of the 65 Security Council and General Assembly resolutions passed against Israeli actions (and the 41 Security Council resolutions vetoed by the United States) have had near universal support in the UN (often with the United States and Israel alone among the dissenting), supporters of Israel claim that the resolutions often misconstrue International Law, that their supporters selectively apply them, and that the assemblies themselves are biased.
Israel is the only state that is barred from joining any of the five geographical groupings that would make it eligible for Security Council membership according to accepted practice. It has indefinite temporary membership of the "Western Europe and Others" group but agreed to not seek UNSC membership on that basis. More than half of the UN's emergency meetings have been to respond to the regional crisis.
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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Israel".