Fast Facts about Modern Israel

Israel Today
A Comprehensive Summary of Modern Israel

See also Middle East News and Israel Facts

Israel today

The Birth of Modern Israel

Israel today is vastly different to the Israel a century ago. Before 1900, visitors to Palestine/Israel described it as follows:

Palestine sits in sack cloth and ashes … desolate and unlovely … hardly a tree or shrub anywhere
[Mark Twain on his visit in 1867]
I traveled through sad Galilee in the Spring and I found it silent … as everywhere in Palestine, cities and palaces have returned to dust
[Pierre Loti, La Galilee, 1895]

Israel today

Fig.1: Central Israel and the West Bank

The restoration of the ancient nation of Israel started in the late 19th century, and the first wave of emigration (first ‘aliyah’ or ascent) to Israel came in 1882, mainly from Russia and Romania. Then, in 1897, Theodor Herzel convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. The Congress dealt with ways for implementing the goals of Zionism – the movement to restore Israel as a nation in her own land and to create a Jewish state.

Major milestones followed, with the liberation of Jerusalem from Turkish rule in 1917 and the declaration of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. Specifically, this declared ‘the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called ISRAEL’, link. This declaration led immediately to Israel’s War of Independence, when five Arab armies invaded Israel. After the war, in 1949, Arab countries refused to sign a permanent peace treaty with Israel and so UN Security Council Resolution 62 called for armistice agreements that would lead to permanent peace. This resulted in Israel’s borders being temporarily re-established along the armistice or “Green Line” and the creation of the so-called ‘West Bank’ (Fig.1).

Demographics of the West Bank

Under the 1995 Oslo Accords II, the West Bank was divided into three areas (A, B, and C) and within these areas the Palestinian and Israeli authorities have different levels of control. Area A is under full control of the Palestinian Authority, Area B is under Palestinian civil control and shared Palestinian and Israeli security control, and Area C (62% of the West Bank) is under full Israeli control, link. Areas A and B are distributed throughout contiguous Area C, see MAP. No Israelis live in Area A, most Palestinians live in Areas A and B, and some 350,000 Jewish settlers live in the relatively lightly populated Area C, link. Israel is often accused of holding a discriminatory housing policy in Area C, but is nevertheless justified in building Jewish settlements in this area under international law, link.

Israel’s Rapid Development

Despite aggressive neighbours and international pressure, Israel has nevertheless prospered, as in:

  • The establishment of a western-style democracy
  • Rapid population growth (mass immigration), outstripping other nations
  • Rapid land restoration, afforestation, and growth in agriculture and food production
  • Rapid industrial growth, with some of the most hi-tech industries in the world
  • Rapid development of modern cities and infrastructure (as in highways and water systems)
  • The revival and daily use of the ancient Hebrew language
  • Discovery of abundant natural resources of gas and oil
  • The development of an effective hi-tech defense force, the IDF

ISRAEL: SMALL BUT OUTSTANDING: Within just 100 years, Israel has been remarkably transformed in terms of land and people. Israel has gone from a land of very mixed ethnicity, desolate agriculture, low industrialization and impoverished cities to a democratic nation with a clear identity, vibrant hi-tech agriculture, successful hi-tech industries, modern cities and new infrastructure. Israel today now ranks high in the world in terms of research, science and technology, link, and is seen as entrepreneurial and innovation-based and a good place for investors, link. It figures third after the USA and China on New York’s Nasdaq stock exchange, link – a small country that punches above its weight!

Add to all this Israel’s rich biblical history and it is natural to ask: ‘Why has all this happened – what is special about Israel – does she have a special role in the world? More …

Tourism

Favorite Tourist Sites: Israel offers many historical and religious sites, as well as beach resorts. Favorite sites are the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, link, the mountain fortress of Masada at the south west tip of the Dead Sea, link, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (Israel’s largest cultural institution), link, the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley to the east of Jerusalem, link, the Garden of Gethsemane on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, link, the picturesque Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret), link, and the Dead Sea (who’s shores are the lowest points of dry land on earth), link.

Cities: Historic Jerusalem is the most visited city followed by Tel Aviv which attracts tourists for its famous night life, great beaches, modern dining and café culture. Tel Aviv is also the financial and business hub of Israel. The picturesque city of Haifa on the northern coast is the perfect base to explore the views from Mt Carmel (546m) and the beautiful, green Galilee region to the east. Eilat, located at the southern tip of Israel is Israel’s premier resort town and a favourite for tourists. Nazareth has grown from an insignificant backwater during the time of Christ (Yeshua) to one of northern Israel’s largest cities.

