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The State of Israel (in Hebrew "Medinat Yisra'el," or in Arabic "Dawlat Isrā'īl") is a country in the Southwest Asian Levant, on the southeastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel declared its independence in 1948. With a diverse population currently exceeding seven million citizens of primarily Jewish religion and background, it is the world's only Jewish state.

The land of Israel holds a special place in Jewish religious obligations, encompassing Judaism's most important sites (such as the remains of the First and Second Temples of the Jewish People). It is also considered a Holy Land to Christianity and Islam due to its importance in the lives of their religious founders, Jesus and Muhammad. It contains holy places sacred to these religions, including the Western Wall (Judaism), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Christianity) and the al-Aqsa Mosque with its iconic Dome of the Rock (Islam).

Israel is the only country in the Middle East considered to be a liberal democracy, having a broad array of political rights and civil liberties present. In addition, Israel is considered the most advanced in the region in terms of freedom of the press, commercial law, economic competition, and overall human development. Israelis have a high life expectancy, at 79.59 years. The nation has high education outcomes, with pupils staying at school longer than in other countries in the region, and has most of the top universities in the region. With limited natural resources, Israel has invested in its human capital to reach a situation where it's per capita GDP in 2005 reached $26,200 (28th in the world).

In spite of its high quality of life, Israel has been plagued by war. Ever since it came into existence by fighting off Arab armies in the midst of the 1948 War of Independence, Israel has continually fought for survival. It took over thirty years before Egypt agreed to act as a peaceful neighbor in 1979. In 1994 peaceful relations were established with Jordan. But peace with various Palestinian groups has been more elusive. Enmity between Muslim Palestinians and Jewish Israelis is rooted in the displacement of large populations (a cause similar to conflicts in Armenia and Azerbaijan, Indonesia, and Northern Ireland). Palestinian memories of the 1948 War of Independence are of the Nakba ("disaster" or "cataclysm"), when more than 700,000 were displaced by the victorious Israelis. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip live under an occupation intensified by the tit-for-tat of Palestinian terrorism and Israeli reprisals and security clampdowns. Despite various political proposals to establish a Palestinian state existing in peace alongside Israel, no agreement has been reached.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict touches the deepest levels of religious sentiment and tribal identity, and it solution is pivotal not only to prospects for peace in the Middle East but throughout the world. It is unlikely that its resolution can be achieved by political leaders alone; it will require the cooperation of religious and opinion leaders on both sides who can see the world without boundaries and barriers caused by faith, ethnic and national identity, and who can motivate their people to see the humanity of their opponents.

Geography

Political map of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights (highlighted in orange) and neighboring countriesPrincipal geographical features of Israel and south-eastern Mediterranean region

The name "Israel" is rooted in the Hebrew Bible, specifically Genesis 32:28, where Jacob is renamed Israel after successfully wrestling with an angel of God. The biblical nation fathered by Jacob was then called "The Children of Israel" or the "Israelites." The modern country was named State of Israel, and its citizens are referred to as Israelis in English.

Israel is bordered by Lebanon in the north, Syria and Jordan in the east, and Egypt in the southwest. It has coastlines on the Mediterranean Sea in the west and the Gulf of Eilat (also known as the Gulf of Aqaba) in the south.

During the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, Gaza Strip (which was under Egyptian occupation), and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. It withdrew from Sinai by 1982 and from the Gaza Strip by September 12, 2005. The future Palestinian region of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip remains to be determined. East Jerusalem has been under Israeli civil law, jurisdiction and administration since and the Golan Heights since 1981, though they have not been formally annexed.

The sovereign territory of Israel, excluding all territories captured by Israel in 1967, is 8019 square miles (20,770 square kilometers) in area, or slightly smaller than New Jersey in the United States.

Israel is divided east-west by a mountain range running north to south along the coast. Jerusalem sits on the top of this ridge, east of which lies the Dead Sea.

The numerous limestone and sandstone layers of the Israeli mountains allow the water to pour from the west flank to the east. Several springs have formed along the Dead Sea, each an oasis, most notably the oasis at Ein Gedi and Ein Bokek where settlements have developed.

