The modern State of Israel was established in 1948 as a homeland for the Jewish people, but the region contains thousands of years of history for many peoples and religions in addition to the Jews. Israel is considered part of the Holy Land (together with areas of Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Territories). The four major monotheistic religions — Bahaism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — all were founded or have strong ties to here, and their holy and historic sites are major destinations for pilgrims and tourists from around the world.
Within modern Israel's pre-1967 borders, about 80% of Israelis identify as Jewish, and most of the remainder classify themselves as either as Baha'i, Christian, Muslim, Arab, Bedouin or Druze. Most of the Jews are descended from Olim ("returnees" from the Jewish Diaspora), and their diverse origins (Russian, German, Moroccan, Yemenite, and Ethiopian, to name a few of the prominent ones) can be seen in various aspects of modern Israeli culture.
In contrast to its long ancient history, Israel is a highly urbanized, economically developed, first-world society. Unfortunately it is still in conflict with the Palestinians and some of its other Arab neighbors, and sometimes you will see signs of these tensions, but you will almost never be in danger.
|Currency||Israeli new shekel (ILS)|
|Population||8.6 million (2017)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Type H, BS 546)|
|Time zone||UTC+02:00, UTC+03:00|
|Emergencies||100 (police), 101 (Emergency medical services in Israel), 102 (fire department)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Israel's capital; a city sacred for millennia to the three Abrahamic religions (Jews, Christians and Muslims), and full of historic sites
the center of Israel's economy and modern culture. Known as the "White City" for its Bauhaus architecture, it is full of skyscrapers, beaches, markets, and nightclubs
the 'Goa of the Middle East', Israel's window on the Red Sea, a vibrant resort city
the de facto capital of the Negev region
the largest city in northern Israel, located on Mount Carmel next to the sea. Home to the Baha'i World Center (a UNESCO World Heritage site).
(Acre) – an ancient town with a historic port and the most sacred Baha'i site. Its old city on the sea is beautiful
the hometown of Jesus, now the largest Arab city in Israel
a modern resort town with an ancient background, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee
(Tzfat) – a fascinating mountaintop city filled with artists and mystics, home to ARI school of Kabbalah
a historic walled area within the modern city of Jerusalem. Tourists of different religions and nations come from around the world to visit its holy sites, which include the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A UNESCO World Heritage site.
One of the oldest port cities in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage site
the home of Jesus of Nazareth and the largest freshwater lake in the country
a sea of hypersalinated water that keeps people afloat and the lowest point on Earth
an extensive inland valley, largely rural, extending inland from east of Haifa to the Jordan Valley
an arid landscape with an array of hills, canyons, and hidden historic sites
center of the Bahá'í Faith, home to the Shrine of the Báb and Terraces. located in the northern city of Haifa
Prominent national parks
high on a plateau above the Dead Sea, the scene of the Zealots' last stand against the might of Rome. A UNESCO World Heritage site.
beautiful steep canyon and a popular hiking spot
an ancient Roman and Crusader city with well-preserved remains
the core of the north Jordan River valley
a Crusader fortress located on a ridge in the eastern edge of the Galilee.
remains of a medieval fortress located in the northern Golan Heights, 800 meters above sea level.
spectacular caverns located on Israel's Mediterranean coast in the Western Galilee in the north of Israel, near the northern border with Lebanon.
Prominent nature reserves
40 km long crater-like landform in the middle of the Negev desert, the largest of three similar craters found in Israel. Offers breathtaking desert vistas.
The mountain is partly located within Israel and partly located within Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli summit of the mountain is 2,224m above sea level and is the highest location in the country. The total area of the Hermon nature reserve is 76,250 hectares. Most of the nature reserve is located within a restricted military area (except for Hermon Ski resort and the Banias springs area at the slopes of the mountain which are popular visited destination).
a forested hilly region along the Mediterranean coast, southeast of Haifa
Until the middle ages
While the current state of Israel is a relatively new country founded in 1948, the "land of Israel" has a long, complex history stretching back thousands of years to the beginnings of human civilization. It's been invaded by virtually every Old World empire including the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Mongols, Ottomans and British. It is the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, and also contains sacred sites of Islam and the Bahai religion.
