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Understand in Israel

Posted by in on 6-10-13

History

While the current State of Israel is a relatively new country founded in 1948, the Land of Israel has a long and often very complex history stretching back thousands of years to the very beginnings of human civilization. It has been invaded by virtually every Old World empire including the Persians, Romans, Ottomans and British. (Even the Mongols once raided cities on what is now Israeli soil.) It is also the birthplace of both Judaism and Christianity. Jerusalem is also a sacred city for Muslims.

Israel has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, with Neanderthal remains from the region dating back 50,000 years. Its strategic location serving as the gateway from Asia to Egypt and Africa had made Israel an ideal target for conquerors through the ages. The first nation to have influence was the great Egyptian civilization. Approximately 1000 B.C, an independent Judean Kingdom was set up under King Saul. The land lay to the south of Phoenicia. After intermittent civil war, the land was conquered by the Assyrians and Persians and in c. 330 BC by Alexander the Great. A newly independent Jewish state, ruled by the Maccabees, was conquered in 63 BC by the Romans. Around 30 CE, Jesus of Nazareth began his ministry in the Galilee.

Following a Jewish revolt against the Romans in 70 CE, the Israelites were expelled from Jerusalem by the Romans, creating a substantial Jewish diaspora throughout the world. However, many Israelites did remain in the Land of Israel outside Jerusalem for a few centuries, although persecution gradually eroded at whatever Israelites population was left in their homeland. The area was captured by Muslim invaders in the 7th Century. In the middle ages, European Christians invaded in a period known as the Crusades and established a small kingdom, but after a few centuries were expelled. The land was then ruled for many years by different Muslim empires, culminating in the Ottoman Empire.

During WWI, Palestine, as it was known, was captured by the British. In order to gain support of the Arabs who were siding with the rising Nazis, the British designated the eastern two-thirds of Palestine as the country of Transjordan in the 1920′s (now known as Jordan). The British agreed to support the idea of European Jews returning to their ancestral homeland in the remaining third of Palestine. During the 1920s and 1930s there was mass migration of Jews into Palestine, many of them European Jews fleeing from anti-Semitic riots (caused by political movements in Germany) which would eventually lead to the Holocaust. By 1939 the population of Palestine was one-third Jewish (by comparison, in 1917 the population was only 10% Jewish), but after the end of WWII in 1945, the British did not allow any further Jewish immigration into Palestine.

The Jewish nationalist movement was strengthened significantly because of the events of World War II. Many major powers, including the Americans, endorsed Jewish independence in Palestine as the only way to ensure the survival of the Jewish people. The British were more hesitant, however, as they worried about a possible Arab revolt. The Jewish nationalists, emboldened by support from the Americans and the French, grew impatient with the British delay in granting independence and started several armed uprisings of their own against British rule.

After two years of growing violence, in the fall of 1947 the British decided to withdraw their troops from the remaining western third of Palestine. The UN recommended that the territory of Palestine be partitioned into two states: A Jewish state, and an Arab state. The Jews accepted the plan, but the Arabs firmly rejected it. Nonetheless, half a year later, on 14 May 1948, the British withdrew and the Jewish nationalists immediately declared independence as the State of Israel. The Arabs responded with a military invasion of the nascent State of Israel, and thus no Arab State in western Palestine was ever established. The Israelis won a decisive victory in their War of Independence. Over the course of the war, approximately 600,000 Arabs in Palestine fled from the territory of the newly proclaimed Jewish state. To this day, it is hotly debated whether Israel forcibly expelled these people or they moved out on their own, but probably both occurred.

Following the establishment of Israel in May 1948, there was a surge of immigration of refugees survivors of the European Holocaust which had not been allowed to enter Palestine under the British Mandate government. At the same time the surrounding Muslim countries expelled most of their Jewish populations, and Israel experienced a further surge of immigration of these Sephardic Jews from countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. To this day a large proportion of modern Israelis are the offspring of these refugees from those Arab countries. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 there was a further large wave of immigration of Jews from former Soviet countries and Russian has now became a common language heard in Israel.

