Israel

The State of Israel

Israel

At the center of the Middle East, on the shores of the Mediterranean, lies the country of Israel. Israel is smaller than the US state of Massachusetts and only one-fifth the size of the state of Kentucky.

Israel relief map
Israel relief map
Negev desert
Negev desert

The Negev covers more than half of Israel, and although vegetation is sparse, a variety of animals lives in this desert.

Marbled polecat
Dorcas or Ariel Gazelle
Judean Desert leopard (Arabian leopard)
Judean Desert leopard (Arabian leopard)
Caracal or desert lynx
Caracal or desert lynx

Beersheba is the largest city in the Negev desert.

Israel: Beer Sheva – From a biblical town to a modern city

The Sea of Galilee, also called Lake Kinneret or the Sea of Tiberias, is a major fresh water supply.

Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee
Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee

The Jordan River flows from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is 1,300 feet below sea level, so it has no outlet. Over time, salts and minerals have built up, creating an environment that does not support fish or aquatic life.

CBS Sunday Morning: Is the Dead Sea really dead?

South of the Negev Desert is the Gulf of Aqaba, which provides access to the Red Sea for both Israel and Jordan. Israel does not have substantial oil resources but has a potential for natural gas in offshore locations along the Mediterranean Sea.

Gulf of Aqaba
Gulf of Aqaba

The climate of Israel is varied. Coastal areas have a typical Mediterranean climate. Other areas have a desert climate. At the other extreme, mountainous regions can be windy and cold, and areas at an elevation of 750 meters (2,460 ft) or more (same elevation as Jerusalem) will usually receive at least one snowfall each year.

Snow in Galilee
Snow in Galilee

From May to September, rain in Israel is rare.

With scarce water resources, Israel has developed various water-saving technologies, including drip irrigation. Israelis also take advantage of the considerable sunlight available for solar energy, making Israel the leading nation in solar energy use per capita (practically every house uses solar panels for water heating).

Though most of the population in the Middle East is Islamic, there are exceptions, such as in Israel, which has a Jewish majority. Israel was established in 1948. Before that time, the country was called Palestine. The region went through a series of tumultuous transitions before it became the nation of Israel. Before 1948, most people in Palestine were called Palestinians and consisted primarily of Arab Muslims, Samaritans, Bedouins, and Jews. Most Jewish people were dispersed throughout the world, with the majority in Europe and the United States.

The history of this region covers thousands of years. Here’s a video that sums up 3,500 years of history in 6 minutes. Note to secular viewers: It is a Christian video, but history is history. 😉

ISRAEL: 3,500 years of Biblical History in 6 minutes

I read the following books as a teenager about the birth of Israel. You may want to check it out!

Exodus by Leon Uris
This #1 New York Times international bestseller tells the epic history of Israel’s birth through the eyes of two generations of Jews as they fight to reclaim their homeland. Leon Uris tactfully meshes together the story of two 19th century Jewish brothers who seek refuge in Palestine with the 20th-century story of how Israel gained its independence after World War II. Rich in historical accuracy and compelling characters, this literary classic sheds light on the long history of the Jewish diaspora, their struggles for liberation, and the costs of war. One of Uris’s best works, Exodus is just as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1958.

Israel’s diverse culture stems from the diversity of its population. Jews from diaspora communities around the world brought their cultural and religious traditions back with them, creating a melting pot of Jewish customs and beliefs. 

Diaspora: the dispersion of a people from their original homeland

Arab influences are present in many cultural spheres, such as architecture, music, and cuisine. Israel is the only country in the world where life revolves around the Hebrew calendar. Work and school holidays are determined by the Jewish holidays, and the official day of rest is Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Israeli cuisine incorporates foods traditionally included in other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines and is also influenced by the tradition of keeping kosher, as well as food related to specific Jewish holidays and traditions related to the Sabbath.

Kashrut is a set of dietary laws dealing with the foods that Jews are permitted to eat and how those foods must be prepared according to Jewish law. Food that may be consumed is deemed kosher, from the Ashkenazi pronunciation of the Hebrew term kashér, meaning “fit”.

Challah bread
Challah bread
Jerusalem mixed grill
Jerusalem mixed grill is mix of chicken hearts, spleens and liver mixed with bits of lamb and cooked on a flat grill with onion and spices like pepper and tumeric.
Sufganiyah are round jelly donuts eaten during Hanukkah.
Sufganiyah are round jelly donuts eaten during Hanukkah.
Falafel, hummus, fries, and Israeli salad (tomato, onion, cucumber, and pepper)
Falafel, hummus, fries, and Israeli salad (tomato, onion, cucumber, and pepper)

If you have 26 minutes, you may want to watch this video about Israel:

Rick Steves’ Europe: The Best of Israel

Palestine

Palestine is a geographic region usually considered to include Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and in some definitions, parts of western Jordan.