Israel also has a number of large limestone karsts. These caves are around 68 °F (20 °C), although only one is open to the public. Very common all around the country are small natural caves that have been used for thousands of years as shelter, housing, storage rooms, barns and churches.

Israel is divided into four main geographical regions: the Israeli Coastal Plain, the central hills, the Jordan Rift Valley, and the Negev Desert.

Beaches along the Mediterranean shore in Tel Aviv

The coastal plain stretches from the Lebanese border in the north to Gaza in the south, interrupted only by Cape Carmel at Haifa Bay. It is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) wide at Gaza and narrows toward the north to about three miles (five kilometers) at the Lebanese border. The region is fertile and humid, has had problems with malaria, and is known for its citrus and viniculture. The plain is traversed by several short streams.

East of the coastal plain lies the central highland. In the north lie the mountains and hills of Galilee; farther to the south are the Samarian Hills with numerous small, fertile valleys; and south of Jerusalem are the mainly barren hills of Judea. The central highlands average two thousand feet (610 meters) in height and reach their highest elevation at Har Meron, at 3,963 feet (1,208 meters) in Galilee near Safed.

East of the central highlands lies the Jordan Rift Valley, which is a small part of the 4,040-mile (6,500-kilometer)-long Great Rift Valley. In Israel the Rift Valley is dominated by the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee (an important freshwater source also known as Lake Tiberias and to Israelis as Lake Kinneret), and the Dead Sea.

The Jordan River, Israel's largest river at 200 miles (322 kilometers), originates in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains and flows south through the drained Hulah Valley into the freshwater Lake Tiberias. With a water capacity estimated at 106 billion cubic feet (three cubic kilometers), it serves as the principal reservoir for Israel. The Jordan River continues from the southern end of Lake Tiberias (forming the boundary between the West Bank and Jordan) to the highly saline Dead Sea, which is 393 square miles (1,020 square kilometers) in size and, at 1,309 feet (399 meters) below sea level, is the lowest point in the world.

The Negev Desert comprises approximately 4,600 square miles (12,000 square kilometers), more than half of Israel's total land area. Geographically it is an extension of the Sinai Desert, forming a rough triangle with its base in the north near Beersheba, the Dead Sea, and the southern Judean Mountains, and it has its apex in the southern tip of the country at Eilat.

The coastal climate differs from that of the mountainous areas, particularly during the winter. The northern mountains can get cold, wet and often snowy, and even Jerusalem has snow every couple of years. The coastal regions, where Tel Aviv and Haifa are located, have a typical Mediterranean climate with cool, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. January is the coldest month with average temperatures ranging from 43 °F to 59 °F (6 °C to 15 °C) ,and July and August are the hottest months at 72 °F to 91 °F (22 °C to 33 °C) on average across the state. In Eilat, the desert city, summer daytime-temperatures at times reach 111 °F to 115 °F (44 °C to 46 °C). More than 70 percent of the rain falls between November and March. The most cultivated areas receive more than 12 inches (300 millimeters) of rainfall annually; about one-third of the country is cultivable.

Natural hazards include sandstorms during spring and summer, droughts, and periodic earthquakes. Thunderstorms and hail are common throughout the rainy season and waterspouts occasionally hit the Mediterranean coast, capable of causing only minor damage. However, supercell thunderstorms and a true F2 tornado hit the Western Galilee on April 4, 2006, causing significant damage and 75 injuries.

The Old City of Jerusalem with a view of Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives

Limited arable land and natural freshwater resources pose serious constraints, while the nation must deal with on-going problems of desertification, air pollution from industrial and vehicle emissions, groundwater pollution from industrial and domestic waste, and toxic residue from chemical fertilizers, and pesticides.

Jerusalem has been continuously settled for more than three thousand years and is the location of many sites of historical and religious significance for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, including the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. The Old City has the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian quarters. Israel's "Basic Law" states that "Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel," although the Palestinian Authority sees East Jerusalem as the future capital of Palestine. Metropolitan Jerusalem had a total population of 2,300,000 in 2006, including 700,000 Jews and 1,600,000 Arabs. Tel Aviv had a population of 3,040,400, Haifa had 996,000 and Beersheba had 531,600.

