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Israel, republic in southwest Asia, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. The capital is Jerusalem.


Israel is 7,992 sq mi (20,700 sq km). On the west is a long, straight coastline on the Mediterranean; to the south, a very short coastline gives it access to the Gulf of Aqaba of the Red Sea through the port of Elath. The 3 geographical regions are the mountainous Galilee region of the north, the western coastal plain, and the Negev desert in the south. To the east is an extensive depression, parts of which are the Huleh Valley, the Sea of Galilee, and the Jordan River. In the south the same geographical fault includes the Dead Sea and runs on to the Gulf of Aqaba, forming the southern border with Jordan. A short corridor extends from the coastal plain through the Judean hills to the city of Jerusalem. The narrow coastal plain (4–20 mi/6.4–32 km in width) is the most fertile part of the country. It is here that Israel's extensive orange groves are found. It also contains Tel Aviv-Jaffa, the country's most populous city. The northern Negev has fertile, wind-deposited soil but little rainfall; much of the southern Negev is dry, barren rock. Israel has seen extensive land reclamation and development undertaken by Jewish settlers in the 20th century. The former Huleh Lake in the north was drained to provide farmland. The Dead Sea, however, has remained much the same. Lands occupied by Israeli forces in 1967 during the Six-Day War included portions of Egypt (the entire Sinai Peninsula up to the banks of the Suez Canal, as well as the Gaza Strip, a mandated territory that had been administered by Egypt but was not formally a part of it), Jordan (the entire sector of that country west of the Jordan River), and Syria (the strategic Golan Heights, east of the Sea of Galilee).


The majority of Israel's citizens are Jews, and of these the greatest number are immigrants. The largest minority group (over 15% of the population) is of Arabs, forthe most part in self-contained rural communities. Other minority groups include Druses, Circassians, and Samaritans. The official language is Hebrew, but because of the high percentage of immigrants, many Israelis remain more literate in languages other than Hebrew. The second most dominant language is Arabic, and many native-born Israeli Jews speak it. English is also widely spoken, along with French, German, and Yiddish. Elementary schooling is free and compulsory, and there are reduced fees and special grants for promising students in secondary schools. A large minority of pupils attend state-supported religious schools. Arab pupils generally attend their own schools. There are also schools run by Christian communities and missionary groups. Universities and institutions of higher learning include the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, the Technion in Haifa, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. The majority of Israel's population is urban, but its rural population is highly important. There are over 200 agrarian settlements known as kibbutzim, in which the members share all goods and receive no wages; all meals are eaten together, important decisions are made by a general meeting of all the members, and children are raised in special houses, away from their parents. Other agricultural settlements also practice cooperative or communal living to some degree, such as common ownership of land or cooperative purchasing and marketing.


Land reclamation and irrigation have nearly tripled the cultivated area since 1955. Major crops include citrus fruit, grains, olives, melons, and grapes. Mineral resources include gypsum, natural gas, oil, and phosphates; potash, magnesium, and bromine come from the Dead Sea. Light industry is developing, and manufactures include chemicals, textiles, and paper. Tourism is a major industry. Because of heavy defense spending and reliance on imported oil, Israel suffers from severe payments deficits and one of the world's highest inflation rates—exceeding 100% per year.


In 1947 the UN voted to divide Palestine (then under British mandate) into Jewish and Arab states. After the subsequent British withdrawal, Palestine Arabs and Arab troops from neighboring countries immediately tried to eradicate Israel by force, but the Israelis defeated them, capturing almost all of Palestine. Arab refugees, settled in southern Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip in UN-administered camps, are a continuing social and political problem. Refugee camps have proved a fruitful recruiting area and cover for Palestinian guerrilla groups. When Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956 and closed it to Israeli shipping, Israeli troops overran Gaza and Sinai, winning the right of passage from Elath to the Red Sea. In the Six-Day War (1967) Israel acquired large tracts of its neighbors' territories, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem; these it refused to return without a firm peace settlement. It lost some of these in the Yom Kippur War (1973). In 1978 Egypt and Israel reached the so-called Camp David accords, and Israel began returning the Sinai to Egypt. In 1978 and 1981 Israeli troops invaded south Lebanon in retaliation for Palestinian attacks in Israel, and Israeli bombers destroyed an alleged atomic bomb plant in Iraq in 1981. In 1982 Israeli forces invading Lebanon besieged Beirut; in time Palestinian guerrillas left the city and the Israelis partially withdrew from Lebanon. In 1985 Israeli forces left Lebanon except for a small strip of land in the south. Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza remained a problem for Arabs and was a factor in making the country a target of Iraqi missiles in the War in the Persian Gulf (1991). In the early 1990s negotiations regarding the occupied territories improved, and the Jericho district on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip attained some form of autonomy in 1994. During the peace proces prime minister Rabin was killed (Nov. 1995). Execution of the Oslo agreements (1993 and 1995) was difficult under Rabin's successor Netanyahu. In October 1998 Netanyahu and Arafat reached an interim agreement.

See also: Palestine; Palestine Liberation Organization; Zionism.


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21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia - Inert gas to Jaruzelski, Wojciech