In recent years tours in Israel have increased. The year 2013 was Israel’s record year for incoming tours with 3.54 million visitor entries. Christians represented more than half (53%) of all incoming people. More …

Weather

Israel is a subtropical region located 29°-33° north of the equator and the climate is midway between the Mediterranean and the desert type. Summers are hot, peaking in July and August at around 30°C (hotter in the south), link, but tempered on the coast by westerly winds from the Mediterranean. Winters are cool, dropping to 16°C in January, and snow falls on the Golan heights. The transitory seasons are characterized by occasionally dry and very hot weather, often combined with drying easterly winds. For Jerusalem, rainfall occurs almost exclusively between October and April, with peak rainfall in January and February, link. Further south, the sparsely populated desert area (the Negev) between Be’er Sheva in the north and Eilat in the south has an annual rainfall of just 2-6 inches.

There are indications in the Bible that towards the end of this age there will be a restoration of the regular autumn (October-November) and spring (March-April) rains, as needed for productive farming (Joel 2.23, Deut 11.14)

Language

Tourist information says that Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of the State of Israel, with English as a semi-official language, link. The CIA claims that Hebrew is the official language, Arabic is the official language for the Arab minority and English is the most commonly used foreign language, link.

However, there are political moves to remove Arabic from the list of official languages on the basis that, in 1948, Israel declared the establishment of a Jewish State and that this was ‘open to Jews from all countries’. In Israel today, Modern (secular) Hebrew is spoken by the majority of the population, link, and all new immigrants to Israel are requested to learn Hebrew via intensive language programs (Ulpan, link). Speakers of Modern Hebrew can typically read Biblical (ancient) Hebrew without difficulty. So Israel is unique in that it is the only nation that uses a previously dead language as its native tongue! The restoration of Hebrew to a modern day spoken language is a unique historical phenomenon and many claim it aligns with Bible prophecy (Zeph 3.9, Isa 19.18), link. More …

Capital City

In 1950 the Israeli Knesset proclaimed Jerusalem to be the capital of the new State of Israel, link. This proclamation was based upon historical connections, Bible prophecy and the true legal position defined by the 1920 San Remo Resolution, the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine and Article 80 of the UN Charter, link. Today, Jerusalem is where the Israeli government resides, where the country’s parliament stands and legislates and where the President, Prime Minister and Cabinet have their offices.

But Israel’s stance is still disputed by the international community (as in the UN and the EU) which argues that Jerusalem must be the capital of both Israel and Palestine. According to the US Supreme Court, ‘Jerusalem is not a part of Israel’, link. So in practice, the US and all other countries still have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

Demographics of Israel

In the early 20th century the land of Israel was a mix of many peoples representing some 50 languages, link. It was described as ethnologically a chaos of all the possible human combinations with no common Arab identity i.e. no ‘native Palestinians’, link, link. In contrast, Israel today has a distinct ethnicity, namely Jewish. In fact, Israel is the world’s only Jewish State and the only country in the world where a majority of citizens are Jewish. In 1915 there were just 83,000 Jews, link, but this increased to 6.2 million Jews in 2015, corresponding to an amazing 7400% increase. Today the ethnicity is Jews (74.9%), Arabs (20.7%) and ‘others’ (4.4%), link. ‘Others’ includes for example non-Arab Christians and non-Arab Muslims.

Israel’s Talent & Innovation

The Israeli people demonstrate an above average gifting for ingenuity and innovation. Jewish Nobel Prize winners accounted for 22% of all individual recipients worldwide between 1901 and 2015, link. These were Jews or people of half or three-quarters-Jewish ancestry, and prizes were given in fields such as Economics, Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature and Peace. This is an amazing achievement bearing in mind that Jews comprise less than 0.2% of the world population! And by 2011, Israel had almost 4,000 active technology startups – more than any other country outside the United States, link, link. This probably reflects the fact that Israel has the highest ratio of university degrees to the population in the world.

It is claimed there is a biological basis of Jewishness. This may explain why Jews hold such a relatively high number of Nobel Prizes and demonstrate a distinctly higher IQ than their European counterparts, link, link.

Religion

Religion in Israel is closely tied to Israel’s demographics. Of the 6.2 million Jews in Israel (2015), some 80% of these practice Judaism in some form whilst the remaining 20% are non-religious or secular. Some divide the 80% between ultra-Orthodox/’haredi’ (8%) and traditional/modern-Orthodox (72%), link, whilst others put the ultra-Orthodox/modern-Orthodox mix at 20% and 60%, link. Within these Jewish sects lies Reform Judaism – the most liberal expression of Judaism – which provides innovation whilst preserving tradition, link.