History

The Merneptah Stele, the first mention of Israel

Pre-human occupation of the land area that became the state of Israel dates back to 200,000 B.C.E. Jewish tradition holds that the Land of Israel has been a Jewish Holy Land and Promised Land for four thousand years, since the time of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). The land of Israel holds a special place in Jewish religious obligations, encompassing Judaism's most important sites (such as the remains of the First and Second Temples of the Jewish People). The first historical record of the word "Israel" comes from an Egyptian stele documenting military campaigns in Canaan. This stele is dated to approximately 1211 B.C.E.

Starting around the eleventh century B.C.E., the first of a series of Jewish kingdoms and states established intermittent rule over the region that lasted more than a millennium.

Under Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and (briefly) Sassanid rule, Jewish presence in the region dwindled because of mass expulsions. In particular, the failure of the Bar Kokhba's revolt against the Roman Empire in 32 C.E. resulted in a large-scale expulsion of Jews. It was during this time that the Romans gave the name “Syria Palaestina” to the geographic area, in an attempt to erase Jewish ties to the land.

Nevertheless, the Jewish presence in Palestine remained constant. The main Jewish population shifted from the Judea region to the Galilee. The Mishnah and Jerusalem Talmud, two of Judaism's most important religious texts, were composed in the region during this period. The land was conquered from the Byzantine Empire in 638 C.E. during the initial Muslim conquests. The Hebrew alphabet was invented in Tiberias during this time. The area was ruled by the Omayyads, then by the Abbasids, Crusaders, the Kharezmians and Mongols, before becoming part of the empire of the Mamluks (1260-1516) and the Ottoman Empire in 1517.

Zionism and immigration

Theodor Herzl

The first big wave of modern immigration, or Aliyah, started in 1881 as Jews fled growing persecution in Russia, or followed the socialist Zionist ideas of Moses Hess and others who called for the "redemption of the soil." Jews bought land from individual Arab landholders. After Jews established agricultural settlements, tensions erupted between the Jews and Arabs.

Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), an Austro-Hungarian Jew, founded the Zionist movement. In 1896, he published Der Judenstaat (“The Jewish State”), in which he called for the establishment of a national Jewish state. The following year he helped convene the first World Zionist Congress. The Second Aliyah (1904-1914) brought an influx of around 40,000 Jews.

In 1917, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur J. Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration, which "viewed with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." In 1920, Palestine became a League of Nations mandate administered by Britain. Jewish immigration resumed in the third (1919-1923) and fourth (1924-1929) waves after World War I. Riots in 1929 killed 133 Jews and 116 Arabs.

From the time Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933 until the beginning of World War II in 1939, a large number of German Jews migrated to Palestine in the Fifth Aliyah (1929-1939) despite British restrictions. Between 1939 and 1945 German Nazis killed more than six million Jews in the Holocaust, a horror that gave new impetus to the movement to form a Jewish state and that caused European nations to recognize the legitimacy of such a claim. The Jewish population in the region increased from 83,790 (11 percent) in 1922 to 608,230 (33 percent) in 1945.

Jewish underground groups

Many Arabs-opposed to the Balfour Declaration, the mandate, and the Jewish National Home-instigated riots and pogroms against Jews in Jerusalem, Hebron, Jaffa, and Haifa. In response, Jewish settlers formed the Haganah in 1921 to protect settlements. Several Haganah members formed the militant group Irgun in 1931, which attacked the British military headquarters, the King David Hotel, which killed 91 people. A further split occurred when Avraham Stern left the Irgun to form Lehi, which was much more extreme, refused any cooperation with the British during World War II, and tried to work with the Germans to secure European Jewry's escape to Palestine.