PragerU: The Middle East Problem
PragerU: Why Isn’t There a Palestinian State?

Jewish people from various parts of the world continue to migrate to Israel, and the Israeli government continues to build housing settlements to accommodate them. Since the West Bank region is under the Israeli national jurisdiction, many of the new housing settlements have been built in the West Bank. The Palestinians who live there strongly oppose the settlements. In 1977, only about five thousand Jews lived in the West Bank settlements. As of 2010, there were more than two hundred thousand. The Palestinians argue that if they were to have their own nation-state, then the Jewish settlements would be in their country and would have to be either resettled or absorbed. Israel responds by indicating that the two-state solution is indefensible because the Jewish settlements in the West Bank cannot be protected if the West Bank is separated from Israel.

Vox: Israeli settlements, explained | Settlements Part I

Note: What bias if any do you see in this and the next video? Do the videos seem to support the Jews or the Palestinians more?

Vox: Settlements Part II

Here’s another view on the Israeli settlements:

PragerU: Are Israeli Settlements the Barrier to Peace?

The issues in Israel are generally complicated. After a series of wars and considerable negotiations, the central problems remain: Jews and Palestinians both want the same land, both groups want Jerusalem to be their capital city, and they can’t find a compromise. Support for the Jewish State of Israel has primarily come from the United States and from Jewish groups external to Israel. Through charitable donations, US groups provide Israel additional billions of dollars annually. Foreign aid has given the Jewish population in Israel a standard of living that is higher than the standard of living of many European countries.

PragerU: Why Does America Spend So Much on Israel?

In the past decade, most of the PLO’s operating budget has come from external sources. Arab neighbors provide millions of dollars annually. Though Iran is not Arab, they have provided aid to the Palestinian cause in support of fellow Muslims against the Jewish State of Israel. The PLO has received the bulk of its funding from the European Union. Russia has also provided millions of dollars in aid.

PragerU: Why Are There Still Palestinian Refugees?

The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated regions on Earth, and it is located in a desert.

Gaza Strip
Gaza Strip

There are few jobs and no real methods of gaining wealth. Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank need to rely on outside support to survive.

The eastern side of Gaza
The eastern side of Gaza

These are small areas with lots of people. The West Bank is only about thirty miles wide by seventy-five miles long, yet more than 2.5 million people call it home. The Gaza Strip is a desert region about six miles wide by twenty-three miles long and is home to more than 1.5 million people.

In 2010, family size in the West Bank was about 3.2, and in the Gaza Strip, it was about 5.0. Unemployment rates averaged about 40 percent in the Gaza Strip and over 20 percent in the West Bank (Central Intelligence Agency). Underemployment is also a major issue in that there may be few employment opportunities for professionals with specialized skills or a university degree in a specific field of interest.

We want to know what you thought of what you just read and watched! Leave us a comment! Please also let us know if a link or video isn’t working. 🙂

Next: Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon

Additional information and image credits:

Negev Desert
By Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28865649
Tiberias
By Tiberias municipality – Tiberias municipality spokesperson ms. Nizza Rachmani, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16044473
Marbled polecat
By Laszlo Szabo-Szeley © AVESTOURS – Original uploader was Wgors at en.wikipedia; description page is/was here., Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3550742
Arabian leopard
By יוסי אוד, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31670293
Dorcas gazell
By Khendon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12374825
Caracal
By € Van 3000 from belgium belgikske belgiquistan – United Tribes ov Europe – Caracal, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2380530
Gulf of Aqaba
By Odie5533 at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6903961
Snow
By קרלוס הגדול – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30241781
Israel info
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel
Israeli cuisine info|
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli_cuisine
Challah
By Aviv Hod – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6951721
Sufganiyot
By Noam Furer – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23096759
Jerusalem mixed grill
By Peterjerusalem – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48794832
Falafel
By young shanahan – Falafel, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37391703
Gaza Strip
By Lencer – own work, used:UNOSAT, Situation Map-Gaza CrisisUN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Gaza-Strip Overview MapSpiegel Online, Bastionen Israels im GazastreifenMinimap made with Israel location map.svg by User:NordNordWest, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5656468
Gaza
By Al Mogheer shurrab – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40129869

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