Since Israel is a democracy it welcomes people of all faiths to participate fully in Israeli life. So Muslims (a significant 17% of the Israeli population) observe Islam freely according to their beliefs and practices. There are also various Christian communities in Israel, including Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant, and there many Christian sites for tourists, link. Christians make up about 2% of population and 4 out of 5 Christians are Arab.

Israel’s Economy

According to an OECD report, Israel’s economy has enjoyed year-on-year growth, demonstrating remarkable resilience, link. Increases in output, averaging nearly 4% annually since 2003, have exceeded those of most other OECD countries. Israel’s Ministry of Finance claims that Israel is:

  • first in the world for scientific research
  • first in the world for entrepreneurship
  • first in the world for IT skills
  • first in the world for expenditure on R&D (as % of GDP)

Not surprisingly, Israel today has a technologically advanced market economy, driven mainly by science and technology, and manufacturing and agriculture are highly developed and sophisticated. Exports, which account for some 40% of economic activity, rose by 18% between 2010 and 2014, with top exports including cut diamonds, electronic equipment, pharmaceuticals, chemical goods, machines and medical equipment, link. Israel’s innovative hi-tech economy is reflected on the stock markets, with Israel third after the USA and China on New York’s Nasdaq stock exchange, link. As of 2015, Israel’s debt-to-GDP ratio (a critical economic indicator) of 67.5% compared favourably with 90% for the UK and 101% for the US, link. Trade deficits are part compensated by tourism and foreign investment inflows.

If you diligently obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands … you will be blessed in the city (Deut 28.1,3)

Poverty and Socio-economic Divide

Israel has a technologically advanced market economy with a debt-to-GDP ratio that compares favourably with western democracies. Economic growth has exceeded most other OECD countries rates for more than a decade. On the other hand, a recent OECD economic survey says Israel needs to address productivity, inequality and poverty if it wants to improve well-being and reduce socio-economic divides, link.

Today, Israel is characterised by high poverty and the OECD ranks Israel as the country with the highest rates of poverty among its members, with over 20% of Israelis living under the poverty line, link, link. Poverty is especially high among seniors, partly because of low basic pensions. The quality of education, especially for Haredim (strictly orthodox Jews) and Israeli Arabs, is poor, and these groups are not well integrated into the labour market, resulting in widespread poverty. Those making aliyah and arriving in Israel are also in great need.

Share your bread with the hungry and clothe those in need (Isa 58.7)

Industry

Israel today

Fig.2: The world’s largest solar energy dish, Ben-Gurion Solar Energy Center, Israel
Image: David Shankbone [CC BY 3.0], Wikimedia Commons.

Israel today has highly developed banking, health, and university systems and her industries include textiles, food processing, mining, agriculture and forestry. Israel is particularly advanced in the hi-tech industry (see also Technology) such as computer science, electronics, genetics, medicine, optics, solar energy (Fig.2) and electric cars. Research projects include transportable solar energy, link, solar-pumped lasers and production of hydrogen from water for use as a clean fuel. Israel manufactures the world’s first solar window using transparent photovoltaic glass, link.

Some 1,000 Israeli companies are in healthcare or life-science products, including 700 in medical devices. The mining sector of Israel extracts magnesium, bromides, phosphates, potassium, calcium and chlorides of sodium (mainly from the Dead Sea) and exports via Israel’s southern port of Eilat. In 2010 Israel’s share of the world’s output of monopotassium phosphate was over 40%, link. More …

Israel’s Science & Technology

In 2015 Israel was ranked as the world’s fifth most innovative country ahead of the US and the UK, link. In terms of Nobel Prizes, over 850 have been awarded to individuals worldwide, of whom some 23% were Jews or people of strong Jewish ancestry. Of these, Jews have won a total of 28% in medicine, 26% in Physics and 19% in Chemistry, link.

Technology: Israeli technology is wide-ranging. Computing: Intel microprocessors, USB thumb drive storage, Microsoft operating systems, Microsoft Office, firewalls, voice mail, body controllers e.g. for games, cell phones. Transport: development of a national transport system without oil using a nationwide grid for recharging electric cars. Agriculture: development of hi-tech drip-irrigation offering 40% more crops for half the normal amount of water. These are self-cleaning and maintain uniform flow rate regardless of water quality and pressure. Medical: development of cardiac stents, swallowable camera pills (PillCam) for intestinal visualization, and radiation-free diagnosis of breast cancer. More ….