Partition

David Ben-Gurion pronounces the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, on May 14, 1948, in Tel Aviv

A truce between Arabs in Palestine and the British lasted through World War II, but when the war ended, violence increased, between Jews and Arabs and against the British. In 1947 the British government decided to withdraw from Palestine. The United Nations General Assembly approved a 1947 UN Partition Plan dividing the territory into two states, with the Jewish area consisting of roughly 55 percent of the land, and the Arab area consisting of roughly 45 percent. Jerusalem was to be designated as an international region administered by the UN to avoid conflict over its status. On November 29, 1947, David Ben-Gurion tentatively accepted the partition, while the Arab League rejected it. The Arab Higher Committee immediately ordered a violent three-day strike, attacking buildings, shops, and neighborhoods, and prompting insurgency organized by underground Jewish militias. These attacks soon turned into widespread fighting between Arabs and Jews, this civil war being the first "phase" of the 1948 War of Independence. The State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948, one day before the expiry of the British Mandate of Palestine. Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations on May 11, 1949.

1948 war of independence

October battles

Over the next few days, approximately one thousand Lebanese, five thousand Syrian, five thousand Iraqi, and ten thousand Egyptian troops invaded the newly-established state. Four thousand Transjordanian troops invaded the Corpus separatum region encompassing Jerusalem and its environs, as well as areas designated as part of the Arab state. Volunteers from Saudi Arabia, Libya and Yemen helped. Israeli forces fought back, and captured significant amounts of territory that had been designated for the Arab state of Transjordan, as well as part of Jerusalem.

After numerous months of war, a ceasefire was declared and temporary borders, known as the Green Line, were instituted. Israel had gained an additional 23.5 percent of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan River. Jordan held the large mountainous areas of Judea and Samaria, which became known as the West Bank. Egypt took control of a small strip of land along the coast, which became known as the Gaza Strip.

Large numbers of the Arab population fled or were expelled from the newly-created Jewish state. This Palestinian exodus is referred to by Palestinians as the Nakba ("disaster" or "cataclysm"). Estimates of the final Palestinian refugee count range from 400,000 to 900,000 with the official United Nations count at 711,000. The unresolved conflict between Israel and the Arab world has resulted in a lasting displacement of Palestinian refugees. The entire Jewish population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip fled to Israel. Over the following years approximately 850,000 Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews fled or were expelled from surrounding Arab countries. Of these, about 600,000 settled in Israel; the remainder went to Europe and the Americas.

Suez crisis

In 1956, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, much to the chagrin of the United Kingdom and France. Israel, fearing Egypt's increase in power, staged an attack in the Sinai Desert. Several days later, Britain and France joined the offensive. The United Nations sent peacekeepers, who stayed in the region until 1967.

In 1961, the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who had been largely responsible for the Final Solution, the planned extermination of the Jews of Europe, was captured in Buenos Aires, Argentina, by Mossad agents and brought to trial in Israel. Eichmann became the only person ever sentenced to death by the Israeli courts.

The Six-Day War

Tensions arose between Israel and her neighbors in May 1967. Syria, Jordan, and Egypt had been hinting at war and Egypt expelled UN Peacekeeping Forces from the Gaza Strip. When Egypt closed the strategic Straits of Tiran to Israeli vessels, and began massing large numbers of tanks and aircraft on Israel's borders, Israel preemptively attacked Egypt on June 5. In the ensuing Six-Day War, Israel defeated three large Arab states, conquered the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, and Golan Heights. The Green Line of 1949 became the administrative boundary between Israel and the Occupied Territories. The Sinai was later returned to Egypt following the signing of a peace treaty.

Terrorism

The Arab League proceeded to put Israel in a state of siege. Arab terrorists hijacked Israeli airplanes. At the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, Palestinian militants held hostage and killed members of the Israeli delegation. Agents of Israel's Mossad assassinated most of those who were involved in the massacre. On October 6, 1973, the day of the Jewish Yom Kippur fast, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a surprise attack against Israel. Egypt and Syria were repelled, and a number of years of relative calm ensued.

Peace with Egypt

Celebrating the signing of the Camp David Accords (1978): Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat

In 1977 Egyptian president Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem to talk with Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. In 1978, U.S. president Jimmy Carter helped in the Camp David Accords between Sadat and Begin, who shared that year's Nobel Peace Prize. In March 1979, they signed the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and evacuated the settlements established there during the 1970s. It was also agreed to lend autonomy to Palestinians across the Green Line.