After the establishment of Israel in 1948, further fighting continued over the next few decades, and the Israelis won another decisive victory against the Arabs in the June 1967 Six-Day War. Following this victory and again in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, a slow movement towards peace and reconciliation began. In 1979, peace was concluded between Israel and Egypt, and in 1994, a peace treaty was signed with Jordan. Both agreements have held to this day. Attempts to create similar treaties with Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian-Arabs have failed, and in 2000 violence resurfaced when Palestinian-Arabs launched a violent insurrection against Israel, the so-called “intifada”. This has tapered off. There have been occasional flare-ups over the past decade of missile attacks into southern Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip (from which Israel withdrew totally in 2005) or into northern Israel from Hizbollah-controlled southern Lebanon, but for the most part the vast majority of the country enjoys a quiet peace.

Economy
Azrieli Center, Tel Aviv

Israel has a technologically advanced market economy with substantial government participation. It depends on imports of crude oil, grains, raw materials and military equipment. Despite limited natural resources, Israel has intensively developed its agricultural and industrial sectors over the past 30 years. This may change in light of recent discoveries of huge natural gas and some oil finds off Israel’s shores, which will reduce imports and increase government revenues. Israel is largely self-sufficient in food production except for grains. Cut diamonds, high-technology equipment, chemicals and chemical products, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, rubber, plastics, and textiles and services in various fields are the leading exports. For many years Israel posted sizable current account deficits, which were covered by large transfer payments from abroad and by foreign loans. However, the tight fiscal policy of recent years and the high growth rates have led Israel to a budget surplus in 2006. Roughly half of the government’s foreign debt is owed to the US, which is its major source of economic and military aid. The influx of Jewish immigrants from the former USSR during the period 1989-99 coupled with the opening of new markets at the end of the Cold War, energized Israel’s economy, which grew rapidly in the early 1990s. But growth began moderating in 1996 when the government imposed tighter fiscal and monetary policies and the immigration bonus petered out. Growth was a strong 6.4% in 2000. But the bitter Israeli-Palestinian conflict, increasingly the declines in the high-technology and tourist sectors, and fiscal austerity measures in the face of growing inflation have led to declines in GDP in 2001 and 2002. However, in 2007 the economic growth was 5.3% and the inflation was only 0.4%. In the first six months of 2008 tourism has grown with 45%. In 2011 Israel had one of the best performing economies in the OECD with low unemployment, relatively high growth rate, increased tourism and stable fiscal and monetary policies.

People

The most obvious division in Israel’s society is between Jews – who make up 75% of the population in Israel proper and 15%-40% in areas captured by Israel during the Six-Day War (West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan) – and non-Jews (mostly Israeli-Arabs), who make up nearly all of the rest. As well, some 350,000 people who emigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union are not considered Jews according to halacha (Jewish law), though they largely identify with the Israeli mainstream. In terms of religious backgrounds, 77% are Jewish, 16% are Muslim, 4% are Christian Arabs and 2% are Druze (a Muslim offshoot considered heretical by mainstream Islam).

There are also deep divisions within Jewish society. First is the cultural division between the ‘Ashkenazim’, who lived in Europe for nearly 2000 years and are generally considered wealthier and politically better connected, and the ‘Sephardim’ and ‘Mizrahim’, who immigrated from the Middle East, Yemen and North Africa (Sephardi and Mizrahi immigrants from Europe tend to match the socio-economic profile of Ashkenazim.) In recent years, the divide between these ethnic groups has, however, grown much less acute and intermarriage has become common.

While ethnic divisions have weakened as the native-born population has increased, religious tensions between ‘secular’ and ‘Orthodox’ Jews have increased. The spectrum ranges from the stringently-orthodox ‘haredim’, only 15% (2008 est.) of the population but able to wield a disproportionate amount of power thanks to Israel’s fractious coalition politics, to 50% who are ‘modern orthodox’ and finally 45% who consider themselves secular, although still adhere to some traditions. While secular Jews are widespread throughout all of Israel, orthodox Jews tend to concentrate mostly in certain cities such as Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.