Agriculture

Agriculture in Israel today

Fig.3: Agriculture in northern Israel
Image: publicdomainpictures

Today, Israel’s agriculture is the success story of a long hard struggle against adverse conditions, Fig.3. In 1909 Israel’s first kibbutz was founded by young Jewish immigrants and kibbutzim played a key role in Israel’s agricultural development. New immigrants also embarked upon an extensive program of afforestation, and since 1900 almost 250 million sub-tropical trees have been planted in all regions of Israel. Some claim that the reforestation programme has had a favourable effect on the humidity of the soil and on rainfall, thereby changing the climate, link.

In recent years, technology has played a key role as in the Israeli drip and micro-irrigation systems (sales of which have spread worldwide). This is enables more than 40% of the country’s vegetables and field crops to be grown in the Negev desert. Israeli fruit production includes oranges, grapefruits, lemons, apples, apricots, grapes peaches, mangoes, plums and pears. All this calls to mind the Bible prophecy “Israel shall blossom and bud and fill the world with fruit” (Isa 27.6). More …

Israel’s Natural Resources

It is often claimed that Israel has few natural resources. But in 2010 Israel discovered nearly 1000 billion cubic meters of natural gas – much off it offshore in the Eastern Mediterranean [Tamir Abudi Report 2014]. This is more than enough to feed Israel’s domestic demand, with surplus for export. In 2014 Israel’s proved reserves of natural gas (estimates with a high degree of confidence) were 10 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), and Israel’s proved reserves of oil were 11.5 million barrels, link. Israel also has one of the world’s largest deposits of shale oil with a potential of some 250 billion barrels in the Shfela basin. Recent drilling has found thick oil strata in the Southern Golan Heights north-east of the Sea of Galilee, link.

Besides oil and gas, timber, potash, copper ore, phosphate rock, and magnesium bromide are also of commercial importance. In particular, the Dead Sea contains some 45,000 million tons of salts rich in minerals, making the Dead Sea the largest concentration of minerals in Israel. More …

Water Systems

Israel today

Fig.4: Israel’s National Water Carrier. Image: NielsF [CC BY-SA 3.0], Wikimedia Commons
Click image to enlarge

Israel’s total annual renewable natural sources of fresh water are well below the UN definition of water poverty. Some 80% of Israel’s natural water is in the north and the National Water Carrier (NWC) system (Israel’s traditional water ‘artery’) conveys water from Lake Galilee southwards, Fig.4. The NWC was started in 1959 and now comprises a system of giant pipes, open canals, tunnels, reservoirs and large scale pumping stations.

Desalination: Today, Israel is meeting much of its water needs by purifying seawater from the Mediterranean and some 80% of domestic water in Israeli cities comes from desalinated water, link. Expansion of existing plants will supply 100% of Israel’s domestic water by 2020, link. The construction of the coastal desalination plants required a change in direction for Israel’s traditional water arteries, and Israel’s New National Carrier connects the desalination facilities to the NWC. So Israel today makes extensive use of desalination plants, reuse of treated sewage for agriculture, computerized early-warning systems for leaks, and computerized drip irrigation and micro-sprinklers. Israel’s desalination plants require an immense amount of energy. In 2010 the national average energy requirement per cubic meter of desalinated water was 3.5 kilowatt hours, link, and today desalination plants require roughly 10% of Israel’s total electricity generation capacity, link.

Under the 1995 Oslo II Accord, Israel continues to supply agreed water amounts to Palestinian areas, link. As of 2007, the total water available to West Bank Palestinian areas was 200 million cubic meters per year, link. But the actual water supply would be improved significantly if the Palestinian Water Authority drilled all the sites approved for drilling by the JWC in the Eastern Mountain Aquifer (West Bank area), stopped serious leakage and utilized wastewater for agriculture, link, link.

Electricity Generation

Israel’s five largest power stations were built adjacent to the coast to ensure a supply of cooling water. These coal and natural gas-fired stations are operated by the (essentially government owned) Israel Electric Corporation (IEC), link. There is also a set of inland gas-fired power stations. By the end of 2012, IEC installed capacity was some 13 Gigawatts, corresponding to a peak demand of some 12 GW, link. Water desalination amounts to some 10% of this demand.

Other Sources: The target for electricity generation from renewable energy sources (solar, wind, biomass) is 10% of total electricity generation by 2020, link. Israel is not permitted (by International Treaty) to establish a nuclear power station on its territory, although civil off-shore nuclear power might be possible in the future from an artificial island constructed off the coast, link.