Lebanon invaded

Ilan Ramon, who became the first Israeli astronaut

On July 7, 1981, the Israeli Air Force bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osiraq in an attempt to foil Iraqi efforts at producing an atomic bomb. In 1982, Israel launched an attack against Lebanon, which had been embroiled in the civil war since 1975, to defend Israel's northernmost settlements from terrorist attacks. After establishing a 40-kilometer barrier zone, the Israel Defense Forces captured Lebanon's capital Beirut, and expelled the Palestinian Liberation Organization from the country. Though Israel withdrew from most of Lebanon in 1986, a buffer zone was maintained until May 2000 when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon. A Palestinian uprising called the Intifadah began in 1987. Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli soldiers occupying the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israelis retaliated, and the violence escalated, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Israel proposed a peace initiative in 1989. This same year saw the beginning of a mass immigration by Soviet Jews.

Gulf War

During the 1990-1991 Gulf War, Iraq hit Israel with 39 Scud missiles, although Israel was not a member of the anti-Iraq coalition and was not involved in the fighting. The missiles did not kill Israeli citizens directly, but there were some deaths from incorrect use of the gas masks provided against chemical attack, one Israeli died from a heart attack following a hit, and one Israeli died from a Patriot missile hit. During the war, Israel provided gas masks for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The PLO, however, supported Saddam Hussein. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza marched and famously stood on their rooftops while Scud missiles were falling and cheered Hussein. The first peace talks between Israel and Palestinian Arabs, represented by Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), in Madrid in October 1991, gave the Palestinians responsibility for the Gaza Strip and Jericho.

Oslo Accords

Yitzhak Rabin is buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem

Further peace talks in 1993, known as the Oslo Accords, between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Arafat, resulted in Israel handing over most of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). In 1994, Jordan made peace with Israel. The initial wide public support for the Oslo Accords began to wane as Israel was struck by an unprecedented wave of attacks supported by the militant Hamas group, which opposed the accords.

On November 4, 1995, a Jewish nationalist militant named Yigal Amir assassinated Rabin. Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu, elected prime minister in 1996, withdrew from Hebron and signed the Wye River Memorandum, in which the PLO agreed to get rid of its terrorist groups, to confiscate illegal weapons, and to imprison their own terrorists, in return for more land on the West Bank. A U.S.-Palestinian-Israeli committee was created to convene several times a month to prevent terrorism. During Netanyahu's tenure, Israel experienced a lull in attacks by Palestinian groups, but his government fell in 1999 to Ehud Barak of “One Israel.”

Barak withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, to frustrate Hezbollah attacks on Israel by forcing them to cross Israel's border. Barak and Palestine Liberation Organization head Yassir Arafat negotiated with U.S. President Bill Clinton at a summit at Camp David in July 2000. Barak offered a formula to create a Palestinian state, but Arafat rejected this deal. Palestinians began a second uprising, known as the Al-Aqsa Intifadah, just after the leader of the opposition, Ariel Sharon, visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Gaza withdrawal

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem

Sharon was elected prime minister in March 2001, and was subsequently reelected, along with his Likud party in the 2003 elections. Sharon initiated an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Israel began building the Israeli West Bank Barrier to defend against attacks by armed Palestinian groups. The barrier effectively annexes 9.5 percent of the West Bank, and creates hardships for Palestinians living near it. The international community and the Israeli far-left have criticized the wall, but it has significantly reduced the number of terrorist attacks against Israel.

Hamas, an Islamic militant group fighting to replace the state of Israel with an Islamic state, won a surprise victory in the Palestinian legislative election, in January 2006, taking 76 of the 132 seats in the chamber, while the ruling Fatah party took 43.

After Sharon suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke, the powers of the office were passed to Ehud Olmert, who was designated the "acting" prime minister. On April 14, 2006, Olmert was elected prime minister after his party, Kadima, won the most seats in the 2006 elections.

On June 28, 2006, Hamas militants dug a tunnel under the border from the Gaza Strip and attacked an Israel Defense Forces post, capturing an Israeli soldier and killing two others. Israel bombarded Hamas targets as well as bridges, roads, and the only power station in Gaza.