Israel has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, with Neanderthal remains from the region dating back 50,000 years. Its strategic location serving as a land bridge from Asia to Egypt and the rest of Africa made Israel an ideal target for conquerors through the ages. The first nation to conquer the land was Egypt, in the 16th century BC. Approximately 1000 BC, an Israelite kingdom was set up under King Saul. King Saul was succeeded by kings David and Solomon, but after Solomon's death the kingdom split in two. The northern kingdom was conquered by Assyria in 722 BC, and the southern kingdom by Babylonia in 586 BC. Both conquests were accompanied by an exile of the Israelites from their land.
Several decades later, the Persian empire conquered Babylonia, and allowed the Jewish exiles to return and reestablish a province centered around Jerusalem. The Persian empire was in turn conquered in ~330 BC by Alexander the Great. In ~166 BC, the Maccabees rebelled against the Seleucid Greeks and established an independent Jewish state, but this state was conquered in 63 BC by the Roman Empire. Around 30 CE, Jesus of Nazareth began his ministry in the Galilee.
Periodic Jewish revolts against the Romans had some temporary success, but eventually led to destruction and exile for the Jews. The Roman/Byzantine Empire continued to rule the area until the 7th century, when the area was conquered (very briefly) by the Persians, and then by the Muslim Arabs. In the Crusades (11th-13th centuries), Christians were temporarily able to conquer the Holy Land from the Muslims. After 1290, when the Crusaders were expelled by Saladin, the land was ruled by different Muslim rulers. The last of those Muslim rulers was Ottoman Turkey, which was defeated in the First World War. After the war, the area that is now Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan became the "League of Nations Mandate for Palestine", intended in part as a homeland for Jewish people.
Since World War I
During the 1920s, the British were handed a mandate to prepare the region for a future Jewish state. Arab pressure led to the eastern part of the mandate being split off into the Arab kingdom of Transjordan (now Jordan).
The first two major waves of modern Jewish immigration were in 1882 and the early 1900s, under Ottoman rule, followed by refugees from Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. Before 1948, immigration was almost exclusively by Ashkenazi Jews, who spoke mostly Yiddish and/or the national languages of their countries of residence. Initially, religious Jews were largely opposed to the idea of Zionism, and as such the first waves of immigrants were dominated by idealistic but secular Jews.
While several early Arab leaders and individuals welcomed Jewish immigration to develop the largely agricultural land, starting in the 1920s the Arab majority was vocally hostile to Zionism. Both Zionist and non-Zionist Jews were attacked during the riots of 1929 and the later Arab revolt of 1936 to 1939. During World War II, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, openly allied with Nazi Germany and called for an Arab state with no Jews in it. The Jewish population formed several armed groups to defend themselves - the Haganah (precursor to the modern Israeli army) was the largest and most important, but there were also more violent and extremist offshoots like the Irgun. In 1939 the British decided to appease Arab radicals with the "White Paper", which severely limited Jewish immigration just as the Nazis were about to begin World War II. This was bitterly opposed by Zionists. When the British continued to prevent the immigration of Holocaust survivors after the war, Jewish underground groups became heavily involved in illegal immigration, and the more radical groups conducted violent attacks on the British government.
After two years of growing violence between Jews, Arabs, and the British government, in the fall of 1947 the British decided to withdraw from the area. The UN recommended that the territory of Palestine be partitioned into separate Jewish and Arab states. The Jews accepted the plan, but the Arabs firmly rejected it. Nonetheless, on 14 May 1948, Jews declared independence as the State of Israel. The Arabs responded with a military invasion. The Israelis won a decisive victory. As a result of the war, approximately 600,000 Arabs were displaced from the territory of the newly proclaimed Jewish state. A comparable number of Jews were displaced from Arab nations in the late 40s and 50s, and many of them settled in Israel.
Further fighting continued over the next few decades, and in 1967 the Israelis won another decisive victory against the Arabs. Following this victory, a slow movement towards peace and reconciliation began. In 1979 a peace treaty was concluded between Israel and Egypt (with Sinai returned to Egypt), and in 1994, a similar peace treaty was signed with Jordan. Both agreements have held to this day. However, a peace process with Palestinian Arabs that began in the early 1990s failed in 2000, and little progress has been seen since then.
