A parliamentary democracy and an explicitly Jewish state, Israel is a Middle Eastern nation covering an area of approximately 8,019 square miles. It is bordered to the west by the Mediterranean Sea; to the north by Lebanon; to the east by Jordan; and to the southwest by Egypt. Its population consists of some 7.3 million inhabitants -- including 5.415 million Jews (76 percent) and 1.425 million Arabs (20 percent). The remaining 4 percent are classified as “others,” mostly non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, or people whose Jewish status has not yet been verified by the Interior Ministry. The literacy rate in Israel is 95 percent, and the per capita Gross Domestic Product is $22,200.
The word “Israel” means “he who has wrestled with God” and refers to the prophet Jacob‘s famous wrestling match with the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. Modern-day Israel came into existence through a circuitous course. In the 1920s the British and French, in one of their final acts as victors in World War I, created the states -- Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq -- that now define the Middle East out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire of their defeated Turkish adversary.
The British had promised the stateless Jewish Zionists that they could establish a “national home” in the large portion of what remained of the area, which was known as the Palestine Mandate. In 1921 the British separated 80 percent of the Mandate, east of the Jordan River, and created the Arab kingdom of “Transjordan” for the Arabian monarch King Abdullah (whose tribe was Hashemite, while the vast majority of his new subjects were Palestinian Arabs). What was left of the original Palestine Mandate -- between the west bank of the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea -- had been settled by Arabs and Jews. Jews had lived in the area continuously for 3,700 years, even after the Romans destroyed their state in Judea in AD 70. Arabs, largely nomadic, became the dominant local population for the first time in the 7th Century AD as a result of the Muslim invasions.
In 1948, at the request of the Jews who were living in the Palestine Mandate, the United Nations voted to partition the remaining 20 percent of the original Mandate to make a Jewish homeland possible. Under the partition plan, the Arabs were given the area today known as the West Bank. The Jews were allotted three slivers of disconnected land along the Mediterranean Sea and the Sinai desert. They were also given access to their holy city of Jerusalem, but as an island cut off from the slivers, surrounded by Arab land and under international control. Sixty percent of the land allotted to the Jews was the Negev desert.
At the moment of Israel’s birth, Palestinian Arabs lived on roughly 90 percent of the original Palestine Mandate -- in Transjordan (now Jordan) and in the UN partition area. In the new state of Israel itself, 800,000 Arabs lived alongside 1.2 million Jews.
This section of DiscovertheNetworks also examines the activities, and agendas of a host of individuals and organizations that either reject the legitimacy of Israel's existence as a sovereign state, or that view Israel as a nation guilty of unpardonable human-rights violations which merit international condemnation and punishment.