Israel is a small, narrow, semi-arid country on the
southeastern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. It entered history some
35 centuries ago when the Jewish people forsook its nomadic way of
life, settled in the Land and became a nation.
Israel is located in the Middle East, along the eastern coastline of
the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. It
lies at the junction of three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa.
Click on map to enlarge
Map of Israel - © Carta, Jerusalem 2006
Long and narrow in shape, the country is about 290 miles (470 km.) in
length and 85 miles (135 km.) in width at its widest point.
Although small in size, Israel encompasses the varied topographical
features of an entire continent, ranging from forested highlands and
fertile green valleys to mountainous deserts, and from the coastal plain
to the semitropical Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, the lowest point on
earth. Approximately half of the country’s land area is semi-arid.
Israel's climate is characterized by much sunshine, with a rainy
season from November to April. Total annual precipitation ranges from
20-30 inches (50-70 cm.) in the north to about an inch (2.5 cm.) in the
far south. Regional climatic conditions vary considerably: hot, humid
summers and mild, wet winters on the coastal plain; dry, warm summers
and moderately cold winters, with rain and occasional light snow, in the
hill regions; hot, dry summers and pleasant winters in the Jordan
Valley; and semi-arid conditions, with warm to hot days and cool nights,
in the south.
Flora and Fauna
The rich variety of Israel’s plant and animal life reflects its
geographical location as well as its varied topography and climate. Over
500 kinds of birds, some 200 mammal and reptile species, and 2,600
plant types (150 of which are endemic to Israel) are found within its
borders. Over 150 nature reserves and 65 national parks, encompassing
nearly 400 square miles (almost 1,000 sq. km.) have been established
throughout the country.
The scarcity of water in the region has generated intense efforts to
maximize use of the available supply and to seek new resources. In the
1960s, Israel’s freshwater sources were joined in an integrated grid
whose main artery, the National Water Carrier, brings water from the
north and center to the semi-arid south. Ongoing projects for utilizing
new sources include cloud seeding, recycling of sewage water and the
desalination of seawater.
Israel is a country of immigrants. Since its inception in 1948,
Israel's population has grown almost ten-fold. Its 7.8 million
inhabitants comprise a mosaic of people with varied ethnic backgrounds,
lifestyles, religions, cultures and traditions. Today Jews comprise some
75.4% of the country’s population, while the country's non-Jewish
citizens, mostly Arabs (20.5%), number about 24.6%.
About 90% of Israel’s inhabitants live in some 200 urban centers,
some of which are located on ancient historical sites. About 5% are
members of unique rural cooperative settlements - the kibbutz and the
Jerusalem, Israel's capital (population 788,100), has stood
at the center of the Jewish people’s national and spiritual life since
King David made it the capital of his kingdom some 3000 years ago. Today
it is a flourishing, vibrant metropolis, the seat of the government and
Israel’s largest city.
Tel Aviv-Yafo (population 404,300), which was founded in
1909 as the first Jewish city in modern times, is today the center of
the country’s industrial, commercial, financial and cultural life.
Haifa (population 268,200), a known coastal town since
ancient times, is a major Mediterranean port and the industrial and
commercial center of northern Israel.
Be'er Sheva (population 195,400), named in the Bible as an
encampment of the patriarchs, is today the largest urban center in the
south. It provides administrative, economic, health, education and
cultural services for the entire southern region.
System of Government
Israel is a parliamentary democracy with legislative, executive and
judicial branches. The head of the state is the president, whose duties
are mostly ceremonial and formal; the office symbolizes the unity and
sovereignty of the state. The Knesset, Israel's legislative authority,
is a 120-member unicameral parliament which operates in plenary session
and through 12 standing committees.
Its members are elected every four years in universal nationwide
elections. The government (cabinet of ministers) is charged with
administering internal and foreign affairs. It is headed by a prime
minister and is collectively responsible to the Knesset.
Education and Science
School attendance is mandatory from age five, and free through age
18. Almost all three- and four-year-olds attend some kind of preschool
Israel's institutions of higher education include universities,
offering a wide range of subjects in science and humanities, and serving
as research institutions of worldwide repute, colleges offering
academic courses and vocational schools. The country’s high level of
scientific research and development and the application of R&D
compensate for the country’s lack of natural resources.
The National Health Insurance Law,
in effect from January 1995, provides for a standardized basket of
medical services, including hospitalization, for all residents of
Israel. All medical services continue to be supplied by the country’s
four health care organizations.
Life expectancy is 83.4 years for women and 79.7 years for men; the
infant mortality rate is 4.0 per 1,000 live births. The ratio of
physicians to population and the number of specialists compare favorably
with those in most developed countries.
The social service system is based on legislation which provides for
workers’ protection and a broad range of national and community
services, including care of the elderly, assistance for single parents,
programs for children and youth, adoption agencies, as well as
prevention and treatment of alcoholism and drug abuse.
The National Insurance Institute
provides all permanent residents (including non-citizens) with a broad
range of benefits, including unemployment insurance, old-age pensions,
survivors’ benefits, maternity grants and allowances, child allowances,
income support payments and more.
(Central Bureau of Statistics 2011)
($28,500 per capita)
|Exports, goods and services
|Imports, goods and services
Israel's industry concentrates on manufacturing products with a high
added value that are primarily based on technological innovation. These
include medical electronics, agrotechnology, telecommunications,
computer hardware and software, solar energy, food processing and fine
Israel's agricultural successes
are the result of a long struggle against harsh, adverse conditions and
of making maximum use of scarce water and arable land. Today,
agriculture represents some 2.4% of GNP and 2% of exports. Israel
produces 93% of its own food requirements, supplemented by imports of
grain, oil seeds, meat, coffee, cocoa and sugar, which are more than
offset by the wide range of agricultural products for export.
Thousands of years of history, the ingathering of the Jews from over
70 countries, a society of multi-ethnic communities living side by side,
and an unending flow of international input via satellite and cable
have contributed to the development of an Israeli culture which reflects
worldwide elements while striving for an identity of its own. Cultural
expression through the arts is as varied as the people themselves, with
literature, theater, concerts, radio and television programming,
entertainment, museums and galleries for every interest and taste.
The official languages of the country are Hebrew and Arabic, but in
the country’s streets many other languages can be heard. Hebrew, the
language of the Bible, long restricted to liturgy and literature, was
revived a century ago, accompanying the renewal of Jewish life in the