A conflict between the Palestinian militant group Hezbollah and Israel began July 12, 2006, with a cross-border Hezbollah raid and shelling, which resulted in the capture of two and killing of eight Israeli soldiers. Israel initiated an air and naval blockade, airstrikes across much of the country, and ground incursions into southern Lebanon. Hezbollah continuously launched rocket attacks into northern Israel and engaged the Israeli Army on the ground with hit-and-run guerrilla attacks. A ceasefire came into effect on August 14, 2006. The conflict killed over one thousand Lebanese civilians, 440 Hezbollah militants, and 119 Israeli soldiers, as well as 44 Israeli civilians, and caused massive damage to the civilian infrastructure and cities of Lebanon and damaged thousands of buildings across northern Israel, many of which were destroyed.

By the end of 2007, Israel entered another conflict as a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel collapsed. The Gaza War lasted three weeks and ended after Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire. Hamas announced its own ceasefire, with its own conditions of complete withdrawal and opening of border crossings. However, violence has continued with Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli attacks.

Government and politics

The Knesset building, Israel's parliament

Israel is a democratic republic with universal suffrage that operates under a parliamentary system.

The president of Israel is head of state, serving as a largely-ceremonial figurehead. The president selects the leader of the majority party or ruling coalition in the Knesset as the prime minister, who serves as head of government and leads the cabinet. For a short period in the 1990s, the prime minister was directly elected. This change was not viewed a success and was abandoned. The 2007 president was Moshe Katsav, though the acting president was Dalia Itzik; the prime minister was Ehud Olmert.

Israel's unicameral legislative branch is a 120-member parliament known as the Knesset. Membership in the Knesset is allocated to parties based on their proportion of the vote. Elections to the Knesset are normally held every four years, but the Knesset can decide to dissolve itself ahead of time by a simple majority, known as a vote of no confidence. Twelve parties held seats in 2007.

Israel's judiciary is made of a three-tier system of courts. At the lowest level are magistrate courts, situated in most cities. Above them are district courts, serving both as appellate courts and as courts of first instance, situated in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Be'er Sheva and Nazareth. At the top is the Supreme Court of Israel seated in Jerusalem, which serves a dual role as the highest court of appeals and as the body for a separate institution known as the High Court of Justice. This court has the unique responsibility of addressing petitions presented by individual citizens. The respondents to these petitions are usually governmental agencies. A committee composed of Knesset members, Supreme Court Justices, and Israeli Bar members carries out the election of judges. The Courts Law requires judges to retire at the age of 70. The chief justice of the Supreme Court, with the approval of the minister of justice, appoints registrars to all courts.

Israel is not a member of the International Criminal Court as it fears it could lead to prosecution of Israeli settlers in the disputed territories.

Legal system

Frontal view of the Supreme Court building

Israel has not completed a written constitution. Its government functions according to the laws of the Knesset, including the "Basic Laws of Israel," of which there are presently 14. These are slated to become the foundation of a future official constitution. In mid-2003, the Knesset's constitution, law, and justice committee began drafting an official constitution.

Israel's legal system mixes influences from Anglo-American, continental and Jewish law, as well as the Declaration of the State of Israel. As in Anglo-American law, the Israeli legal system is based on the principle of precedent; it is an adversarial system, not an inquisitorial one, in the sense that the parties (for example, plaintiff and defendant) bring the evidence before the court. The court does not conduct any independent investigation.

Court cases are decided by professional judges. Additional continental law influences can be found in the fact that several major Israeli statutes (such as the contract law) are based on civil law principles. Israeli statute body is not comprised of codes, but of individual statutes. However, a civil code draft has been completed, and is planned to become a bill.

Religious tribunals (Jewish, Muslim, Druze and Christian) have exclusive jurisdiction on annulment of marriages.

Human rights

The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel included a broad commitment to uphold the rights of its citizens. However, like many democracies, Israel often struggles with issues of minority rights, especially when it comes to the often contentious issues surrounding the treatment of Israel's large Arab minority, which constitutes 15 percent of Israel's population.

One of Israel's Basic Laws, that of human dignity and liberty, serves to defend human rights and liberties. Amnesty International has been highly critical of Israel's policies, but in 2006, Freedom House rated politi

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