Israel is still officially at war with neighbors Syria and Lebanon, and has similar hostilities with the Hamas organization which currently controls the Gaza Strip. However, these borders are usually quiet - infrequently shells or rockets will be fired across them, and on rare occasions a full-scale conflict will break out (most recently, in 2014 on the Gaza border). There are also occasional cases of individual violent attacks between Israelis and West Bank Palestinians, who have significant interaction in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Israel has a technologically advanced market economy with substantial government participation. It depends on imports of crude oil, grains, raw materials and military equipment. Despite limited natural resources, Israel has intensively developed its agricultural and industrial sectors over the past 30 years. Cut diamonds, high-technology equipment, aircraft, high-tech defense systems, chemicals and chemical products, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, rubber, plastics, and textiles and services in various fields are the leading exports. Large reserves of offshore natural gas have been discovered starting in 2009.
For many years Israel posted sizable current account deficits, which were covered by large transfer payments from abroad and by foreign loans. However, the tight fiscal policy of recent years and the high growth rates have led Israel to a budget surplus in 2006. Roughly half of the government's foreign debt is owed to the US, which is its major source of economic and military aid.
Israel's economy grew rapidly in the 1990s due to immigration from the former USSR, the opening of new markets at the end of the Cold War, the optimism of the peace process, and the dot-com boom. However, in 2000 the combination of a second intifada and the dot-com bust led to a severe recession. Since 2004 the economy has resumed growing, and Israel was one of the world's most resilient economies during the 2008 "Great Recession". Currently, Israel has a GDP per capita similar to southern European countries like Spain and Cyprus.
The most obvious division in Israel's society is between Jews - who make up 75% of the population in Israel proper and 15%-40% in areas captured by Israel during the Six-Day War (West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights) - and non-Jews (mostly Israeli-Arabs), who make up nearly all of the rest. In addition, some 350,000 people who emigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union are not considered Jews according to halacha (Jewish law), though they largely identify with the Jewish mainstream. In terms of religious backgrounds, 77% of Israelis are Jewish, 16% are Muslim, 4% are Christian Arabs, and 2% are Druze (a Muslim offshoot considered heretical by mainstream Islam).
There are also deep divisions within Jewish society. First is the cultural division between the 'Ashkenazim', who lived in Europe for nearly 2000 years and are generally considered wealthier and politically better connected, and the 'Sephardim' and 'Mizrahim', who immigrated from the Middle East, Yemen and North Africa (Sephardi and Mizrahi immigrants from Europe tend to match the socio-economic profile of Ashkenazim). However, in recent years the divide between these ethnic groups has greatly narrowed, and intermarriage has become common. Massive immigration of Russian-speaking Jews in the 1990s had added another notable demographic to Israel's population.
While ethnic divisions have weakened as the native-born population has increased, religious tensions between 'secular' and 'Orthodox' Jews have increased. The spectrum ranges from the stringently-orthodox 'haredim' (who form only 9% of the population but able to wield a disproportionate amount of power thanks to Israel's fractious coalition politics), to 10% who are 'religious' (similar to 'modern Orthodox' outside Israel), 15% 'traditional-religious', 23% 'traditional', and 43% 'secular'. While secular and traditional Jews are widespread throughout all of Israel, orthodox Jews tend to concentrate mostly in certain cities such as Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Ashdod.
- Israel's time
- is + 2 hr from GMT (UTC) so when it's 18:00 in London, or 13:00 in New York (EST), it's 20:00 in Israel. Since 2013, daylight savings time (summer time) begins on the last Sunday in March, and ends on the last Sunday in October (the same dates used for time changes in Europe).
- Many businesses and transport companies do not operate on "Shabbat" (the Sabbath) which begins Friday afternoon and ends Saturday night, while many places do not reopen/renew service until Sunday morning. The same holds true for major Jewish or national holidays. Note, this is specifically critical of you rely on the bus or train to explore the country or go to/from the airport (planes do fly on Shabbat, except for El Al airline). So plan your itinerary accordingly.
- Public holidays
- Different levels of activity stop in Israel depending on the festival or holiday, and different areas will see different levels of activity on these days. Public transportation usually stops completely on most holidays. Holidays in Israel follow the Jewish calendar, which means that the Gregorian date will vary from year to year although tending to fall within the same 6-week period. In the Jewish tradition, a new day begins at sunset, meaning that Jewish holidays begin on the eve of the official date (not at midnight). A list of Gregorian dates matched with the National holidays and Jewish holidays can be found at the National and Jewish holidays section of "GoIsrael" site. A more elaborate list of Jewish holidays and dates can be found at the Jewish holidays section of the Chabad site, although some of the holidays mentioned there are scarcely celebrated or have no influence on day-to-day activities.
Official national holidays are marked with a plus sign (+):
- + Rosh Hashanah (Jewish new year). falls between 5 September and 5 October. It is two days long.