Holidays
Shrine of the Báb is the second holiest site to the Bahai Faith, located in the northern city of Haifa

Israel is a Jewish state, and as such, public Holidays follow the Jewish calendar dates vary from year to year. Different levels of activity stop in Israel depending on the festival or holiday, and different areas will see different levels of activity on these days. In the Jewish tradition, a new day begins at sunset, which means that Jewish holidays begin in the evening hours the day before the official date. In general, Israel is a secular country, so most festivals won’t see big changes in the levels of tourist activity.

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year): Government offices and most businesses will be closed. This holiday is two days long, and usually falls in September.
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement): Government offices and almost all businesses will be closed. A majority of Jews, regardless of religious level celebrate this holiday, as it is the most important on the Jewish calendar. Travel will be extremely difficult. Yom Kippur usually falls between mid September and mid October.
Succot (Feast of Booths): Government offices and most businesses will be closed for the first day of this six day holiday. Many neighborhoods will feature temporary huts, where religious people live for six days. Succot usually falls in Late September or October.
Chanukah (Festival of Lights): Work continues as usual during this eight day holiday falling between late Novermber and late December. Be sure to sample the holiday food. Chanukah falls between late November and late December.
Purim: Businesses operate as usual; however, Purim is one big party. Do not be surprised to see people, even children, drinking, singing, and dancing. Many people wear costumes. Purim falls from late February to late March.
Pesach (Passover): Government offices and most businesses will be closed for the first and last days of this seven day holiday. For the remaining five, government offices and most businesses will work a half day. Most restaurants will serve an alternative menu to comply to dietary restrictions. Passover falls in spring.
Holocaust Rememberance Day: Government offices and businesses will be open, except for entertainment. There will be many memorial services happening around the country. An air raid siren will sound at 10am, when the entire country will stop and stand for a minute of silence, even if they are driving on the highway. Please be aware of this if you are on the road. Holocaust Rememberance Day falls in late spring.
Memorial Day: Government offices and businesses will be open, except for entertainment. There will be memorial services happening around the country, especially near cemeteries. An air raid siren will sound at 20:00 (the night before), and again at 11am, when the entire country will stop and stand for a minute of silence, even if they are driving on the highway. Please be aware of this if you are on the road. Memorial day falls in late spring.
Independence Day: Government office and businesses will be open. Parties will be happening all over the country. Independence day falls in early summer.
Shavuot (Feast of Weeks): Government offices and most businesses will be closed. Shavuot falls in late spring.
Tisha B’Av (Fast of the Ninth of Av): Government offices and most businesses will be open, except for entertainment. Tisha B’Av falls in late summer.

Electricity

The voltage in Israel is 220V, and the frequency is 50 Hz. The electric outlets used are type H and Type C. Type H is a uniquely Israeli three-pronged standard, but most modern type H outlets (rounded) can also accept type C European two-pronged plugs while Type C outlet is available only in old housing. In fact, most electronic devices in Israel use type C plugs. Electricity is supplied by the Israel Electric Corporation. The special phone number 103 can be used to reach the customer service center.

Climate

Spring: One of the more beautiful times to visit Israel, as the country will be in full bloom from the winter rains. Hiking, especially in the north, is encouraged. Humidity can reach uncomfortable levels in the Tel-Aviv area in the day time, but evening temperatures are moderate.

Summer: Temperatures in the summer can reach uncomfortable levels. Activities such as hiking, especially at Masada, should be done early in the morning in order to avoid heat stroke and dehydration. That being said, the country offers incredible beach weather in the Tel-Aviv area, as rain is extremely rare. In the north, conditions will be hot and humid.

Autumn: While the landscape will be in desperate need of water, autumn provides similar temperatures to spring. The rainy season will begin around early October, and will continue through the season.

Winter: Rain will be plentiful in the winter, and there can even be snow at higher altitudes, especially in the north. Temperatures will vary widely, especially in the south. Day temperatures could provide enough warmth to take a visit to the beach, while night temperatures may necessitate a heavy jacket. Bring clothing for any weather and any temperature.

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