Politics & Democracy

The Israeli political system has three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. The Knesset (Israel’s parliament) is the legislative branch with the power of legislation i.e. to pass laws. It has 120 members and supervises the work of the Israeli government (the executive branch). Israeli’s don’t vote for a particular politician, but for a political party. So members of the Knesset are not elected directly, but they run as representatives of the parties that were elected. In 2015, Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu formed a right wing coalition government consisting of Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, Kulanu and the Jewish Home parties.

Democracy: Israel’s Declaration of Independence guarantees freedom and equality for all, regardless of which religion one may choose:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL … will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace … it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture … [ The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, May 1948 ]

Such a promise of democracy is to be welcomed in the Middle East. For example, Israel’s free press contrasts with the mostly government-controlled media outlets in the region, and Israel is the only country in the Middle East where women enjoy full political rights. In fact, Israel today is the only democracy in the Middle East, as in a multiparty system, regular elections, changeover of governments, free media, impartial judiciary, and a military under civilian rule. It is claimed that Israel’s remarkable economic development is mainly due to Israel’s liberal democracy. The Israeli government counters international political bias against Israel by disseminating positive information about the country (the practice of ‘Hasbara’, link). More …

Israel’s International Relations

Israel today

Fig.5: Israel’s Neighbours
Image: University Texas

In recent years Israel’s relationship with her strongest ally, the US, has sunk to an all-time low. This is attributed in part to Israel’s pursuit of her settlement policies on the West Bank and her building policies in Jerusalem, link, link:

“We view Israeli settlement activity as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace” [US State Department]

As a result, the US could even withdraw her diplomatic cover or shield for Israel at the United Nations, link. At present this cover protects Israel’s desire to maintain the status quo and refrain from reaching an accommodation with the Palestinians. If this cover was removed, the US could refrain from vetoing any UN resolution calling for the creation of a Palestinian state. As for the UN, its numerous resolutions against Israel speak for themselves. As of 2013, the UN Security Council had adopted 77 resolutions critical of Israel and only 1 against the Palestinians, link. For her part, Israel continues to ignore such resolutions.

It’s not all bad news for Israel. Canada has a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations with Israel, and in 2015 rejected BDS, an international boycott of Israeli goods, link. And new British Government directives aim to prevent any UK public body from imposing a boycott since such activity is ‘potentially damaging to the UK’s relationship with Israel’, link. Also, despite long-standing US policy concerning Israel and the ‘occupied territories’, the US has introduced legislation which discourages corporate or state-affiliated entities from participating in the BDS movement, link. Unfortunately, although major Western governments oppose BDS, the international community (including the EU) generally supports some form of boycott, link.

Israel’s relationship with Islamic countries, notably Iran, is non-existent. Iran maintains that there can be no two-state solution; in Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s view there can be only one state and that would be called Palestine under Muslim rule, link.

The international political situation is rapidly aligning itself to Bible prophecy which says that at the end of this age all nations will be aligned against Israel (Zech 14.2).

Israel’s Defense against Hostile Neighbours: the IDF

Israel is a tiny country just 290 miles (470 km) long and 85 miles (135 km) across (at it’s widest point), see Fig.5. She is a single Jewish State surrounded by 22 hostile Arab/Islamic dictatorships totaling 640 times her size, link. Since her birth, Israel has been repeatedly attacked by her neighbours, most notably in 1948–49, 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982, link, and today they aim to replace her with an Islamic caliphate. Such hostility birthed the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1948, with the mission to defend the existence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the State of Israel. As of 2015, the IDF had nearly 3 million fit for military service, some 160,000 active front line personnel, over 4,000 tanks, nearly 700 military aircraft and over 50 coastal defense craft, link. More …

The Aim of this Site

This site was created to expose what the Bible plainly says about the people and the land of Israel. To use a biblical term, the site is a ‘watchman’, observing how world events are aligning with the biblical text, highlighting the importance of Israel, and warning of God’s impending intervention in the world. God says:

I have set watchmen (Heb ‘shamar’ – to keep, watch, preserve) on your walls, O Jerusalem … You who make mention of the LORD, do not keep silent … till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth
(Isa 62:6,7)

The site may please, may enlighten, may perturb, may shock or even repulse. But if it helps to explain what is happening in the world (especially in the Middle East), or if it gives hope in these troublesome times, then its goal would have been achieved. It is all to the glory of the God of Israel.

Thanks for visiting. Genuine comments are welcome.