- Tsom Gedalyah (Fast day of Gedaliah). falls the day after Rosh Hashanah.
- + Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). falls between 14 September and 14 October. The holiest day in the Jewish Calendar on which EVERYTHING comes to a halt: all businesses, banking, shopping, entertainment, restaurants, public and private traffic , etc. Children on bicycles, rollerblades and skateboards flood the streets of secular towns. Emergency vehicles have limited mobility.
- + Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles/Booths). falls between 19 September and 19 October, and lasts 7 days. Only the first day is a national holiday, but some disruption occurs during the other days.
- + Shemini Atzeret (Simchat Torah). falls between 26 September and 26 October; it is effectively the 8th day of Sukkot. Street festivals and dancing are common in most cities and towns on the preceding evening.
- Yom Hazikaron le Yitzhak Rabin (Yitzhak Rabin's Remembrance Day). falls between 25 October and 9 November. It is a memorial day. Also, on the Saturday adjacent to 4 November a memorial rally is held on Rabin square in Tel Aviv, and other locations.
- + Hanukkah. falls between 27 November and 27 December, and lasts 8 days. It is celebrated by lighting candles and eating jelly doughnuts, sufganiot.
- Asarah b-Tevet (10th of Tevet fast).
- Tu Bi'shvat (15th of Shvat). is the New Year of the Trees (similar to an Arbor Day)
- Ta'anit Ester (Fast of Esther). the day before Purim
- + Purim. falls between 24 February and 26 March (outside Jerusalem). Children and adults dress in costumes and street parades are common on this day. In Jerusalem, Purim is celebrated one day later than in the rest of Israel and is officially known as Shushan Purim.
- + Pesach (Passover). is seven days long; the first day falls between 26 March and 25 April. (Only the first and last days are national holidays, however there may be some disruption during the intermediate days). No leavened bread or grain products are sold or served in most places during this week (including beer and some alcohols).
- Mimouna. At the evening after Passover, a celebration of hospitality and traditional home-made cuisine.
- + Yom HaZikaron LaShoah VeLaGevurah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). falls between 7 April and 7 May. A memorial sirens sound at 10:00; the entire country observes 2 minutes of silence in memory of victims of the Holocaust. Restaurants and entertainment establishments are closed on this day and its eve.
- + Yom Hazikaron (Fallen Soldiers Remembrance Day). falls between 14 April and 14 May. A memorial sirens sound on the eve (20:00) and in the morning (11:00); the entire country observes a silence in memory of its fallen soldiers and terror attack victims.
- + Yom Ha-Atzmaut (Independence Day). falls between 15 April and 15 May. Large street festivals, city-wide parties and fireworks displays are held on the eve. The day is usually celebrated by sightseeing and picnicking.
- Lag Ba'Omer (33rd day of the 'Omer'). bonfires are common on the eve.
- Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). parades and festivals occur in Jerusalem.
- + Shavuot (Pentecost). falls between 15 May and 14 June
- Shiva' Asar b-Tammuz (17th of Tammuz fast).
- Tisha B'Av (9th of Av fast). commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples.
- Tu B'Av (15th of Av). Festival of Love.
The voltage in Israel is 220V, and the frequency is 50Hz. The electric outlets used are type H and Type C. Type H is a uniquely Israeli three-pronged standard, but most modern type H outlets can also accept type C European two-pronged plugs. In fact, most electronic devices in Israel use type C plugs. For more information on plug types, please see our Electrical systems article.
Many tourists visit Israel in the summer, not realizing the potential of other seasons. Summer in Israel is very hot; the coastal areas are humid as well as hot, and the landscapes are parched brown since it never rains during the summer. The other three seasons, in contrast, have absolutely beautiful weather. In spring and autumn the temperature is mild every day and nearly all days are sunny. Winter is a mixture of cold, rainy days and cool, sunny days which are great for hiking and touring. So while summer may be the most convenient time to visit Israel, any other season is much more enjoyable.
Especially during the summer, it is important to wear a hat and drink more water than you usually do so to stay cool and hydrated in the heat. Also, keep in mind that hilly inland areas in Israel (particularly Jerusalem and the north) occasionally experience snowfall in the winter, sometimes heavy enough to bring those areas of the country to a standstill such as in December 2013. If visiting Israel during a heavy winter storm, it is advisable to avoid traveling as roads will be dangerous and public transportation may be severely impacted.